Farewell to Whiskey (1)

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FAREWELL TO WHISKEY [1] (Slan Le N-Uisge Beata). AKA - "Neil/Niel Gow's Farewell to Whiskey." AKA and see "Go Rabh Slan Leis an Ól," "Goodbye Whiskey" (Pa.), "Ladies Triumph (1)," "Murphy's Favor," "My Love is but a Lassie (2)," "Rose in the Garden (2)," "Young America." See also related tune "Twin Sisters (5)" (New England). Scottish (originally), Canadian, English, Irish, American; Strathspey (originally), Slow Air, Country Dance, Polka, Reel, or March (2/4 time). Canada; Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island, Ontario. USA, New England. B Flat Major (Alburger, Carlin, Dunlay & Greenberg, Dunlay & Reich, Gow, Hunter, MacDonald, Neil): A Major (Begin); slow air, country dance, polka, reel or march version often played in G Major (Athole, Brody, Cranitch, Harker/Rafferty, Hughes, Johnson, Mallinson, Martin, Miller & Perron, Moylan, O'Neill, Raven, Roche & Williamson, Sweet, Tubridy): C Major (Martin/1990). Standard tuning (fiddle). AAB (Dunlay & Greenberg, Gow, Neil): AABB (most versions).

Niel Gow

The original was composed by renowned Scottish fiddler-composer Niel Gow (1727-1807) who identified it as a lament on the occasion of the British government's prohibition of using barley to make whiskey in 1799, due to the failure of the crop in Scotland in that year (see the companion tune "Welcome Whisky Back Again," "a merry dancing tune"). It appears in his First Collection, 2nd edition (1801), and reappears in his Fifth Collection (1809), with the note "It is representative of a Highlander's sorrow on being deprived of his Favorite Beverage." Gow was known to frequently and heartily imbibe, and his reputation for drinking seemed almost as well known as his skill on the fiddle. Verses were written to Gow's tune (appearing in 1804) illustrating his distress at the event (in fact Niel himself noted in the original composition that it gave voice to "the Highlander's sorrow at being deprived of his favourite beverage"), that begin:

You've surely heard o' the famous Niel,
The man that played the fiddle weel;
I wat he was a canty chiel,
And dearly loved the whisky, O.
And aye sin' he wore tartan hose,
He dearly lo'ed the Athole brose;
And wae was he, you may suppose,
To bid 'farewell' to whisky, O.

and end:

Come, a' ye powers of music, come!
I find my heart grows unco glum;
My fiddle-strings will no play bum
To say farewell to whiskey, O.
Yet I'll tak my fiddle in my hand,
And screw the pegs up while they'll stand,
To mak a lamentation grand,
On gude auld highland whiskey, O.

Neil (1991) relates a well-known anecdote about Gow and his quick wit, and which also possibly refers to his consumption of whiskey:

It concerns his answer to a friend's query regarding the distance between Perth and Dunkeld, which Niel had just completed after an evening of fiddling, namely, that it was not the length of the road which had bothered him but its breadth.

Another anecdote is told by Drummond (Perthsire of Bygone Days) of Niel Gow and this particular composition to the effect that when Niel first heard 'James' (probably Daniel) Dow play "Farewell to Whiskey," "he pulled his bonnet over his eyes, and rushed to the door," overcome with emotion at the rendering. While colourful, the story is false (similar tales have been told of Pagannini and others), for Dow would have had to have performed it eighteen years after he had been in the grave! Gow's slow air quickly became popular, and soon was transformed into dance versions at faster tempos. Cape Breton variations are thought to be by Donald John "the Tailor" Beaton, according to Doug MacPhee (Dunlay & Greenberg); the tune is played as a slow air on Cape Breton, as it was originally written. Paul Cranford reports that some Cape Breton musicians play the tune and variations transposed down a half-step to the key of 'A' Major and tune the fiddle to AEae. Co. Kerry accordion player Johnny O'Leary played the tune as a polka, pairing it with "The Dark Girl Dressed in Blue." New England fiddlers often play the tune in G Major as a reel for contra dancing; the tune has been a standard there for many years. See also West Virginia fiddler Melvin Wine's distanced old-time variant "Walk Chalk Chicken."

Sources for notated versions: Mary (Beaton) Macdonald (Cape Breton) [Dunlay & Greenberg, Dunlay & Reich]; Strathspey (New England) [Brody]; accordion player Johnny O'Leary (Sliabh Luachra region of the Cork-Kerry border), recorded in concert at Na Piobairi Uilleann, February, 1981 [Moylan]; Cosmas Sigsworth (b. 1917, Corrville, Central Kings County, Prince Edward Island; now resident of Cardigan) [Perlman]; fiddler Dawson Girdwood (Perth, Ottawa Valley, Ontario) [Begin]; Scottish Borders fiddler Tom Hughes [Martin]; New Jersey flute player Mike Rafferty, born in Ballinakill, Co. Galway, in 1926 [Harker].

Printed sources: Alburger (Scottish Fiddlers and Their Music), 1983; Ex. 72, pgs. 109-110. Begin (Fiddle Music from the Ottawa Valley), 1985; No. 73, p. 83. Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; pg. 102. Carlin (The Gow Collection), 1986; No. 57. Cranitch (Irish Fiddle Book), 1996; No. 48, p. 143. Cranitch (Irish Session Tunes: Red Book), 2000; 48. Dunlay & Greenberg (Traditional Celtic Violin Music of Cape Breton), 1996; p. 141. Dunlay & Reich (Traditional Celtic Fiddle Music of Cape Breton), 1986; p. 68. Gow (First Collection of Niel Gow's Reels), 1784 (revised edition in 1801); p. 1. Gow (Fifth Collection of Strathspey Reels), 1809; p. 36. Harker (300 Tunes from Mike Rafferty), 2005; No. 285, p. 92 (appears as "My Love is But a Lassie"). Hughes (Gems from the Emerald Isle), c. 1860's; No. 96, p. 22. Hunter (Fiddle Music of Scotland), 1988; No. 47. Johnson (The Kitchen Musician No. 5: Mostly Irish Airs), 1985 (revised 2000); p. 13. MacDonald (The Skye Collection), 1887; p. 136. Mallinson (100 Irish Polkas), 1997; No. 11, p. 5. Martin (Ceol na Fidhle), vol. 1, 1991; p. 15 (appears as "Niel Gow's Farewell to Whisky"). Martin (Taigh na Teud), 1990; p. 15 (appears as "Niel Gow's Farewell to Whisky"). Martin (Traditional Scottish Fiddling), 2002; pg. 108 (appears as "Niel Gow's Farewell to Whisky"). Miller & Perron (101 Polkas), 1978; No. 46. Miller & Perron (New England Fiddler's Repertoire), 1983; No. 134. Moylan (Johnny O'Leary), 1994; No. 55, p. 32. Neil (The Scots Fiddle), 1991; No. 99, p. 134. O'Neill (O'Neill's Irish Music), 1915; No. 103, p. 57 (march version). O'Neill (Music of Ireland: 1850 Melodies), 1903; No. 1825, p. 343 (march version). Perlman (The Fiddle Music of Prince Edward Island), 1996; p. 97. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p 149 (appears under the title "The Ladies Triumph"). Roche Collection, 1982, vol. 2; No. 350, p. 62 (march version). Sannella, Balance and Swing (CDSS). Silberberg (Tunes I Learned at Tractor Tavern), 2002; p. 43. Stewart-Robertson (The Athole Collection), 1884; p. 153. Sweet (Fifer's Delight), 1964/1981; p. 60. Treoir. Tubridy (Irish Traditional Music, vol. 1), 1999; p. 11. Williamson (English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish Fiddle Tunes), 1976; p. 67.

Recorded sources: Claddagh CC5, Dennis Murphy & Julia Clifford (both from Sliabh Luachra, Co. Kerry) – "The Star Above the Garter." DMP6-27, Doug MacPhee – "Cape Breton Piano II" (1979). F&W Records 3, "The Canterbury Country Orchestra Meets the F&W String Band." Front Hall FHR-023, Michael, McCreesh & Campbell – "The Host of the Air" (1980). Greentrax CDTRAX 9009, Albert Stewart – "Scottish Tradition 9: The Fiddler and his Art" (1993). Kicking Mule 216, Strathspey – "New England Contra Dance Music" (1977). Shanachie 33004, James Morrison – "The Pure Genius of James Morrison." Smithsonian Folkways SFW CD 40126, Rodney Miller – "Choose Your Partners: Contra Dance & Square Dance Music of New Hampshire" (1999).

See also listings at:
Alan Snyder's Cape Breton Fiddle Recording Index [1]
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [2]




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