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Crooked Jack

[Wolfe Stephens (Dominic Behan)]

Al O'Donnell sang Crooked Jack in 1972 on his eponymous Trailer album, Al O'Donnell.

Dick Gaughan sang Crooked Jack in 1978 on his Topic album Gaughan. He commented:

Written by Dominic Behan, this is very self-explicit. I learned it from Al O'Donnell, a personal hero of mine.

Danny Spooner sang Crooked Jack in 1986 on his Sandstock album I Got This One From…. He noted:

Melbourne played host for a number of years to one of the best singers I have ever heard, Jerry Fennel. Jerry taught me a number of songs including Crooked Jack. Written by Wolfe Stephens, this song tells of the fate of many a fine Irishman in England. Fortunately Jerry wasn't one of 'em.

Broom Bezzums sang Crooked Jack on their 2007 CD Arise You Sons of Freedom….

Greg Russell sang Crooked Jack in 2017 on his Fellside CD Inclined to Be Red. He noted:

I've heard this song on so many records by people whom I very much enjoy, Dick Gaughan, Al O'Donnell, John Doyle. My great pal, Findlay Napier, even does a version on rare occasions. Here's my offering to that club.

The song is based on the accounts of appalling working conditions for Irish and Scottish workers on a hydro dam project as well as of their experience of working more broadly. ‘The Ganger” was the foreman of a group of working men.

Dominic Behan wrote the song to a variant of the traditional tune The Star of the County Down which I have varied even more.

Lyrics

Dick Gaughan sings Crooked Jack Danny Spooner sings Crooked Jack

Come Irishmen both young and stern
With adventure in your soul
There are better ways to spend your days
Than in working down a hole

All you Irishmen both young and bold
With adventure in your soul
There are better ways to spend your days
Than working down a hole

Chorus (after each verse):
I was tall and true all of six foot two
But they broke me across the back
By a name I'm known and it's not my own
They call me Crooked Jack

Chorus (after each verse):
I was tall and true all of six feet two
But they broke me across the back
By a name I'm known and it's not my own
They call me Crooked Jack

The ganger's blue-eyed boy was I
Big Jack could do no wrong
And the reason simply was because
I could work hard hours and long

The ganger's blue-eyed pet was I
Big Jack could do no wrong
And the reason simply was that I
could work hard hours long

I've seen men old before their time
Their faces drawn and grey
But I never thought so soon would mine
Be lined the self-same way

I've seen men old before their time
Proud faces worn and grey
And I little thought so soon that mine
Would be lined the self-same way

I curse the day I went away
To work on the hydro dams
Our sweat and tears, our hopes and fears
Bound up in shuttering jams

I curse the day that I went away
To work on the hydro dams
Our sweat, our tears, our hopes, our fears
Bound up in shuttering jams

They say that honest toil is good
For the spirit and the soul
But believe me boys it's for sweat and blood
That they want you down the hole

They say that honest toil is good
For the spirit and the soul
But I tell you boys it's for sweat and blood
That they want you down the hole

Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Add: Crooked Jack (Dominic Behan).