The folk-song revival, "kiss of life" to tradition in so many areas of Britain, is in a sense an unnecessary development in North-East Scotland. This comparatively small area of headland has consistently produced a large number of folksongs and folk-singers over a long period of years; it has been described by scholars as a treasure-house of tradition; it has provided collectors with the bases of some of the important British and American compilations; and today it ranks high among the tradition-bearing areas of the English-speaking world. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the foundations for this album were laid, firm as granite, in the area's main city, Aberdeen.
Why does North-east Scotland have this unusually rich tradition? Geographic and economic circumstances have something to do with it. It has been a reasonably prosperous area through the centuries, with a deep-rooted stability scarcely influenced by the industrial revolution. This has, in turn, influenced the people, giving them a strong individual character, at the same time instilling in them an awareness and appreciation of the cultural heritage they cherish. Another factor has been the regular inflow of representatives from other cultures. The itinerant Irish farm workers left their mark; the Highlanders introduced Gaelic melodic influences; visiting fishermen to the ports dotted along the coastline made notable contributions too. There was, of course, a vital local tradition. The farm servants, living in and working from their bothies, were a closely-knit community and it was natural that they should have their own bothy ballads such as Drumdelgie to bring entertainment and cheer to a life that was otherwise isolated and austere.
Education and its attendant high standard of literacy brought a fair give-and-take between the literary and folk processes of transmission, giving the area a double advantage as far as song survival was concerned, and nearer the present day, broadsheets, song publications in newspapers, and early commercial recordings all acted as stimuli to the folk memory. This is borne out by the senior Campbells and Bob Cooney who recall the recordings of Willie Kemp in his hey-day and the street singers who hawked chapbooks at markets and fairs.
Fortunately for posterity and for folk-song in the area, collectors were always on hand at vital stages in the musical development of the North-cast and so, even today, we have a comparatively clear sequence-picture of the situation as it altered through the centuries.
Professor Robert Scott of Aberdeen in 1783; Peter Buchan in the early 19th century; Gavin Greig, tin- Whitehill schoolmaster, and his collaborator, the Rev. James Duncan, Lynturk, followed up with their monumental work at the turn of the century, and since then, using the modern techniques at his disposal. Hamish Henderson of the School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University, has greatly added to their discoveries. Aberdeen's proud boast today is that within the city lives the woman who is widely considered the finest ballad-singer in the English-speaking-world — Jeannie Robertson. The honour of the area has also been upheld at various times by: Jimmy MacBeath, the gnome-faced wanderer now resident in Aberdeen; John Macdonald, the singing mole-catcher from Pitgavenv, Elgin; the late Jesse Murray, a real "lintie from Buckie; chuckling-voiced John Strachan from Fyvie. We would also mention the roaring style of Davie Stewart; the ballad artistry of Lucy Stewart; the rich and promising talent of Norman Kennedy.
Even in exile, Aberdeen singers continue the tradition. The singing Campbell family, now resident in Birmingham, supply proof of this. On this record, they range through the spectrum of folk-song as it is still to be found in the North-east. They give us street songs, love songs, bothy songs, and, of course, the great ballads of tradition.
Representing the first generation are Betty and Dave, Aberdonians born and bred, who provide some of the songs they learned during their youth in Aberdeen. Dave, whose father came of Caithness crofting stock, was a farm servant for a short spell about 30 years ago and it was then that he developed the hue "cornkister" style he uses for Nicky Tams. Betty supplies a balance with a love song learned in her single days, and lullabies "tae lull the littluns" — Ian, Lorna and Winnie. Surrounded by song, the young trio learned fast. School days for Ian did not only bring him the Dux Medal at Powis School. It also provided vernacular ditties such as those he sings here. As a lad Ian didn't sing outside of the family sing-song. But later, when the skiffle craze was at its height, he formed a skiffle group, from which time dates his great interest in ensemble performance of traditional music.
Lorna, who made her public debut by winning a cinema talent contest at the age of 10 — she sang Bonny Mary o' Argyle — and Ian, both gave the high standard of performance expected of them by thousands throughout the country familiar with their singing. But, it will come as a surprise to many to hear their lesser-known sister, Winnie, giving gripping performances of Bogie's Bonnie Bell and the exciting ballad, Lady Eliza.
Aberdonian Bob Cooney went to visit the Campbells for a weekend over ten years ago. In the course of this rather long weekend, lie has become a member of the family by adoption and therefore his place on this record is assured by squatter's right if not by birthright.
FAUR DOES BONNIE LORNA LIE Betty Campbell learned this lullaby from a friend, Annie Irvine, who often came to baby-sit for her. It shows the typical down-to-earth quality of the folk lullaby as distinct from the book product.
SLEEP TILL YER MAMMY Best known in the Tyneside version, Dance Ti Th' Daddy, this is an example of one of the many songs known up and down the East coast. Like the previous song, Betty learned this from Annie Irvine.
NICKY TAMS The title of this song refers to the leather straps or twine the North-cast farm workers tie below their knees to keep their trouser ends out of the muck. The farm workers spent virtually all their non-working hours in the bothy and this close social contact is probably responsible for the wealth of songs from this background. The tune for the song is usually associated in Aberdeenshire with The Banks o' Sweet Dundee, and the words are attributed to the late George Morris, Old-meldrum, who was often called "the king of the cornkisters."
THE ROAD AND THE MILES TO DUNDEE One of the most common carriers of folksong has been the semi-professional singer who would do the rounds of socials and weddings. Such a person was Jess Paterson from whom Betty Campbell learned this song about 40 years ago in Aberdeen. It is still one of the most popular romantic songs in the area, known by young and old alike.
DRUMDELGIE Like this one, most bothy ballads cither give a straight-forward account of a day's work at the particular farm or the story of the term's hiring. The farm servant was fee'd by the half year at the hiring fair where he would be promised easy work and good conditions. If he got a bad bargain, he could do nothing but wait for the end of his term and sing out his discontent. However, the North-caster, always a fair man, would just as readily praise a good farm and a fair fanner as lie would condemn a bad one and there are numerous bothy ballads to show this. The tune, sometimes called The Irish Jaunting Car. is probably the best known one in Aberdeenshire. It is also common in England, Wales and its native Ireland.
I KEN FAUR I'M GAUN; MY WEE MAN'S A MINER: FA, FA, FA WID BE A BOBBY Children have little time for sentiment and often parody the adult songs with an uncanny talent for deflation. Street songs like these have a powerful influence to exert on the folk-song revival in showing up the false emotionalism of many of the present-day products.
FOUL FRIDAY The hero of this song is remembered by Bob Cooney "He was a patriarchal old character when I was a kid 50 years ago. He looked an old man to me then." According to Bob, he made his living by selling ice cream in the summer and roast chestnuts in the winter. The song makes reference to several city landmarks. The Green, Schoolhill, and the Auld Toon. Ian suggests that "Friday" may be a corruption of some Italian name such as Farridi. Foul (pronounced fool) is a local expression meaning dirty.
ME AN' MI MITHER Certain street songs are known only in Scotland because they depend on the dialect for their rhyming. This is one of this genre. By singing this song and the next in chorus, Ian and Lorna get the effect of a group of children chanting in the street.
WE THREE KINGS A Birmingham children's song, this is one of a common type which parodies hymns and carols.
BOGIE'S BONNIE BELLE In the North-east, the farmer was often not known by his own name but, as in the present song, by that of his farm. This ironic tale of seduction stresses the social gulf between the farmer and his employees. The song ends with the farm labourer gloating over the lowly fate of his former love who marries one of the despised tinker clan. This illustrates a prejudice that does the North-easter no credit. His intolerance of the travelling people is a trait which unfortunately still lingers on. The song's current wave of popularity owes much to the performances of Alex and Bell Stewart of Alyth. It experienced an earlier vogue in the Northeast through the singing of the late Geordie Stewart of Huntly, the man who gave Jimmy MacBeath his famous version of Come All Ye Tramps and Hawkers.
THE CRUEL MITHER Gavin Greig collected five versions of this ballad in Aberdeenshire, all to plainer tunes than that sung here. Ian's tune, in fact, comes from Ewan MacColl's aunt, Margaret Logan, a native of Perthshire. The texts of some of the first collected Scottish sets, notably in Herd's Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs and Johnson's The Scots Musical Museum, suggest pre-Christian origins for the ballad. This interesting version, too, gives us much of the powerful pagan mysticism.
LANG A 'GROWIN' this ballad, although widespread, was not included in Professor Child's famous anthology. It has been suggested that it is based on the marriage of the young Urquhart of Craigston to Elizabeth Innes about 1633, although many other such arranged marriages at this time or before may have been the origin.
LADY ELIZA Many famous ballads survived most successfully in the Northeast and this, called Lady Diamond in Child's compilation, is a fine example. The early music collector, Dean Christie, published a tune to the ballad in his Traditional Ballad Airs (Vol.II-1881) and Gavin Greig collected two, one of which is sung here by Winnie Campbell. The story, which comes from the Decameron, was translated into English in 1556 and probably found its way into popular circulation via a chapbook copy.
WILL YE GANG, LOVE The task of collecting in Aberdeenshire was not only taken up by scholars, for this song appears in the collection of Willie Mathieson, a farm servant. Proud of the local tradition, Willie started collecting while still a schoolboy and eventually amassed over 600 songs, half of them with tunes. Not until 1952 when Hamish Henderson discovered him had he ever ventured farther than Stonehaven, a fishing burgh 15 miles south of Aberdeen. Ian's version is very similar to that of Willie Robbie, the well-known Northeast singer.
I WISH, I WISHThis song was learnt from Mrs. Cecilia Costello, via the BBC's archive of folk music recordings. Mrs. Costello, like the Campbells, lives in Birmingham. She acquired the ballad from her Irish parents. It is usually known in England as Died of Love and in Aberdeenshire often as The Foolish Young Girl.
McGINTY'S MEAL-AN'-ALE An earlier folksong revival in Buchan at the turn of the century produced a number of local songwriters including George Bruce Thomson, the author of this song. It is a tribute to his feeling for the idiom that it was in circulation even before Gavin Greig printed it in the Buchan Observer. Today, many slight variants, possibly the result of these early orally learned versions, are in common currency and one of these was recorded and .subsequently published by the bothy-style entertainer, Willie Kemp, who is often mistakenly described as the author. The tune Thomson used is a variant of the reel Roxburgh Castle "adapted (and ruined)" as ht jokingly put it to Greig.
Notes by Peter A. Hall and Arthur Argo, Aberdeen, 1965
Robert Burns was born in a two-roomed clay cottage in the village of Alloway in Ayrshire, Scotland in 1759, and died in 1796 of rheumatic fever aggravated by overwork, worry and malnutrition; in short, of poverty. In the intervening 47 years he had had 2 years of formal schooling supplemented by a lifetime of self education, long years of poverty and fruitless labour on a succession of barren small farms, a fruitful and troubled marriage, a heyday of gratifying but unremunerative recognition as a poet, and a short final period of his life as an exciseman. He had meanwhile produced several illegitimate children and a body of poetry and song which is the glory of Scottish letters and the wonder of the world.
Burns created in a dialect which to the foreigner is almost unrecognisable as the English language, and which many Englishmen find unintelligible. He spoke for his own people and his own time in a way that won immediate recognition among his contemporaries, yet his genius transcends the barriers of time and space to such extent that today, two centuries later, his name and works are known and loved all over the world. I well remember a group of Chinese students visiting Britain some years ago who sang me all five verses of a song they called Ah Lang Syne. Despite their difficulties with the dialect, when they told me that the song was the work of the great socialist poet Rabbie Bunce I could not help reflecting that they probably had the advantage of millions of Americans who welcome in each new year with this song without being aware of its authors name.
From Burns numerous works it would be easy to pick a selection which would give undue prominence to one or other of the many facets of his remarkable personality. By judicious selection one could present him as a fervent patriot and Scottish Nationalist, or as a political radical, perhaps even revolutionary, and a religious dissenter. Yet in some works Burns paid sincere tribute to wealthy and noble patrons to whom he felt indebted, and in others he celebrated the dignity that man can achieve through quiet, unambitious labour, and a biased selection again could present another picture. Even the most popular image of Burns that persists, that of the great lover whose predilection for the ladies manifested itself in some of the greatest love songs of all time, is untrue because incomplete, and it is clear that no single album could present a truly representative selection of Burns works.
On the 25th of January every year Scots and Burns lovers all over the world meet to celebrate the Bards birthday, and on these occasions the performance of certain works has become customary, if not obligatory. If these familiar and popular works arc not found here it is because 1 have not tried to typify Burns, or to give a representative selection. My choice has been governed by nothing but my own tastes, and I have elected to present those songs and poems which have given me the greatest pleasure in the past.
Rantin Rovin Robin. It goes without saying that the roving boy of this song is the poet himself, and so that there should be no doubt about it he identifies himself firmly in the second verse by giving his birthday. Bless him, the lad did not underestimate himself, and neither did he have any illusions nor make any excuses. Though many have tried I doubt that anyone will ever write him a finer epitaph.
Green Grow the Rashes O. There is no doubt that effective love songs usually address themselves to their object in the particular rather than the general, yet, here it is: a love song to the whole of womankind, and completely effective.
Willie Wastle. It has been thought that Willie was a farmer who lived near Ellisland with a wife renowned for her plainness, though no doubt female acquaintances of the poet took the opportunity to air their prejudices and settle old scores in their conjectures as to the real identity of the unfortunate weavers wife. I prefer to believe that Willies wife, like the town of Linkumdoddie, was a product of the poets fertile imagination. Surely his other works indicate that meanness of spirit rather than physical misfortune was likely to draw the acid from Burns pen?
John Anderson (From Merry Muses of Caledonia) is one of those songs for which Burns wrote two quite different sets of words. (See note to Duncan Gray). The respectable version was one of the great drawing-room songs of the nineteenth century and persists in popularity today, but I love this moving and beautiful bawdy version and weep for the prurience which kept it under lock and key for so long.
Holy Willies Prayer. Holy Willie was William Fisher, a farmer and elder of the Kirk of Mauchline under the Rev. Mr. Auld. Alan Cunningham says, He was a great pretender to sanctity, austere of speech and punctilious about outward observances; but by no means as severe to himself as to others. His end was anything but Godly: having drank to excess on one of his visits to Mauchline, he-was found dead in a ditch on the way to his own house.
Another friend of Burns, Mr. Kennedy, gave the following explanation of the origin of Holy Willies Prayer. It seems that Gavin Hamilton, the poets friend and benefactor, was accosted by a beggar one Sunday morning and thoughtlessly put the man to work in his garden. On their way to church the good people of Mauchline stoned the beggar for working on the Sabbath, and so great was the censure of Hamilton by the elders of the Kirk that he was not allowed to have his newly born child christened until he applied to the synod. His chief opposer was William Fisher. In eighteenth century Scotland just as criminals were tried by the Courts of Law sinners were tried by the Kirk Sessions, and in a sessional process before the presbytery of Ayr, Holy Willie and Daddy Auld came off second best to Hamilton and his counsel Mr. Robert Aiken. It was on losing this process that Holy Willie was overheard by the muse at his devotions.
Oer the Water to Charlie is credited in some collections to Burns, and in others is given as traditional. If it is by Burns it must be a reworking of a previously established Jacobite song. It was known in very similar form in 1746, and was then thought to be a new version of an older song with similar tune and chorus. Perhaps it was just one of Burns favourites.
Duncan Gray is from Merry Muses of Caledonia. A Collection of Favourite Scots Songs, Ancient and Modern; Selected for use of the Crochallan Fencibles. The Crochallan Fencibles was the name of a drinking club in Edinburgh which lionised Burns and welcomed him to its bawdy ranks during his first flush of recognition and social success in the 1780s.
Like other songs in Merry Muses this is one of Burns apocryphal works, as Merry Muses was ostensibly a collection of traditional songs gathered and transcribed by the poet for the enjoyment of his clubmates, and some scholars have refused to admit them as the work of Burns. Yet these same scholars will gladly acknowledge the invaluable work he did for Johnsons Scots Musical Museum and Thomsons Original Scottish Airs in writing new words for traditional songs which he had collected without words, or with only fragmentary remnants of traditional lyrics. The collection and recreation of moribund traditional songs was one of the great enthusiasms of Burns life, and there is no doubt that for many of them he wrote two sets of lyrics, one for publication and the other for private circulation among the Fencibles and other friends. There is equally little doubt that many of the songs in Merry Muses were, apart from their tunes, entirely the work of Burns, and most of the others had undergone more or less transformation in the process of his highly creative editing.
Dainty Davie. (From Merrv Muses.) In his Ancient and Modern Scots Songs, David Herd says, The following song was made upon Mess David Williamson on his getting with child the Lady Cherrytrees daughter, while the soldiers were searching the house to apprehend him for a rebel. The version given by Herd is rather more delicate, but is obviously the inspiration and the basis for that given here. I have altered one line only, the last in verse three, where I have substituted He was my dainty Davie, for And splash! gaed out his gravy.
A Mans a Alan For A That is perhaps Burns most widely known and most loved song and, along with My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose the one which most commonly comes to mind at mention of the poets name. Certainly to many Scots it represents the very best of what Burns stands for as a poet, as a Scot, and as a man. Of Brownyis and Bogilis full is this Buke. Gawin Douglas.
Tam o Shanter was written in the autumn of 1790 and first published in Groses Antiquities of Scotland, 1791. Burns had recommended that Grose should publish in his book an engraving of Alloway Kirk, the burial place of Burns father, as it was the scene of many a good story of witches and apparitions. Captain Grose agreed to the request on condition that the poet would supply a witch story to be published along with the illustration. Tam o Shanter was Burns answer, and is thought by many to be his masterpiece.
Sleeve Notes (Excerpts)
Just a few songs from those I have written over the past dozen years during semi-retirement from the music scene, in the hope that someone might want to record them. Dick Gaughan heard them and liked them. Record them yourself, man he said. Who's going to do them better than you? Thanks, Dick. I was going to call the record P.S.. Ian Campbell but on finding myself redundant from my local government arts job I decided that I could not afford to be so terminal. I did not want to relaunch myself as a singer but I did want to launch the songs, so I decided on this family project format. It has been fun. Sister Lornas presence was inevitable, but welcome to nephew Angus, sons David, Robin, Duncan (and Ally, now working on a cover version). Thank you to all the musicians, in particular long-time associates Aiden Forde and Neil "One-Take" Cox, whose distinctive musicianship illuminates the whole record.