page 9

page 10



Matt Seattle explores some of the techniques available to the musician attempting to mould tunes to the Scottish pipe scale - and at the same time shows how the writing of variations tends to be a moveable feast...

It is curious that of all the tunes mentioned by Jamie Allan as being played ‘time out of mind’ in the borders, none seem to be Bagpipe tunes. Versions dating from around Allan's time all exceed the range of the plain chanter at any rate: they were obviously played, but on what instrument? Allan played the oboe, is also reputed to have owned a set of pastoral pipes (now in Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum) and probably played the fiddle, and all these instruments are capable of the range required. ‘Berwick Johnny’ survives fairly well the changes needed to make it fit a 9 note range, but I do not personally think the same can be said of the ‘Dusty Miller’and ‘Wee Totum Fogg’ in the versions so far published for   Border pipes. Border pipers would do well to avoid the worst excesses of their Highland brethren in musical amputation. "Scotland the Brave’ being a notorious example of chopping off the head to fit the bed.                                                                                                    

If we look at ‘Wee Totum Fogg’ a few musical truths become apparent.

 wee totum fogg 1 01a60

The tune as a whole has a range of 11 notes, not an obvious candidate for a Border pipe tune (did Allan have a Swayne set?!). The first strain, if transposed to A, goes off the bottom of the chanter. I would respectfully disagree with Gordon Mooney’s setting, where bars 2 and 4 are changed to harmonise with the subtonic chord. For a start, the tune is definitely not a double tonic one, and secondly, the contrast between bars 2 and 4 is lost, and the strain is effectively cut to 2 bars played 4 times. Bar 2 harmonises with the dominant chord, bar 4 with the tonic. A full dominant chord (E, G#, B) is of course impossible in A if we have a G natural (usually called a ‘flat 7th’) but it is possible on an A chanter if we play in D.         Curiously, the first strain fits neatly if transposed to D:

wee totum fogg 2 f3f7f

But what of the second strain? I think even a Swayne set would be pushed to get straight to the top D:

wee totum fogg 3 4ab6a

But if we drop the first 2 bars an octave we get:

wee totum fogg 4 b08fc

I have no more idea than anyone else if the tune was played this way in the past, but I think it does work as a pipe tune. I admit something is lost in the second strain, the pleasing     descent right down the scale, but I would say that a transplant is preferable to an                    amputation.

Note that low G is absent - this conforms very well with other Border pipe tunes - the low G almost never occurs in Border pipe tunes except those which are built on the chords of A and G, ’double tonic’ tunes (like ’Braw Lads of Jeddart’ etc).

Another characteristic of Border pipe tunes is that they were played with variations. If a tune has a sufficiently well defined harmonic structure, variations will occur spontaneously (well, almost). So, being a firm believer in the principle that it's not worth getting ‘strapped in’ for just a few bars, here is a 10 strain version of Wee Totum Fogg.

wee totum fogg 10 strain complete on 1 image eee79


Numerous versions were consulted to arrive at my ‘basic’ version: Atkinson MS (‘Three Sharp Knives’), Vickers MS (Risty Gulley - no, I don't know what it means either - Rusty Gulley is the name of an adjacent tune), Scots Musical Museum and Rook MS (Wee Willie Gray), John of the Greeny Cheshire Way (Three Case Knives; Punchanello’s Hornpipe/The Three Rusty Swords). Note the order of the strains which agrees with all sources except SMM/Rook, and is more musically satisfying (to my ear at any rate). It would be difficult to ascertain the origin of the tune, it was apparently known all over mainland Britain during the 18th century. Atkinson is the earliest dated source though. (1694) independent confirmation that the tune has been played ‘time out of mind’ in the Borders.