The Long Grey Line

from by Debra Cowan

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(© Alan Hunter)

I met Alan Hunter while I lived in Edinburgh in 1997 and was impressed by this man’s passion for his politics and his music. Of the many original songs that Alan shared with me, this one beckoned. Tinkers are looked upon with a mixture of envy and disdain, yet the lure of the travelling life is a romantic albeit a difficult one. Alan met up with a band of tinkers one night and in the discourse that took place, the “Long Grey Line” was mentioned a number of times. When Alan asked what was meant, one of the men he’d been talking with exclaimed “The road, man! The road!” Not long after, Alan met another man in a pub in Edinburgh, who was talking quite loudly and in a very negative way about Tinkers in general. Alan began talking to this man and was struck by the fact that he was almost 70 years old and had never been out of the Edinburgh area. He was decrying a group of people who had seen much more of the world than he had.

lyrics

You were born to decent city folk
In a hoose wi’ a country name
And you walked the streets your faither walked
Ta grow up just the same
And ye worked in school and ye kept the rule

And ye cried the tinker doon
‘Cause he’d spend his time on the Long Grey Line
Wouldna be tied to toon
Spend his time on the Long Grey Line
Wouldna be tied to toon

So ye worked hard in a college room
Career was aye in mind
But ye never got doon tae travelling roon
Ye said there’s always time
And ye never gave one moment’s thought
Tae what it means to be free
Or the tinker’s time on the long grey line
And the sights that a tinker sees
Or the tinker’s time on the long grey line
And the sights that a tinker sees

Then ye bought a wee hoose and ye settled doon
A wife and a brace o’ weans
And ye watched the things that ye gathered roon
Begin tae look like chains
Ye began tae doubt but ye stuck it out
Working nine tae five
While the tinker’s fine on the long grey line
Aye keepin’ his dreams alive
The tinker’s fine on the long grey line
Aye keepin’ his dreams alive

Now ye’re looking back on all ye’ve done
Seventy years of age
On summers come and winters gone


When the hoose became a cage
Though the comforts count for something now
Ye pretend ye dinnae care
That ye found nae time for the long grey line
With yer hairt cryin’ oot for mair
That ye found nae time for the long grey line
With yer hairt cryin’ oot for mair

Well, there’s mair to life than they teach in the school
Mair tae see and hear
And mair tae man than o’ patch o’ land
In the finnish o’ his years
But the saddest sight is the fading light
Of a man who’s chance is gone
So I’ll gie some time tae the long grey line
And I’ll ken when I’m bound for home
Gie some time tae the long grey line
And I’ll ken when I’m bound for home
Gie some time tae the long grey line
And I’ll ken when I’m bound for home

credits

from The Long Grey Line, released January 23, 2001
Vocals: Debra Cowan
Guitar: Gaston Bernard
Fiddle: Hanneke Cassel
Mandolin: Steve Sadler

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Debra Cowan Shrewsbury, Massachusetts

Singer Debra Cowan performs a cappella and with guitar, interpreting a wide range of folk songs. Debra has two acclaimed solo recordings to her credit, and her third, “Fond Desire Farewell” was produced by former Fairport Convention drummer Dave Mattacks. A former California resident, she now resides in Massachusetts and tours all over North America and the United Kingdom. ... more

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