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The King of Rome

The Unthanks 🇬🇧

30 July 2012

Written by Dave Sudbury in the 80s about a homing pigeon, and recorded in 1988 by June Tabor, this live version by folk group The Unthanks (backed by the famous Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band) is a thing of rare magnificence. As, apparently, was the eponymous pigeon :)

The story behind the song is of an Edwardian-era homing pigeon (a Belgian blue cock, to be precise), who set long distance records in returning to his Derby home from Rome, while very few other birds made the return.

In the 1980s, Dave Sudbury wrote a song about the story of Charlie Hudson's bird, and the lyrics are quite beautiful.

If you live 'round here
The ground seems awful near
Sometimes I need a lift to victory

Sudbury performed it in a competition in which June Tabor was a judge. She liked the song and recorded it herself, bringing it to a wider audience in 1988.

But it's this version by North-East England folk band The Unthanks that really appeals to me. Not least due to the brass band accompaniment by the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band - who actually reached the No 2 slot in the UK singles chart in 1977 with a recording of floral dance with Terry Wogan (feel free to skip that link, really). It took the "might" of Mull of Kintyre to keep them off top spot.

Ah, 1977 and the glory days of punk, eh?!

The King of Rome (the bird himself) still exists exists thanks to the magic of taxidermy

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