MacGregor's Revenge - The Song

September 4, 2017

 

 

Sometimes lyrical inspiration comes from strange places.  I like the idea that not every song has to be about relationships or heartbreak.  

 

So occasionally I write songs about demon horses that eat people.

 

MacGregor’s Revenge started out as a musical exercise.  Usually I start with a chord structure and then try and find a melody that fits, but in this case I wanted to start with a mandolin melody line and write something more akin to the fiddle tunes I had been playing at my violin lessons.

 

Then the search for lyrics began.  I had previously written “The Long Sleep” based on Washington Irving’s story about Rip Van Winkle, so the idea of using folklore had been bouncing around in my head.  The mandolin melody I had just written had a British Isles feel to it, so I figured I’d start there.

 

When I was little I had this illustrated book about Myths and Monsters that I use to read with my grandmother.  It had a very creepy pastel drawing of a Kelpie, which in Scottish legends are demon horses that linger near bodies of water and lure travelers onto their backs.  Once a person gets on, they get stuck to the Kelpie which then drowns them and eats them.

 

James M. Mackinley’s 1893 book “Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs” describes an encounter between James MacGrigor* and the Kelpie of Loch Ness, where MacGrigor cuts the bridle off the kelpie’s head, taking its power, and then throws said bridle into his house where the kelpie can’t get it because of the cross that is on the threshold.

 

That was enough inspiration for me.  Serendipitously, I stumbled onto the fact that the line “MacGregor swore revenge” fit very well over the chorus melody phrasing I had written.  

 

Telling a coherent revenge story about a rather obscure beast was going to be a challenge of economy if I didn’t want to write a 7 minute song.  I had to establish what a kelpie was, have a triggering event that MacGregor* would swear revenge for, and then have the actual encounter so this song requires much more exposition than a song usually does.  

 

I had about 6 verses of plot to cram into 4 verses, which is why I had to use three of the chorus figures for narrative content that advanced the story, rather than just refraining “MacGregor Swore Revenge.”  This song is so narrative that you really can’t cut anything without causing the it to fall apart and make no sense.  

 

McKinley’s source story (and what I remembered from my childhood monster book) didn’t give me very much to go on, so I had a little room to fool around.  I liked the bait and switch idea that the first character the song introduces is not only not the protagonist, he also gets eaten in the first verse.  (A case of “What would Joss Whedon do?”)

 

Also, in stories in general, be it books, television, or movies, I like when the hero has a little ambiguity, so I wanted to give MacGregor a little shading.  In the song he’s definitely brave, but he’s scared out of his mind when the demon shows up and probably knows he’s in over his head.   I also wanted to leave it up for debate whether he actually knew that cutting off the bridle would kill the kelpie or if hiding out in his cross protected house was shrewd or complete luck by a man running frantically for his life.  

 

I don’t envy Dan having to learn this song.   At 353 words it's the wordiest Beemo song by a pretty wide margin.  Like, not even close.   It’s longer than the Gettysburg Address.  

 

 

We’re releasing this song as a single on September 9th at Ten 10 brewing along with the Beemo Americana Pale Ale that Ten 10 brewed up for us.  The Kelpie figures prominently on the beer label and tap that Tony designed.  (Tap created by Mark Di Saverio of Carved Wood Sign.)

 

Be sure to come down to Ten 10 Brewing on Saturday September 9 around 8pm to try the Ale and hear us play original music including, of course, MacGregor’s Revenge.

 

The song will be available on YouTube and our Bandcamp site Saturday, and if the stars align, should be available for iTunes purchase and Spotify either that day or shortly thereafter.

 

Hope to see you there.   Cheers!

 

m

 

 

*The original Mackinley story I saw uses the spelling “MacGrigor” which is how I had it in the original lyrics.  After months of people referring to it as “MacGregor” though, I figured it would just be better to change it than doom the song to perpetual misspelling.  

 

 

 

Lyrics:

 

The lad reached the river at the height of the flood

He searched for a crossing in vain 

When the black steed appeared, a bit in its mouth

And the water dripped from its mane

 

It beckoned him on with a toss of its heard 

And hid its ravenous eyes

He knew not why he climbed on its back

And it ran to the deepening tide

 

He hollered and he cried 

Stuck fast to the demon’s hide

Till the water was up to his eyes

 

MacGregor was walking and heard the boy call

Too late he arrived on the shore

There was just bits of the lad washed up on the bank

And the water’s deafening roar

 

MacGregor went down to the river each night

He prayed to protect him from harm

He lay in wait, a cross round his neck

And a dagger tucked under his arm

 

MacGregor swore revenge

On the demon horse’s head

That it won’t go drowning again

 

One night from behind him he heard a horse neigh

He turned and prepared for his doom

Felt a chill down his spine when he saw the black steed

Trotting out of the gloom

 

He felt it calling him and he reached out

He took a step toward it in dread

He summoned his will and drew out his knife

Cut the bridle clean off of its head

 

It bellowed and it cried

And the color went from its hide

And the fury blazed in its eyes

 

MacGregor swore revenge

On the demon horse’s head

That it won’t go drowning again

 

He snatched up the bridle and turned on his heels

A voice from behind him did cry

“Return it to me or by my soul in a day I will wither and die”

MacGregor went running toward his abode

With hoofbeats behind the whole way

He ducked inside while the cross on the door

Kept the foul demon at bay

 

It hollered and it cried

While MacGregor hid inside

And the next day it withered and died

 

MacGregor swore revenge

On the demon horse’s head

That it won’t go drowning again

 

 

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