Pay Your Rates

Lyrics

Pay your rates
Pay your water rates
Pay your rates
Pay your water rates

If your rate's too high
Write a snotty letter
If your rate's too high
Put your life on this bit of paper

Advice on rates
Advice on rates

Pay your rates
Pay your water rates
Pay your rates
Pay your water rates

If it goes too high
You'd better sign this letter
If you cannot pay your rates
You're gonna end up here

Or end up on debtors' retreat estates (1)
Or debtors' retreat escape
Debtors' escape estate

Debtors' escape
Debtors' retreat escape
Debtors' retreat estate
Neurotic Red landscape
A socialist state invention
Keep them old government bones working (2)
Debtor's escape estate

[Legendary Chaos tape:
Keep them old Victorian phones working
A debtor's retreat estate
Let's hear it for the working class traitors
Hello Warren Mitchell
Hello Warren Mitchell
Hi, Warren Mitchell] (3)

Debtors' escape estate
Debtors' retreat estate
A no-motivation estate
Debtors' escape estate

Pay the borough
Pay the borough
Pay your rates
Pay the borough
Pay the borough
Pay the borough

Pay your rates
Pay your water rates
Pay your rates
Pay your rates

"I"m not worried about it."
"Hey, bub!"  (4)

Notes

1. The Lyrics Parade posts the following note: "In Michael Parkinson's autobiography 'Parky' he says on the second page: 'I was born on a council estate in Cudworth, a mining village in the South Yorkshire coalfield. In those days it was nicknamed 'Debtors' Retreat' and my Dad told me the rent collectors walked around in pairs." The nickname was probably applied to a lot of places; Danny points out that there is in fact an example closer to MES's home: "There's an article in the Guardian of 24 November 1984, about an estate called Strinesdale on the edges of Oldham: 'the once hard-to-let estate, dubbed "debtor's retreat" by the locals...'" See comment 12 below, where Dan identifies several instances of the phrase being used in print.

MES seems to have played guitar on the track. From Dan:

From "The Fall: album by album", in Uncut magazine, July 2019:
 


PAUL HANLEY: ... Mark played some great guitar on "Pay Your Rates".


DJ Ash:

In at least one live version , the debtors retreat estate is also called “Dickie Bird Estate” which is the nickname given to a council estate in Bury with all the streets named after birds , for example Thrush Drive.
Anyone driving north along the M66 will pas by this neighbourhood.

^

2. This makes enough sense as it stands, but it has suggested the lyric is either "phones," or that "bones" may be rhyming slang for "phones." The latter suggestion seems most unlikely, as "bones" would fit, as paying ones rates would keep government employees in business (and perhaps there is a reference to the spiritual "Dem Bones"). 

However, it is possible he says "phones." Anthony suggests as much:

"The lyrics refer to no government phones working. In the late 70s, early 80s prior to the privatisation of British Telecom the telephone service was essentially govt owned. On debtors retreat estates, it was customary to discover the public phones out of order, with only the possibility of a reverse charges call. Or you could relieve yourself sheltered from the elements and try to vandalise the hanging phone directory. Happy pre-mobile phone days."

But it's not clear how paying ones rates would keep the phones working, or how one could "keep" phones working that do not work...

^

3. Warren Mitchell is an English actor known for playing ignorant and bigoted working class characters. His most famous role, as Alf Garnett on the BBC program Till Death Do Us Part, was the prototype for Archie Bunker on the American situation comedy All in the Family.

A few lines later, the Chaos Tapes has "No Dexy's Midnight Runners estate..."

^

4. MES also uses the generic, informal term of address "bub" in "Middle Mass" ("Living here you whisper, bub!"). "Bub," which has its origin in the mid-19th century USA, is seemingly not common in England. 

^

Comments (31)

dannyno
  • 1. dannyno | 29/04/2014
After the last "Debtors' escape estate", I'm hearing this:

"Pay the borough
Pay the borough
Pay your rates
Pay the borough
Pay the borough
Pay the borough
[ ]
Pay your rates
Pay your rates
Pay your rates
[ ]
Pay the borough
Pay the borough
Pay your rates
Pay your rates
"

The [ ] represent bits of garbled dialogue I cannot decipher.

I don't seem to hear "Pay pretty sharp" anywhere though.
Mark
  • 2. Mark | 23/05/2014
I've always heard the latter part of the second bracketed section as "Hey Marc! Hey Paul!"
bzfgt
  • 3. bzfgt | 28/05/2014
To my ears "Warren Mitchell" is pretty clear...I added a little from that recording above ("Dexy's Midnight Runners"), thanks for getting me to dig it out.
dannyno
  • 4. dannyno | 29/05/2014
Debtor's Retreat

I think there's a more likely estate than Cudworth (probably lots of estates attracted the nickname)

There's an article in the Guardian of 24 November 1984, about an estate called Strinesdale on the edges of Oldham:

"the once hard-to-let estate, dubbed "debtor's retreat" by the locals..."

Obviously I'm not saying the article is a source, but that here we have an example closer to home to MES.
dannyno
  • 5. dannyno | 29/05/2014
I mean it's unlikely to be Cudworth, could be Strinesdale, but it shouldn't be overlooked that the nickname is not unique and may be somewhere else in Salford or Prestwich or somewhere.
Geus
  • 6. Geus (link) | 01/05/2015
Exactly, these lyrics describe the reduction that all supposed protestants are under today.
The purpose of taxes on water is not money, but spying and a way to put folks in prison or murder by medical inquisition whenever the papes want.
Kurious Orange did not dislike the papists, they understood what the papists where about!

Socialism was set up by the Jesuits since the reductions in Paraguay in the 1500's, where the Guarani Indians would be the slaves for modern industry 500 years ago. Britain under the knife of Rome, the Dutch Republic destroyed by France since 1795, no one to help you now.

Okay, I do, I've tried to inform the Russians about the same facts as these lyrics, but smarter folk will get assassinated.
Tried this, tried that, but people would rather believe in money and pay taxes for water. Blindness towards the spy game being played on them with taxes.
Joseph Mullaney
  • 7. Joseph Mullaney | 22/02/2018
I hear 'them old government bones', not 'the old government phones'.
bzfgt
  • 8. bzfgt (link) | 24/02/2018
"Them" certainly. "Bones/phones" is uncertain...anyone else have an opinion on the latter?
bzfgt
  • 9. bzfgt (link) | 24/02/2018
The blue book has "keep them on government loans," which I don't think is even in the running here, but is there a version where he says that?
dannyno
  • 10. dannyno | 14/03/2018
The Michael Parkinson "debtor's retreat" anecdote/joke predates his book Parky (2008). It's also in his Parkinson's Lore (first published 1981):

I was born in a council house in the Yorkshire mining village of Cudworth on a housing estate nicknamed 'Debtor's Retreat', where the rent collectors walked in pairs.


The song of course still predates the earlier book, so I'm not thinking I need to revise my comments above. But it could be, since Parkinson likes the anecdote, that he said it elsewhere and earlier.
bzfgt
  • 11. bzfgt (link) | 21/03/2018
Yeah or that he picked it up from someone else, or that it really was widely called that and somehow MES got wind of it independently, or that it was a common gibe on council estates...
dannyno
  • 12. dannyno | 21/03/2018
Yes. Here are some more places it's been used of in print (not all could be direct sources for this lyric):

Chorlton-cum-Hardy (The Lights of Manchester, by Tony Warren (1991).)

The Wirral (Liverpool: Wondrous Place, by Paul du Noyer (2007).)

Crosby (The Architect's Journal, 1982.

That's just from a quick search. There will be more.
dannyno
  • 13. dannyno | 15/05/2019
From "The Fall: album by album", in Uncut magazine, July 2019:


PAUL HANLEY: ... Mark played some great guitar on "Pay Your Rates".
Chris Cohen
  • 14. Chris Cohen | 09/07/2019
7. Joseph Mullaney | 22/02/2018

I hear 'them old government bones', not 'the old government phones'.

8. bzfgt (link) | 24/02/2018

"Them" certainly. "Bones/phones" is uncertain...anyone else have an opinion on the latter?

It sounds like "them old government bones" to me, and it might be a reference to the blues trope "Dem Bones". According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dem_Bones), the lyrics to the original Dem Bones song includes "Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again", which would tie it in to The N.W.R.A.!
bzfgt
  • 15. bzfgt (link) | 25/01/2020
OK I checked live versions, it's definitely "bones." Generally preceded by "keep them," and London 1980 has "keep them Victorian bones working."
bzfgt
  • 16. bzfgt (link) | 25/01/2020
Aha., he swallows it here but you can hear "keep them." Fixed.
Anthony
  • 17. Anthony | 17/03/2020
The lyrics refer to no government phones working. In the late 70s, early 80s prior to the privatisation of British Telecom the telephone service was essentially govt owned. On debtors retreat estates, it was customary to discover the public phones out of order, with only the possibility of a reverse charges call. Or you could relieve yourself sheltered from the elements and try to vandalise the hanging phone directory. Happy pre-mobile phone days.
bzfgt
  • 18. bzfgt (link) | 20/03/2020
What part of the lyric would be a reference to phones?
dannyno
  • 19. dannyno | 16/05/2020
Comment #18: "bones", could refer to phones in rhyming slang (several examples of rhyming slang in Fall lyrics - rhyming slang tends to be associated with Cockney rhyming slang, but it's more widespread than that). Dog and bone = phone.
bzfgt
  • 20. bzfgt (link) | 14/06/2020
Huh yeah I seem to have lost the thread with bone/phone when I posted 18. Could be "phone." I think I just cmnd-F "phone" without looking back up at previous comments....sorry
Xyralothep's cat
  • 21. Xyralothep's cat | 18/07/2020
This furious live version has the addended lyric
"take Salford for instance
30 years of labour government
and they sell you out right up the road
you're a fool if you vote for that load"
The point being any references to government in the song are to local government (the borough) rather than national (not labour all that time). Local government conspiracies occur two songs later in "New Face in Hell"
------------
Any ref to phones/bones probably indicates some kind of local authority advice line for council tenants "advice on rates".
---------------------------------------
the live version also is clearly "neuronic" rather than "neurotic red landscape", influenced I think by Ballard's Atrocity Exhibition "neuronic icons on the spinal highway" p68 2014 Fourth estate edition (authors note on this phrase p76 (post-dates song) "Highways, offices, faces, street signs perceived as if they were elements in a malfunctioning central nervous system" could be a descript of many MES songs)
DJAsh
  • 22. DJAsh (link) | 13/08/2020
In at least one live and released version , the debtors retreat estate is also called “Dickie Bird Estate” which is the nickname given to a council estate in Bury with all the streets named after birds , for example Thrush Drive.
Anyone driving north along the M66 will pas by this neighbourhood.
DJAsh
  • 23. DJAsh (link) | 13/08/2020
Re the above -
The reference to Dicky Bird PROJECT - for the benefit of the US. audience , is heard on the live performance May 12th 1988 broadcast on WFNX THE CHANNEL BOSTON.
DJAsh
  • 24. DJAsh (link) | 13/08/2020
https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/life-council-estate-street-motorway-16894896
bzfgt
  • 25. bzfgt (link) | 16/08/2020
DJ Ash, where can this be heard? Doesn't seem to be on Youtubes
DJAsh
  • 26. DJAsh (link) | 16/08/2020
I have a CD boot of the concert, I think it is widely circulated. Well it must be if even I have a copy.
DJAsh
  • 27. DJAsh (link) | 16/08/2020
It’s the same gig where MES admonishes some people in the audience for smoking Indonesian cigarettes.
bzfgt
  • 28. bzfgt (link) | 23/08/2020
OK ran with it, without "and released." Indonesian cigs sounds like a good one
Martin
  • 29. Martin | 23/08/2020
Re notes 27 and 28:

12 May 1988 The Channel, Boston:

-"Sorry no new wave music tonight!"... "Whoever's smoking those Indonesian cigarettes, please leave!"

-"Fascist country Indonesia, Jacarta. You're supporting a fascist country by smoking those grotesque, fags..."
bzfgt
  • 30. bzfgt (link) | 30/08/2020
Whoa! Good stuff
dannyno
  • 31. dannyno | 18/10/2020
On 17 December 1980, just a few days after the London gig on 11th December documented on the Legendary Chaos Tape, Warren Mitchell appeared on BBC2 in the role of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. This had been announced in the summer.

So that might be relevant or not.

Also either relevant or irrelevant is what was going on with Mitchell's career and his most famous character, in 1980.

Till Death Us Do Part ran from 1965-1975 on the BBC. ITV ran a 6 episode series under the title Till Death... from 22 May-3 July 1981, and then it reappeared on the BBC in 1985 under the title In Sickness and in Health, running until 1992.

On 12 November, Mitchell appeared on the Parkinson chat show.

So in 1980, Till Death Us Do Part was not on British screens (I couldn't find any sign there were any reruns that year), but the 1981 revival was in the offing. "Alf Makes Comeback" was the headline on p.3 of the Daily Mirror, 11 July 1980. On 17th September, ITV broadcast the 1972 spin-off movie, The Alf Garnett Saga. And in October, ITV announced that Mitchell as Garnett would give a "state of the nation" style address on Boxing Day, I guess building interest in anticipation of the new series.

So perhaps, at that London gig, MES was expressing disapproval of the impending revival of the Alf Garnett character?

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