ABOUT THE SINGERS
RORY and ALEX McEWEN were born in Berwickshire, Scotland, in 1932 and 1935, respectively, and are part of a large musical family.
Most of the ballads in this album, and many of the songs of Allan Ramsey and Robert Burns, were part of their repertoire long before they became interested in the guitar as an accompanying instrument. Scots folksongs and ballads are most usually sung unaccompanied, but some eight years ago the brothers began trying out Scots songs to guitar accompaniment. This led to their interest in the folksongs, ballads and blues of America and other lands, and their present repertoire is a virtual international songbag.
They served as officers for two years in the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders — Rory in Tripoli and Egypt, and Alex in Germany — both adding substantially to their song knowledge during their service.
They have performed before a large variety of audiences — from night clubs to concert halls, and from Berwick Market in London's Soho to fairgrounds in the country. They have appeared on British Broad casting Corporation programs, and it was in the course of their work on B.B.C. that they met Isla Cameron, Britain's leading female folk singer, and have sung frequently with her ever since.
This album was recorded in New York City where they stopped over for several weeks during a grand tour of the United States.
SCOTLAND has had, for many hundreds of years, the richest ballad tradition in the English-speaking world. It is safe to say, with little chance of being contradicted, that given two sets of texts to the same ballads, the Scottish texts will almost always prove to be the superior ones. The test of this thesis lies in reading through Francis James Child's great collection, THE ENGLISH AND SCOTTISH POPULAR BALLADS. More than half of the texts therein printed are from Scottish sources, and the prime texts, in the case of those ballads offering texts from both Scottish and non-Scottish sources, are, in the vast majority of cases, specifically of Scottish origin.
Nor would it be correct to say that such a tradition is dead...or even dying. In 1925, with the publishing of Gavin Grieg's collection of LAST LEAVES OF TRADITIONAL BALLADS AND BALLAD AIRS, scholars were once again shown the vitality and strength of the ballad tradition in Scotland. And in recent years, collectors in Scotland have been having a field day collecting from both new and old generations of ballad singers. Many of the ballads thus collected have come down to us today in a straight, unbroken, oral tradition. Others have been restored to position in the ballad singers' repertoire by means of printed and recorded sources, and are in the process of becoming part of a new and vital oral tradition.
Such are the ballads included in this album. Some are known from a family tradition; others have been learned from literary sources. All, however, form part of this new oral-tradition-in-the-making.
NOTES BY KENNETH S. GOLDSTEIN