The Ballad Of John Axon

Album: The Anthology (1958)

Songfacts®:

  • Unlike "Ballad Of Stalin," this Ewan MacColl composition is a tribute to a true working class hero. An epic song running to 45 minutes, it tells the story of the man who has been called the British Casey Jones.

    On February 9, 1957, the 56-year-old Axon was driving a train from Buxton to his home depot at Edgeley in the north of England when the automatic stream brake pipe fractured. The cab filled with scalding steam, but after telling his fireman to jump clear, Axon held onto the outside of the cab to warn signal boxes along the route. Axon's engine crashed into another freight train, and he perished, but his actions saved the lives of a train full of children. The guard on the other train was also killed.

    On May 7, he was awarded the George Cross posthumously, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a civilian in Britain. A plaque in memory of the two men was affixed to the station building wall at Chapel-en-le-Frith where the tragedy happened.
  • MacColl's song was first broadcast on BBC Radio on July 2, 1958, the first in a series called The Radio Ballads. It was arranged by Peggy Seger, who played the banjo on it, and although it has many sections, it is one song. The sections include interviews with Axon's widow and workmates. A total of between twenty and forty hours of interview material was collected. There is a simulated train crash, and even a section in calypso by Fitzroy Coleman, for whom MacColl wrote "Rosalie."

    The Radio Ballads series was produced by Charles Parker; the Axon song was rebroadcast on BBC Radio 7 in August 2010. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for above 2

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