The Scots are second to none in their willingness and ability to mock the gentry in song lyrics. This song dates from the time of the Jacobite Rebellion in the 18th century, when the German King George came over and founded the House of Hanover.
A word about the cast of characters seems in order. Geordie Whelps is, of course, the widely reviled King George. Goosie refers to his mistress, Melusine von der Schulenburg. And Bobbing John is John Erskine, Earl of Mar, who recruited the Highland soldiers. A bright, cynical, irreverent war ditty—why am I reminded of Country Joe and the Fish?
The first really popular version of this song I heard was by Steeleye Span in 1973, though everyone from Ewan MacColl to Dick Gaughan has performed it. I’ve customized the sung melody a bit, as my vocal range has shrunk. Often, the word Hoosie in bar 15 starts on a high G and if you can hit that, give it a try. You can sing it either way or customize it further—remember, this is the oral tradition. The guitar setting is spare; the time signature a stately, martial 3/4. And since the verse ends on the V chord (B5), you’re free to find a suitable musical dismount, other than a studio fade.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.
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