Friday, October 24, 2014
Ramblin' and Sellin': Old Blind Dogs and "Tramps and Hawkers"
The word tramp has a pretty negative connotation. Most recently, tramp seems to refer to a worman with a dubious reputation, as in "she's such a tramp, she'd give it up to anybody." A tattoo on the small of a female's back is often called a "tramp stamp." But as it is used in this song by Old Blind Dogs, tramp has a little less of a dubious reputation. The word tramp was often used to indicate someone, usually itinerant and perhaps homeless or jobless, who traveled around from place to place and comes from the same word that connotes walking with heavy footsteps. In fact, in the United Kingdom, tramps of yore were often called "gentlemen of the road." In that way they might be akin to hobos, who traveled the rails for much the same reason. Charlie Chaplin portrayed a beloved "little tramp" in the movies as he went from place to place and fell into adventures. Perhaps the fact that these people, like homeless of today, could range from harmless to dangerous made the word much more pejorative. However, where it went from describing essentially homeless and jobless traveling men to promiscuous women, particularly in North America, I haven't been able to find. My supposition is that tramps hung around seedy places, and women who did so also became known as tramps but with a more sexual connotation to the term.
A hawker, on the other hand, might refer to a couple of things. A hawker could be a person who keeps and flies hawks. I think that is unlikely given this song's subject matter. Therefore, the hawkers in this song I believe refer to traveling salespeople, also known as peddlars. Again, there is a bit of the pejorative in this term, as many of us don't want to be accosted by a hawker. The common perception is that they sell cheap goods and do so with a bit of dishonesty as they try to take your money. While they used to be common in the United States, especially during difficult economic times, they are found fairly commonly in the developing world shouting out on street corners and confronting the unwary tourist. And they can be very good at persuasion - when I was in Turkey it was amazing how fast a rug "hawker" could maneuver a tourist into the back of a rug store and trap him or her there while rolling out rugs, talking the whole time, all while serving tea. Hawkers are experts at playing on people's fear of disappointing others, and often get a sale with a sad look and a story of how their kids will starve if their intended target starts to turn away.
So there you have it. Tramps and Hawkers is by Old Blind Dogs, a Scottish group that plays traditional Scottish music but is also influenced by jazz, reggae, rock, blues and Middle Eastern music. Old Blind Dogs were notable because they were the only group representing traditional music from northeast Scotland and would sing in the Aberdeen region's distinctive "Doric" dialect. However, the departure of longtime member Jim Malcolm has led to the band exploring a wider range of influences. The band started in 1990 after three founding members came together on a "busker's holiday" and decided to start playing together after that. Only one original member, Johnnie Hardy, remains. The band has won numerous awards and has toured extensively throughout Europe and North America. The version we have of Tramps and Hawkers is from their Play Live album (2005) but I couldn't find that version online so this is the studio version from their album Fit? (2011) which was a finalist for UK Celtic Album of the Year.