So there I was, on a wet Wednesday evening in February 2012, driving back home through the old West End of Derby half listening to the Radio 2 Folk Awards (as you do). My ears pricked up when a lovely sounding brass band struck up. Then a female voice sang, “In the West End of Derby lived a working man…”. I pulled over on Bridge Street by The Ram Inn to listen more closely.
An incredible story unfolded of a man called Charlie Hudson who lived in Brook Street (not 10 yards from where I had parked) in the early 1900’s. Charlie kept racing pigeons and in 1913 he entered a bird in a race home from Rome (some 1001 miles away). Most of the pigeons perished in a storm, but Charlie’s bird (the ‘King of Rome’) made it home and won the race.
Even more incredible was that the story was true. The King of Rome (now preserved and stuffed) is on display at Derby Museum.
In the late 80’s local folk musician Dave Sudbury wrote a song about it which has been recorded by many artists including June Tabor and Half Man Half Biscuit(!). The version I heard was by The Unthanks and The Brighouse & Rastrict Band.
He also produced a book (which I’ve now got and is excellent) which sets the lyrics to some fantastic illustrations.
The story and the song conjure up a vivid account of what life was like round these parts around a hundred years ago and are the essence of what folk music is (or should be).
The ordinary and extraordinary tales of normal folk are the things that should be told and retold and not lost.
“When I set them free, it’s like part of me gets lifted up on shining wings”