Rock and a Wee Pickle Tow (A)

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X:2 T:Rock & a wi pickle Tow, A M:3/4 L:1/8 R:Air Q:"Slow" S:McGibbon – Scots Tunes, book II, p. 55 (c. 1746) Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion K:G D2 | E2G2A2 | B4d2 | (e>fg)B2 | A4 T(f>e/2f/4) | g2G2A2 | TB3A (B/c/d) | B2G2(GA) | G4 :||: (gf) | e2e2g2 | e2 efg2 | T(e>de)fgf | Te3dB2 | d3ed2 | d2e2f2 | g2fedc | {c}TB2 AB G2 | c2B2c2 | d2e2f2 | (gf)(ed)(cB) | TA4 T(f>e/2f/4) | g2G2A2 | TB2 (A<G) (G>A) |G4 :|]



ROCK AND A WEE PICKLE TOW, A. AKA – “O had I a rock and a wee pickle tow.” AKA and see "Captain Collins," "Carawith Jig," "Green Goose Fair (1)," "Highlander's March (The)," "Montrose's March," "One-Horned Cow (2) (The)," "O'Sullivan More's March (1)," "Páinneach na nUbh (1)," "Pickle Tow," "Pretender's March (The)," "Retreat (The)," "Scottish March," "Scotch March (1)," "Tadeen the Fiddler," "Wee Pickle Tow." Shetlands, English, Irish, Scottish; Air or Jig (6/8 or ¾ time). England, Northumberland. Ireland, Donegal. A Major : G Major (most versions): F Major (Gow). Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB (most versions): AABBCCDD (Oswald). Regarding the title, a rock is a distaff, a device that holds the flax strick or the fiber for spinning. It is called a rock because the weight, or whorl, was frequently a shaped and pierced rock. A ‘wee pickle tow’ is a small piece of prepared short flax fibers combed from longer fibers called "line". Thus it was a spinning song, the tune of which proved popular and served many purposes over the years. Christine Martin (2002) notes that “rocking meets” were held in some parts of Scotland, in which all spinners gathered in one house in the village to spin. It was used as a march tune under many different titles, and was one of the favorite songs of the early 19th century in Lowlands Scotland, according to Peter Mackenzie, "the genial reminiscer of Glasgow" (Emmerson, 1971). John Glen, in his Early Scottish Melodies (p. 197), traces the tune to the 1663 edition of Playford’s Musicks Hand-Maid where it appears under the title “A Scotish March.” Playford later printed the same tune as “Montrose's March” in this 1669 Musick’s Recreation. The title “A Rock and a Wi Pickle Tow” first appears with the melody in Oswald’s Curious Collection of Scots Tunes (1740), finds Glen. A similar air exists in Shetland as "Bride's March (The)" as played by John Stickle of Unst. Under the title variant "Rock and Pickal o' Taw" it is one of the "missing tunes" from William Vickers' 1770 Northumbrian dance tune manuscript, and the title appears in Henry Robson's list of popular Northumbrian song and dance tunes ("The Northern Minstrel's Budget"), which he published c. 1800. Fifer John Buttery (1784-1854) entered it into his large turn of the 19th century copybook after he joined the 24th Regiment of Foot.

Outside of England "Rock and the wee pickle tow" appears as the name of a Scottish country dance, and (as "Lord Lithgow's March") it is the town march of Linlithgow, a royal burgh in West Lothian, Scotland, west of Edinburgh. In Northern Ireland the tune is current in traditional repertoire under the title “Wee Pickle Tow.” Other related tunes include the Irish jig “Out on the Ocean (1),” the Shetland “Doon da Rooth” (in 21/8 time!), as well as a pipe march, "Iain Caimbeul a Banca.” Bayard (in his article “A Miscellany of Tune Notes”) reports that Irish traditional versions are sometimes associated with the rhyme “There was an old woman tost up in a basket (blanket),” which rhyme is also associated with the tune “Lilliburlero.” The melody is still quite popular with bagpipers and fiddlers.

Words to the tune were printed by David Herd (1732–1810) in his Collection of Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs (1776), attributed to poet Alexander Ross, a schoolmaster of Lochlee, Forfarshire. He was was born at Kincardine O'Neil, in the year 1699, and was the author of many other poems and songs (see also his "To the Begging we will go," and "Woo'd and Married an' a'"). His "Rock and a Wee Pickle Tow," set to an older air, was first published in Aberdeen in 1768. He died in 1784, aged 85. The first stanza begins:

There was an auld wife had a wee pickle tow,
And she wa'd gae try the spinnin' o't;
She louted her doun, and her rock took a-lowe,
And that was an ill beginnin' o't.
She sat and she grat, and she flate, and she flang,
She flew, and she blew, and she writtled, and wrang,
She chokit, and boakit, and cried--like to mang--
Wae's me for the dreary beginnin' o't.

The Shetland post-nuptial processional, "Wedding March from Unst/Brides March from Unst" is a slowed-down version of "Rock and a Wee Pickle Tow." A distanced County Donegal version called "Wee Pickle Tow" was collected (see Songs of Uladh) at the turn of the 20th century from the fiddling of Proninseas mac Suibhne, who learned it from the whistling of his father. It was not, however, a well-known tune in the Tearmann area, "except by the older people."

Additional notes

Source for notated version: - Ian Kennedy (Fort William, Scotland) [Martin/2002].

Printed sources : - Aird (Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, vol. 1), 1778; No. 194. Gale, p. 24. Gow (Complete Repository Part 4), 1817; p. 17. Gow (Vocal Melodies of Scotland), 2nd ed., 1822; p. 27. Johnson (Scots Musical Museum, vol. 4), 1787-1803; No. 439. Kennedy (Fiddler’s Tune Book, vol. 2), 1954; p. 31 (as “The Pickle Tow”). Kerr (Merry Melodies, vol. 1), c. 1880; No. 10, p. 31. Martin (Ceol na Fidhle, vol. 4), 1991; p. 48. Martin (Traditional Scottish Fiddling), 2002; p. 81. McGibbon (Collection of Scots Tunes), 1746;. p. 55. McGibbon (Collection of Scots Tunes, book II), c. 1746; p. 55. Mooney (Choicest Scots Tunes/Bagpipe, vol. 1); 1982 p. 15. Padraig Mac Aodh O'Neill (Songs of Uladh), 1904; p. 15. Oswald (Caledonian Pocket Companion, vol. 1), c. 1760; p. 8. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 136 (as “The Pickle Tow”). Smith (Scottish Minstrel, vol. 6), 1820-24; p. 62. Thompson (A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs) 1805; vol. 4, No. 199.

Recorded sources: - Culburnie COL 102, Alasdair Fraser & Jody Stecher – “The Driven Bow” (1988).

See also listing at:
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [1]
Alan Snyder's Cape Breton Fiddle Recordings Index [2]
Alan Ng's Irishtune.info [3]



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