1381 Poll Tax Blues


Digging into my ancestry has unearthed a story of one of my ancestors who was beheaded in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 in England. Not sure if he is a direct ancestor (I doubt it because he was decapitated at the age of 22 and had only one child), but he is a part of the family lore.

About a month ago I was in attendance at a performance of Celtic music played by my friends Patrick Hutchison and Jeff Deeprose. Their repertoire included many songs that were actually ancient stories of derring-do that have been passed down through the ages by minstrels in pubs and taverns. I thought “Hey, maybe I can write a song about John Hanchauch (variation of Hanchet)!”

I researched the Wat Tyler Rebellion and The Peasant's Revolt (the same thing) and determined that it was a righteous protest against injustice. I was worried that he might be like the recent "Freedom Convoys" and the infamous dolts of January sixth. I think not. They were protesting against the Feudal system and the injustice of taxation from the people least able to afford it. In present day terms, it is like the rich paying an insignificant percentage of their income while the same percentage from farmers and tradesmen is a huge dent in their breadwinning. 

I hate the idea of "classes" as in upper and lower and middle classes. I have seen wealthy people with no "class" and I have seen people with nothing sharing what they have and exhibiting more "class" than most people will ever have within them.

I am a Canadian and I have a strong socialist bent. I resent Royalty and deplore "celebrity" and don't get me started on Privilege and billionaires,etc. I hope this (admittedly an ear worm of a) song sees traction. Please share it widely.

Oh, the 14th century was a very rough age
unless  clothes of silk was what you wore
on top of plague, famine and war, they want to tax us even more
But We’re not going to take it any more

how much you going to bleed us for you bastards
how much you going to take from us in taxes 
how much you going to bleed us for you bastards
We’re not going to take it anymore

John Ball had a dream in which every human being 
was an equal and shared the bounty of the land 
where the rich became aware of the people in their care 
Who felt the balance of wealth was unfair

how much you going to bleed us for you bastards?..

"When Adam delved and …Eve span 
Who was then the gentleman?"
who made you king and me an underling?
I’m not going to bow to you no more

how much you going to bleed us for you bastards?....

 silly king  Richard was only fourteen 
he never ever learned to play nice
they did his sums while he twiddled his thumbs and he
followed all their bad advice

they said tax em once, tax em once again 
take away their milk, take away their grain
we need more money to pay for more war 
the treasury’s weakened, better tax em some more

how much you going to bleed us for you bastards?.....

At only twenty two John Hanchauch, to be true
Led some men on up to Cambridge town
These men had no fear, and their mission was clear
Find the manors of their foes and burn them down

John’s future had been shining  bright before him
at twenty years of age, he’d just been wed
But he couldn’t stand the rules of these aristocratic fools
And in just two years he’d lost his head

Henry DeSpencer, fighting bishop for the king
Needed somebody to fail
Dispenser of “justice” ordered the axe
And Hanchauch’s head fell in the pail.

how much you going to bleed us for you bastards
how much you going to take from us in taxes 
how much you going to bleed us for you bastards
We’re not going to take it anymore

how much you going to bleed us for you bastards
Headless men can’t pay taxes 
how much you going to bleed us for you bastards
You’ll get nothing from me anymore

Standing Up

When I was in the third grade I “failed” music. It probably wasn’t a “fail” per se, but it was a capital U on my report card. Not an E for excellence, a VG for Very Good or a G for merely good but a U which stood for “Unsatisfactory”.

This requires some explanation on my part.

It was 1964. I had just turned nine years old in February. I sang in a church choir. Not yet the more serious Cathedral choir which came the next year, but I could always sing, and sing I would. Whenever I was happy. I was a happy child for the most part. I still am happy and I still sing. I don’t have to be happy to sing now, but it will still make me happy. 

Music in school consisted of designating a small period of time each week to sing easy hymns like “This Is My Father’s World” and “Jesus Loves Me This I Know” or folk songs like “Un Canadien Errant” or “Land of the Silver Birch”. We also learned patriotic songs: “God Save The Queen”, “The Maple Leaf Forever” and “O Canada”. The School I attended was part of the Protestant School Board and the kids were mostly white. This was before the province switched to linguistic boards. Protestant meant “not Catholic” or “Les Autres”. My Jewish classmates sang “Jesus Loves Me” without balking…. I don’t recall if there were any children of other faiths, but they would have been lumped in with us as well.

I usually excelled at music because I was enthusiastic and sang in tune. I didn’t excel at much else except making my friends laugh at my hijinks. I had not yet had the diagnosis of “dyslexia” that I would carry with me after testing in grade four. I made an adequate bench warmer in sports and could not figure out my dominant side. I write left handed, but the testing called me “ambidextrous”. “A-dextrous” would have been a more accurate description. Our jock neighbour who lived next door had a derogatory nickname for everyone he encountered. Mine was “spaz” as in “spastic”. His nickname should have been “bully” or “asshole” which aren’t necessarily exclusive.

In grade 3, the teacher (a generalist-not a music teacher) decided we should sing “Onward Christian Soldiers”. Here is where the trouble started. I was singing along with the class, proud to be loud and in tune and leading. I sang a line in particular that bothered me. “Marching as to war”. This struck me as not something I could support. I had a strong Christian background and knew the Ten Commandments by heart. I knew that killing was wrong. My first awareness of news and current events had arrived several months before on November 22,1963. I then became exposed to and aware of the war in Southeast Asia and saw the bodybags on the news. Looked wrong to me even at such a young age.

The teacher noticed that the hymn was not unfolding as it should and saw that I wasn’t singing. She ordered(not asked) me to sing and I refused. I told her I didn’t like the song because it promoted war. I was sent to the corner. I know now that “as to” is two prepositions together meaning “as if” and is an imaginary comparison, a simile. The song did not mean “marching to war”, but following with the determination and discipline of the military. She could have explained that to me and it might have been win/win.

The whole idea of Christian Soldiers was/is confusing. Protestants and Catholics were killing each other in Northern Ireland, the Nazis as well were ostensibly Christian but doing decidedly un righteous things. 

I hadn’t yet discovered Bob Dylan or his song of ascerbic irony “With God On Our Side”. I was just trying to make sense of things. My religious upbringing at home was making me an idealist and it flew in the face of senseless authority. I dug it when Jesus overturned the tables at the temple. Surely Goodness and Righteousness shall follow me all the days of my life.

Having grown into a life where music plays a defining and central part  and from which I have made my livelihood, performing, teaching and writing, I look back on this event and wear the badge of “Unsatisfactory” with honour. I don’t know where I got this rebellious streak, but I have had to stand up against other teachers, administrators and school boards and parents with their skewed and fearful versions of reality and defend my choices of my reality with conviction and honesty. Also able to promptly admit when I was wrong.

 “Truth and Beauty” to quote Bill Evans. It is in my music, my teaching,my writing, my love, and a pretty good raisin d’être.