(noon – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)
I was messing around with music by The Weavers this morning. One thing lead to another (first to Hudie Ledbetter, then Woody Guthrie) and there I was with the story of a song. It was much more complicated than I thought.
There once was a British racehorse, born in 1741, named Skewball (or Squball or Skuball). He won a lot of races, including a famous one on the plains of Kildare, Ireland. The race was so renowned, songs were written.
Of such beginnings, legends are born.
Back in the 18th Century, songs were generally distributed on broadsides. According to one such broadside, in the archives at Cambridge, the words were as follows:
Come gentlemen sportsmen I pray listen all,
I will sing you a song in praise of Scew Ball,
And how he came over you shall understand,
It was by Squire Merwin the pearl of our land.
And of his late actions that I’ve heard before,
He was lately challeng’d by one Sir Ralph Gore,
For five hundred guineas on the plains of Kildare,
To run with Miss Sportly, that charming grey mare.
Scew Ball he then hearing the wager was laid,
Unto his kind master said, don’t be afraid,
For if on my side you thousands lay would,
I will rig in your castle a fine mass of gold.
The day being come, and the cattle walk’d forth,
The people came flocking from East, South and North
For to view all the sporters, as I do declare,
And venture their money all on the grey mare.
Squire Mirwin then smiling unto them did say,
Come gentlemen all that’s got money to lay,
And you that have hundreds, come I’ll lay you all,
For I will venture thousands on famous Scew Ball.
The day being come, and the cattle walk’d out,
Squire Mirwin he order’d his rider to mount,
And all the spectators for to clear the way,
The time being come, not one moment delay.
These cattle were mounted, and away they did fly,
Scew ball like an arrow past Miss Sportly by,
The people went up for to see them go round,
They said in their hearts that they ne’er touch’d the ground.
But as they were running, in the midst of the sport,
Squire Mirwin to his rider began this discourse,
O loving kind rider come tell unto me,
How far is Miss Sportly this moment from me?
O loving kind master you bear a great stile,
The grey mare’s behind me a long English mile,
If the saddle maintains, I’ll warrant you there,
You ne’er will be beat on the plains of Kildare.
But as they were running by the distance chair,
The gentlemen cry’d out, Scew Ball never fear,
Altho’ in this country thou was ne’er seen before,
Thou has beaten Miss Sportly, and broke Sir Ralph Gore.
Another version of this song is entitled The Plains of Kildare, by Irish musician Andy Irvine.
The song migrated to America of course. And the name of the horse changed to Stewball. We don’t have youtube of Woody Guthrie’s interpretation, but we can hear his words sung by Joan Baez and Dan Fogelberg.
Woody also did what was called an American interpretation, a call and response with Hudie Ledbetter singing the lead:
But of course, most of us actually know the words as sung by Peter, Paul and Mary and/or the Hollies…and so may think the horse had a drinking problem..