Yon Muckle Stob

By Malcolm Kerr, doctor, writer, political campaigner and Arran resident.

“If a man were to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.” Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun

It is a warm summer evening at the house of friends in Pont-l’Abbé in the Pays Bigouden of West Brittany. We have been outside in the garden, but the centre of gravity of the party is moving indoors. There has been a fantastic meal featuring local produce, wine, much local cider, and good craic. The conversation has moved on, possibly to aspects of local politics and some technical stuff about sound systems. In any event, well beyond the limits of my rusty high school French. I am having difficulties keeping my eyes open. Generous though the hostess is, I don’t know her well enough to fall asleep there and then. A crisis is looming. Et toujours, on ronfle!

Help is at hand though. I notice a guy picking up a guitar. And tuning it (always a good sign). He starts to sing, and immediately I’m awake again. His song is a melancholy waltz, but with a stirring chorus. The tune is unfamiliar though, and I’m unable to make much of the content of the lyric out.

Two nights later the tune and the song come back to me, including a line of the chorus: “C’est sûr qu’il tombe, tombe, tombe”, and my curiosity is aroused. What is it that is falling? I find myself doing some research.

The phrase ‘tombe, tombe, tombe’ is sufficient to identify the song as ‘Le Pieu’ and it seems it is quite well known, in France at least, having been popularised by Marc Robine (1950-2003), French journalist, musician and academic. ‘Le Pieu’, however, turns out itself to be a translation from the Catalan of a song written by Lluis Llach (1948-), a Catalan musician and politician. The original is called ‘L’Estaca’ (The Stake).

‘The Stake’ is a metaphor for tyranny and oppression. A grandparent is pointing out something that is hidden in full view. It is treated by everyone as if it is both invisible and immovable. We are all tied to it. But its strength is illusory, only based on the fact that eve-ryone is pulling in different directions. If we all pull together, it will fall, and we will have our liberty. It is an intergenerational call to collective action. When the song was written in 1968, the dictator Francisco Franco (1892-1975) was still in power in Spain.

Further research indicates that, in addition to being familiar in Catalonia and France, ‘L’Estaca’ has been adapted as a song of protest elsewhere. It has associations with the Mexican Student Revolt in 1968, and notably, Poland, where a version was an unofficial anthem of Solidariność (1980 onwards). The Polish translation entitled ‘Mury’ (meaning ‘walls’) must have been relatively loose. The song also featured prominently in Tunisia’s ‘Jasmine Revolution‘ in 2011, where its Arabic version was known as ‘Dima Dima’. It has emerged in Belarus in re-cent weeks.

Much later I learn that the ‘guy with the guitar’ is Thierry Gahinet, and that his wife has translated the song into the Breton language. Why had I not heard this sung before? Everyone is singing this. Except us. I begin to wonder if it has it ever been translated into English.

I’m no linguist. My first step towards remedying this situation is to commission a literal translation from French to English from friend and fellow activist Eleanor Scott. It is helpful, but it isn’t something you could sing. Conveying the intention of the original song faithfully while getting lines to scan and, at times, rhyme is a challenge. A challenge which defeats me over a period. I can’t now re-member exactly when it came to me that the song ought to be sung in the language and tradition of Burns, MacDiarmid and Hamish Henderson. But when inspiration comes, it is in Scots, and this is what I’m presenting now. L’Estaca has become Yon Muckle Stob.

The embedded video is, I believe, the first rendition in Scots of this towering international song of protest and solidarity. It is there to be sung, and I’d welcome enquiries from performance artists who feel they could popularise it. The words are below. I’m happy to share my guitar tabs, if anyone would find this useful. Contact me at: tuathair@aol.com or 07850 125611.

I wish to express my thanks to Neill Simpson, for scrutiny of the lyrics and guitar chords, to Rob Gibson, Eleanor Scott and (my wife and com-pañera) Susan Knox for advice and encouragement, to Chris and Jan Attkins of Positive Pictures for their enthusiasm and professionalism with the video, and finally to Lluis Llach for the original ‘L’Estaca’.


Yon Muckle Stob

Verse 1

When Ah wis juist a wee laddie
Ah’d gae tae ma granny’s fur tea, she says
Come ye richt ower tae the windae, jo
An let’s see whit we maun see
Dae ye ken yon muckle auld stob there?
S’been staunin since Eve wis a boy
It’s the jougs that we’re a thirled wi
It keeps us fae walkin free


But if we a straik it’ll fa, man
If abody warks it’s awa
Ye can see yet it’s shoogly an a, man
O aye, if we daur, it’ll fa

Verse 2

Laddie, it’s been a lang time tho
Ah’m wabbit and soon Ah maun dee
But if we a ettle thegither
We’ll rax tae oor liberty
Thon stob is oppression and fear, but
It’ll fa man, shairly fa
Ah ken wan day we can cowp it
An brak thro tae freedom’s ha


An if we a straik it’ll fa, man
If abody warks it’s awa
Ye can see yet it’s shoogly an a, man
O aye, if we daur, it’ll fa

Verse 3

Ma granny she’s deid and gane noo
Misfortune cam tae her wan day
Ah bide alane in the close, masel
Mindin the ither weans play
They’re stottin aroon yon auld stob there
But it’s twa blistered hauns that Ah see
An Ah’ll sing a the sangs that will raise us
An tak us tae liberty


An if we a straik it’ll fa, man
If abody warks its awa
Ye can see yet it’s shoogly an a, man
O aye, if we daur, it’ll fa


Jougs n pl an instrument of punishment consisting of an iron collar attached to a wall or post and fixed round an offender’s neck. Thirl vt to bind, confine, restrict. Straik vt/vi to strike. Ettle vi to strive, aspire, intend. Stot vi to bound, bounce, walk with a springy step.

With many thanks to Malcolm for sharing this inspirational story and rendition of L’Estaca/Yon Muckle Stob with the Voice.ER

The featured image shows a recent mass protest in Belarus.