Announcement of continuation of Ceilidh
John Strachan complained about the theatre lights that stopped him seeing his audience. These were rigged for plays performed on the other evenings of the Festival,”‘In Time O Strife” by Glasgow Unity Theatre, and “Johnny Noble” and “Uranium 235” by Theatre Workshop. The latter two pieces were written by Ewan MacColl and directed by Joan Littlewood.
The Ceilidh had been organised specifically to help meet the costs of bringing Theatre Workshop to the Festival. Theatre Workshop was noted for its innovative use of lighting effects and “soundscapes.” One of the Ceilidh singers had a particularly strong effect on Ewan MacColl, then thought of as a playwright and actor who also sang old songs. Hamish Henderson wrote, “The sight of Ewan’s face, when he first received the full impact of Jimmy’s personality and performance, remains vividly in my memory.”
Dougie Pincock writes: “These two jigs are what most people would think of as typical of Burgess’s playing. ‘Donald MacLean’ was probably composed by Peter Macleod, and ‘The Irish Washerwoman’ is a hallmark of Burgess’s playing—he isn’t particularly known as a composer, but he has done some stunning arrangements of traditional standards, notably ‘The Mason’s Apron.’”
“The Irish Washerwoman” is more popular outside Ireland than with Irish musicians. “It has been proposed by some writers to have been an English country dance tune that was published in the seventeenth century and probably known in the late sixteenth century.” —Kuntz, The Fiddler’s Companion. The Companion tells us of “The Snouts and Ears Of America,” an apparent “derivative” version of the Irish Washerwoman tune in 4/4 time, with an “incomprehensible” title, played by Mrs. Sarah Armstrong, (near) Derry, Pennsylvania, Nov. 5, 1943.
The Blackbird, The Rakes Of Mallow, The Irish Washerwoman
Alan Lomax was tipped off about Margaret Barry, and found her busking in Dundalk, Eire in 1951. This track was recorded in 1953 in London, where she would become a fixture at Irish trad sessions in Camden Town pubs. Photographs show her playing an English-made 5 string Windsor Pioneer banjo.
Erin Go Bragh
“Erin go bragh” means “Ireland for ever.” Gavin Greig says this song was “an exceedingly popular ditty . . . with the general crowd” in the North East, who had a healthy admiration “for pluck and independence.” The story reminds us that Scottish support for political rights in Ireland is no new thing. The hero is of a clan identified with Protestant support of the Crown, yet has the look, manner, and actions of a Fenian rebel against English rule, and his blackthorn stick identifies him with Ireland.
A beguilingly simple and open-hearted song that has not been traced in other collections, nor any news of the composer found in the tight little fisher village of Portknockie near Buckie. Lomax wrote of this song (in the World Library of Folk and Primitive Music: Scotland album), “The genius loci of the Scottish countryside is song, and there is hardly a rock, glen, clachan, or harbor which has not a song in celebration of its peculiar attractions.”
At the entry to Portnockie village, the sign says “Knockers Aye Afloat.”
The Reid Road
An intensely local song with no traced composer or publication. The place-names in the last verse are all shown on this map of “Portknockie Rock Names” made by Brian Donaldson. The Reid Road (red because of the colour of its earth), formerly the main track to the neighbouring village of Cullen, is now an access path to the links and beach, crossing Portknockie Golf Course beside Hole 9. A K-nocker is short for a Portknockie resident. The language of the song is that of the North East sea coast.
The remarkable Bow Fiddle Rock is at the top right of Donaldson’s map.
This best-known bothy ballad has an apparently simple text with a complex history. The tune and part of the refrain are drawn from a song of love for Lowrie of Linton (which Linton is not known). The vigorous verses link to a more balladic relative called “Jock O Rhynie.” Bothy ballad singer Jock Duncan was surprised about the critical tone of the song. “The Barnyards had aye the best pair o horses—a great ferm toun that.”
“The Barnyards” was a massively popular song, recorded by the Clancy Brothers, the Dubliners, and here by the Ramblers, a “skiffle” influenced group formed by Alan Lomax, Shirley Collins, Ewan MacColl and others. The group’s approach smoothed songs into flatness. Peggy Seeger was also recruited, and commented later that “we didn’t deserve to succeed. And we didn’t.”
G. S. Morris, composer of this theatrical “cornkister” bothy ballad, was born and educated in the city of Aberdeen and worked as a blacksmith and a farmer, then ran a motorcycle business and a hotel in Old Meldrum while singing professionally and recording. Jimmy MacBeath tramped the roads, but was not at all of Traveller stock. Hamish Henderson’s characterisation of the song as a “genuine Tinker’s song” is therefore wide of the mark. Tinkers were nomadic metal smiths, making and mending tin utensils, and perhaps descended from travelling silversmiths of old. Jimmy gets one element of the song story wrong. Usually Annie runs to get the iron pail and crowns Jock with it. Jimmy omits the last verse that he sings on his Tramps and Hawkers Portrait album.
A Moss is a stretch of boggy moorland. Flanders Moss by Stirling and Solway Moss on the Border were major obstacles impeding invading armies from the south. Now through land improvement much of the Mosses are rich farmland.
Story of Sergeant MacGrady
Before John Strachan’s story, Calum Johnston had told a tale about a drowned stranger coming to a door, but the second part of his story was lost through another tape change.
Later in the 1950s in London, Lomax recorded hours of songs, life stories and traditional tales from Jeannie Robertson, Jimmy MacBeath and Davie Stewart. (This rich material is not in the School of Scottish Studies Archive.) It includes Robertson telling Lomax’s fortune using a card deck—”Oh, what a lot o kisses he’s goin to get,” and “You’ve turned the cradle up and you’ll have that trouble to put up with.” We learn where Davie Stewart was born and how to build a traveller’s “bender tent.” And Jimmy MacBeath tells of his travels to Nova Scotia and wartime France, and his ancestral links to King Macbeth
The Tinker's Waddin
John Strachan’s vigorous performance of this song was again shredded by tape changeovers, so Christine Kydd has recorded it for us.
Christine has been a stalwart of the Scottish folk scene for over 30 years, performing and recording with others to produce some of Scotland's finest and often award-winning harmony vocal sounds, and also working in numerous teaching, theatrical and community projects and as a vocal coach and choir director.
This song has the first place in Robert Ford’s invaluable 1904 collection Vagabond Songs and Ballads. He reports that “It was written by William Watt, who was born at West Linton, Peeblesshire, 1792, and was author, besides, of the inimitable song of “Kate Dalrymple.” Watt was a weaver to trade. At one time he moved to East Kilbride, where he was Parish Kirk Precentor, leading the congregation in singing in the days before churches installed pipe organs.
Morag MacLeod writes: “It is no easy task to sing a waulking song on one’s own, since one of its characteristics is the division into solo and choral sections. The chorus usually sang vocables, of which those in this song are typical. Waulking songs were used to accompany the work of shrinking cloth by beating it onto a board in a regular rhythm. They are now unique to Gaelic-speaking Scotland and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; and, although the practice of waulking cloth stopped in the 1950s, the songs remain popular. They are almost all of anonymous composition; and the themes vary, sometimes even within one song. They are generally taken up with women’s concerns, but again the panegyric element is present, here in praise of the MacNeils.”
The phrase “the swan’s road” is a poetic byname or kenning for the ocean. Viking sagas also used such kennings—e.g., the whale’s path, the gull’s bath.
Co Siod Thall Air Sraid Na H-Eala
Singer and Celtic harp player Maggie MacInnes was born in Glasgow but comes from a long line of Gaelic singers from the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides and learned most of her Gaelic songs from her mother the highly acclaimed traditional singer, Flora MacNeil.
Maggie has been involved in various groups over the years such as Ossian, Fuaim, Eclipse First and The Maggie MacInnes Band and has travelled widely with her music touring in many parts of Europe, U.S.A., and Canada. She has composed music for BBC documentaries and has acted as music producer and performed in many Gaelic language television and radio programmes.
Mo Nighean Donn Bhoidheach [My Lovely Brown-haired Girl]
Morag MacLeod: “There are very few narrative songs in Gaelic, and those that exist share many characteristics. They are, unlike Scots ballads, in the first person, and they are almost always about a tragic event. Metrically, they may be arranged in lines with end rhyme, but they are usually sung with all the lines except the first and last repeated, forming couplets, similar to the formula of ‘Another Song to the Prince’ above. The theme of this song appears in more than one guise, including one that begins ‘It is time for me to rise.’”
Alasdair Mhic Colla Ghasda
This praise of a Gaelic hero has survived as a waulking song. Anne Lorne Gillies tells us that Alasdair MacColla was perhaps the greatest warrior in Scottish Gaelic tradition. He was a MacDonald, and led the Royalist Highland and Irish troops during the Montrose campaign of 1644-5. The Marquis of Montrose was fighting to restore to his throne Charles I of the Stuart line, but MacColla wanted to recover from the Campbell clan the Argyll lands that had been held by his family, the Lords of the Isles. MacColla learned his trade as a mercenary soldier in Ireland, and brought his troops and skills back to help win the Battles of Inverlochy and Auldearn.
Alasdair Mhic Colla Ghasda
Anne Lorne Gillies quotes from a contemporary account of the hero: “He was of such extraordinarie strength and agilitie as there was non that equalled or came near him. He was of a grave and sulled carriage, a capable and pregnant judgement, and for his valour, all that knew him did relate wonders of this actions in arms.”
Morag MacLeod: “When Mrs. Kennedy-Fraser, the great collector of songs whose work is published in three volumes called Songs of the Hebrides, went to Barra, she could not have achieved what she did without the help of the local teacher, Annie Johnston. Annie was Calum’s sister, and she and Malcolm Johnston were the acknowledged source for the ‘Hebridean Weaving Lilt.’ Mrs. Kennedy-Fraser generally changed rhythms, melodies, and texts—indeed the music most often matched the English-language version—but judging by Calum’s singing, she seems to have resisted that temptation in this instance. He gives us a hint of his skills in vocal dance music (puirt à beul) in the subtle rhythms of this song, keeping the tempo going with ease, but introducing variations in the lengths of phrases as required, to accompany the weaving. The refrain lines are a mixture of vocables, weaving terms, and two translatable lines. ‘A little bird on its nest, it’ll sing along with you. Black mountain, sing black, o horo blackbird.’”
This is the first traditional Scots song I learned and sang in public.
I was born in Inverness, and attended Allan Glen’s School in Glasgow for two years while French teacher Morris Blythman, who wrote songs and poetry under the name “Thurso Berwick” was organising a Ballad and Blues Club during the lunch break. I was for a year too young to attend, so had to hide under a desk when prefects looked in to check. Morris taught old songs and wrote new ones, brought in singers Josh MacRae and Jeannie Robertson to impress and educate us, and took us out to perform. Morris and his wife Marion organised legendary evening ceilidhs in their Balgrayhill house.
My other key influences were Norman and Janey Buchan. She organised me and another young singer, Drew Moyes, to start in 1960 the Glasgow Folk Club, the first commercial club in Scotland. Noisy tramcars rattled by outside in the Trongate, silencing singers. Our first guest was Jimmy MacBeath, his £8 fee was the largest fee he had ever received.
I have at times made a living from music, but, like many people who helped make the Revival, music was for me an enthusiasm rather than a career till I took early retirement, and became busy taking song and songmaking to schools across Scotland and to other countries, as Gallus Productions creating and publishing websites, recordings and books for school use, and much else.
I was honoured to be asked by ACE to help edit several volumes of Alan Lomax’s Scottish recordings in the Alan Lomax Collection on Rounder Records, and in 2015 to be given the Hamish Henderson “Services To Traditional Music” Award. -Ewan McVicar
Jimmy told Alan Lomax in London, ‘He turned out to be an outlaw. He stole sheep and cattle and gave to the poor people. He had 200 men with him. He was a great swordsman, born in Strathspey. They couldn’t get near him, he kept them away with his sword. This woman was washing blankets, she dropped a wet blanket on top of his head, and affore he could get the blanket off they collared him, hand-cuffed him and he was tried before the Sheriff at Banff.’
The King’s Messenger brought the pardon too late, and said ‘Henceforth and onward, that clock shall tell lies’, and ever since the town clock of Banff runs 15 minutes slow, says the story.
MacPherson is said to have been a fine fiddler, and the night before his execution he composed the Rant. Before they hanged him between two trees above Banff he played the tune, and offered the fiddle as a present to anyone who would play his new tune as he danced hanging on the rope. But anyone who took the fiddle would show themselves a friend to him and risk death for the crime of being of traveller stock.
So he smashed the fiddle. The pieces are on show in the MacPherson Clan House Museum in Newtonmore.
Alasdair was born in Germany, son of a Scots folk guitarist who taught him songs. Alasdair moved to Scotland, and has released a number of solo albums, and frequently collaborated with other musicians and writers, as well as being a member of the Furrow Collective group. He says, “Collaboration is extremely important to me. I reiterate—extremely.”
Robert Ford, an editor and collector of songs, said in 1901 that this song “was long a popular street song, all over Scotland, and sold readily in penny sheet form.”
Raeburn, a Glasgow baker to trade, was sentenced to banishment for theft in the 1840s and transported to the convict cages of Australia. Singers have asserted Raeburn had stolen a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. Ford had a more likely account.
His sweetheart, Catherine Chandler, told the story: “We parted at ten o’clock and Jamie was in the police office at twenty minutes past ten. Going home, he met an acquaintance of his boyhood, who took him in to treat him for auld langsyne.” Detectives appeared, searched the pair, and found stolen property on the friend. “They were tried and banished for life to Botany Bay. Jamie was innocent as the unborn babe, but his heartless companion spoke not a word of his innocence.”
John Strachan Compliments the Audience
The Greig-Duncan Collection has 17 versions of this song, still a favourite with singers. Jessie beats out each word with her foot, and although there is no chorus, the audience is so keen to participate that some begin to hum the tune. Norman Buchan recalled: “The place was electric, and I was surprised, because on the stage was a tiny old lady, less than five feet, dressed in black, fisherwife dressed, and she was chanting out a song called ‘Jamie Raeburn.’ Now, I’d never heard that song before, but I did know what it was. I knew it was a street ballad from a century and a half, or maybe two centuries ago. It was a street ballad that people had sold about transportation, but I had absolutely no idea that people still sang a song like that.” (Radio Scotland, 1994). Buchan went on to inspire young singers and edit the songbooks that fuelled the Revival.
Alan Lomax, hearing MacNeil sing Cairistiona in the Edinburgh home of the poet Sorley MacLean in 1951, was bowled over: “It was in Edinburgh one June night … that Scotland really took hold of me. A blue-eyed girl from the Hebrides was singing.”
In the song Cairistiona is asked to reply, but cannot, she is dead and ships are coming on the Sound of Islay to collect her body and “bury her low in the ground, beneath the heavy stones forever.”
Anne Lorne Gillies says: “This song—one of the first I learned—belongs to that timeless period of the few centuries before 1745. Although it has survived as a slow waulking song it also seems closely connected to the male work-song genre, the rowing song, or iorram. Certainly it seems to have been composed by a woman—Cairistiona’s foster-mother—who ‘nursed her at her own breast’.”
Maggie MacInnes and and her mother, Flora MacNeil, singing at the 60th Anniversary Ceilidh in 2011. Photo copyright Allan McMillan.
Oran Mor Mhicleoid [The Great Song Of Macleod]
Anne Lorne Gillies says: “‘An Clarsair Dall’ is sometimes described as ‘Scotland’s last minstrel.’ While at school he contracted smallpox, and was left disfigured and blind: it was then that he began to study music seriously—to the detriment of his other studies.” He got musical training in Ireland, and eventually back home “he met Iain Breac, chief of the MacLeods of Dunvegan, who engaged him as his family harper, promising him the tenancy of a farmhouse in Skye in return for his services.” MacLeod also retained a classical poet, a MacCrimmon piper, and a jester. The MacLeod’s family nurse, Mairi Nighean Alasdair Rhuidair, also made songs.
This song was “aimed specifically at Iain Breac MacLeod’s son Roderick, who had been educated in the south and showed little interest in returning to play the role of clan chief.”
Oran Do MhaCleoid Dhunbheagain [A Song To Macleod Of Dunvegan]
The poet says that he left the castle, and he found on the slopes of the mountains the echo of past mirth, the echo of his own singing. and he then has a conversation with the echo about the fate of the House of MacLeod.
In the heyday of the clan system in Scotland, the clan chief was expected to protect his clansmen and servants. His retinue of artists were all obliged to compose propaganda verse and music for their chief. Roderick Morrison, an clarsair dall (the blind harper, c. 1656–1714), was for a time harper to MacLeod of Dunvegan, and when the chief John died, his successor did not fulfil the obligations of his office. Morrison’s song remonstrates bitterly with the new chief, who spends his time in London and his money on foppish clothes. In particular he advises him to look to his predecessor, who had “renown in rich measure, and would never leave Dunvegan without music.” As Hamish Henderson says, the text is based on an imagined dialogue between Echo and the poet.
The John MacLean March
This 1984 recording was Hamish Henderson’s own favourite version of his song. The group was formed by brothers Pete and Gavin Livingstone, pioneering the use of electronics in traditional music. The group is still active, mixing “traditional and original songs with uplifting and exciting arrangements, whilst singing is still a particular strength. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.”
The song was written for and sung at the John MacLean Memorial Meeting in St Andrew’s Hall in Glasgow, 1948. Hamish described the tune as a “piper’s version” of an old air, sung as “Bonny Glenshee,” that was further adapted for Cliff Hanley’s “Scotland the Brave,” and for Henderson’s own alternative Scottish national anthem, “The Freedom-Come-All-Ye,” written in 1960 for the Scottish CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) peace marchers.
Both the “John MacLean March” and the “Freedom-Come-All-Ye” became very popular with Scottish singers in the 1970s. Henderson cuts off to omit his last verse. This song, “Scots Wha Hae,” “Erin Go Bragh,” and the Jacobite songs were the only songs with an explicit political dimension sung in the evening. John MacLean was the great hero of Scottish socialism, “martyred” for his opposition to World War I, and a fiery orator, writer, and organizer. He was the Scottish equivalent of James Connolly of Ireland, both “Socialist martyrs.”
Attempts to identify or trace Mrs Budge, a young Lowlands woman and friend of Hamish Henderson, have been fruitless.
Generally considered Scotland’s own national anthem. Robert Burns wrote the lyric as what “one might suppose to be [King Robert the Bruce’s] address to his heroic followers on that eventful morning” of 24 June 1314 at Bannockburn, when the Scots routed the army of King Edward II of England and regained their independence.
The tune “Hey Tutti Taiti” is said to have been played by the Scots as they marched to the battlefield outside Stirling.The title suggests the taps of marching drummers. The surviving lyric is a drinking song, telling the landlady to tot up her bill.
The French town of Orleans annually celebrates the entry to the town of Joan Of Arc on the 29th April 1429, preceded by her bodyguard of sixty Scottish men-at-arms and seventy Scottish archers led by Sir Patrick Ogilvy of Auchterhouse, hereditary sheriff of Angus, playing the Marche Des Soldats de Robert Bruce. A Youtube search finds several performances by French military bands.
After The Ceilidh
The 1951 Festival was judged a resounding artistic and cultural success, but suffered “a fairly serious financial loss” of £50. The 1952 Festival, however, ran for three weeks, with the Oddfellows Hall again the grand finale. But the involvement of the Communist Party in the organising of the Festival was its downfall, supporters made nervous by McCarthyism dropped out and the 1954 Festival was the last. The effects of the Ceilidhs nevertheless rang out loud and long in Scotland’s Central Belt. Hamish Henderson in Edinburgh began his life-long task of recording and writing about Scotland’s oral culture. In Glasgow Norman and Janey Buchan organised concerts, and he and Morris Blythman edited lyric books and booklets that inspired young singers all across the country.
Remember that this was very much a city-based Revival enthusiasm, in the North East and the Gaeltacht they had never stopped singing and honouring their traditions, not just song but piping, fiddle-playing and country dancing. Alan Lomax up till 1957 continued to mine his Scottish recordings for influential commercial discs and radio and television programmes. Ewan MacColl’s own LP recordings of Scottish songs became another major resource, and the example of his and others’ development of the folk club concept was followed throughout the land.
Here Comes The Folk Revival
All the Ceilidh singers sang unaccompanied, and all bar Jimmy had never been paid for performing. The youngsters who were inspired by them learned from American examples how to accompany themselves on guitars, and began to get paid for performing. Influential folk clubs began in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dunfermline and Aberdeen. Singers who became prominent included Ewan MacColl, Alex Campbell, Josh MacRae, Jean Redpath, Archie and Ray Fisher, Dolina MacLennan, Dick Gaughan, Hamish Imlach, Alison McMorland, Brian MacNeill and Ian Davison. Groups began to emerge—The Reivers, Joe Gordon’s Folk Four, The McCalmans, The Whistlebinkies, The Battlefield Band, Ossian, Ceolbeg. Key record labels were, and are, Greentrax, Temple and Springthyme.
Folk clubs were gradually replaced by festivals, and students developed academic knowledge at the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh, or performance at the RSAMD in Glasgow, and later the Plockton Music School. A few performers moved from folk club beginnings to wider media fame, among them Barbara Dickson, Billy Connolly, Rab Noakes, Eric Bogle. Songwriters proliferated everywhere, and began to produce their own folk-influenced albums, and Plankspanker singers beat on their guitars and carolled the greatest folk hits in the corner of pubs. Slowly the excitement and fierce enthusiasm of the early Folk Revival has ebbed, and “join in singing the chorus” folk events in pubs and small halls have become concert platform performances by remarkably technically skilled younger Scots musicians who tour the world.
Selected and annotated by Ewan McVicar
with assistance from Nathan Salsburg
Designed by Kiki Smith-Archiapatti
Special thanks to Anne Lorne Gillies, Steve Byrne and Ian Green
Listen to the full recording of the Ceilidh (as a podcast) here.