This song won joint first place in our Nòs Ùr 2017 songwriting competition. Read the press release.
Kettle Bilers by Emma Martin
This is the first song that I’ve composed from a collection that I’m writing about the time of Jute Mills in Dundee from the late 18th through the 19th century. The Kettle Bilers refer to the men of Dundee who were unable to work as it was the women who were employed in the mills for various reasons such as wage, rights and smaller hands for machines. This was very hard for the men to feel like men and generally they felt weak and idle. This song is told from the view point of a couple of bairns talking about their dads. One feeling useless and one very bitter about their situation.
Oor faithers bile kettles and mak a weak tea
Amang climbing the steps tae the Hilltown, Dundee.
Their muckle hands blether but cannae shift, wind or weave
So they spin throu the boneyards frae the bummer till sleep.
Mi faither left the skale at the age o 14
A halftimer till then swept the spinnie machines,
Ayeways proud o his strength then his pey was tae rise
So they telt him tae leave, he couldnae haud you in the eye.
Noo nae a man tae his wife, she forgot how tae loo
He’ll tak the work he can find sewing sacks in the hoose,
He wauners the streets greetin worse than a bairn
He wants it better fir me, what’s a man that cannae earn.
Well mi faither taks his hand, aff the back o ma legs
He caught me pinchin’ a sup o the last o his dregs,
So he waits fir mi mither at the gates o the mill
Demands and begs her tae hand o’er her pey fir a gill.
He cannae read nor write and his back is tae sair
Tae howk the tatties wi me or pick the berries nae mair,
He speaks o a dream he had a lang time ago
About a life the mills took and pult the women frae homes.