I first heard ‘the streets of Forbes’ sung by Martin Carthy a few years ago but it wasn’t until I heard June Tabor’s version that I fell totally in love with the song.
June Tabor posesses the kind of voice that binds you in a spell within seconds, hers is a tone that carries you and drops you deep into the songs she tells.
The narrative of this song is so moving and the melody so plaintive that it grabs me at the level of the gut whenever I hear it.
The song feels like a grainy early black and white cowboy film. Closing my eyes, suddenly I’m not listening to music anymore, I’m in a old movie theatre watching a tragic storyline unfold of a valiant hero and his cowardly murder.
The streets of Forbes is a song about an Australian outlaw or “bushranger” named Ben Hall, it tells the story of his last days as he attempts to leave his lawless days behind him and begin a new life across the “raging seas”. The song was written c.1820 supposedly by Ben’s brother after he saw his brother’s body dragged the streets of town.
The song harks back to a time, unimaginable today, when people still gathered to sing songs and tell stories together.
The streets of Forbes is from another age, a time where fact and myth still merged.
P.s I recorded this version of the streets of Forbes with the talented cellist and songwriter Dom Pinto while she was recording her album at our home in the Cevennes.
For more information on the origins of this song: http://www.informatik.uni-hamburg.de/~zierke/martin.carthy/songs/streetsofforbes.html