In his The Border Bagpipe Book (Dragonfly Music, 1993), Matt Seattle printed a version of this tune from Bewick’s Northumbrian smallpipes manuscript. In his notes he said “There are many versions of this tune - Scottish, English, and Irish, for fiddle, various pipes and voice” and in his notes to William Vickers’ version he listed 14 of them.

The opening strains of Bewick’s setting

When this tune first appeared, at the end of the 17th century, it had a rather different structure, one derived from the words of the song, which were preserved in the Scots Musical Museum. The chorus there is:
O gin I were fairly shot o’ her/ Fairly, fairly, fairly shot o’ her
O gin I were fairly shot o’ her/ If she were dead I wod dance on the tap o’ her”
And the first line here is a repeat of the last line of each verse; it is this verse from that provides the musical structure, clearly displayed in the setting in Henry Atkinson’s fiddle manuscript [1692]

Atkinson’s title is ‘Weel’s me I gotten Shott on her’ which fits the music perfectly; this sounds like just the sort of song late 17th taverners might have enjoyed when their piper came to play. Atkinson’s version has a strangely ‘displaced’ feel, giving the whole piece a circular effect.

A second structural difference between Atkinson and Bewick is the appearance in the latter of what Matt has called ‘The Elise Marley’ sequence - the familiar harmonic progression of the last two bars of each strain. One might be forgiven for thinking that this was a late ‘development’ but this is not the case. Here is the version included in the Balcarres Lute Book which dates from only a few years after Atkinson.

The Elsie Marley sequence appears here, though it is in its ‘displaced’ form, in bars 5 & 6, since Balcarres has re- tained the verse/chorus structure, which Bewick has lost. Later versions diverge into several ‘families’, some of which retain the chorus material but lose the verse/chorus structure and others, like Bewick more or less abandon the chorus material altogether. Most retain the feature of alternate strains being in E min and D, though many, like Vickers, introduce new harmonic ideas.. Matt identified 14 different versions and Jack Campin added at least two more, so together with the Balcarres setting we are well on the way to twenty different versions. The point of all this is not only did this apparently elementary tune have a vigorous life for some 200 years, it inspired musicians at various times to explore and expand its simple material in a multitude of ways. Musicians taking up this tradition today are more or less obliged to continue this process, seeking out what inspires them in these earlier settings but making their own contribution to a living repertoire. To help with this process a selection of other settings and a full list of sources will be made available on the website