Jack Broke da Prison Door

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X:1 T:Jack Broke da Prison Door M:C L:1/8 R:Reel B:Anderson - Haand Me Doon da Fiddle (1979, No. 11) K:G {D}|G2 BG BdBG|(cB)AB (dB)A(B|G2) BG BdBG|ABAG E2 D:| |:{D}[B2g2] gd edB(G|g2) gd e(aa)(f|g2) (gd) edBG|ABAG E2D:|]



JACK BROKE DOWN THE PRISON DOOR. AKA - "Jack Brook da Prison," "Johnnie Brook da Prison Door." Shetland, Shetland Reel. Shetland, Whalsay. G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB (most versions): AA'BB' (Martin & Hughes). G.M. Nelson (in Anderson & Georgeson, 1970) relates the story behind the tune which was written by one John (Jack) Gaudie (Goudie), born in Levenwick, Shetland, in the 19th century. John was a young man of uncommon strength and a good fiddler who worked in the Sandwick copper mines until he met with an unfortunate accident. It seems he was ascending the mine shaft after his shift one night when a man above him (some say it was John's rival for the affections of a young woman) dropped a proving hammer which struck John on the head. He survived the resulting severe concussion but was ever after plagued with serious neurological problems which manifested generally as "spasms of violent madness," but which, luckily, left his musical abilities intact. In fact, though he could find little employment due to his disability, he had plenty of time to spend with his fiddle and, still a young man, he was acknowledged to be the best fiddler in Shetland at that particular time. Unfortunately, his disability hampered him to the extent that when he visited town he sometimes became belligerent. On one occasion when he visited Lerwick he committed a breach of the peace and was seized upon by special constables and local citizenry, to be placed in "Nicol's Hotel," or the local jail, run by an old soldier named Sergeant Nicol.

When Johnnie realised where he was his fury increased still further and, during the evening, with hand and foot, for there is no record of his possessing any other implement, he broke down the door and, once outside, set course for Clickimin and thence for home as hast as he could go. Everybody was glad to see him go and no attempt was made to restrain him. Johnnie, however, when he got home attributed his escape not only to his strength but to his subtle diplomacy in avoiding the authorities after he had broken goal. This amused him greatly, and as he enjoyed it to the full he took down his fiddle and composed that lively Shetland reel entitled "Johnnie Brood da Prison Door," or "Jack Brook da Prison." (Nelson [1])

The melody is in repertory of Shetland Fiddle Band, and therefore is now widely known in the islands. The tune is similar in parts to the Irish "Roving Bachelor."

Additional notes

Source for notated version: - Aly Bain (Shetland) [Brody, Miller & Perron], Willie Hunter (Shetland) [Cooke].

Printed sources : - Anderson (Haand Me Down da Fiddle), 1979; No. 11. Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; p. 141. Cooke (The Fiddle Tradition of the Shetland Isles), 1986; Ex. 41, p. 99. Martin & Hughes (Ho-ro-gheallaidh), 1990; p. 31. Miller & Perron (Irish Traditional Fiddle Music, vol. 2), 1977; No. 23.

Recorded sources: -Philo 2019, Tom Anderson and Aly Bain- "The Silver Bow." Leader LER 2022, "Aly Bain & Mike Whellans."

See also listings at:
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sourcs [1]
Hear Tom Anderson's 1958 recording where he introduces the tune with the story, and plays it, at Tobar an Dulchais [2] [3]



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  1. G.M. Nelson, "Notes on Some Shetland Fiddlers", in Da Mirrie Dancers (Anderson & Georgeson), 1970, p. 40.