Tell My Friend the Prison Warden I Hadn’t Time to Call

One other Communist Party of Canada member and labour leader, “Red” Malcolm Bruce, appears as a main figure in some of Dawn Fraser’s poems. Born in Prince Edward Island, Bruce spent much time during the 1920s fighting labour’s struggles in the Cape Breton coal fields. “Honest Bell What did Bruce Say?” “The Hair Breadth Escape of Red Malcolm Bruce” and “Tell My Friend the Prison Warden I Hadn’t Time to Call” focus on events during Bruce’s stay in Cape Breton, including a charge of libel while fighting labour’s cause.

LYRICS

Dear Bell: I will not ask for space
To cover such a feeble case,
Nor should I take the readers’ time
To bore them with my roughneck rhyme;
A few good laughs and I am done-
Oh, Tom, me boy, ain’t we got fun?
You tell them all about the law,
Leave me alone to laugh haw-haw
Six men from different parts of town,
All summoned, mind you, by the crown,
Stood up, and each one swore in turn
As how he hoped some day to burn,
If on that Sunday in the hall
He heard Bruce say “them things” at all.
I marked the smile on every face-
The crown was building quite a case?

One witness don’t remember where
He really was-but he was there-
could not remember every word,
But someone said he overheard
That someone said he know a man-
‘Twas thus the story wildly ran
Till we were dizzy in the head
From “someone said that someone said”
I’ll tell you, Tom, what someone said-
“We’ve got to get this dangerous Red;
Everything is working nice-
Cut him down at any price.
Besco has too much at stake-
Horrors! If the slaves awake!
Make some pretext, find some excuse-
We got to silence Malcolm Bruce.”

But, bon voyage, Malcolm, on your way,
We hope you come another day,
And Malcolm, if you come again,
We won’t invite you to the pen,
Or take such rare exceeding pains
To wrap you up in prison chains;
When next you speak it well might be
On eastern hospitality
Alas, alas, our island fame-
I weep o’er old Cape Breton’s shame.

By BEN FUREY

 BEN FUREY – VOCALS AND ACOUSTIC GUITAR 

About Ben Furey

Ben Furey grew up in Coxheath, Cape Breton Island. A graduate of St. Francis Xavier’s music program, he writes and performs songs on his own and with bluegrass rowdies Crowdis Bridge. An accomplished guitarist, mandolin and banjo picker, Ben has recently completed Expedition Cape Breton: Every Shore 2011, a circumnavigation of the island with his friend AJ Fraser where they helped raise money for Cape Breton Firefighters Burn Care Society.

Dawn Fraser points out that “Tell My Friend the Prison Warden I Hadn’t Time to Call” was sung by Malcolm Bruce himself (MLH, 2 June 1923: 4; 9 June 1923: 4; 23 June 1923: 4). As Allan Engler has noted, Malcolm Bruce was one of the leading figures in the history of Canadian working class politics. He died at the age of 87 in 1976. He was a founding member of the Socialist Party of Canada, later the Communist Party, and then the League for Socialist Action, and a member of the CCF and NDP until his death.1[1] http://www.socialisthistory.ca/Remember/ Profiles/Bruce-Malcolm.htm accessed 21 June 2011. According to Engler, Bruce’s “first experience in the class struggle occurred in 1898 when he took part in the bricklayers strike in Sydney, N.S., where he worked as a helper building the foundries for the Dominion Steel Co..”.2[2] http://www.socialisthistory.ca/Remember/ Profiles/Bruce-Malcolm.htm accessed21 June 2011. “Tell My Friend the Prison Warden I Hadn’t Time to Call” is about “Red” Malcolm Bruce and Tom Bell, an editor at the Maritime Labour Herald. On May 1, 1923, Malcolm Bruce gave a speech in Glace Bay where he “was reported to have made some disrespectful reference to the British flag. It was peculiar, however, that these alleged remarks were noticed only by the representatives of the capitalist press.”.3[3] Frank and MacGillivray, 1976, 61. The song tells the story of how “Red” Malcolm was issued a warrant for arrest for the comments he made during his speech. As Frank and MacGillivray explain: “The incident attracted much attention about Glace Bay, and there was much discussion about Bruce’s address and what he really did say. People who were in the audience were appealed to, and the burning question was: Just what remark did Bruce make?”.4[4] Frank and MacGillivray, 1976, 61. The composer addresses comments to Tom Bell, editor of the Maritime Labour Herald, and the hearing broke down into accusations such as “I heard that he heard” and “He heard that I heard.” The case was ultimately dismissed by the Magistrate. The song captures that moment in time in Glace Bay in 1923. References Frank, David, and Don MacGillivray. 1976. Introduction to Echoes From Labour’s War: Industrial Cape Breton in the 1920s, by Dawn Fraser. Toronto: New Hogtown Press. http://www.socialisthistory.ca/Remember/ Profiles/Bruce-Malcolm.htm accessed21 June 2011

[1] http://www.socialisthistory.ca/Remember/ Profiles/Bruce-Malcolm.htm accessed 21 June 2011.

[2] http://www.socialisthistory.ca/Remember/ Profiles/Bruce-Malcolm.htm accessed21 June 2011.

[3] Frank and MacGillivray, 1976, 61.

[4] Frank and MacGillivray, 1976, 61.

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