When I was young and a lot folkier than I am today, a song about an 18th century racehorse variously called ‘Stewball’, ‘Skewball’, ‘Skewbald’ and so on was very popular in folk clubs, especially in the form in which it was best known in the US. Even if you’re not in the least folky and haven’t ever heard that version, you probably know the tune as borrowed by John Lennon for his son ‘Happy Christmas (War is Over)’.
There is lots of information about the US and Irish versions as recorded by various people on the Mainly Norfolk page here.
Now comes the flippancy.
Coming across a rather nicely sung rendition of the US version by Stephen C. Mendel on Facebook, I was reminded that according to many versions of the song in both its US and Irish incarnations, the horse had two unusual characteristics:
- It talked to its rider and/or its owner
- It tended to drink alcohol rather than water
According to the US version often heard, “he never drank water / but always drank wine”, while the home-grown version popularized by Bert Lloyd tells us that after a big win “horse and rider both ordered sherry wine and brandy”.
So I suppose it was inevitable that while taking my daily exercise, I found myself singing (somewhat breathlessly):
Stewball was a racehorse
He isn’t much missed
He won lots of races
But only when p****d
Let me reassure you that I do not intend to divert my writing in general into the Billy Connolly school of songwriting, and hope not to expand this into a full-length song.