The Bells of Rhymney
Artist & Tune
About the Song
"The Bells of Rhymney" is a musical setting by Pete Seeger of a poem by the 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. The work was inspired by a local coal mining disaster and by the failure of the 1926 General Strike, with the "Bells of Rhymney" stanzas following the pattern of the nursery rhyme "Oranges and Lemons". 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, the capital Cardiff, and the more prosperous Wye Valley.
Two decades after Gwalia Deserta was published, Seeger used one part of the work as lyrics for his song after discovering them in a book by Dylan Thomas. He first recorded the song on a 1958 live album "Pete Seeger & Sonny Terry". He included it on a number of later albums including "Pete Seeger's Greatest Hits" (Columbia), "The Complete Bowdoin College Concert" (Smithsonian Folkways), and "Live in '65" (Appleseed Recordings).
The most famous version of the song is from the American folk rock band The Byrds on their 1965 debut album "Mr Tambourine Man". Jakob Dylan & others perform the song on the film "Echo in the Canyon" about the Byrds and the fertile cross-fertilization happening among American and British rock and folk musicians in the 1960's.
The Choral Project created a stunning choral arrangement of the song and it has been recorded by a number of different choirs.