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 John Watt - Heroes 


The red man rides for the white manís fee,
Better than a grave at Wounded Knee,
I better he never thought heíd see,
The spires of the auld grey toon.

John Watt,
The Wild West Show

One piece of the enduring cultural legacy of the Scottish leg of Buffalo Billís 1904 tour not to be overlooked is the late John Wattís Heroes CD, which contains two songs about the showís visit to Dunfermline: The Day that Billy Cody Played the Auld Grey Toon, and The Wild West Show.

John, a singer/songwriter of considerable acclaim, was a highly respected figure on Scotlandís thriving folk scene.

Heroes was released in 2000 and contains seventeen tracks in all, most of them songs which John wrote in homage to his own personal icons. On the cover we find Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull in fine and heterogeneous company with the likes of Joe Corrie, the Fife poet; John Thomson, a young goalkeeper tragically killed in 1931 after an accidental clash with a forward during a football match between Rangers and Celtic; the Kelty Clippie; and Johnís own father, Gordon Watt (1891-1983).

Towards the end of his fatherís long and eventful life, John tape-recorded an interview with him about his many and varied experiences. It was his recollections of Buffalo Billís visit to Dunfermline which brought the inspiration for the two compositions which provide the focus of attention here. Among the extensive sleeve notes, we find the following arresting statement:

Bill Cody aka Buffalo Bill played Dunfermline, Fife on August 16th 1904 and paraded in Kelty, Fife on the 19th and Cowdenbeath, Fife on 23rd.

Well, Buffalo Billís show certainly did appear in Dunfermline on the date stated and in Kirkcaldy on the 17th for that matter. However, the bit about the parades in Kelty and Cowdenbeath is, sadly, apocryphal. Thereís a funny story about how this confusion arose in the first place and that will be revealed soon enough.

The two mutually complementary songs present a stark contrast one with the other. The Wild West Show is strictly realist in tone, while The Day that Billy Cody Played the Auld Grey Toon tends to get a bit carried away with itself. The latterís wild and fantastic lyrics adeptly underscore the likelihood that onlookersí perceptions of these colourful strangers in their midst were in a great many cases far more fanciful even than the admittedly sensational reality. Sitting Bull wasnít there, for the very good reason advanced by John, Ďbecause that he was deidí. The character ĎSpotted Slothí, incidentally, was not the name of an Indian on this or any other tour but a stroke of poetic licence. Needless to say, Annie Oakley, likewise alleged in the lyrics to have been present, was nowhere to be seen either.

Scottish Venues, 1904


Buffalo Billís Wild West in Scotland