Music of the Travelling People || Scottish Tinker Songs

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<ul><li><p>Scottish Tinker SongsAuthor(s): Peter A. HallSource: Folk Music Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1, Music of the Travelling People (1975), pp. 41-62Published by: English Folk Dance + Song SocietyStable URL: .Accessed: 12/06/2014 17:59</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact</p><p> .</p><p>English Folk Dance + Song Society is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to FolkMusic Journal.</p><p> </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>Scottish Tinker Songs PETER A. HALL </p><p>IT IS only in the last twenty five years that we have become fully aware of the importance of the tinkers as carriers of Scots tradi- tional song. Social prejudice has limited the contacts between middle class collectors and the travellers who are often on the very edge of social acceptability. This situation has been dramatic- ally transformed by the work of the School of Scottish Studies, and particularly by the redoubtable Hamish Henderson. He vividly describes the position of the collector visiting both travel- lers and other informants: "as the School's collectors have found in the recent past, these social barriers, although much less solid these days, do still form a real stumbling block. It does not pay to let some informants know that one has been consorting socially with tinkers-let alone camping with them, or scrounging peats with them." (Henderson and Collinson). </p><p>As might be expected in an academic institution, much at- tention has been given to the "Child Ballads" and an interesting selection has been published in the School's journal, Scottish Studies (Henderson and Collinson), including versions of The Cruel Brother (Child 11) and The Bonny Banks o'Airdrie (Child 14), from Martha Stewart and Martha Reid, both tinkers. Professor Child in his great anthology groups songs with similar features together, and this is clearly the case with numbers 11 to 14. </p><p>Lord Randal (Child 12) is already known from the superb version recorded by Jeannie Robertson as Lord Donald. Here is Lord Ronald as collected by Helen Fullarton from John McDonald in Glasgow. Dr Fullarton is one of a number of part time collec- tors who have recorded extensively from tinkers in recent years. </p><p>41 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>LORD RONALD </p><p>Where have you been hunt-ing, Lord Ron-ald, my soni, I'vo been </p><p>hunt -ing wild geese, mo-ther make my bed soon, For I'm </p><p>wea - ry wea - ry hunt - ing, aye and fain wid lie doon. </p><p>2. "What had ye for your supper, Lord Ronald, my son?" "I'd a cup full of honey, mother make my bed soon, For I'm weary, weary huntin', and fain wid lie doon." </p><p>3. "What brought ye to your mother, Lord Ronald, my son?" "All my household and furniture, mother make my bed soon, For I'm weary, weary huntin', and fain wid lie doon," </p><p>4. "What brought ye to your sweetheart, Lord Ronald, my son?" "I brought a rope for to hang her, mother make my bed soon, For I'm weary, weary huntin', and fain wid lie doon." </p><p>The four songs from this section of the Child canon all show extensive incremental repetition, often cited as a general charac- teristic of the ballad although in fact appearing in rather few pieces. Lord Randal is probably the commonest example of the "testament verses", and is often enough recorded from non- travellers. The Cruel Brother is on the other hand a rare piece and it is interesting to see it surviving in the mouth of a traveller. Survive is perhaps the wrong description to use in regard to The Bonnie Banks o' Airdrie. Five versions were found in the century preceding the Child anthology and Gavin Greig got only one fragment, without tune, from Bell Robertson. The piece seemed rare but in the past twenty years, apart from a number in the archives of the School, versions have been recorded from travellers, John McDonald, Duncan Williamson and Jessie McDonald, the last named having been published in The Scottish Folksinger (19). </p><p>It is instructive to compare the Bell Robertson fragment published in Last Leaves with the corresponding verses from the Jessie McDonald set. </p><p>42 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>Bell Robertson: 1. "Will ye be a rank robber's wife? Aiken ay so bonnie, 0. Or will ye die by my penknife? On the bonnie banks o Airdrie, O." </p><p>2. "I winna be a rank robber's wife, Aiken ay so bonnie, 0. But I'd rather die by your penknife, On the bonnie banks o Airdrie, O." </p><p>Jessie McDonald: 3. "Would ye be a rank robber's wife, Eek in aye sae bonnie-o! Or would ye die by my penknife? On the bonnie banks o' Airdrie-ol" </p><p>4. "I'll not be a rank robber's wife, Eek in aye sae bonnie-o! I'd rather die by your penknife, On the bonnie banks o' Airdrie-o!" </p><p>Bell Robertson heard her version sung by "a tinker boy nearly 70 years ago". This would be about 1840, and suggests a distinctive version in the mouths of travellers for upwards of a century, the locale being given as Airdrie as is the case with a set in Groome's book The Gypsy Tents (1880). The ballad seems to be much more common than was thought hitherto, or perhaps a lack of investigation into the tinker repertoire has hidden its existence from us. </p><p>The fourth example of our ballad group is Edward (Child 13) of which the superb version My Son David was recorded from the most famous traveller singer, Jeannie Robertson. Angela Brasil in England and Paddy Doran in Ireland are other travellers with this seldom heard piece. (For recorded versions see The Child Ballads-Topic 12T160). </p><p>The picture emerges of the small number of tinkers apparently retaining this particular group of ballads much better than the general population. This is so striking as to demand an explana- tion, and perhaps this can be found in an examination of the social background of the travellers. </p><p>The narrative technique of the songs cited does not conform to our modern stereotype of cause and effect relationship. Instead of a gradual unfolding of the story, with logical connections between events, these pieces rely on repetition of a basic situa- tion, suddenly and catastrophically overturned by an unexpected tragic revelation. In many ways the view implicit in these songs </p><p>43 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>mirrors the travellers' experience in making the protagonist passive rather than active, victim rather than hero. Tinkers are less insulated from natural disaster and must contend with social institutions they perceive as external and alien, which they have little or no possibility of manipulating. In general travellers, being socially conservative, have retained many older pieces, although it is not valid to see their repertoire as merely a reflection of the past unaffected by change and the special features of their own life style. The relationship between tinkers' songs and the general folk song corpus can illuminate the factors affecting the survival and modification of older forms. </p><p>The series of Robin Hood ballads provide an interesting illustration of the ambiguities regarding age in ballads. Professor Child considered these pieces old yet relied on broadsides for most of his examples. He quotes references to Robin Hood from late 14th century England and early the next century in Scotland. Possibly the wide popularity of the hero at the time of the development of the broadside presses led them to exploit his charisma in pieces that in fact lack any connection with oral tradition. Despite the early knowledge of him in Scotland few versions of the ballads have been recorded north of the border; Greig got only three fragments from his non-singing informant Bell Robertson. </p><p>Here is a setting of The Bold Pedlar and Robin Hood (Child 132) from Jessie McDonald, a traveller born in 1876. </p><p>THE BOLD PEDLAR AND ROBIN HOOD </p><p>Come ped - lar bright, and come ped - lar guid, lie bein' </p><p>com-in' out ower thon high hill sae free, Wh-en there he met wi' twa </p><p>trou-ble-some men,Aye, twa troe-ble-some men he took them tae be </p><p>2. "What is in your pack?" says bold Robin Hood, "What is in your pack, come tell up to me?" "Well the de'il a bit o' my pack you'll see, Then, till baith your names bes telt up to me." </p><p>44 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>3. Bold Robin drew, then until his sword, Ach! the pedlar, he drew til the same; Wi' the straikit brands this twa men did sweat, Cryin' "Noble pedlar, come stop your hand." </p><p>4. Says Little John, he was standing by, "I have got a weapon in my right hand, I have got a weapon in my right hand, It will thump the pedlar and ither twa." </p><p>5. "What is in your pack?" says bold Robin Hood, "Oh, what is in your pack, will ye tell to me?" "Well the de'il a bit o' my pack you'll get, Then, till baith your names bes telt up to me." </p><p>6. "They call one of us, then, bold Robin Hood, Aye, that's come so far fae beyont the sea, And they ca' the tither, then, Little John. For the killing o' a man in wer father's land, To the term green woods I was forced to flee." </p><p>7. "There is my pack, you will get fae me, And cover and a' you will get it free; You'll get twa broon shellin's and a puckle fog, Aye, and pack and a' you will get fae me." </p><p>8. "Aye, me and you is twa sister's sons, And what nearer kinsmen then, can we be ?" </p><p>The denouement in which, after boasting of his wares the pedlar turns out to have only "twa broon shellin's and a puckle fog" (two husks and a little moss) shows similarities with a version in the British Museum catalogue in which he boasts that in his pack. </p><p>"There's seven suits of good green silk, And bow-strings either two or three." </p><p>Finally the pedlar admits, "Its seven sarks and three gravats. is all the kitt that I carry." </p><p>As this version is an Edinburgh broadside of 1775, we may be dealing with a Scots setting, separate from the English tradition for two hundred years. The tune is a relative of the "Logan Braes" family, a particularly well known melody group in Scot- land over the past two centuries. </p><p>We are on firmer ground when we maintain the antiquity of the supernatural elements preserved in many tinker ballad variants. Travellers have given versions of The Elfin Knight </p><p>45 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>(Child 2) and The False Knight Upon the Road (Child 3), both supernatural pieces from the earliest, and Child presumed, the oldest part of the canon. In tinker variants of The Twa Sisters (Child 10), known as The Swan Swims Bonnie, the magical trans- formation of the drowned girl into a musical instrumnent is preserved, in contrast to other present day versions. </p><p>One of the most striking of the fairyland ballads is Tam Lin (Child 39), for which there are already published sets (Henderson and Collinson). These are the first with both text and music since Burns supplied his version to the Scots Musical Museum. Our variant was recorded by the assiduous collector George McIntyre from traveller Duncan Williamson. Duncan's air is related to the Dives and Lazarus family and shows a resemblance to the set recorded by Hamish Henderson from Bessie Johnstone. Both of these versions open in similar fashion to Child 52, The King's Dochter Lady Jean, this providing a perfectly logical introduction to the tale of Tam Lin. Presumably some singer in the past has made the transposition and this suggests that the two modern variants are lineal descendants of a single older version. The two traveller's sets then continue with narrative totally foreign to Child 52, Duncan with the beginning of Tam's capture by the fairies and Bessie with his rescue at the ballad's conclusion. This confirms that we are dealing with a set of Tani Lin, albeit one effected by a typical piece of traditional cross fertilisation. </p><p>LADY MARGARET (TAM LIN) </p><p>Mar - garet stood in the high chiam - ber sI-te'd </p><p>sown her silk - en seam; She look - ed east a-nd she </p><p>look - ed west and she saw those woods grow greeni. </p><p>2. She lifted up her petticoat, Beside her holland gown, And when she came to those pretty green woods, It was there that she laid them down. </p><p>46 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>3. She had not pulled one nut, one nut, Nor scarcely bent one tree, When the highest lord in a' the countryside Come a-riding through the tree. </p><p>4. "Why do you pull those nuts, those nuts, Why do you bend those trees? Oh, onceten time those nuts were mine, Without the leave of yours." </p><p>5. "Oh, now you've got the will o' me, Come tell to me your name, And when my baby it is born, I will call it the same." </p><p>6. "A fairy king stole me away, While I was very young," </p><p>(That's as far as I know) </p><p>So much for the authorised ballads. Having established the travellers' retention of some of the older forms and themes other parts of their repertoire, just as ancient, may be used to illustrate the less imposing songs so often overlooked by nineteenth century collectors. </p><p>Tinkers have not preserved song in any static, unchanged sense but nevertheless they do give us much that is old and convince us of the variety that is possible within a conservative social and aesthetic milieu. Tammy Toddles, here taken from the singing of Lizzie Higgins, may not be particularly old as a song but it does preserve long standing beliefs and an easy matter-of- fact relationship with the supernatural, which is as often as not benign in the eyes of the traveller. Lizzie's singing, like that of many of her people, manifests the continuing and fruitful relation- ship with the instrumental music that is such an important part of her background. The...</p></li></ul>


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