Old Songs and Bothy Ballads

Nick-knack on the Waa

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1: The Wee Toun Clerk * Gordeanna McCulloch

This old ballad is still to be found in the repertoire of Scottish traditional singers and was a favourite in the bothies. Gordeanna has had the song since her early days with The Clutha. The first printed version did not appear until early in the nineteenth century although the theme has been part of European literature since the middle ages. It is included in Francis J Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads under the title The Keach in the Creel (Child 281).

As Maisry she gaed up the street,
The white fish for tae buy;
The wee toun clerk he heard of it,
An he's followed her on the fly.

Ellie ellie ridum, didum daddie,
Ellie ellie ridum dee;
O ellie ellie ridum, didum daddie
Fal the ral the diddle I dee.

2: Beside Her Faither's Cottage * Alex Clarke

A song from the great Scots entertainer, Harry Lauder.

Beside her faither's cottage at the bottom o the glen,
I left ma bonnie lassie there in tears,
Oh she nearly broke her hert when I said we had tae pairt,
An I wad be awa for several years;
But she dried her tears away when I told her of the day
That I'd come back again and make her mine;
She said, "When you cross the sea, John, will you think of me?"
I said I would, an singin aa the time:
Her cheeks are like the bloomin rose, her neck 'tis like the swan,
And her face it is the sweetest face I've ever gazed upon,
And I'll row her in the heather yet as share as ma name's John,
When I get back again tae bonnie Scotland.

3: Fee'd Tae The Drum * Gordon Easton

Composed by Frank Henry brought up in the Cabrach between Huntly and Aberdeen. A young man goes to the feeing market to look for a new job and agrees to a contract but gets more than he bargained for.

At ae Mairtinmas term, the grieve fae the Drum,
Tappit me on the shouder and speired gin I'd come,
Tae watch his first pair for a winter half year,
Wi a big cleekit horse and ringle-eed meer.

4: The Gallant Forty Twa * Elizabeth Stewart

This beautiful traditional song from Elizabeth's family repertoire. The 'forty-twa' is the 42nd Highland Regiment, more commonly known as the Black Watch. It was established in 'to be constant guard for securing the peace in the Highlands' and 'to watch upon the braes'. The name comes from the dark tartans it's members wear, which was originally to distinguish them from regular troops who wore red uniforms. Several other traditional songs include the broken token motif but few pack such feeling of loss as this. There is, of course, a much better known and more recent song with the same title that was published by the Poet's Box in Dundee in the 1880s.

Oh it's six weeks come Sunday since ma laddie's went awa,
He's awa tae join the regiment o the gallant Forty Twa.

Oh broken herted I may wander for the loss o ma true lover,
He's awa tae join the regiment o the gallant Forty Twa.

5: I Must Away * Duncan Williamson

The lover returns from the dead but is doomed to return to the nether world before dawn. A version of the Grey Cock (Child 248).

Oh it's seven long years since my true love left me,
It is seven long years since he went to sea;
But another seven I shall wait his pleasure,
Till he comes home and he marries me.

6: The Moss o Burreldale * Hector Riddell

Composed by George Morris of Oldmeldrum around 1930. Geordie and his brother in law Willie Kemp were responsible for composing many of the later bothy ballads or cornkisters and their recordings of the songs issued as 78s and easily available printed song booklets ensured their wide popularity.

Hiv ye ever seen a tinker's camp upon a simmer's nicht,
On a nicht afore a market, fan aa things gaun richt,
Fan aa the tramps an hawkers they come fae hill an dale,
Tae gaither in the gloamin on the Moss o Burreldale.

The ale wis only tuppence, an a tanner bocht a gill,
A besom or a tilly pan or a shelt ye aye could sell,
An we aa forgot oor troubles ower a forty o sma ale,
When we gathered in the gloamin on the Moss o Burreldale.

7: I'm a Peer Rovin Lassie * Gordeanna McCulloch

A fine tune and the repeat chorus lines of When I look tae yon high hills make this a great song for audience participation.

I'm a peer rovin lassie an my fortune's been bad,
Since I fell in love wi a young sailor lad;
I wis coorted sae early by night and by day,
And the lad I loe dearly lies a distance frae me.

When I look tae yon high hills an ma laddie's na there,
When I look tae yon high hills it maks ma hairt sair;
When I look tae yon high hills an a tear blins ma ee,
And the lad I loe dearly lies a distance frae me.

8: The Bureau * Alex Clarke

The Bureau (the Unemployment Assistance Board) was set up in the 1930s to administer means tested family benefits. The lads are "on the Bureau" when one job after another goes wrong.

We're the lads fae the tap o the hill,
We never worked, never will,
We're on the Bureau;
We're the lads fae Mid Craigie,
Whar there's work ye'll no see me,
We're on the Bureau;
We got a job at Walker's at the spinnin,
We sang that sang Oor Maggie had a Bairn,
Oh the gaffer didna like that sang,
We werena in the job verra lang,
Spinnin bye, bye.

A Royal Commission on Unemployment was set up in 1930 at a time of considerable poverty and high unemployment. This led to the 1934 Unemployment Assistance Board (the UAB referred to in the last verse) that was set up to administer household means tested benefits - and later abolished during the war in 1941.

9: The Muckin o Geordie's Byre * Gordon Easton

A cornkister by the great George Morris. He and his brother in law Willie Kemp vied to outdo each other in writing the comic cornkisters and this is one of Gordon's favourites and one that he feels captures the comedy of what could have been a true event.

At a relic aul craft upon the hill,
Jist roun the neuk fae Sprottie's mill,
Tryin aa his life the time tae kill,
Wis Geordie MacIntyre.
No he had a wife a sweir's himsel,
An a dother as black's auld Nick himsel,
An there wis some fun, haud awa the smell,
At the muckin o Geordie's byre.

When the graip wis tint, the besom wis deen,
The barra widna row its leen,
An siccan a soss, there (or it) never wis seen,
At the muckin o Geordie's byre.

It is easy to access the Scots Language Dictionary both here and at the top of several song pages. But here's a sample glossary of some of the Scots words in this song.

muckin=cleaning; croft/ craft = small farmstead; jine= join; kill = overcome with weariness; sweir = lazy; auld Nick=the Devil; tint = lost; besom = broom; deen = done; barra = barrow; widna row its leen = would not hold it's load; siccan = such; soss = dirty wet mess; strae = straw; neep = turnips; swipe = sweep; greep/ gripe = gutter in the byre; fell sklyte = fall heavily; ben = through; soo = sow/ female pig; booin doon = bending down; goon = gown, dress; midden = dung heap; rigs = strip of arable land; tyke = dog; bumbee's byke = beehive; lang syne = long since; tyne = lose

10: The Twa Brothers * Elizabeth Stewart

One of the classic big ballads - two boys are in a playful fight and one kills the other. The ballad still survives, as here, in the living tradition, although Francis J Child thought it was extinct in Scotland when he published his collection in 1882 (Child 49).

O two two pretty boys they were gaun tae the school,
An they were comin home;
Said the biggest boy to the littlest boy,
"O can you throw a stone,
O can you throw a stone."

11: Bogie's Bonnie Belle * Hector Riddell

A famous song based on an event that took place in Aberdeenshire in the 1880s.

Ae market day in Huntly toun, 'twas was there I did agree,
Wi Bogieside the fairmer, a saxmonth for tae fee;
For Bogie was a surly carle and I did know that well,
But Bogie had a dother braw and her name it was Belle.

12: The Farmyard Gate * Jock Duncan

A song that Jock remembers as a song that his New Deer neighbour John Strachan used as a finale piece in his concert party that Jock was part of for a few years in the late 1930s.

Oh that farmyard gate,
Johnny was there both early and late,
Whistlin an singin, "Are ye coming out Kate?"
Down by the farmyard gate.

Johnny Green he used to wait for his girl,
Down at the farmyard gate
With his hair all set in a nice little curl
Down at the farmyard gate.
He sat on the gate and cried, "Cuckoo!
Are you coming out darling? Do love, do,
For my toes is cold and ma nose is blue,
Down at the farmyard gate."

13: The Winter It Is Past * Vic Gammon

A song that is still popular in Ireland and has also been collected from tradition in Newfoundland. The song certainly dates back to the mid 1700s and was quite common on 19th century broadsheets usually under the title 'Cold Winter'. The song was known to Robert Burns (1759-1796) who published his own version in The Scots Musical Museum in 1788. The races on the plain of Kildare were a great gathering-place for people from all over Ireland. Vic got the song from the Lucy Broadwood Manuscript, the source being AJ Hipkins of London.

Now the winter's gone and past, pleasant summer's come at last,
And the small birds sing on every green tree;
Oh it's many's the heart is glad, oh but my poor heart is sad,
Since my true love's gone absent from me.

14: It's Aa Yin Tae Me * Ron Bissett

A little comic song that seems to have been quite well known in Fife and Tayside.

It's aa yin tae me whether I mairry noo or no,
Whether I mairry or I tarry or I bide a weaver O.

Ma faither gien's a horse, ma mither gien's a coo,
Ma sister gien's a boar an ma brother gien's a soo;
So it's aa yin tae me whether I mairry noo or no,
Whether I mairry or I tarry or I bide a weaver O.

15: Parting Song * Chris Miles, Aileen Carr & Gordeanna McCulloch

A song composed by Dave Webber in 1993 in memory of a good friend John Purdy of Torquay.

Soon the morning sun will rise and dawn will bathe the sky,
There's time for just this parting song before we say goodbye;
So sing together one and all and raise a glass of wine,
Here's hoping we shall meet again along the road of time.

16: Robin Hood and the Pedlar * Peter Shepheard

A rare ballad (#132 in FJ Child's collection) that has, never-the-less, been found in the living tradition both in England and in Scotland in the last decades. This version is from the singing of Denny Smith a Romany traveller from Gloucester and recorded by Pete from Denny in the Tabard Bar, North Street, Gloucester in April 1966. This is one of a large cycle of Robin Hood ballads that excited enormous public interest after they were first compiled together from early broadsheets and manuscript collections and published in two small 8vo volumes by Joseph Ritson in 1795. The original recording from Denny Smith is available on the CD Wiggy Smith: Band of Gold on Musical Traditions MTCD 307

Oh its of of a pedlar and a pedlar bold,
Some fine pedlar he seemed for to be;
He had a pack all at his back,
And away went whistling right over the lea.

17: Nancy's Whisky * Steve Black

A Kintyre song learned from Willie Scott who picked it up from Willie Mitchell of Campbeltown during the 1968 Blairgowrie Festival.

I'm a weaver that follows weaving,
I'm a young and rovin blade;
To buy meself a new suit of clothing,
To Stewarton me way I made.

18: Catch Me If You Can * Pete Coe

In 1978 Pete Coe recorded the 60-year-old Sophie Legg, a romany traveller of Bodmin in Cornwall, for Veteran Records on her only album, Catch Me If You Can: Songs from Cornish Travellers, with her sisters Charlotte and Betsy Renals (then 78 and 77 respectively). It included her favourite song Down By the Old Riverside and others from the repertoire that had become a staple diet of the folk-club movement, including Jim the Carter Lad and this song Catch Me If You Can. Pete has also recorded the song on one of his CDs Pete Coe: In Paper Houses.

It was early, early all in the Spring,
Down in those meadows all so green;
There a pretty maiden I chanced to meet,
And I asked her if she would walk with me.

Recorded live at the Fife Traditional Singing Weekend, Collessie May 2007