Cape Breton's Magazine

> Issue 42 > Page 59 - "George Alfred Beckett": Story & Song

Page 59 - "George Alfred Beckett": Story & Song

Published by Ronald Caplan on 1986/6/1 (327 reads)

placed the black cap over his head, and ad? justed the noose. "As the minister began??chanting the open? ing lines of the Lord's Prayer, the still? ness of the interior was broken slightly by the dropping of the trap door, as the lever was sprung, sending the body of the unfortunate Beckett to a seven-foot drop. "Thirteen minutes after the trap was sprung Beckett was pronounced dead by Dr. C. J. Sparrow of Reserve, County Jail phys? ician- -the immediate cause of death being a broken neck." And Phil Penney of Glace Bay wrote a song, "George Beckett's Lament"--generally known today as "George Alfred Beckett," We do not know exactly when he wrote the song. Penney had copies printed and took them to sell in St. John's, Newfoundland--but the printed sheet we've seen is not dated. It is likely he wrote the song not long after the hanging (which took place on April 31, 1931). Ray Penney (Phil's son) told us: "He made a lot of little songs, and then he made songs of different murders that took place in the town here.... And when anything serious happened--a murder or something in Glace Bay--I'd say within a day he'd have the song put together." But Phil Penney was not a public singer, and that might explain why the song is sung to? day to a variety of airs. "He was a poet," Ray told us. "And he also played accordion • And he also used to prompt dances, same as I do...." But Ray makes it clear that by the time he wrote "George Beckett's La? ment," Phil Penney's singing was in his own kitchen, for his family. Phil did sug? gest on the printed song sheet that "Peter Emberley" was the air he had in mind. This is a traditional song and the tune would have been widely known in his day. But singers we've heard so far have felt free to choose different airs. Ray, for in? stance, sings it in a decidedly country style. Phil Penney's song seems to us a good place to start thinking aloud about folk songs. While we continue our search for Cape Breton folk songs, questions arise, such as why songs are made and why certain ones have been remembered. It seems to us, for instance, that the coal miner, Phil Penney, felt he had this other role to play in his community--that of songmaker, poet, bard. We know of at least 4 murder songs he made. While he may have had some fascination with local murders, we find he did not particularly play on the crime in making his song. After reading the newspa? pers of the day, it is interesting to con? sider what he chose not to include in his Songwriter Phil Penney, and his son Ray FOR A REAL CAPE BRETON WELCOME TO CAPE BRETON "''' The fxH'"'' OLD SYDNEY PUB Finest Food and Beverages * Nightly Dancing * Fresh Lobster Suppers * Everything We Serve Is Homemade * * A Comfortable Atmosphere for a Meal and a Good Time * Phone 539-3003 581 Grand Lake Road, Sydney (Just Off Highway 125) (59)
Cape Breton's Magazine
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