It is no accident that the best known and loved of all Scottish writers. Robert Burns, was above all a writer of songs. The traditional picture of the dour douce pleasure-hating Scotsman is very far from reality, for Scotland is a singing nation. Burns did not produce his many hundreds of love songs in a vacuum; he drew from a tradition in that field that was probably the richest in Western Europe. Nor is it an accident that when, in the sixteenth century, those zealous Calvinists, the Wedderburn Brothers, produced their book of Psalms and Spiritual Songs known as "The Gude and Godlie Ballatis" they fell back on the tunes of existing love songs, usually more profane than sacred, to ensure the popularity of their hymns. Also, when the Jacobites, in a period of repression, sang their songs of support for the exiled Stuarts they used, in underground style, the form of the love-song and sang of one "Morag" who had thousands of lovers, when they really meant Prince Charlie.
In the four songs on this disc we can see something of the range of this mass of love-song. They are sung by Robin Hall, who is already well known for his recordings of Scottish folk-song (Collector JES. 2, 3 and 5), and the integrity of his pleasing and unassuming handling of them.
The Bonnie Lass O' Fyvie: One of the best known of all bothy ballads. Curiously enough, this song, which is now so much part and parcel of Aberdeenshire song, exists in a rather inferior form under the name ''Bonny Barbara" with the setting in Derby. Indeed. Robert Ford, writing at the turn of the century on ''Bonny Barbara", remarked that he was aware that in certain parts of Aberdeenshire the locale of the song was placed in Fyvie, "But not", he added cuttingly, "to improve matters". Nowadays it is impossible to think of the song in any other form than the ''Fyvie" one.
The love life of the soldier is a perpetual theme in folk-song. This song ends in tragedy but the story is belied by the gay and racy tune. If Ned dies then I am sure that his grave is green with the young life going on around it.
Collier Laddie: Like its companion song, "Collier Lassie", this pleasantly illustrates the Scotsman's habit of bringing his radicalism even into his love-songs. This one tells of a rich man who tries to lure the collier's lass away from him with offers of gold and riches, but she prefers her love even though his face is black. The repulsed suitor's recourse to her father doesn't improve his position either.
Skippin Barfit Thro' the Heather: When in 1951 the Scottish collector Hamish Henderson staged the first of the People's Festival Ceilidhs, the event was a staggering eye-opener for all of us interested in this field. Among his many fine singers at that event was the late and wonderful Jessie Murray, then over 70 and appearing on a platform for the first time in her life. This was one of her songs that night. I know no folk-tune so fragile and delicate as this one.
Jinkin' You, my Johnnie Lad: This song has two distinct lines of transmission. One, a version of which was first published by Peter Buchan in 1828, is the "Johnnie Lad" of the streets and the children (sung by Robin on JES. 5). The other, of which this is a variant collected by Hamish Henderson, is normally found in country districts. In this version the two lines appear to be coming together, as shown in the last verse.
Meg O' The Mill: This tells of the comic marriage of the rather grotesque "Meg O' the Mill", which was written down by Robert Burns for Johnson's "Scots' Musical Museum". As was common with Burns' songs, he took the themes from folk lore and amplified them. Burns also sent a copy of this song to George Thompson for publication in his "Scottish Airs", but was requested to rewrite it, "cleaning" and polishing up the language. This Burns originally refused to do, until his perpetual financial troubles forced him to forget his principles. The version given here is the original.
Macpherson's Rant: James Macpherson. Outlaw. Cattle thief. Rogue -and one of the more colourful figures of Scotland. He was a strong, tall and handsome man with a gentleman father and a gypsy mother, who led a band of gypsies which, like Robin Hood, robbed the rich and helped the poor. For some years this banditry continued until after a desperate battle with the Sheriff's men on November 7th, 1700, he was captured and sentenced to death.
Macpherson was undoubtedly a brave man, and probably also a braggart. On his way to and under the gallows, he played his violin and danced a jig. When finished, he broke the instrument and threw the pieces to the crowd. At this time, a messenger from the King was approaching Banff with a reprieve, but was seen by the Sheriff's men who, in order to ensure their future peace, advanced the. local clock by a few minutes, so that when the messenger arrived, Macpherson was already dead. Another variant may be heard on JES. 8 by Jeannie Robertson.
My Bonny Laddie's Lang A-Growin': One of the greatest and most beautiful of all Scottish ballads. What is it in mankind that makes us see beauty in so much sadness? — for this also is a sad story.
In November, 1634, John Craigston, a wealthy landowner, died, leaving his possessions to his young grandson, whose guardian, Laird Innes, wanted the estate for himself, so married the boy to his eldest daughter, Elizabeth. The boy fathered a son and shortly after died. Married, father, dead and not yet left school! (Who wants to return to the "good old days"?)
Later Burns collected a version of this ballad and wrote a song which he called "Lady Mary Ann", printed in "Scots' Musical Museum" in 1792.
Many versions of this ballad exist in different countries, and it is interesting to compare this version with that by Dominic Behan (JEI. 1) under the title "Bonny Boy".
Leezie Lindsay: Donald MacDonald of Kingcausie, near Aberdeen, disguised himself as a poor man and wooed Leezie Lindsay in Edinburgh. He married her and took her home with him and then revealed his true identity as that of an heir to an estate.
This version is but a fragmentary one of a song known and sung throughout all Scotland. Burns collected a version which was printed the year he died, 1796, in "Scots' Musical Museum". The American collector, Francis J. Child, printed eight versions of this ballad which, to the best of our knowledge, remains exclusively to be found in Scotland.
Notes by ROBIN HALL & COLIN POMROY
Sleeve Notes (Excerpts)
"Some Ballads from the Gavin Greig Collection"
Robin Hall is well known for his Television appearances with fellow Scot Jimmy Macgregor, but TV usually showcases the lighter side of Hall's work. On this more serious disc he is accompanied by the guitar and banjo of Leon Rosselson. Rosselson 's reputation as both arranger and instrumentalist in the field of folk music has increased enormously recently.
It is a considerable time since I first met, and heard, Robin Hall. This was very soon after he .first came to London when he was unknown-when his earnings and method of livelihood were almost non-existent-o for he was only singing on one. or two evenings a week, in a Hampstead coffee bar.
In those days, the current wave of folk rave hysteria plus pseudo folk recordings were, with the exception of a rare genuine release, also non-existent. I liked Robin both as a person and as a voice, instinctively and immediately, and despite the fact that the recording of this type of music was generally regarded as being little better, from a record company's point of view, than throwing money down a bottomless drain, a session was arranged. How different it is today! The names of Robin Hall and his partner Jimmie McGregor are virtual household words. Their appearances on radio, TV, concert hall, theatra-their tours over other parts of the globe, have made them world-famous.
In the beginning, recording Robin and Jimmie meant substantial expenditure which, to be frank, I had to personally finance since sales were never sufficient to pay the costs involved. Nevertheless, my erstwhile partner, Paul Carter and myself had the belief that this personality, this voice, would go far. That our faith and belief, in those early days was justified, is a tremendous source of satisfaction.
Of the songs on this record, it is unnecessary to write, since all are well-known, although unfortunately the "Blantyre Explosion" is one of those items of which not enough is heard. "Prince Charlie" is yet another Glasgow song of the streets, and though would in days of yore have been deemed disrespectful, is in no way so today. On these recordings, Robin is heard an nature! without the presence of any echo chambers or other electrical extravaganza.
I must confess to a tremendous feeling of pride at having been responsible for the first recordings not only of Robin Hall, but also of Johnny Dankworth, Chris Barber, Kenny Ball, Mick Mulligan, Mickey Ashman and Delmondi, all of whom have subsequently become famous, and to a feeling that I have been helpful in some small measure in their careers. Here I would also like to pay tribute to a rival company, Topic Records, who had already released a few recordings of genuine folk music before I even started, and also to Peter Kennedy of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, who has been entirely concerned in this field for more years than any of us care to remember.
Despite the current sophistication, I still enjoy this type of music. I hope that you also do.
Colin C. Pomroy