Virtute et Industrial

Friday, 8 April 2011
Alright. I'll admit it. Some of these entries are written with my tongue stuffed rather firmly up against my cheek. I was fully intending to do the same with this one. But I can't.

Me, with my tongue in my cheek. Honest.
Virtute at Industrial is, frankly, a work of genius. The song, written by Adge, pays tribute - well, sort of - to Bristol, the biggest city in the South West. The song made it's first appearance on 1966 LP (remember those?) Adge Cutler at the Wurzels. It takes its title from the motto of the City of Bristol - Virtute Et Industria, or virtue and industry. Why the additional 'L'? I have no idea.

Clearly thinking they were onto a good thing - and they were, The Wurzels re-recorded this song for their 2004 A Taste of the West album, although it was titled Virtuet Industrial. Either because we can't spell down in Zummerzet, or because they wanted to draw on people's presuppositions that people in Zummerzet don't know Latin. (As Pete says in the intro, "It's all Greek to I..")

Based in fact, yo.
As much as I want to try and convince everyone it's actually about Zen and the art of City Maintenance, the fact is that this is a social commentary up there with the words of Billy Bragg, Bob Dylan and..ugh, U2, I suppose. But WAY less annoying than U2.

Anyway. The first thing about this song is that it's REALLY, REALLY long. 12 verses, in fact. And it's clearly a fond look at Bristol and it's people, but without the rose-tinted specs so often seen in songs about forgetfully leaving your heart in one city or another, cities that never sleep, or it being a helluva place. Rose-coloured glasses and Wurzel shirts just don't go, I guess.

So we begin with:

Oh, we be Bristol kiddies/We comes from Bristol City/Where all the blokes is handsome/And all the birds is pretty/Weem proud of our 'ome town/It never gets we down/and we got a little motto/What we sing up Bedminster Down

And then of course, we come to a sort of chorus, which basically just involves singing Virtute et Industria and then something funny, after it.

Verse two play homage to Bristol City and Rovers, those two great titans, locked in an eternal Montague/Capulet style feud, but while kicking balls around a field.

It's not until the third verse that the song takes a bit of a sideways step into more serious issues.

Praise the City Fathers/'Cos they know what they'n doin'/Don't listen to they moaners/Who says weem going' to ruin

Ah, yes. They Moaners (tm). The bread and butter of local newspapers - as much as Angry from Manchester managed to keep Points of View on TV for about 400-odd years, They Moaners (tm) have been helping  reporters to fill pages by raising those little issues that councils like to sweep under the rug, like cutting funding to just about everything, making some rather interesting decisions and not following procedures terribly well.

It's free to go in!
They talks of Portbury/But I aint kiddin' thee/Who wants docks/When all the locks/On the lavatories be free?

Because, yes. Who needs jobs? Who needs training? Why does a city need to recalls it's industrial heritage? Look! Look at our toilets! You don't have to pay to use them!

Long live all the brewers/Build more pubs and bettin' shops/Don't waste the cash on sewers/Virtute et Industrial/Lets have another drink/Virtute et Industrial/An' never mind the stink

Now a major tourist attraction!
Sewers? Pft. No need for infrastructure. Let's just rush through some more pubs to keep the locals happy and maybe they won't notice the overflowing manholes and leaking pipes all over the place. Actually, to give the city council their dues, during the 1970s they did start to improve the city's sewers - although, with the Current Financial Climate (tm), who knows what the future holds?

Oh we be livin' well/Bad times is in the distance/We lives it up like hell/On National Assistance/It tain't that we do shirk/To do a bit of work/But if you coulst live without it/Well, who'd be such a berk?

Dear Sir. This sums up everything that is wrong with today's broken Britain. Clearly the person writing this is a single mother on benefits, and probably an immigrant. Oh, if only Diana was alive... Yours sincerely, Daily Mail Reader.

This would never have happened on my watch, sonny.
OK, there's another verse about a church with a steeple that's most likely a reference to people living in glass houses not throwing stones, and then a verse which will ring true to anyone who ever tried to get out of Bristol on a Friday night.

Let progress be our watch word/Hooray for all the planners/They keeps the traffic flowing/And never minds the tanners/From Lulsgate thees could tear/To Paris, now by air/But the buses down Old Market/Is enough to make thee swear

What's the phrase? Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose? And if anything, with local councils bringing the axe down on just about everything they can at the moment, this line's probably as relevant today as it was however-many years ago.

We've got a little bit about the Severn Bridge in the next verse, leading us on to:

Yeah, that's just super. Big fan.

With one way streets and flyovers/We knows which way ween facing/Has you seen our brand new bridge/Down at Cumberland Basin?/The cars go by like thunder/Up and round and under/Just where they goes/No bugger knows/And t'aint no bleedin' wonder

I could get lost in a square room. I have no sense of direction and I still rather proud that I'm capable of turning up at the correct house each night. It's not surprising that I got stuck in the Bristol one-way system once. I think I was there for about four hours and ended up halfway to Weston before I was able to find somewhere to turn around. I feel Adge's pain.

Our town will last for ever/If we can't build the Concorde/We'll buy 'n on the never/Virtute et Industrial/Who got ten million quid/Virtute et Industrial/well, ther thee bist then kid

Ah Concorde. Super. Throughout the 1960s and 1970's the British Government happily threw more money than the third world debt (probably) at Bristol, in the hope of building the world's first supersonic plane. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

Total development costs – more than £1,100 million. Operating costs – more than 2½ times as much as modern subsonic jets. The sonic boom, which over sparsely populated Cornwall produced compensation of £4 per mile on test runs; added to its dubious impact on the stratosphere. Concorde is just about the largest single waste of men and resources that capitalism has yet discovered. Woohoo!

This, or....


The best of British luck/To the Mayor and Corporation/They just come back from France/A credit to the Nation/Now, mind you keep it dark/But they reckon the old Town Clerk/Bought back they Follies Bergeres/In exchange for Ashton Park be fair, that's not a bad swap, really.

Virtute et Industrial/Up the Downs on Sundays/We spent the rent on Saturdays/Down Nelson Street on Mondays/Virtute et Industrial/May Bristol never fail/Virtute et Industrial/Till weem all out Arno's Vale

A translation, for the non-native speakers:

  • The Downs - a huge open area near Clifton
  • Nelson Street - where the old Labour Exchange/Job Centre/Whatever they're called now used to be.
  • Arno's Vale - another area of Bristol near Brislington. Which just happens to have a huge cemetery.

So, basically: "We love our city, but the people running it don't know jack."

Kinda hard to be a smart-arse on this one, considering the times we live in. I promise to be glibber next time.


Ixion's Disciple said...

Course back in '68 there was big stink because the council had decided Bristol needed an urban motorway and bought up loads of land intending to slam the motorway right through the centre of the city, from Cumberland Basin across the docks and out to where the M32 starts, bulldozing vast quantities of docks, treasured housing and buildingsin Kingsdown in favour of a concrete horror story. Fortunately wiser minds prvailed. or the brown envelopes weren't quite fat enough or summat. One of the reasons stokes croft is such a state today is cos of those aborted plans.

Heres a map of the proposed motorway...

Anonymous said...

Found this about Brissle soon after the vote on Europe when like Scotland Brissle voted to continue being European. Slightly cleverer than most. By the way Virtute et Industrial is of course the way true born Bristolians pronounce their motto.

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