The Colliers (A Lot Of Little Blackbirds In A Cage)
Harry Castling & Fred Godfrey; EMI database also credits Billy Williams — London: Francis, Day & Hunter, 1909.
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Miners were much on people’s minds when this song appeared — a major strike by Durham coalminers took place in 1908, the year it was written, and likely inspired its creation. A problematic song, though, as measured by the sensitivities of a more enlightened era; the casual racism of Harry Castling’s lyrics — not deliberately meant to hurt but simply to entertain a Music Hall crowd in its own idiom — now sounds a very sour note indeed. Even its good-humoured sympathy with the plight of the coalminer cannot save it. Too bad, because Fred Godfrey’s melody is as good as any of the time.
The chorus goes:
Billy Williams recorded five versions of this song: 28 August 1908 for Homophon; 21 December 1908 for Zonophone; ca. January 1909 for Jumbo; ca. September 1909 for Pathé; and ca. October 1909 for Edison Amberol. Reissues appeared on several other labels.1
Fred Murray (Bell Disc 179, ca. 1910)
1 For comprehensive discographies of recordings by Billy Williams, see Brian Rust, British Music Hall on Record (Harrow, UK: