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John's Scottish Sing-Along
Nicky Tams

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This song originates from the turn of the century when the term nicky tams came into use. The phrase derives from the fact that when the farm servants trousers were tied up with straps or cords (taums) below the knee they looked similar to the then fashionable knickerbockers. The tune, a variant of a Gaelic air common both in Scotland and Ireland, is very popular, probably because it adapts so readily to many different types of song.

Fin I wis only ten years aul' I left the pairish squeel
Ma faither fee'd me tae the mains tae airn ma milk an' meal
Well I first pit on ma nerra breeks tae hap ma spin'le trams
Syne I buckl'd roon ma knappit' knees a pair o' nicky tams

Well fin I first gaed oan for bailie loon an syne I gaed oan for third
An' syne, of course, I hid tae get the horseman's gripping wird
A loaf o' breid tae be ma piece, an a bottle for drinkin' drams
Bit ye canna git throw the calf-hoose door withoot yer nicky tams

Bit the fairmer fa am wi' aye noo, he's wealthy bit he's mean
Though corn's cheap, his horse is thin, his hairness fairly deen
He gars us load wir cairts ow'r fu', his conscience his nae qualms
Bits an breist-straps brak there's naithing like a pair o' nicky tams

Noo I'm coortin' bonnie Annie noo, Rob Tamson's kitchie-deem
She is five-and-forty an' I'm jist seiventeen
She clorts a muckle piece tae me wi' different kin's o' jam
An' tells me ilke nicht hoo she admires ma nicky tams

Noo I startit oot ae Sunday the kirkie for tae gyang
Ma collar it was unco ticht ma breeks were nane ow'r lang
I had ma Bible in ma pooch, likewise ma book o' Psalms
Fan Annie roart: "Ye muckle gype, tak' aff yer nicky tams"

Though unco sweir, I took them aff, the lassie for tae please
But aye ma breeks they lirket up aroon aboot ma knees
Well a wasp gaed crawlin' up ma leg in the middle o' the Psalms
Sae nivir again will I rig the kirk withoot ma nicky tams

Noo I've affen thocht I'd like tae be a bobby on the force
Or maybe I'll get on the cars tae drive a pair o' horse
Bit whitever it's my luck tae be, the bobbies or the trams
I'll never forget the happy days I wore ma nicky tams

pairish squeel = parish school
fee'd = hired
mains = farm
nerra breeks = narrow trousers
hap = cover
spin'le trams = skinny legs
k-nappin' k-nees = knock knees
bailie loon = cattleman
third = third horseman
yne = then
gae = go
calf-hoose = chaff house
the noo = meantime
deen = worn out
gar = makes
wir = our
breist-straps = part of a harness
kitchie deem = scullery maid
clorts = spreads liberally
ilke nicht = every night
till = to
kirkie = church
gyang = go
unco ticht = very tight
muckle gype = big idiot
unco sweir = very unwilling
rig the kirk = dress for church

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