Five String Hammer – by Monica Shepherd and Tony Burt

five string hammerFive String Hammer was written in June 2017 at Halsway Manor in Somerset by Monica Shepherd and Tony Burt. It’s an interesting example of a co-written song so I’ll try to give a bit of insight of how it came about.

I’d never written a song with another person until I started attending songwriting workshops a few years back. At first it seemed a strange idea as my songs were very personal and so I couldn’t see how collaboration could be possible.

But co-writing works for a variety of reasons:

  • It can’t be as personal as a solo composition but that’s a good thing as it lightens things up and adds range to the repertoire.
  • It’s quicker than writing solo – two heads are better than one.
  • You make friends! If you write with someone it creates ¬†real rapport between you.

So the song featured below was the result of an exercise from the songwriting workshop in June 2017 at Halsway Manor.

Monica and I were partnered up at random and given an hour to write a song about about a “singer from the past” which we duly accomplished. We hadn’t met before but we had things in common; both from the West Midlands, both at the folkier end of the spectrum and each having reached a similar degree of maturity!

Firstly we debated who we should write about and Monica suggested Pete Seeger. There wasn’t time to write a 15 verse biography so we thought about what image we had of him. Inevitably that focused on his long neck five string banjo and his campaigning for justice freedom and democracy.

We decided we needed three verses and a chorus and then spotted that his classic song “If I Had a Hammer” gave us a structure. First verse “the hammer of justice” (hence Five String Hammer), second “the bell of freedom” and third “sing a song about the love between my brother and my sister”. Virtually all the lyrics came from that. The tune almost fell out of the words.

When we started playing and arranging we felt it was a bit too square so I put the guitar into double dropped D tuning which gave it a bit more atmosphere and there it was. By the end of the allocated hour it was done even if still scrawled on scraps of paper and notebooks.

Over the next 24 hours we found maybe an hour or so to tidy it up and then recorded it in the version you can hear below. Now a month has gone by I’m playing it myself and still tweaking it a bit, even trying it on banjo to make it more Seeger-like. I expect Monica is adapting it more to her own tastes as time goes by. But it is still “our” song and I look forward to comparing notes with her in the future.

So, here it is:

FIVE STRING HAMMER  (MONICA SHEPHERD & TONY BURT)

Sing it out across the land
Five string hammer in his hand
Standing up for those pressed down
Claiming justice all around

Chorus:

Sing like Pete and sing it long
Sing it loud and sing it strong
Sing it loud and sing it strong
Sing like Pete, the song rings on

Ringing out the freedom bell
From the chains he knew so well
They tried to stop his freedom song
He raised his voice, the words ring on

Chorus:

Songs of love for everyone
Brother, sister, daughter, son
Singing out across the land
Five string hammer in his hand

Chorus: x2


And here is Pete Seeger in 1956 singing “If I Had A Hammer” but on guitar not banjo! If you search on Youtube you will find a banjo version from 2013 when Pete was 94 years old. As you can imagine the voice is a little worn out but the banjo is still hammering out freedom!

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