RATTLIN ROARIN WILLIE — BAGPIPE SETTINGS
Settings of Rattlin Roarin Willie
have been made for Border pipes, Northumbrian smallpipes and
(NB: for musicians not familiar with
William Gunn’s is the first (1848)
1/ the form of taorluath which includes what is now called the “redundant A” (bar 1); Gunn writes this as a melody note, giving it a rhythmic value
2/ the index-finger trill on C sharp (bar 7) rather than the more familiar two-handed “C doubling”.
David Glen published two settings which
differ only a little from Gunn and Gow (one is closer to Gow than to Gunn, and
has Gow’s Ladykirk title as well as Gunn’s Circle title).
While these settings are serviceable
readings of the tune they cannot be taken as representative of any Lowland or
Border piping tradition. I believe them rather to be typical of
NORTHUMBRIAN SMALLPIPE SETTING
The only known Northumbrian smallpipe setting, Ranting Roaring Willie, is recorded in Robert Bewick of Gateshead’s manuscripts (c. 1835), and it is a gem. The alternative title, The Mitford Galloway, is that of a song which Thomas Whittle of Cambo wrote to the tune, but Bewick’s version is thoroughly instrumental rather than vocal.
Bewick’s full setting only came to light comparatively recently (1986), though a partial and, regrettably, careless transcription was included in the Northumbrian Minstrelsy (1882) and has since been widely copied along with its errors, also regrettably, and its mistaken commentary, likewise. The Minstrelsy editors wrote that the tune was “of English parentage, as it can be traced to the year 1669, where it appears in the first edition of “Apollo’s Banquet” as “Tom Noke’s Jig”.” They copy William Chappell in pointing out a connection between Tom Nokes’ Jig and Come open the door, Sweet Betty, but it is they, not Chappell, who make an imaginary connection between these and Rattlin Roarin Willie.
It is not Tom Nokes’ Jig, and although it flourished in the musically fertile soil of Northumberland and Tyneside there is no evidence of its being English in origin. It may be a harsh judgment on the Minstrelsy editors, but it seems that because of their flimsy grasp of, coupled with lack of respect for, their sources, they did not feel it necessary to accumulate the knowledge, experience, or contacts which would have enabled them to do what they were attempting. Fortunately many of their (mainly uncredited) written sources — Peacock, Vickers, Topliff as well as Bewick — survive in unmutilated form, but too many innocent readers have been lulled by the knowledgeable tone of their often inaccurate commentary into an inability to detect a level of musical incompetence which verges on vandalism.
Robert Bewick, son of the engraver Thomas
Bewick, was a pupil of John Peacock who, from the evidence of his own Favorite
Because of their different scale some Border pipe tunes were musically compromised when transferred to smallpipes. The one-octave major scale remained the basis of the smallpipe chanter range, but Peacock took an active part in increasing it with the addition of keywork, and this changed the nature and direction of the repertoire. Nevertheless, the variation sets he and Bewick recorded show them still to be part of the golden thread of Border piping reaching back to the Allans and Dixon and, in altered form, forward to the Clough family who became — perhaps already were — the main tradition bearers.
So, to Bewick’s setting. In addition to
the 8-note plain chanter scale in nominal G (actual pitch traditionally
F-and-a-bit), it uses the keyed notes low F sharp, and high and low F natural
in all 6 strains, and high A and B in strain 4 only. There are discrepancies in
Bewick’s notation of accidentals but the overall meaning is clear, and
consistent with the fiddle versions, with the major 7th low leading-note in bar
8. Whether Bewick’s set is adapted from an older one for open-ended chanter, or
newly developed from the basic melody, it is likely that John Peacock either
had a hand in it or was its author. It contains details in common with
Bewick’s manuscripts are in Gateshead Public Library. A later 19th century transcription of this tune, more accurate than the Minstrelsy’s (also metrically more reliable than Bewick’s original), is reproduced on the FARNE website.
BEWICK SCORE AND MIDI FILE (opens in new window)
SCOTTISH SMALLPIPE SETTING
Bewick’s Northumbrian smallpipe version is here adaptated for Scottish smallpipes. The high note passages have been replaced and bar 8 of strains refigured for compatibility with the 9-note range.
SSP SCORE AND MIDI FILE (opens in new window)
BORDER PIPE SETTINGS
Here we make a distinction between the
early and the revived Border piping tradition. The early tradition is
impossible to identify with absolute certainty but William Dixon’s repertoire,
corroborated by the tunes named in the Life of James Allan, is now
widely accepted as representative of that tradition, and dissenters have as yet
neither made a convincing case for its being anything else nor provided a
plausible alternative. Whether or not Dixon’s tunes were played on a
bellows-powered instrument, and whether this had a conically or cylindrically
bored chanter, are interesting hardware questions, but not as interesting as
the tunes themselves, which in my published edition I was careful to describe
as “A Border Bagpipe Repertoire” rather than “A Repertoire for Border Pipes”.
Lady Dorothea Ruggles-Brise, to whom we owe the rescue and preservation of
Rattling Roving Willie is the last of the 40 tunes in William Dixon’s book, in which the latest date written is 1738. It follows Jack Lattin, which we now know to have been a very recent tune at the time, so it may well have been a newly made setting. Scores are given in the original key of G and, following current practice, in A.
DIXON G SCORE AND MIDI FILE (opens in new window)
DIXON A SCORE AND MIDI FILE (opens in new window)
The modern revival of the Border tradition was spearheaded by Gordon Mooney and his pioneering A collection of the choicest Scots Tunes for the Lowland or Border Bagpipes (1983). In this he included William Gunn’s Rattling Roaring Willie, and made mention of some of the older versions. He omitted Gunn’s grace notes, wisely choosing not to be prescriptive about the specifics of gracing in a newly revived piping tradition.
For The Border Bagpipe Book (1993)
I made a new setting based on the Atkinson version and expanded to 10 paired
strains. In the light of
SEATTLE SCORE AND MIDI FILE (opens in new window)