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The Slip Jigs and Reels

[Steve Tilston]

Steve Tilston composed The Slip Jig and Reels after seeing a photograph of a desperado who was killed by Mescalero Apaches ca. 1870. He sang it on his 1992 album with Maggie Boyle, Of Moor and Mesa, and on his 2018 CD Distant Days. He commented in the fist album’s liner notes:

[…] a kind of link song between the so-called “old world” and the “new”, a ballad of a 19th century immigrant who became a minor bad-man in the south-western parts of North America. He fell foul of the Mescalero Apaches. Let’s just say that those fellows refused to be bound by the Rousseauean mould of the “noble savage”. Who could blame them?

This video shows Steve Tilston and Maggie Boyle performing The Slip Jig and Reels at the Albert Hole Folk Club in Bedminster, Bristol, on 7 September 1990:

Peter Bellamy sang Slip Jig and Reels live at the Cockermouth Folk Club in January 1991. He accompanied himself on Anglo concertina. The concert was published on his cassette Songs an’ Rummy Conjurin’ Tricks. An earlier studio recording of this song from 1990 was included in 1999 on his Free Reed anthology Wake the Vaulted Echoes.

Hobson’s Choice sang Slip Jigs and Reels on their 1999 album A Curate’s Egg.

Fairport Conventention covered several songs of Steve Tilston. Their version of Slip Jigs and Reels can be found on their Australian live CD Acoustically Down Under and on their Free Reed 4 CD anthology Fairport unConventioNal.


Peter Bellamy sings Slip Jigs and Reels

He was barely a man in his grandfather’s coat
And sewn into the lining was a ten-shilling note.
“Goodbye to the family, goodbye to the shore,
Till I taste good fortune, I will see you no more.”

And the boat on the ocean tossed up like a cork
Until one fine morning they sighted New York.
And he stood on the gangplank, and he breathed in the air,
“Hello land of plenty, I’ve come for my share.”

Chorus (after every other verse):
And he did like the ladies, the rise and the fall
Of their ankles and dresses down on the dance floor.
And a-rolling the dice and a-spinning the wheel
But he took most delight in the slip jigs and reels.

Well there’s talk of a pistol, some say a knife,
But all are agreed there was somebody’s wife,
Some kind of commotion, a terrible fight
And he left one man dead and he ran into the night.

Next a train to St. Louis, just one jump ahead.
He slept one eye open with a gun neath his head.
But he dreamt of the green fields and the mountains of home
While crossing the plains where the buffalo roam.

So they called him, The Kid, and by twenty-one
All he had learned was the power of the gun.
And by twenty-three, he had shot five men down
Who got in his way as he rambled around.

But a bad reputation is a hard thing to bear,
For mothers pour scorn and young children they stare.
But he found consolation in flash company
And life ain’t so bad with a girl on your knee.

There are bones in the desert and buzzards that fly
In the highest of circles, just hoping you’ll die.
But in matters of cruelty, it must be said
A landlord will pick your bones long e’er you’re dead.

It was wild Mescaleros, I heard people say,
In the deadliest ambush near old Santa Fé,
A young buck was taken togged up in a coat,
And inside the lining was a ten-shilling note.