Scots Sangs Fur Schools

Traditional and new Scots songs for use in Scottish schools

SHIFT AND SPIN

A song by Ewan McVicar about the boredom of working in a large factory where the noise is so loud you are alone with your machines and your thoughts.


Chorus

Shift and spin, warp and twine

Making thread coarse and fine

Dreamin o yer valentine

Workin in the mill


Keep yer bobbins runnin easy

Show ye're gallus, bright and breezy

Waitin till Prince Charmin sees ye

Workin in the mill


Oil yer runners, mend yer thread

Do yer best until you're dead

You wish you were a wife instead o

Workin in the mill


Used to dream you'd be the rage

Smilin on the fashion page

Never dreamt you'd be a wage slave

Workin in the mill


Used to think that life was kind

No it isn't, never mind

Maybe some day love will find you

Workin in the mill


He loves you not? So what?

Make the best of what you've got

Win your pay, spin your cotton

Workin in the mill


This song began as only a verse and chorus. Ewan McVicar was asked to write short pieces of song for a local history project in Paisley that was documenting the work of workers in the Paisley thread mills. Singer and festival organiser Danny Kyle of Paisley then nagged Ewan to write more verses.

Ewan did, making them as a duet to be sung by Glasgow musician and actor Alan Tall and actress Lillian Cattigan in a show about the history of Glasgow. This show was specially written in three languages – English, German, and Glesga – to be performed in Glasgow’s twin city of Nurnberg in 1985 as a part of official twinning events.

Then Ewan reworked it a little to make it a solo song. He sent this to Glasgow singer Ray Fisher, who taught it to various other singers. But Ray did not use the first part line of Ewan's original tune. Most singers sing her version, not Ewan’s original. And when introducing the song Ray sometimes says the song is about the Dundee jute mills. But it is about Paisley.

This process of songs and the stories that surround them being altered as they pass from singer to singer is known as the Folk Process.


Hear the song sung by Ewan McVicar to his original tune above right.

Also, hear the song sung to the version of the tune tune Ray Fisher made,  sung by Marianne MacKinnon who was then a student at Plockton,  and by Glasgow singer Mick West and his Band (including Fraser Fifield playing jazz-influenced soprano saxophone and Karine Polwart singing harmony).