The Ballad of the Brothers Gunn

Trad / John "Chick" Hayward

boat

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As the old year winds down in every town
The pantomime season is near
The casting is done, but for Alf and Jim Gunn
No work ever seems to appear

In Birmingham town, at a theatre renown
The Dame has dropped dead plus her double
The producer’s in shock, he could be in hock
Without some replacements there’s trouble

In old London town, still knocking them down
Alf and Jim Gunn shed a tear
There’s no work today, in any old way
They’ve been resting for many a year

Against all the odds, these two ancient bods
From a Brum agent receive a cable
We’re in trouble you chaps, so get out your maps
And get here as quick as you’re able

Money is short, no tickets are bought
Hitching is for these two chums
So together they hasten to Paddington Basin
And quickly stick out their thumbs

Now old Charlie Spree, an ancient bargee
To the midlands away he was bound
Ten tons of manure, good stuff for sure
Was his cargo this time around

On seeing the thumbs, to a halt Charlie comes
And offers the brothers a ride
To Birmingham town, the boat is now bound
With the brothers and horse shit inside

The first lock is near but what’s this they hear
The lock-keeper’s asked questions one
‘What have you inside?’ The bargee replied
Horse shit and the brothers Gunn

At locks two and three they would hear the same plea
‘What cargo have you got inside?’
‘Ten tons of dung and the two brothers Gunn
And various items beside’

So the brothers agree to ask Charlie Spree
To find out if he would be willing
When Tom, Dick or Harry asks ‘What do you carry?’
If they could please take the top billing.

Sung to the tune of "Abdul Abulbul Amir" which is an interesting song in itself. More about it can be found on this website.

A similar story was discovered in the booklet 'Tales from the towpath - a canalside amble through central Manchester' written by Mike Harding and published in 1992 by the Central Manchester Development Corporation. To quote :

There is a story about the apocryphal Henshawes set on one of the manure boats that plied the canals at the end of the last century. They were a famous Manchester music hall act, the Flying Henshawes, and their motto, 'A smile, a song, a balloon and a safety net' appeared on billboards all over the North. But they were the last of a vanishing race, music hall was dying and bookings were thin on the ground when one day they were offered a week at Warrington Alhambra playing second on the bill to Enrico and his Whistling Ferrets. They were offered £20 for the week. They looked at the letter of offer glumly. Return fares to Warrington were ten shillings each, so with four of them that meant £2. Digs would be £3 each for the week - that only left £6 profit for a week's work.
Albert Henshawe had an idea.
'Fred Carter goes to Warrington from Ancoats Locks every week with a load of manure for the market gardens in Cheshire. We can get a lift with him for the price of his ale.'

So the next week the Four Fying Henshawes boarded the good barge The Roaring Mouse at Ancoats Locks and set off on their journey west. It was a hot summer's day and the cargo was nice and fresh so all four Henshawes sat on the pointed end upwind of the load.
At the first lock the lock-keeper shouted 'Ho bargee what load?'
'Eighty tons of manure and the Four Four Flying Henshawes,'
was the reply.
At the next lock the same cry rang between the dank walls of the warehouses.
'Ho bargee what load?'
'Eighty tons of manure and the Four Four Flying Henshawes,' again was the reply.
As they approached the third lock the eldest of the Henshawes, who had some pride in his calling, stepped to the stern and asked the bargee quietly, 'Mr Carter, do you think at the next lock we could possibly have top billing?'

Clearly these two tales have much in common and it would be interesting to find out if either of them have any basis in fact.

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