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  • Writer's pictureSteve Crowther

Strike the Bell performed by Dave Webb (harmonica)

Roy Harris with Notts Alliance sang Strike the Bell in 1972 on his album The Bitter and the Sweet. A.L. Lloyd* commented in the sleeve notes:

‘Henry Clay Work (1832-84), a Chicago printer, wrote Marching Through Georgia, The Ship That Never Returned, Grandfather’s Clock and other immortal pieces including Ring the Bell, Watchman!, one of the most parodied of all 19th century popular songs. Australian sheep-hands had their version called Click go the Sheers (here sung by Lloyd) and British sailors turned it into a work-weary appeal for the second mate to sound the signal for the end of the watch—Strike the Bell. Henry Work wrote the song in 1865, so presumably the sailor version arose during the time of changeover from sail to steam. Late on, anyway.’

*Albert Lancaster Lloyd, usually known as A. L. Lloyd or Bert Lloyd, was an English folk singer and collector of folk songs, and as such was a key figure in the British folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s. It is well worth looking at his short biography (link here).

Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band sang Henry Clay Work’s song Ring the Bell, Watchman! on 2007 CD Ringing the Changes (2007 CD). She said in their liner notes:

‘I heard this piece of Victoriana from the singing of Walter Pardon, collected by Mike Yates, but Malcolm [Taylor] from the Vaughan Williams Library at Cecil Sharp House assured me that it goes back much earlier, printed by Such and Disley in London and sung by G.F. Root and Henry Burstow. Others attribute words and music to prolific American songwriter Henry Clay Work (1832-1884).’

The charismatic Bernard Wrigley (very funny link) sang Strike the Bell on Rough and Wrigley (1974 album). He wrote in the sleeve note:

‘Schoolchildren longing for the second bell and factory workers waiting for the hooter echo the sailors’ sentiments, for the bell is struck after each two-hour dogwatch. The original song, words and tune, was written at the end of the American Civil War by Henry Clay Work. The same tune is used for an Australian shearing song, also for a Temperance song with chorus beginning “Sign the pledge, brothers, sign, sign, sign.” But perhaps nowadays it’s best known in the sailor versions.’

Stan Hugill sang Strike the Bell at the Herga Folk Club in 1979, which was released in the following year on his Greenwich Village album Stan Hugill Reminisces. He wrote in the sleeve note:

‘A pumping song. Several shore songs use this tune. There is a Welsh one, Twll Bach y Calo, a Scotttish one, Ring the Bell, Watchman!, and an Australian one, Click Go the Shears, and the sailors’ version was popular in both Scandinavian and German ships. The whole theme is based on the fact that it was a common custom for the mates in sailing ships to take in, or set, sail, or tack or wear at eight bells (midnight, 4am, 8 am, midday, 4pm or 8pm) when they could use the watch about to “go below” and the watch coming on deck—in other words ‘all hands’. The men in this song are awaiting the second mate to strike eight bells so they can get below to their bunks before the “Old Man” decides to take in the canvas.’

Here it is recorded and performed by Dave Webb as part of his Dave Folk Harmonica YouTube series: Strike the Bell

All together now:

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