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Shift and Spin

[ Roud - ; Mudcat 35395 ; Ewan McVicar]

Ewan McVicar was a social worker in Paisley near Glasgow when he transcribed some interviews he had made with the Paisley thread-mill workers, and ended up with this song, Shift and Spin.

Bread and Roses sang Shift and Spin in 1991 on their Dragon album Mr Fox’s Garden. They noted:

A song about romantic dreams versus realism. After waiting for Prince Charming for three verses and an instrumental, the heroine decides she’d do better relying on her own resources.

Mick West sang Shift and Spin in 1997 on his Lochshore album Right Side o’ the People. He noted:

This poignant song by Ewan McVicar about working in the Paisley Thread Mills has been gaining increasing popularity around the Scottish singing sessions. I have taken the liberty of adding a verse from the beautiful Dundee song The Spinner’s Wedding at the end.

Fiona Hunter sang Shift and Spin in 2014 on her eponymous solo CD Fiona Hunter. She noted:

Ewan McVicar was asked to write short pieces of songs for a local history project in Paisley that was documenting the lives of workers in the Paisley thread mills. The song is from the perspective of a woman working in the mill. It is about the boredom of working in a large factory, where the noise is so loud you are alone with your machine and your thoughts. The version I sing was taken from the singing of Ray Fisher. I came across this song while looking at “songs of trade” for a series of concerts with Malinky at Heriot-Watt University.

Fiona sang Shift and Spin with Malinky at the Ram Folk Club, Thames Ditton, Surrey, on 10 December 2010:


Fiona Hunter sings Shift and Spin

Chorus (after each verse):
Shift and spin, warp and twine,
Makin 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


See also Shift and Spin at the Scots Language Centre with a recording of Ewan McVicar singing his original tune.