Sonntag, 26. Oktober 2014

An Englishman's Exposé of a Scottish Version of an Irish Drinkin' Ditty

"Jock Stewart" , the song and the man.
by John Harrison

For those of you who've been to Folk Club Bonn you will probably have heard this song, and if you're a regular visitor you may even know it off by heart! Here is a version sung by Jon Bowden from the folk band "Bellowhead" and accompanied here only on an English concertina. If you click on the arrow 10 lines down at the end of the first paragraph on the left hand side

to the right of the loud speaker you can listen to it. Jon is singing here the Irish version of this song which references the river Kildare and he refers, near the end of the song, to a drink of "brandy and rum". At Folk Club Bonn we sing the Scottish version which refers to the river Tay and the drink of choice is "brandy and wine". In the Irish version Jock is unequivocally taking his gun dog with him to go out shooting, whereas in the Scottish version, there is a slight element of doubt as to whether Jock is taking the dog with him as a gun dog, or whether he is taking the dog with him in order to actually shoot it? Perhaps the dog has bitten somebody, or is infirm and in acute pain and has to be put down? There are so many possible interpretations of this song, which is one of the reasons why it is quite so fascinating.

Stewart, sometimes spelt Stuart, after Mary Queen of Scots chose to spell her surname Stuart instead of Stewart in the sixteenth century. The "Stuart" spelling arose because there was no letter "w" in the French language and Mary Queen of Scots,  became Mary Stuart, following her marriage to the Dauphin of France, later King Francis II. Stewart is the original spelling and arose after members of the Breton family Dapifer, who had come to Britain in 1066 with William the Conquerer later became the High Stewards of Scotland and took their future name from this office.

I personally think that Jock Stewart was a cattle drover, as prior to refrigeration cattle had to be literally "driven" on the hoof from the highlands of Scotland to the main markets in London and the Midlands, along the wide drove roads heading southwards. This would certainly take a brave, canny, formidable and trustworthy man to complete a journey of many weeks with a high likelihood of encountering rustlers on the journey south and robbers eager to steal the money obtained for the cattle and sheep in London on the return leg of the journey.

To add a further twist to the song is the fact that Stewart is a common name in both Scotland and England so Jock Stewart is a sort of a "John Doe" type of name and being a drover would make excellent cover for a French spy to travel throughout England carrying large sums of money without raising suspicion. Futhermore the Royal Stewart tartan is the tartan of the British monarch and so can be worn by anyone.

However, towards the end of the song in calling for a round of "Brandy and wine" rather than the more customary, for a Scotsman, tipple of a "half and a half" (a dram of whisky chased with half a pint of "heavy" beer), he may have betrayed his French origins and exposed himself!

This is just a possible theory though, unless it becomes the basis of John Le Carré's next thriller?

This song, has over the last four and a half years become the evening's "anthem" of Folk Club Bonn, and it's a communal song where everyone joins in, that we always try to sing at the end of an evening, "time permitting", despite the fact that we are usually late and it is invariably after 22:00 hrs as we bravely try to bring the evening to a close.  John Hurd from 3Songs Bonn has recently commented that "Jock Stewart" already has his own momentum, and even when it is so late that we decree the evening to be "officially" over without him, his fans and stalwarts still break into song with "Jock Stewart" regardless.

I suppose that's the sign of a good song!

There is certainly much more to this song than immediately meets either the eye or the ear,
and it's also got a rattling good chorus!

click here to get the "Folk Song a Day" rendition by Jon Bowden with an English concertina:

and do click on the links to the Mudcat Café discussion threads where much more knowledgeable "folkies" than I am have left their collective 5 cents and six penneth's worth of comments!

Indeed do feel free to comment on the Folk Club Bonn Blog if you've ever heard this song and tell us what you think about it.
For example, it was so nice recently when we had bagpipes on it for very first time, as we sang Jock Stewart on the anniversary FCB 50 meet in September and for the procession through Graurheindorf, not the great Scottish Highland pipes, but the slightly smaller black Galician pipes.  This cemented the FCB tradition with Jock Stewart, "so be easy and free, when you're piping with me!"
All the more extraordinary when the original Stewarts, the Dapifer family came from Brittany on the Atlantic coast of France, to the north of Galicia, which is also on the Atlantic coast of Spanish Iberia, around the Bay of Biscay.
As in music, and also in dance, and poetry, so in history, everything that goes around, eventually also comes around.
Please let us know your own personal opinions about, and your impressions of Jock Stewart.
Both the enigmatic song, full of riddles, and the mysterious person behind it all.
Who was Jock Stewart? 

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