Posts tagged ‘drinking songs’

July 18, 2020

Week 290 – The Parting Glass

I consider myself lucky that I was around on the folk scene at a time when you could still see traditional performers at certain festivals and folk clubs. In the 1980s and early 90s I saw singers such as Johnny Doughty, Fred Jordan, Walter Pardon, Jeff Wesley, Packie Byrne, Frank Hinchcliffe, Freddie McKay and Willie Scott. And, of course, the famous Stewarts of Blairgowrie. I first saw them in 1980 at the first Downs Festival of Traditional Singing in Newbury, and I’m pretty sure Belle, Sheila and Cathy were all there. Over the years I saw various members of the family at the National Folk Music Festival at Sutton Bonington and, to be honest, I probably didn’t fully appreciate at the time just how lucky I was to do so.

Belle Stewart, the matriarch of the family, was a wonderful singer – her singing of ‘Queen Among the Heather’ on the Topic album of the same name is, in my opinion, one of the finest things ever recorded. Sheila Stewart had a harsher voice, but she could still deliver a moving rendition of tender ballads like ‘The Mill o’ Tifty’s Annie’ or ‘Wi’ My Dog & Gun’. And when she sang a rousing chorus song – boy could she belt it out! The one I associate most with her was ‘Jock Stewart’ – I remember that she sang this as the closing song at the end of the National Festival, whichever year it was in the 1990s that Fred Jordan had overdone it somewhat, and had to be taken to hospital. With her powerful voice, and a room full of festival-goers singing along, she could really raise the roof.

Sheila Stewart. Photograph by Doc Rowe, from The Guardian.

Sheila Stewart. Photograph by Doc Rowe, from The Guardian.

I had forgotten about ‘The Parting Glass’ until last year, when Doc Rowe played a collection of his video recordings at the Musical Traditions Club’s weekend festival. One of the recordings Doc played was Sheila Stewart singing this, and I was reminded of just what a powerful song it was – in her hands at least. It’s included on the 1999 Topic album From The Heart Of The Tradition (recorded, as it happens, by Doc Rowe), but I learned it from this wonderful live recording made at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, in 2003 or 2004.

I’ve found myself listening to this quite often during lockdown, and in the end I couldn’t resist learning it. I was able to sing this out for the first time on Thursday night, at the Islington Folk Club’s Zoom session, and that proved that, yes I had learned all the words, so it’s properly in my repertoire now – in fact I’ve just written the title down in my little black book. The song seems to have a particular resonance at the moment, when we can’t all meet together with our loved ones, or our friends and companions, and when, quite literally, “we may or might never all meet here again”. Keep safe out there, people. Listen to the scientists, not this joke of a government.

 

The Parting Glass