Songwriting Basics Section II – Analysis 40: Up, Carles, Dance!

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Bob Leslie is an Independent Scottish Songwriter, Singer, and Recording Artist

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I was reading Hugh MacDiarmid’s elegy to mortality, love, and a near-hopeless Scotland, A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle.

About ¾ of the way through, the poet has a wee burst of near-optimism,  rouses himself to dance, and, in 16 very short lines, he writes what he calls a “jig”. 

O Scotland is
THE barren fig.
Up, carles, up
And roond it jig.

Auld Moses took
A dry stick and
Instantly it
Floo’ered in his hand.

Pu’ Scotland up,
And wha can say
It winna bud
And blossom tae.

A miracle’s
Oor only chance.
Up, carles, up
And let us dance!

A “jig” it is not, lacking completely the triplet rhythm that courses through that form. It makes a not bad reel though, and I found myself humming a tune to it. 

It’s a bit short for a song though, so I shuffled it about a bit, changed a few words, and extracted a repeatable hook by amending the last stanza to 

A miracle, oor only chance
Up, carles, dance!

The “carles” in question being the common folk of Scotland.

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Since MacDiarmid published the poem back in 1926, reasons for greater optimism regarding our poor once-Empire-befuddled country have arisen, so I effectively doubled the length of the piece by contrasting past with present: 

Miracles are near at hand.

The original melody I came up with conformed pretty much to traditional models, so, for variety, I bumped it up a minor 3rd in the middle, then dropped it back down again.

Then, when I reprised the opening lines, I took the whole thing up a tone to give the ending a more rousing feel.

Last, but not least, I got on my metaphorical knees to Hugh MacDiarmid’s publishers and got permission, subject to a fairly modest fee, to claim their author as a co-writer, so that I wouldn’t have to wait till 2048 for the copyright to expire!

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Lend an ear and an eye …

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Up, Carles, Dance!

© 2019 Bob Leslie & Hugh MacDiarmid

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Stress: the metre readings …
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Each stanza has the stress pattern of 
2 x [3 lines of 4 stresses and 1 line of 3]

The prevailing metre throughout is trochaic (DUM-dah), with some lines ending in single syllables or running the trochee into the first syllable of the following line.

“| we sall | sing and |we sall | pley, thon |
fig’s in | fruit, we’re | oan oor | wey, an …| “

An exception is the title line “Up, carles, dance!” which consists of 3 stressed single syllables.

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Rhyme those lines … rhy.gif

The verses  end-rhyme as follows: 

A  A  A  B
OR
A  A  B  B
AND
B  B  B  B 

“fig” “jig” “fig” “dance”
“sae” “tae” “chance” “dance”
“advance” “dance” “advance” “dance”

The default B rhyme is “-ance” all the way through, so the variations aren’t really all that noticeable.

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A bunch of keys …

keys.gifDiscounting the capo on 3, the song is basically in A major but, as previously noted, takes the bold step of jumping to C major and back again.

There is only the note E as a common modulating factor to the E major chord and the C major chord when it goes up.

Then I use the common G major chord to imply a rather more straightforward modulation from C major to A mixolydian before settling back into A major.. 

Towards the end, the slide up to B major could also be taken as a brief modulation to B mixolydian before settling into the major key.

With the accompaniment stressing the common factors pertaining to the various keys, the transitions manage to sound smoother than one might have imagined – at least, I hope they do!

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Here comes da judge …judge.gif

Well, the stress pattern is absolutely regular, and the end-rhyme structure is also pretty cohesive, so rhythmically it hangs together pretty well.

The key changes could have been problematic, but absolutely no-one who’s heard the song has mentioned them to me, so I think I’m entitled to say that I did a reasonable job of smoothing over the joins.

They also perform the function of extending the range of the  melody to a full 11th, from low E to high A.

This is further extended by the full tone key change in the latter part of the song. So, what started out as a fairly simple, traditional-style tune actually ends up fairly ambitiously.

The structure of the song’s narrative, contrasting MacDiarmid’s older, more pessimistic view with my own more positive take on Scotland’s future, is, I think, also a fairly strong element.

All in all, I’m inclined to give it the thumbs-up! I hope you agree!

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Next time, we’ll go back into the past and examine a
song whose origins lie way back in the mists of time!

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