I knew that Swing Low was an American Negro Spiritual song and I knew that UB40 had put out a version. I remember singing it as a rugby song back in my playing days in the 80’s and 90’s in England. Back then you stayed around after the game and drank too much beer and sang with the opposition, it didn’t matter whether the game was home or away, won or lost. This particular song was sung with hand signals. Coming for to carry me home sees your hand moving from a masturbatory fist, to showing four fingers, two fingers, cradling a baby, pointing at your chest then having your hands creating a tent over your head. You get the picture?

Other than that I didn’t know much. Apparently it was written by Wallis Willis a freed slave sometime before 1862 and the first recorded version appeared in 1909. Some people interpret the song as a means of promoting the Underground Railroad, a movement that was attempting to emancipate African American slaves from the south of the US to the north. The song certainly had a resurgence in the sixties as part of the Civil Rights movement. Joan Baez sang it at Woodstock in 1969.

Other than Baez and UB40 there’s a whole list of famous recordings, Paul Robeson, Etta James, The Pointer Sisters, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, a weird faux reggae version by Eric Clapton and my personal favourite; Ladysmith Black Mambazo. This year Ella Eyre put out an RFU endorsed single, I hope she wasn’t hoping to pay off her mortgage on the proceeds.

At this point if you haven’t drifted off you might be thinking so what?

Swing Low was only adopted as the anthem of England in 1988, back when the Underwood brothers were playing rugby and not selling pizza with their mum and Jonah Lomu. Will Carling had not even started chasing Princess Di around Kensington Palace, allegedly.

In the last few days I’ve been getting a fair bit of deserved stick having declared I supported England. I can’t help it, I was born there. I like singing and I miss it when I watch rugby in this country. Even die hard All Black supporters would surely agree that New Zealand rugby singing is definitely in the could do better basket.

I was thinking though that given English supporters only adopted Swing Low in 1988 that it’s not too late for the All Blacks to adopt a song. Of course given the precedent it doesn’t even need to be a New Zealand song.

My choice, from my beer swilling rugby playing days would be You are my Sunshine, if only to see sunny Steve Hansen singing along with that new found smile on his dial.

What are yours? Slice of Heaven, Poi E, Six months in a leaky boat, Pokarekare Ana, How Bizarre?

 

* The photo shows me at the front of the lineout for the mighty University of Kent at Canterbury probably in 1980, I appear to be doing goldfish impressions with a dead furry animal on my head.

 

Swing Low Traditional Lyrics

 

Chorus:

Swing low, sweet chariot

Coming for to carry me home,

Swing low, sweet chariot,

Coming for to carry me home.

I looked over Jordan, and what did I see

Coming for to carry me home?

A band of angels coming after me,

Coming for to carry me home.

Chorus

Sometimes I’m up, and sometimes I’m down,

(Coming for to carry me home)

But still my soul feels heavenly bound.

(Coming for to carry me home)

Chorus

The brightest day that I can say,

(Coming for to carry me home)

When Jesus washed my sins away.

(Coming for to carry me home)

Chorus

If you get there before I do,

(Coming for to carry me home)

Tell all my friends I’m coming there too.

(Coming for to carry me home)

Chorus

Pete Carter is all over the place. He writes and takes photographs and runs an art rental business. He lives in Eastbourne in New Zealand with a wife (an artist) and a dog, they have two grown up children, one lives in Wellington and the other in Sydney. Two books of poetry and prose are out and he has written a children's book by mistake that was published in February 2017. This book was illustrated by his nephew James. There is also a novel that rightly has not yet seen the light of day. He has had magazine articles published and poetry in anthologies. As a photographer he has had two solo exhibitions and work included in group exhibitions in NZ and overseas and has sold his work to corporate clients.

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