Sleeve Notes — excerpts
It is sad that most great folk ballads have been inspired by the clash of bright weapons or the lover's importunate whisper. There are other entries to be included in the catalogue of evocative sound, notably the blare of the hunting horn, the scud of thoroughbred hoofs on the close grass, and the thump of bare knuckles, on a manly jaw.
A century ago, the great grandfathers of our present day sports columnists might have been found in low city ale-houses, waiting for their muse to descend, or for a runner to come from one or other local broadside publisher with commission to produce a ballad on the latest prizefight or horse race, for two and sixpence the song
They were a down-at-heel and thirsty lot, those poor pot poets, and much of what they wrote was atrocious rubbish. Yet certain of their pieces have shown themselves to have power and endurance and a humble kind of immortality. And that is more than can be said of most sports commentators of our time.
Most of the songs in this album are of nineteenth century make-up. This is natural. Competitive sport was only then beginning to develop as a professional, mass-public affair, and the tide of folk creation had not yet receded almost out of sight. The present-day street-corner gambler's ballad of the Turpin-Sugar Ray fight shows that the springs that nourished the old ballad-makers — even if those same springs flowed mainly from a beer-machine — are by no means run dry.