"Madame Geneva's" as written by and Mark Knopfler....
I'm a maker of ballads right pretty
I write 'em right here in the street
You can buy them all over the city
Yours for a penny a sheet

I'm a word pecker out of the printers
Out of the dens of Gin Lane
I'll write up a scene on a counter
Confessions and sins in the main
Boys, confession and sins in the main

Then you'll find me in Madame Geneva's
Keepin' the demons at bay
There's nothin' like gin for drownin' them in
But they'll always be back on a hangin' day
On a hangin' day

They come rattlin' over the cobbles
They sit on their coffins of black
Some are struck dumb, some gabble
Top-heavy on brandy or sack

The pews are all full of fine fellows
And the hawker has set up her shop
As they're turnin' 'em off at the gallows
She'll be sellin' right under the drop
Boys, sellin' right under the drop

Then you'll find me in Madame Geneva's
Keepin' the demons at bay
There's nothin' like gin for drownin' them in
But they'll always be back on a hangin' day
On a hangin' day


Lyrics submitted by mishel

"Madame Geneva's" as written by Mark Knopfler

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Madame Geneva's song meanings
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  • +3
    My InterpretationAnyone who is familiar with William Hogarth work and the history of capital punishment in England during the 17th and 18th Century will find Mark's sources to this beautiful song.
    The song criticizes the entertained way the executions were captured at that time and maybe the "the light hand on the trigger". People were hanged for petty theft and small forms of robbery!!
    The point of view is of one who writes those broadsides containing the last confessions of the condemned.
    The place of the execution was the infamous Tyburn (where Marble Arch is located today). The condemned were imprisoned some 3 miles away from the dreaded Tyburn gallows (Newgate Gaol), in a sense that they had to travel by cart 3 mile journey through narrow streets until they reached Tyburn. As they passed by, huge crowds were lined up in the streets, waiting for the big entertainment.
    The condemned were placed on a cart, which "rattled over the cobbles", with their black coffins. The crowd who lined up in the streets insulted them and hurled objects at them.
    On the way the condemned had few stops at the local pub where they were allowed alcoholic drinks until they were "top-heavy on Brandy or Sack" (Sherry).
    Once they left the pub the journey to the gallows was short. Adjacent to the gallows, spectators sat on grandstands (known as Mother Procter's Pews) to watch the "fun".
    Amongst the spectators you could find hawkers and people like the song hero who sell copies of the condemned speeches and confessions broadsides ("yours for a penny a sheet").
    The execution started when the cart was backed under the gallows. The condemned were tied to the beam at the top of the gallows by the hangman. The horsed were then whipped away, pulling the condemned off the cart to leave them suspended, having only few inches of drop.
    I do know about Gin Lane's true existence, but it was mentioned in William Hogarth well known satirical painting. Gin lane on one hand and Beer Street, on the other were used to try fight the abuse of spirits (Gin) at that time, by offering Beer which though to be less abusive.
    This relates to William Hogarth other famous painting: the Tyburn.
    mishelon May 14, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThank you Mishel for all that information and the wonderful details. Based on that, it seems like the song is trying to make a connection between the way criminals (and not only the worst ones) were treated back then, and alcohol abuse. The writer who is speaking might be drinking so much (like many at the time) because he is afraid and is trying not to think about what might happen to him some day (keeping the demons, that he is facing each day to make a living, at bay)...
    pearjuiceon April 23, 2011   Link

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