Kirk session records in the Scottish lowlands make it clear that one of the most significant aspect of a piper’s life was playing at weddings; it seems to have been accepted that a ‘wedding without a piper is like a funeral’. It is a shame therefore that, although the tradition is, not surprisingly, rich in music for such occasions, most of it is seldom heard, at weddings or any other time. In the hopes of reversing this situation, here is a tune called ‘The Bride Has a Bonny Thing’, versions of which were played in Orkney as a wedding processional; this version is from Thompson’s ‘Compleat Collection of 200 Favourite Country Dances’, ( vol 1, 1757)

This title first appears attached to a tune in David Young’s 1740 manuscript written for McFarlane of that Ilk [you may want to know, should you be playing this tune at a wedding, and are asked by the bride’s mother, that it later appears called ‘The Bride Is a Bonny Thing’]

The harmonic structure of this tune is somewhat different although they clearly have something in common; in fact, if you begin Thomson's tune at bar 6 and play the first strain ending at bar 5, the harmonic structure fits much more closely to that of David Young’s tune; they do appear to be related.
 Northumbrian pipers will immediately recognise Young’s tune as ‘Felton Lonnen’ and indeed the first time it appears in Northumbrian sources it is almost identical to Young’s version, including the extended set of variations. Felton Lonnen has long been recognised as a treasure, although it is not heard as often as it deserves. It appears in the now lost manuscript of John Smith, written around 1750. Smith’s version, however, has a different title; he calls it ‘Joy go down the Lonning with her’. During an internet discussion earlier this year, a fascinating new insight into the tune and its title emerged. Dave Rowlands provided the following verse which he had spotted in the manuscript known as the Mansfield/St Clair manuscript, a collection of Scots songs and poems compiled in Edinburgh around 1781-85:

Joy gae down the Loaning wi' her
An joy go down the Loaning wi' her
She wadna hae me but she's taen anither,
An a’ man's joy but mine gae with her’

David Young’s manuscript also includes an apparently related tune called ‘Joy Go with my love’ which may perhaps be the original; it is somewhat simpler and  seems to fit the rhythm of the words, although a number of later version differ more or less from this one, and seem to part company with these words.

Whatever the actual history of the development of this tune, it seems that the original song connected with it was one of marital disappointment; perhaps not the ideal wedding celebration song then; best stick to the ‘Bonny Thing’; maybe one day someone will turn up the words of that song. Nevertheless, whichever version you choose, this tune is a gem in the repertoire, offering the opportunity for both celebratory and regretful interpretations; it deserves, and will reward, your close attention. [With the exception of David Young’s ‘The Bride is a Bonny Thing’ the versions of tunes given here are different to those published in Pete Stewart’s ‘Welcome Home My Dearie’. Matt Seattle, who first pointed us to the Smith version, has written a comprehensive discussion of the many versions of the Felton Lonnen tune, whose development extended at least up to the version composed by Johnny Handle and is probably still being explored; Matt’s work can be read alongside the scans of the many Northumbrian sources which feature it on the FARNE site, at the time of going to press the search facility was not available - hopefully this has now been fixed.]