Singin Is Ma Life

sprcd 1038

The CD includes a 36 page booklet with full song texts.

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Jane Turriff is one of Scotland's legendary traditional singers first recorded by Hamish Henderson in 1955 for the School of Scottish studies. This album has been compiled from many private recordings made over several decades at festivals, folk clubs and in Jane's own house in Mintlaw. Jane gained a reputation on the folk scene for her passionate ballad style, coupled with a powerful and beautifully controlled voice.

Jane's repertoire includes classic traditional ballads such as Barbara Allen and the border ballad Dowie Dens o Yarrow as well as many folk songs from the Northeast tradition such as My Wee Doggie (with accordion) and A Sailor Lad and a Tailor Lad and Bonnie Udny (both with harmonium) and the beautiful Rigs of Rye, but her repertoire crosses over to include Jimmy Rodgers country and western, complete with yodelling.

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Rear Booklet

Jane Turriff: The Rigs O Rye

A Sailor Lad and a Tailor Lad

The Rigs O Rye
or A Sailor Lad and a Tailor Lad
on springthyme/ soundcloud

'A wonderful voice, a totally accessible style, a priceless gem' FOLK ROOTS

Track List:
For song texts, click on a song title where it shows a link
1. A Sailor Lad an a Tailor Lad 0:46
2. The Bonnie Blue Hankie 1:53
3. Dowie Dens o Yarrow 6:23
4. The Wings of a Swallow 2:00
5. My Wee Doggie 4:38
6. The Cobbler 3:17
7. Rigs o Rye 4:15
8. The Derby Ram 2:13
9. No One to Welcome You Home 2:57
10. Down by the Green Bushes 2:57
11. Poor Little Joe 1:24
12. The Boston Smuggler 3:05
13. Mill o Tifty’s Annie 9:54
14. Wi His Grey Baird Newly Shaven 1:38
15. The Ring your Mother Wore 0:57
16. Empty Saddles 0:55
17. Barbara Allen 4:23
18. What can a Young Lassie 4:36
19. A Braw Young Sailor Lad 2:14
20. Will the Angels 2:37
21. Bonnie Udny 5:49
22. The Rovin Ploughboy 2:32

To find the meaning of any Scots word:
enter in the box above and press return.

The Dowie Dens O Yarrow
Sung by Jane Turriff accompanying herself on accordion.
The Yarrow valley runs from the Border hills south of Edinburgh to join the river Tweed near Selkirk. Although this is a genuine Border Ballad, James Duncan calls it 'unquestionably the most widely known of our old ballads in the North East.' Greig-Duncan has eleven texts, none with Jane's distinctive opening verse. There is much similarity, however, when it comes to the combat verses. It is not clear in Jane's version who the murderer is, but she has her own ideas:

Jane: 'He wis goin for them aa, bit een o them came at him fae the back. It must have been his brither-in-law.'
On one occasion, Jane sang this song to a different melody, unusual for a traditional singer and she sometimes begins with two extra verses which do help clarify the motive. These lines also appear as verses two and three in Agnes Lyle of Kilbarchan's version, noted by William Motherwell in 1825 (Child C). Tennies Bank probably refers the Tinnis Burn near Newcastleton in the Scottish borders (Greig Duncan 215, Child 214, Ord 426).
"You took my sister to be your wife
And you thought not her marrow;
You rook her frae her father's side,
When she was a rose on Yarrow."
"I took your sister to be my wife
And I made her my marrow;
I took her frae her father's side
And she's still the rose o Yarrow."
He's gaen tae his lady gan,
As he had done before o,
Sayin, "Madam I maun keep a tryst
On the dowie dens o Yarrow."
"O bide at hame ma lord," she said,
"O bide at hame my marrow,
For my three brothers, they will slay thee,
In the dowie dens o Yarrow."
"Hold yer tongue, ma lady dear
What's aa this strife and sorrow? [grief and
For I'll come back to thee again,
In the dowie dens o Yarrow."
She kissed his cheeks, she kissed his hair,
As she had done before o
And gied him a brand doon by his side
An he's awa tae Yarrow.
So he's gan up yon Tennies Bank
A wite he gaed wi sorrow [i.e. I know he gaed
An there he met nine armed men [spied nine
In the dowie dens o Yarrow.
O come ye here tae howk or hound, [i.e. hawk
Or drink the wine sae clear o,
Or come ye here tae pairt yer land
On the dowie dens o Yarrow?"
"I come not here tae howk or hound,
Or drink the wine sae clear o,
Nor come I here tae pairt ma land,
But I'll fight wi you in Yarrow."
So four he's hurt an five he's slain
In the bloody dens o Yarrow,
Till a cowardly man cam him behind
An he's pierced his body through o.
"Oh gae hame, gae hame, ma brither John,
Whit's aa this grief and sorrow. [dule and
Gae hame an tell ma lady dear
That I sleep sound in Yarrow."
So he's gane up yon high, high hill
As he had done before o
An there he met his sister dear,
She wis comin fast tae Yarrow.
"Oh I dreamt a dreary dream yestreen,
God keep us aa fae sorrow!
I dreamt I pulled the birk sae green,
(or: I dreamt that I wis pu'in heather bells)
On the dowie dens o Yarrow."
"O sister I will read yer dream
And oh it has come sorrow:
Your true love he lies dead an gone,
He was killed, was killed in Yarrow."
(Recorded by Peter Cooke and Akiko Takamatsu, Mintlaw 1987 and by Allan Palmer, Mintlaw 1979)
Jane: Ye jist think that quine's tellin him for his ain good. Sad an aa, is it? "Nor come I here tae pairt ma land." I put action in't, 'at's the wey it should be! A good song that; you niver hear that songs nowadays. I won with singin it at Kinross (Kinross Traditional Music Festival in 1977).

My Wee Doggie
Sung by Jane Turriff accompanying herself on accordion.
Jane: That's a good aul fashioned sang, that. That's ma grannie's sang. God I used tae sit an listen tae ma grannie singin.
This is one of a whole family of songs featuring chance encounters with roving young - often disdainful or underage - women, such as The Queen Amang the Heather. It is well known among travellers, but has hardly ever appeared in print. Greig Duncan 254, My Dog and I, has a similar opening verse, but there the similarity ends, the rest of that song having to do with the pair warming their feet after hunting in bad weather. Jane's song on the other hand is a delicate courtship song with a soaring melody.
Oh my wee doggie learnt me a trick,
To go a-hountin when it wis dark;
To go a-hountin when it wis dark,
To go a-hountin, my wee dog an I
I hadn't went far on my way,
When a nice young girlie she wis goin my way;
To go a-hountin on my way,
And I courted that young maid like any man could do.
"Oh I love apples an I love pears,
I love these cherries that grows on thon tree;
And I love my true love and he loves me,
So begone young man, begone, for I don't love you."
["Oh lassie, oh lassie, dry awa your tears,
For it's my bad behaviour has caused you tae mourn,
But the world it is wide ma love and we'll gang 'side
And the whole world will ken that my love is yours."]
"Oh lassie, oh lassie, dry awa your tears
An for your bairnie, you need nae fear:
The world is wide my love and we'll gang 'side
And the whole world will ken that your bairnie is mine."
He's took thon high road and she's taen thon glen,
And aye he whistled and aye she sung
The sang she sung wis the threid o blue,
"Oh I love my true love, but I don't love you."
My wee doggie learnt me a trick,
To go a-hountin when it wis dark;
To go a-hountin when it wis dark,
Go a-hountin wi my wee dog an I.
(Recorded by Peter Cooke and Akiko Takamatsu, Mintlaw 1987 and by Thomas McKean, Mintlaw 1994)

A Sailor Lad and a Tailor Lad
Sung by Jane Turriff accompanying herself on harmonium.
Jane picked up this song when she was eight or nine - 'frae the ither quinies - at the Linn Moor home near Aberdeen, where she stayed for rest after her fall and three and a half year hospitalisation (FW1 9.1 .96). It is part of a continuum of songs in the Greig Duncan collection which enumerate the advantages of courting a sailor lad over those with other professions (nos. 56-58). The Tailor and the Sailor (57) is the most analagous, the first two verses being very close to Jane's, with the exception of the last couplet, where she introduces the bonnie bairn. Greig Duncan's verse three, 'I will wash my sailor's sark' and 'Maybe I'll be married yet' appear as verses five and six in Jane's song, I'm Jist a Braw Young Sailor Lad (track 19). Jane insists that 'That's a different song' when asked about these verses and we will never know for sure whether she made the transfer herself or whether she learned the songs that way. In either case, perhaps 'floating verses' move within one singer's repertoire as easily as between singers.
Oh a sailor lad an a tailor lad aye come coortin me,
I'd raither hae the sailor lad, let the tailor be,
For what can a lazy tailor dee, bit sit an shew a cloot,
Bit the bonnie sailor laddie he can turn 'is ship aboot.
He cin turn 'er eence, 'e cin turn 'er twice, turn 'er far awa,
An 'e aye maks me keep up ma hert the time 'at he's awa,
Oh white sheets an blankets, pilla slips an aa
An the bonnie bairnie on ma knee, an 'at's the best of aa.
(Recorded by Allan Palmer Mintlaw 1979)

Bonnie Udny
Sung by Jane accompanyinmg herself with harmonium

Jane: 'T's a gey aul song that. There's a lot o travellers eest tae sing't.
While this version is localised to Udny in Aberdeenshire, there are a number of Scottish, Irish and English equivalents to this song. (GD 1089, Ord 341, and Henry 171 has a similar first line)
Oh Udny, bonnie Udny, ye stand faur ye shine,
The more l look at you the more my heart warms,
Bit if I wis in Udny I wid think mysel at hame,
For it's there l've got a sweetheart but here I've got none.
Over hills and through valleys how often l've gone,
Through brambles and brushwood, myself all alone,
Through hedges an ditches an dark nights an clear,
I have wandered tae Udny tae visit my dear.
Oh it's nae the lang journey that I hae tae go;
It's nae the long road that vexes me so;
It's the leavin o Udny an the loved ones behind;
O Udny, bonnie Udny, ye're aye in ma mind.
It wis on a certain Sunday that me an my love met,
Which caused me on a Monday tae mourn ower my fate;
Bit tae spoil my eyes fae cryin, whit a fool I wid be,
For she's gone to coort another, let her go where will she.
Aa the lads aboot Udny, they're aa rovin blades,
They tak great delight in coortin fair maids;
They tak them, ay, an kiss them an spend their money free,
Bit aa the lands in bonnie Scotland, bonnie Udny's for me.
Oh we'll drink an be merry, we'll drink then gang hame,
But if we bide here muckle langer, we'll get a bad name,
And tae get a bad name, love, an fill oursels fu,
An we've the lang walks tae Udny, they're ay tae gang through.
(Recorded by Allan Palmer, Mintlaw 1979)

The Rigs O Rye

Thirty-five versions of Hamish Henderson's favourite Jane Turriff song appear in the Greig-Duncan collection, including this fine verse: 'This couple they are married noo, And they have bairnies one or two, And live in Brittany the winter through, And in Montrose in summer'. (GD 1054, Ord 31)
It wis in between twa rigs o rye,
When I heard two lovers talkin;
"I hear my love you are going away,
An no longer here you mean to stay."
"I will give to you, five hundered pounds
If you'll marry me a poor stranger;
Let mammy weep, let daddy frown,
Let sister's words fall to the ground;
But I will lay down five hundered pounds,
If you'll marry me a poor stranger."
For it wis in between twa rigs o rye
When I heard two lovers talkin;
"I hear my love you are going away,
No longer here you mean to stay;
But I will lay down five hundred pounds
If you'll marry me a poor stranger."
The tears came fallin from her eye,
Like a heavy shower in summer bloom;
But he held his hankie rollin fine
And he kissed her cheeks and dimples fine.
I hear my love you are going away,
No longer here you mean to stay,
But I will lay down five hundered pounds,
If you'll marry me, a poor stranger."
(Recorded by Allan Palmer, Church Hall, Kinross Festival 1979)
Jane: Oh it's a great song, it's a great song. It's ma grandma's song I learned aff o ma Ma.


JANE TURRIFF is one of Scotland's legendary traditional singers. She was horn in Aberdeen in 1915, the eldest child of Donald and Christina Stewart. The Aberdeenshire Stewarts are justly renowned as pipers, singers and fiddlers in the Scottish traveller tradition, but Jane also has a strong strain of Irish traveller stock and repertoire - her maternal grandmother was a Maguire from Ireland, and her mother's brother, Davie Stewart, travelled and sang extensively there.

First recorded in 1955 by Hamish Henderson at her home in Fetterangus - known locally as Fishie - she has gained a reputation on the folk scene for her passionate ballad style, coupled with a powerful and beautifully controlled voice. She is equally famous for her renditions of music hall and country and western songs, delivered with equal conviction and power. All of these influences - the North East, the Irish, music hall, country and western - come together in Jane's singing styles.

Over the decades, she has featured on a few compilation albums. Now in her eighties, after forty years of being recorded by folklorists and enthusi asts from around the world, she at last has an album entirely devoted to her unique voice.

These tracks were selected - all with Jane's approval and perceptive ear - from nearly five hundred recordings of the more than one hundred songs in her repertoire, drawn from the School of Scottish Studies archive, the North East Folklore Archive, the private collection of Allan Palmer and from Peter Shepheard's Springthyme Records archive.

Listening to Jane and to the hundred hours of tape while preparing this album, I am constantly stunned by her artistry, her quality of tone and the gut-wrenching emotion she packs into her songs. Many call traditional singers 'untrained', but here is a singer with the weight of tradition behind her, a singing family, an open mind and a powerful voice - a traditionally trained singer. Listen to the precision of her articulation on the traditional ballads, the quality of tone and, most importantly, the individual feelings she puts into her songs and you will hear a traditional singer at her best.

To me, a traditional singer is not one who sings only 'traditional songs, but one to whom song is part of life. And like most traditional singers, Jane sings songs of nearly any description and does not draw absolute boundaries between them. Seated by her harmonium, I have listened to medleys that run seamlessly from Oh, Oh Antonio, to The Laird o Drum, by way of When You Were Sweet Sixteen, Among My Souvenirs, The Banks o Reid Roses and Blue, Blue, contrasts and transitions which she handles with consummate ease. Because Jane's styles cross boundaries, from that of the dramatic ballads learned from her mother and her uncle Davie Stewart, to the unrestrained emotion of Jimmy Rodgers' country and western music, complete with yodelling, I have tried to make this record representative of her huge range, and include songs that are important to her. I hope you will enjoy this album as much as I have enjoyed Jane's 'cairry-ons' for the last two years. I would like to dedicate this album to the memory of Jane's parents Christina and Donald.

Tom McKean, 1995

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