September 02, 2019

pipes|drums’ Top 10 Labour Day Tunes

Across North America, it’s Labour Day – a day when we pause to appreciate and thank all those who work. Around much of the rest of the world, May 1 is International Workers’ Day.

Here’s a list of 10 pipe tunes that honour jobs and work.


“Lament for MacDonald’s Tutor” (piobaireachd) – When we think of labour we have to include teachers. Here’s a pretty straightforward piece that pays homage to a teacher, presumably an instructor of piping. We’re not certain, but, remarkably, this might be the only tune named specifically for a piping teacher. There should be more. This works well, since the start of the school year in the US and Canada is often the day after Labour Day.

“The Ferryman” (reel) – Not many play this tune, maybe because there aren’t many people working on ferries these days. But, still, a good one about a vocation.


“The Hag at the Churn” (reel) – Ever try to make butter by hand? It’s bloody hard, especially when you’re elderly. Please excuse the pejorative, we appreciate your buttery work.


“Takin’ Care of Business” – okay, it’s not a pipe tune, by Randy Bachman’s rocker has to be included in any Labour Day list. “If you ever get annoyed, look at me I’m self-employed, I love to work at nothing all day.” Classic.


“The Kitchen Maid” (jig) – We can assume that this one is about cooks and the hard work about cooking. We like to eat and we appreciate the hard work that comes along with making food.


“Scarce of Fishing” (piobaireachd) – It’s long. It’s labourious. It’s all about going out there and trying to catch fish, and the frustration that results when there aren’t any the catch. Any professional fisher-person knows when the fish are scarce, time seems to pass forever. Kind of like this 20-minute beast of a tune.


“The Ten-Penny Bit” (jig) – Not really directly about working, but a drill bit of this size is pretty darned big, so it deserves a great, driving tunes that drills into your head. Classic work-song.


“The Hammer on the Anvil” (jig) – This Donald MacLeod composition is a work of genius, mimicking the pounding of a blacksmith’s tools. No Labour Day tune list is complete without this gem.


“The Judge’s Dilemma” (jig) – Looks like Wee Donald had an affinity for workers, and, yes, judging is hard work, despite the RSPBA’s VIP watercress sandwich tent and all those Facebook pics from adjudicators gloating about finagled business class seats. Anyone who’s judged knows that it’s a mental workout.


“The Smith’s a Gallant Fireman” (strathspey) – Can’t forget the first-responders. Is there any more noble work? No, and this is a classic.


And the #1 tune about labour . . .

“Cutting Bracken” (air/jig/hornpipe . . . everything) – Perhaps the greatest piping work-song, “Cutting Bracken” is a tip of the bonnet to the labourious test of chopping out the interminable fern-weed of the Highlands and Islands. Cut that stuff all day and play this great melody and the time and work will pass more quickly. Tha mi sgith, too.


Those are pipes|drums’ Top 10 Labour Day Tunes. There must be many more pieces about work and workers. Which do you think should have made the list?





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