Canadian or Irish?
I learned this nameless tune from a Welsh fiddler some months ago. She used to play in Melbourne, so maybe she picked up this tune there.
I was informed that it’s a French Canadian tune called Reel Beatrice, but it seems she was not so sure. And then recently I noticed Scottish fiddlers’ group Session A9 recorded it as a nameless Irish tune. I really don’t know its origin, but feel somewhat different from other Irish tunes. But, anyway, it’s a simple, cool tune, so worth posting here.
Bee’s Wax, Sheep Skin
That’s the name. It’s not Reel Beatrice. That’s a different tune. It’s a tune James Fagan did with us at his bouzouki workshop at the National Folk Festival in Canberra in April 2003. We played it at the workshop concert as a group. The Scottish fiddle crowd were at the festival, and one of the Melbourne lot may have picked up the tune from Nancy Kerr or one of us zouk players, or they may have got it straight from the source, which (according to James Fagan) is the Quebec group "La Bottine Souriante". It’s on their album "La Mistrine". There’s another transcription here:
PS I think I might know the Welsh fiddler you’re talking about.
I have a transcription of James’ setting which differs slightly, and has a nice C# in the B-part:
EA (3AAA BAGB|AGFa gfef|g2fd efed|Beed BAGA|
EA (3AAA BAGB|AGFa gfef|g2fd efed|Beed BAA2:|
|:a3a- aega|bagf edef|g2fd efed|Beed BA^ce|
a3a- aega|bagf edef|g2fd efed|Beed BAA2:|
Bees Wax, Bee’s Wax or Bees’ Wax? I don’t think La Bottine Souriante put an apostophe in there but I’m not sure.
Other titles seem to be "Sheepskins And Beeswax" which sounds better maybe, and "Aunt Jemima’s Plaster".
Thank you for the info. So, it’s traditional Irish, right? It’s very interesting to see how the tune circulates around the world.
I don’t know actually. It sounds a bit different to me too. It may well be North American but written in the style of an Irish reel.
Sheep skin and Bees wax
Here are the words to it from the Irish in Valcartier,Quebec Sheep skin and beeswax ,it makes a mighty plaster, the more you try to get it off the more it sticks to faster.
So now we know why "Aunt Jemima’s Plaster" is an alternative title.
Popular in Quebec and Northeastern US
This tune is heard often at contra dances in Vermont, New York and Massachusetts and I’ve heard it played in Quebec as well. If I understand it was drawn from Irish populations in Quebec where it spread to the wider French-Canadian popularity.
Origin of “Sheepskin and Beeswax”
I learned this tune in the late 1970s from Keith Corrigan (a melodeon player from the rural village of Valcartier, Québec whose grandfather Lawrence emigrated from County Wexford around 1820). It appears on a tatty little cassette (Danseries de la belle province) which I recorded with accordionist Denis Pépin around 1982 as a fund-raiser for a local trad arts organization in Quebec City. My friends Liz Carroll and ex-bandmate-pals from La Bottine picked up "Sheepskin" from that recording, and their subsequent recordings popularized this tune.
Here are notes which I wrote for the accompanying PDF booklet of the CD recording Ireland in Quebec, which documents music and singing from melodeon player Keith Corrigan of Valcarter, Quebec and singer/fiddler Jimmy Kelly of neighboring Shannon, Quebec:
The source for this tune is Keith Corrigan of Valcartier, Québec, who learned this reel from his father Patrick, who played it on the fiddle. The origins of the instrumental melody are unknown. In Valcartier, the first strain is associated with the following lyrics:
Sheepskin and beeswax,
It made the mighty plaster,
The more you tried to get it off, The more it stuck t’ faster.
Variants of this verse show up in 19th and early 20th century American and British popular and oral literature, either as a stand-alone rhyme or as a song stanza or chorus. In addition to sheepskin and beeswax, some versions also include ingredients such as burgundy pitch, gum, turpentine, and tar. These are basic components for plasters—not the wall coating type, but the medicinal variety. Plasters were considered a sovereign remedy for many illnesses in 19th century Britain and North America. These pasty preparations were generally spread on a cloth and applied to the body, either as a curative or a counterirritant.
The authors of The Story of the Mountain: Mount Saint Mary’s College and Seminary (published in 1905)
mention that some doctors used burgundy pitch plasters as a prophylactic against cholera in Philadelphia during the 1832 epidemic and that this particular plaster was immortalized “by a song that was sung for a generation after, and the refrain was this: “Sheepskin and beeswax, gum and pitch, a plaster, The more you try to pull it off,
the more it sticks the faster.”
The only documented American songs at hand which contain something like the above-mentioned refrain are two closely related compositions respectively titled “Sheepskin, Beeswax” and “Aunt Jemima’s Plaster, or Sheep-skin Bees’ Wax No. 2.” Both relate the exploits of “Aunt Jemima,” a lady who makes a plaster which has powerful and comical adhesive properties. The Aunt Jemima in “Aunt Jemima’s Plaster” is an elderly spinster who makes her living selling her plaster; “Sheepskin, Beeswax” is a blackface minstrel song associated with Daniel Emmet, whose Aunt Jemima hails from North Carolina. The earliest known printings for both these songs date to the1850s, when they were published as broadsides by the same New York City publisher, J. Andrews. “Aunt Jemima’s Plaster” seems to have entered into oral tradition in the United States and appears in a number of 20th century published regional folk song collections from Vermont to the Ozarks.
Thanks for the added info Lisa, appreciated, as too that "tatty little cassette (Danseries de la belle province)" ~ which we purchased from you in Quebec many years ago, and value… 😉
Re: Aunt Jemima’s Plaster
I was given a copy of that ‘tatty little cassette ’ by Martin Carthy about 25 years ago - I still remember most of the tunes on it, though my cassette player has long since given up……………..