Cock of the North (1)

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COCK O' THE NORTH [1]. AKA and see "Auntie Mary" {Ireland, Newfoundland}, "Joan's Placket (Is Torn)" {England}, "Jumping John." Scottish, English, Canadian; Jig, 6/8 March, and Morris Dance Tune. Canada; Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland. A Major (Hunter, Johnson, Kennedy, Miller & Perron, Perlman, Raven): G Major (Bayard, Bullen, Kerr, Sweet, Wade). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Bullen): AAB (Bayard, Hunter): AABB (Johnson, Kennedy, Miller & Perron, Raven, Sweet, Wade): AA'BB' (Kerr, Perlman). The 'Cock o' the North' was an honorary title of the (fifth and last) Duke of Gordon, who held sway over the northern part of the Scottish Highlands (from a note in a monograph on William Mashall printed in his 1845 Collection). David Murray, in Music of the Scottish Regiments (Edinburgh, 1994), writes: "While most of the great magnates of the Highland had a Gaelic patronymic, the Duke of Gordon's was 'The Cock of the North', for although he owned vast estates in the Highlands, Gaelic was not widely spoken in Aberdeenshire, where his influence was the strongest" (pg. 181). Chappell alleges the earliest reference to the tune (under the title "Joan's Placket") is in an entry in Pepys' diary for June 1667. Bayard (1981) and Kidson (1915) both trace the tune to the 17th century, where they find the titles for this tune were "Jumping John/Joan" and "Joan's Placket (Is Torn)." It was published by Oswald (vol. 10) c. 1758, by Feuillet in Recueil de Contredanses (1706) in Paris, and by Playford in the 1674 and 1686 editions (and all subsequent editions) of his Dancing Master, each time under the title "Jumping Joan." In fact, a Shetland reel version of the tune from the island of Whalsay collected in modern times still goes by the name "Jumping John" (Cooke, 1986).

The dance and ballad air was assumed into martial repertory, the obvious connection being with the Gordon Highlanders, whose military band play it as the regimental march past in quick time. It has been recorded that the melody helped win Gordon Highlander Piper George Findlater the Victoria Cross in 1897. It seems that while leading the charge storming Dargai Heights with other pipers, he was shot through both legs; "undaunted, he propped himself against a boulder, and continued to play" the stirring air to encourage the successful action (Winstock, 1970; pg. 212). Kidson (1915) relates another military story of its earlier use in the siege of Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The British were initially hard pressed and were for some time besieged in various locations in the city by native Indians. Signals had been regularly sent between the forces defending parts of the besieged town, and those under attack in the Residency quarters. A drummer boy named Ross, after the signaling was over, climbed to the high dome from which signals were sent and despite harassing fire from the Sepoys he sounded "Cock o' the North" in defiance, rallying the English with his bravery (though being a drummer, exactly how he 'sounded' the tune remains a mystery, ed.)

In England, Andrew Bullen (Country Dance and Song, May 1987, vol. 17, p. 11). suggests there is some evidence to think that "Cock of the North" was the tune traditionally used in the famous horn dance of Abbots Bromley, Staffordshire (currently performed in most Christmas Revels pageants). "This standard version," he states, "taken from Pruw Boswell's 'Morris Dancing of the Lancashire Plain', is used in the Wigan St. John's Dance." Wade records that the tune is still used for a single step dance in the North-West Morris tradition. The second part resembles that of "We Must All Wait Till My Lady Comes Home," from a Northumbrian musicians manuscript book dated 1816.

Perlman (1996) notes that this tune was remembered by many Prince Edward Island fiddlers as the very first tune they tried to play. They were perhaps influenced by 'Down-East' Canadian fiddler Don Messer and his group the Islanders, who recorded the tune as one of their first sides in 1942, for Apex Records. In New Foundland "Cock o' the North" was known by the title "Auntie Mary," by which it is known in Ireland. The refrain below is sometimes sung, unaccompanied, in the middle of the tune:

Auntie Mary had a canary
Up the leg of her drawers;
She was sleeping, it was creeping,
Up the leg of her drawers.

Variants of the "Auntie Mary" lyrics were known in Scotland and Ireland, although the first two lines seem common to all.

Miscellaneous notes: The tune was used by the Scots poet Robert Burns for his song "Her Daddie Forbad and Her Minnie Forbad." In America, it was given to Bayard that there was an obscene New England song to the tune called "Chase Me Charlie," but he did not hear it. It has been asserted that a trumpet version of the tune was played at the execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587, but this cannot be substantiated and it is not credited. It is not, as has been proposed by Johnson-Stenhouse, the progenitor of "Lillibulero." Sara Lee Johnson (1986-87) says the tune is often heard at the Old Michigan Fiddler's Association gatherings. Irish musicians occasionally play "Cock of the North" as a slide (12/8 time).

Sources for notated versions: Hiram Horner (fifer from Fayette and Westmoreland Counties, Pa., 1960) [Bayard]; Elliot Wright (b. 1925, Flat River, Queens County, Prince Edward Island; now resident of North River) [Perlman].

Printed sources: Bacon (A Handbook of Morris Dances), 1974; p.142. Bayard (Dance to the Fiddle), 1981; No. 580, p. 513. Bullen, Country Dance and Song, May 1987, vol. 17, p. 11. Hunter (The Fiddle Music of Scotland), 1988; No. 299. Jarman (The Cornhuskers Book of Old Time Fiddlin' Tunes), 1938; p. 19. Jarman (Old Time Dance Tunes), 1951; p. 66. Johnson (Kitchen Musician No. 7: Michigan Tunes), 1986–87; p. 6. Kennedy (Fiddler's Tune-Book, vol. 2), 1954; p. 36. Kerr (Merry Melodies, vol. 2); No. 311, p. 34. McDonald (The Gesto Collection of Highland Music), 1895; p. 135. Miller & Perron (New England Fiddler's Repertoire), 1983; No. 43. Moffat (Dance Music of the North), 1908; No. 53, p. 23. Page, Heritage Dances of Early America; No. or p. 41. Perlman (The Fiddle Music of Prince Edward Island), 1996; p. 141. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 105. Ross (Army Manual of Bagpipe Tunes, book 1), 1934; p. 10. Sweet (Fifer's Delight), 1964/1981; p. 21. Wade (Mally's North West Morris Book), 1988; p. 14.

Recorded sources: Folkways FD 6530, Old Grey Goose - "Maine Country Dance Music and Song" (1980).

See also listing at:
Alan Snyder's Cape Breton Fiddle Recordings Index [1]
Hear the tune played on concertina at the FARNE site [2]
Alan Ng's Irishtune.info [3]




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