The Bells of Rhymney

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"The Bells of Rhymney"
Song by Pete Seeger from the album Pete Seeger and Sonny Terry
Released July 1958
Recorded December 27, 1957
Genre Folk
Label Folkways
Writer Pete Seeger, Idris Davies
"The Bells of Rhymney"
Song by The Byrds from the album Mr. Tambourine Man
Released June 21, 1965
Recorded April 14, 1965, Columbia Studios, Hollywood, CA
Genre Folk rock
Label Columbia
Writer Pete Seeger, Idris Davies
Producer Terry Melcher

Gwalia Deserta XV

Oh what can you give me?
Say the sad bells of Rhymney.

Is there hope for the future?
Cry the brown bells of Merthyr.

Who made the mineowner?
Say the black bells of Rhondda.

And who robbed the miner?
Cry the grim bells of Blaina.

They will plunder willy-nilly,
Say the bells of Caerphilly.

They have fangs, they have teeth!
Shout the loud bells of Neath.

To the south things are sullen,
Say the pink bells of Brecon.

Even God is uneasy,
Say the moist bells of Swansea.

Put the vandals in court!
Cry the bells of Newport.

All would be well if-if-if –
Say the green bells of Cardiff.

Why so worried, sisters, why?
Sing the silver bells of Wye.

from Gwalia Deserta (1938)

"The Bells of Rhymney" is a song first recorded by folk singer Pete Seeger, using words written by Welsh poet Idris Davies. The lyrics to the song were drawn from part of Davies' poetic work Gwalia Deserta, which was first published in 1938.[1] The work was inspired by a local coal mining disaster and by the failure of the 1926 General Strike and the "Bells of Rhymney" stanzas follow the pattern of the nursery rhyme "Oranges and Lemons".[1][2] In addition to Rhymney, the poem also refers to the bells of a number of other places in South Wales, including Merthyr, Rhondda, Blaina, Caerphilly, Neath, Brecon, Swansea, Newport, Cardiff, and the Wye Valley.[1][3]

Two decades after Gwalia Deserta was published, Seeger used one part of the work as lyrics for his song "The Bells of Rhymney" after discovering them in a book by Dylan Thomas.[4] The song was first released as part of a suite of songs, including "Sinking of the Ruben James" and "There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly", on Seeger and Sonny Terry's 1958 live album, Pete Seeger and Sonny Terry.[5] The song was also included on Seeger's 1967 compilation album, Pete Seeger's Greatest Hits.[6]

Arguably the most famous rendition of the song is the version recorded by the American folk rock band The Byrds.[2] The Byrds' recording of "The Bells of Rhymney" was committed to tape on April 14, 1965, and released as part of the band's debut album, Mr. Tambourine Man.[2][7] At the time of recording, the song was a relative newcomer to The Byrds' repertoire, having first been performed during the band's March 1965, pre-fame residency at Ciro's nightclub on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.[8][9] Lead guitarist Jim McGuinn had brought the song to the band after becoming familiar with it as an arranger on Judy Collins' third album, Judy Collins 3, which itself included a cover version of "The Bells of Rhymney".[4][10] Although The Byrds were anxious to correctly pronounce the Welsh place-names in the song's lyrics on their recording, they actually mispronounced the name Rhymney as "Rimney" (it should be pronounced as "Rumney").[8]

The Byrds' version of "The Bells of Rhymney" features a number of the band's early musical trademarks, including their complex harmony singing and McGuinn's jangly twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar playing.[11] In his book Icons of Rock: An Encyclopedia of the Legends Who Changed Music Forever, author Scott Schinder has noted that the band's rendition of the song "managed to craft the dour subject matter into a radio-friendly pop song without sacrificing the song's haunting message."[12] The Byrds' recording of "The Bells of Rhymney" was also influential on The Beatles, particularly George Harrison, who constructed his song "If I Needed Someone" around the same guitar riff that The Byrds had used in the song.[13]

"The Bells of Rhymney" was also covered by Cher, soon after the release of The Byrds' version, on her All I Really Want to Do album.[14] The song has been recorded by many other artists over the years, including The Serendipity Singers, The Alarm, The Ian Campbell Folk Group, John Denver, Jimmy Page, Robyn Hitchcock, Oysterband and Ralph McTell.[15] As a result, the song has been important in making the town of Rhymney known to many outside Wales.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d "The Bells of Rhymney". BBC. Retrieved 2009-12-01. 
  2. ^ a b c Rogan, Johnny. (1996). Mr. Tambourine Man (1996 CD liner notes). 
  3. ^ "The Bells of Rhymney Lyrics". Pete Seeger Appreciation Page. Retrieved 2009-12-01. 
  4. ^ a b Unterberger, Richie. (2002). Turn! Turn! Turn!: The '60s Folk-Rock Revolution. Backbeat Books. p. 114. ISBN 0-87930-703-X. 
  5. ^ "Pete Seeger and Sonny Terry at Carnegie Hall". Smithsonian Folkways. Retrieved 2009-12-01. 
  6. ^ "Pete Seeger's Greatest Hits review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-12-01. 
  7. ^ Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (2nd ed.). Rogan House. p. 618. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X. 
  8. ^ a b Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (2nd ed.). Rogan House. p. 85. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X. 
  9. ^ Hjort, Christopher. (2008). So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star: The Byrds Day-By-Day (1965-1973). Jawbone Press. pp. 28–29. ISBN 1-906002-15-0. 
  10. ^ "Judy Collins 3 review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-12-01. 
  11. ^ Smith, Chris. (2009). 101 Albums That Changed Popular Music. Oxford University Press. p. 33. ISBN 0-19-537371-5. 
  12. ^ Schinder, Scott.; Schwartz, Andy (2007). Icons of Rock: An Encyclopedia of the Legends Who Changed Music Forever. Greenwood Press. p. 264. ISBN 0-313-33845-0. 
  13. ^ MacDonald, Ian. (1995). Revolution In The Head: The Beatles' Records And The Sixties. Pimlico. p. 135. ISBN 0-7126-6208-1. 
  14. ^ "All I Really want to Do review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-12-01. 
  15. ^ "The Bells of Rhymney cover versions". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-12-01. 

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