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Pete Stewart, piper, dance band musician and East-Lothian-based member of The Goodacre Brothers English bagpipe trio, writes about the thinking behind his newly published and

thought-provoking book

The Day It Daws


Now who shall play The Day it Daws Or Hunts Up when the cock he craws...



ASKED by the editor of Common Stock to write something about my new book, The Day it Daws: The Lowland Scots bagpipe and its Music 1400 - 1715, I decided to say something about how I came to write it and offer some reflections on the experience.

When I first encountered the Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society, in the early Nineties, Common Stock had already published many articles describing research into the history of piping in the Lowlands. Information on the music played however, was much less easily come by, and always concerning music from the 18th century at the earliest. One of the most popular sources for information about pipers was Robert Sempill’s poem of the life and death of Habbie Simson, the piper of Kilbarchan. Although the poem mentions at least four tunes, only one of them was ever identified (wrongly in my opinion). This was The Day it Daws (“dawis”, “dawes” in some editions).

Around 1995/6 I heard a recital on Radio 3 by the viola da gamba player Jordi Soval; it had been advertised as including music for the instrument tuned in the “bagpipe way” so I was ready with my tape recorder. From this recording I transcribed the tunes which were taken from a manuscript dated around 1625, now in the Manchester Library.


When I finally saw a photocopy of this manuscript I was delighted to see that Soval had played (and I had transcribed) more or less what was in the tablature. This music formed the inspiration and the central material of my book of English Bagpipe music, Robin with the Bagpipe.

When I came to confront the issue of bagpipe music in the Lowlands, I was surprised to see how different the situation was. England is not known for its bagpipe music; to many people, Scottish music is defined by its piping tradition. If, however, we look for representa- tions of pipers in Scottish art before the 18th century we find virtually none (in my book I have reproduced all those I know of, a total of six, one of which no longer exists). When I was choosing illustrations for Robin’s tune book, I was overwhelmed with images; they are numbered in the hundreds, and more are uncovered every year. The earliest mention of the bagpipe in England is in 1286; we have to wait another 200 years for the word to appear in Scottish sources. None of this matches what we might expect, and this was to become a familiar experience during my research for The Day it Daws.

The revival of the “Lowland” bagpipe during the last 20 years or so has been essentially a pragmatic one. Instruments have been designed so that today’s players, overwhelmingly Highland pipers, can play today’s music, up till very recently Highland music. The Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society has promoted interest in bellows-blown pipes, chiefly what are termed “Scottish” smallpipes, and more recently “Border” pipes. My research into the early history of piping in the Lowlands has led me to the conclusion that neither of these were in evidence in the Lowlands until the late 17th century and that much the same could be said for the music that we now call “Border” or “Lowland” music.

I want to stress here that I am not saying there was no such thing as bellows pipes in the Lowlands in the 17th century; what I am saying is that there is no evidence for their pres- ence. Bellows-blown smallpipes were certainly in existence by the early 17th century in France, and it seems unlikely that they did not appear in Scotland until 100 years later. If they did, however, none have survived, nor is there any reference to them in written sources that I have learnt of.

As for bellows-blown, common-stock, “Border” pipes, no examples exist that can be re- liably dated before 1780, and only one depiction before 1750. They appear to be the Scot- tish version of the type of instrument which began to be developed in France in the late-17th century and which appeared in England as the “Pastoral” or “Union” pipes, both of which are names for instruments which varied widely and show evidence of much experimentation and exploration of the new technical possibilities.

This at least is what I have been able to learn from the meagre material available. I am aware of detailed research into these questions being carried out by a number of enthusiasts. Hopefully this research will be collated and published one day. What emerges from my research is a picture of Lowland piping which for perhaps as much as three centuries had existed in a form which is currently unrecognised in Scotland, but which was common to the whole of Europe from the Balkans to the British Isles.


It is this piping which is described in the 15th, 16th and 17th century works which I have used as pointers to the music I have included in The Day it Daws. These sources are invalu- able since they contain lists of tunes and dances played by pipers. To build a Lowland pip- ing repertoire all that is needed is to find tunes that match these titles in musical sources contemporary with the literary ones.

The 118 tunes in the book are the result of my attempt at this task. The music falls into two groups. The earlier sources contain music which is “European” in nature, that is, chiefly Italian or French in origin, published in dance collections in the 15th and 16th centuries. Thus, one of the tunes called for in the late 15th century poem Colkelbie’s Sow is Rusty Bully, which was a common tune in Europe at the time, originating with the Italian basse dance Rostibolio Gioioso, a title which also appears in a contemporary collection from Bur- gundy. Less precisely, but equally revealing is the call to the piper in Lindsay’s The Three Estates to “blow up ane brawl of France”. Habbie Simson’s tune Trixie, which in Sempill’s poem is said to have been lost, survived from the 16th century until at least the middle of the 18th, and is similarly in the “European” style. This tune first appears in a broadside ballad from the late 16th century, but most of the 16th and early 17th century tunes appear in lute tablature manuscripts from England, Ireland and Scotland.

There is evidence however of a quite different kind of music current in late 16th and 17th century Scotland, although the earliest evidence for it comes from England. In addition to the viol manuscript from Manchester mentioned above, there is another, now in the Chesh- ire Records Office, which contains music for the viol tuned “the bagpipe way”. This section of the manuscript includes a tune titled The Scotch Jigg and it is the earliest source of music with this title that I am aware of.

This music, along with three Scots Hunts Up tunes, again from English manuscripts of the end of the 16th/beginning of the 17th century, this time for lute, we must take to be Scots in origin (although it may have been common to the whole of the “North land”, perhaps even as far south as Lancashire, if not Cheshire). It is in the familiar “double tonic” format, with basic phrases and short strains, amplified by simple ‘variations’.

There is very little evidence on which to speculate concerning the origin of this musical form, though it is tempting to see it as a development of the interweaving of pentatonic scales which seems to be one characteristic of Gaelic music. However that may be, it was developed in the late 17th and 18th centuries into the music we now regard as typical of the Borders, and exemplified in the manuscript of William Dixon. As a fully-developed musical form it was comparatively short-lived, being assailed at the time of its greatest development by the music of the Italian fiddle, whose arrival in Scotland was to have such a dramatic effect on “traditional” music.

Despite the fact that I have argued for the persistence in the Lowlands of an instrument quite unlike that which we now call the “Border pipes”, the music I have collected together in this book can be played to great effect on today’s conical-bore instruments. Assuming that your chanter can produce flat thirds and sixths, then all 118 tunes are possible (though a few may need minor adjustments for sharp 7ths).


Smallpipe players will find that a few more tunes will require adapting. Some of them, however, especially later ones such as Dei’l Stick the Minister, will be familiar in smallpipe versions, whereas I have tried to reinstate the original forms from which such versions appear to have been adapted. On the other hand, the version I have included of Put on Your Shirt on Monday comes from the Skene mandour manuscript and is the earliest version I know of; it includes sharp 7ths and may well have been adapted from a pipe version which would be playable on the smallpipe. In that form it would be a close relative of the Scotch Jigg.

However, I hope that readers will find as much interest as I did in the exploration of the social context in which this music was played, and which is so well defined by Habbie Simson’s elegy. I have been continually surprised by what 1 have learnt about Scottish Medieval and Renaissance popular culture; the presence of maypoles and long-sword dances in the Lowlands are good examples of just how common many aspects of this culture (if not of politics) were across the whole area between the Mersey/Don and the Clyde/Forth river basins.

I have allowed myself to wander into details of this cultural history and its literary reflections whenever it appealed to me (though I have tried to keep the more distant wan- derings in footnotes).

In the process 1 became far more familiar with the wildness of early Scots spelling and dialect than I ever expected to be, but I also acquired a powerful respect not just for all those who, across the centuries have felt inspired to comment on their cultural history (and it was a constant source of amazement that it was often possible to trace literary citations back link by link from the 20th century to the Classics in an unbroken chain) but also for the existence of the extraordinary resource that is the National Library of Scotland. Its policy of access which allows amateurs like me to read any item in its astounding collection, is unique in the world I think, and something to be treasured.

In conclusion, I hope that readers will take note of the quotation which I added to my intro- duction, and approach my book with a similar attitude. It comes from John Glen at the beginning of the 20th century, speaking of the material Stenhouse added to the Scots Musical Museum:

It contains many errors and worthless assertions but, nevertheless, we are indebted to his exertions for the fact remains that his frequent shortcomings and mistakes have furnished an incentive to further enquiry and research.

I hope I have avoided including too many worthless assertions, but perhaps its as well to be covered. Further research needs all the encouragement it can get.

Afterword on the Jedburgh Piper

TIIE carving of a piper on the “Piper’s House” at No. 1 Duck Row in Jedburgh deserves more attention than it has so far

received, not because of its high standard of artistry but because of its uniqueness; I know of no other three-dimensional repre- sentation of a piper in Scotland before the 18th century. All the evidence suggests that it is con- temporary with the house, which carries a “marriage lin- tel” with the date 1604 (perhaps this could be read as 1609).

Since the Hastie family are said to have held the office of town piper in Jedburgh for 300 years, this presumably represents one of their line. The piper is seated, wearing a skirted tunic with a wide sleeve; the right arm, un- der which the bag is held, has disappeared.

The pipes are mouth-blown and the single drone rests over the player’s left arm. The carving has been poorly “renovated” and is in a deteriorating condi- tion.

At this year’s AGM the Society agreed to explore the possibility of the carving’s conservation.

Editor’s note: a review of The Day It Daws will appear in the next edition of Common Stock (Photographs copyright John Molleson, taken from The Day it Daws).

Copies of both The Day It Daws and Robin with the Bagpipe are available from Julian Goodacre, 4 Elcho Street, Peebles, EH45 8LQ: