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Based on a story I heard on the radio while driving to a gig.


I’ll tell you a story sir, if you'll buy me a beer
It might just raise a smile sir, or then again a tear
The boards they were my life sir, the stage it was my joy,
I saw Robey as a man and I watched Formby as a boy,
The boards they were my life sir, the stage it was my joy.

I was the finest stage hand The Empire ever had,
For me the good old days were good, for others, they were bad.
There's one that I remember, he would come round twice a year,
The Singing Knifegrinder, who'd trundle on his gear.
He'd sing his songs, and sharpen knives,
And come round twice a year.

He never got too far, you know, he never topped the bill,
He'd always get them listening, but he couldn't make the kill.
He'd always come in joking, it's an old one now, I know,
"I’m second billing to the printer of the poster this week, Joe."
And he'd smile and say "I’m sorry. It's an old one now I know."

He sang the same old songs in the same old style
Told the same old stories, they'd lasted him a while.
Although they never cheered him it was always said,
He gave a pleasant show, he always earned his bread.

Well, the war was nearly over, there was just the east to go.
The theatres were re-opening, presenting victory shows,
And who should come in smiling on the day that we rehearsed?
Why, The Singing Knifegrinder, I was glad to see him first.
So keen to go to work on the day that we rehearsed.

He told me he'd enlisted, though he was over age
He'd never told the army he was on the stage.
His singing could have saved him from what fate had in store
At Dunkirk he was left behind - a prisoner of war.

He opened up the second half as he had always done
I raised the safety curtain and I watched him trundle on,
The same old red bandana and the gleaming street machine,
It was just as though the intervening years had never been.
The same old red bandana and the gleaming street machine.

I wondered what he'd do if ever they encored
The band there in the pit had only four songs scored
He finished to a ripple and I rang the curtain down
Then I waited for the next turn, performing seal, and clown.

But then the ripple grew to genuine applause
The cast came from the dressing rooms asking for the cause
And standing in the wings as the people went to town
Were the dancer, the juggler, the acrobat, the clown,
They were standing in the wings as the people went to town.

For then the ripple grew into a steady roar
I stared at the knifegrinder, the one they cheered for
They stamped and they whistled, you should have seen his eyes.
My god! Can you imagine! The fright and the suprise?
We saw beneath his makeup, there were tears in his eyes.

I swear he stared straight through me at all the years he'd done,
At all the boards he'd trodden, the nights he'd never won.
He nodded for the curtain and I raised it once again
And I watched him trundle out there, the happiest of men.

But there was no spotlight shining for him there
He stood in the dark, I screamed "It isn't fair!"
For in the box above him, responding to the roar,
Stood old Winston Churchill, the hero of the war.
No, no, they hadn't told us, we didn't know he'd come.
I rang the curtain down, and I stood there feeling numb.

He walked towards the nightmare of memory ahead
He walked into the night and The Knifegrinder was dead
He pushed a pathway through us, he never made a scene
But when we closed down later, and I went out to clean
Standing in the wings was a knifegrinding machine.

Well the theatre's closing down sir, like all the music halls.
The strip shows and the bingo, they couldn't fill the stalls.
They plan to hold an auction next week when they close it down
I think that you should go sir, take a look around.

I thanked the old stage hand, and I went to the sale
I bought a few old hand bills when the bids began to fail
And then lot 204, it was a knifegrinding machine
And I knew I had to have it, even if the bids were keen,
That lot 204, it was a knifegrinding machine.

For sitting in the corner was a very tired old man,
And I had seem him straighten when first the sale began,
And I had seen him smile when the old machine came on,
And though I’d never heard him sing, I knew, he was the one.

He stood to leave the theatre when I had bid the last
I gently touched his arm as he shuffled past.
“There is no red bandana sir, you must have that at home,
But let me please return to you something that's your own.
Yes, take it sir, and sing again, as you make your way home.
Let me please return to you something that's your own."


from The Margarita Collection, released January 1, 1996


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Harvey Andrews Shropshire, UK

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