At this year’s competition, Matt Seattle played a tune called ‘The Humours of Glen’. Here he introduces it and explores its colourful history

In March 2016 I was asked to give a short presentation to the Yetholm Historical Society, on the subject of the Border pipes and their Yetholm connection, to follow their AGM in February 2017. I readily accepted this opportunity to further my dastardly plan to raise awareness of the instrument and its repertoire in a significant area of its historical heartland.
Replying to the request, I wrote that the most renowned players, father and son Wull and Jamie Allan, were Northumbrian associates of the extended Faa gypsy clan headquartered in Yetholm, and I would tie these strands together with some relevant readings and tunes.
I didn’t think much more about the talk after that because I was mainly preoccupied with tying up the loose ends of Geordie Syme’s Paircel o Tunes, which was published in October 2016. Then in November I was contacted by Graeme Watson of Yetholm:
“I am writing in connection in relation to your visit to Yetholm History Society on the 7th February next year. I wondered whether it would be possible when you visit if you could play for us the tune ‘Humours of Glen’?”
“I ask this because the tune has a Yetholm connection. I have recently published a selection of poems by Robert Gray, who called himself ‘the Yetholm Poet’. Born disabled (1796), he spent the first 25 years of his life in Yetholm, thereafter he lived on the road all over the Borders, where he cadged money from strangers by reciting his poems, or by visiting the houses of local gentry where he performed works specially written for them. He died in Wooler workhouse in 1844. One of his poems is intended to be sung to the tune ‘Humours of Glen’. I believe the tune is the one I have attached – it certainly fits the rhythm of the poem. Incidentally the same tune is cited by Robert Davidson, the ‘Morebattle Poet’, as appropriate for one of his works.”
I replied to Graeme, “I’m familiar with the tune The Humours of Glen (sometimes Glin) which is an Irish pipe tune, but which contains more than a trace of the Border tune Mary Scott, the Flower of Yarrow. The Glen tune won’t fit onto Border pipes because of its larger compass, but I’d be happy to play it on guitar and show the relationship with Mary Scott.”
On the night (7 Feb) I played the Gows’ version of The Humours of Glen on guitar - forgetting to mention the bars which overlap with Mary Scott - and met Graeme. We exchanged further emails the day after, and late the next night I wrote to him:
“I’ve been looking at Humours of Glen again, and - too late now - found that I can play the version you sent (from Farrell) on pipes if I raise it a 4th to E minor and play without drones (as they clash). I do lose one note from the printed version, but I am surprised to find that the rest of it fits - I was too hasty to rule it out, sorry!”
We’ll get to our Border pipe version eventually, but first we have a few byways to explore…
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1. The Border poets

Significantly, Humours o’ Glen is the only tune specified by Robert Gray (1796-1844) as a vehicle for one of his lyrics. It is also among the handful of tunes called for by Robert Davidson (1778-1855), while the Peebles poet Alexander Tait (d. 1861?), who drew from a significantly larger store of melodies, set his song Fareweel to Tweedside to the Humours.

Robert Gray’s poem opens:

O yonder green arbour, where cowslips blaw sweetly,
    And the burnie glides gently along the green dell,
In a sweet Summer evening when breezes fanned safely,
    I wander’d all lonely, to met wi’ my Nell

and Robert Davidson’s The Mountains of Spain begins:

Sweet balmy peace her soft sway is extending,
    With gladness the march-beaten sodgers return;
With hearts light and cheerful their way homeward bending,
    Back to their dear country, pale weary and worn—
 Day after day I impatiently languish’d
    To meet with my Billy—but now that’s in vain;
 The last ray of hope in my bosom’s extinguish’d,
    For cold lies my love on the mountains of Spain.

Alexander Tait’s poem is not published or available online, so we reproduce it in full with his own spelling and punctuation:

Fareweel to Tweedside
Air; Humours of Glen

Fareweel thou sweet river thou source of my pleasure
    No more on thy margin all pensive I,ll roam
But far from thy streamlets of beauty and treasure
    I hie from the scenes of my dear native home
No more on thy green banks mid primroses springing
    And cowslip and daisy all blooming so fair
Nor yet in thy woodland I,ll hear the Birds singing
    Nor breath the sweet fragrance that scents thy pure airAs fortune determines my exile I leave thee
    But strong the emotions of sorrow and pain
That hang round my boſsom and deeply do greave me
    To part with those pleasures I,ll neer meet again
Ah me can I bear it no more with My Nancy
    Where Neidpath its stately old structure doth rear
I,ll wander inflamed by Love,s kindl,d fancy
    Enraptur,d with her whom my soul held so dearAdieu then thou scenes of my Childhood forever
    Tho fortune should waft me where torrid extreme
Or mid pollar regions to languish and shivar
    Where darkness prevails or where lightnings do gleam
When far from each beauty which spangle thy fountains
    And far from the maid I so dearly adore
I,ll think on thy beautiful Valley,s and Mountains
    And in dreams of My Nancy I,ll wander them oer 

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2. Mr Burns

Before the Roberts Gray and Davidson had penned their lyrics, a third - a Mr Burns of that ilk - had submitted his own to the hard-to-please George Thomson who included it in volume 2 of his A Select Collection of Original Scotish Airs. Burns wrote to Thomson: “The Irish air, Humours of Glen, is a great favourite of mine, and as, except the silly stuff in the Poor Soldier, there are not any decent verses for it, I have written for it as follows.” The first of Robert Burns’ two stanzas runs:

Their groves o’ sweet myrtle let Foreign Lands reckon,
    Where bright-beaming summers exalt the perfume,
Far dearer to me yon lone glen o’ green breckan
    Wi’ th’ burn stealing under the lang, yellow broom:

Far dearer to me are yon humble broom bowers,
    Where the blue-bell and gowan lurk, lowly, unseen;
For there, lightly tripping amang the wild flowers,
    A listening the linnet, oft wanders my Jean.

Thomson paired the lyric with the Gows’ version of the tune which calls for a repeat of the final couplet.

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3. Irish lyrics

In his note to Thomson, Burns is referring to the song Tho’ Leixlip is proud from the comic opera The Poor Soldier (1783), a collaboration between Irish dramatist John O’Keeffe and English composer William Shield. Wikipedia says “The music by Shield was mostly based on Irish traditional tunes, which had been sung to Shield by the Irishman O’Keeffe.”
The lyric begins:

Tho’ Leixlip is proud of its cloſe ſhady bowers,
Its clear falling waters, its murm’ring caſcades;
Its groves of fine myrtle, its beds of ſweet flowers,
Its lads so well dreſſ’d and its neat pretty maids;

The tune, appearing as Thomas Leixlip The Proud in Captain Francis O’Neill’s selection of Turlough O’Carolan compositions (O’Neill’s Music of Ireland, Chicago, 1903), appears (perhaps temporarily – see below) to have become one of the Irish bard’s “posthumous” works. Shield’s version is similar to those of Farrell and the Gows, and though O’Neill’s is recognisable as the same tune, it strays much further from the versions we will examine than they do from each other.

 Another Irish lyric relating to the tune is in one of P W Joyce’s scrapbooks on a clipping titled: “Irish street ballads. No. 11. The Humours of Glin.”
It is a patriotic song of five stanzas, the third of which runs:

Green are the hills, and the fields neat of Erin,
And green were the robes nature gave her to wear
Green were the standards her sons used to bear in
The white fag-a-ballagh, oppose it who dare?
Green was the sward, where the lasses so neatly
The glow on each cheek, love and dance on the green,
While the chords of the harp beat in tune so completely,
To the wild native air called the humours of Glin.

4. Glen, Glin or Glynn?

But where oh where is the Glen, Glin or Glynn whose Humours are being celebrated? The tune is claimed as, or ‘supposed’, Irish. One if its strands is still popular among Irish pipers, and on Ronan Browne’s website we find Seán Corcoran’s sleeve note to track 11 on the album Dally and Stray by Cran:
“18th century pipers and fiddlers liked to take common dance tunes and play them “the piece way” as a musical exercise. This usually involved taking a jig and slowing it down to waltz time and adding many variations and ornamentations to the tune. This “piece” way of the popular jig, The Humours of Glin comes from the playing of Willie Clancy. While Glin is a placename in County Limerick the jig actually originated from the melody of a bawdy Scottish song about syphilis called The Humours of Glen where the word “glen” is a female anatomical reference rather than a topographical one!”
Seán is referring to the broadside ballad quoted by our indefatigable friend Jack Campin in his online study Embro, Embro the hidden history of Edinburgh in its music (2001)*
Without skirting the issue, the cautionary tale graphically describes a case of syphilis - for which ‘glengore’ is an old Scots word - as the unfortunate result of an intimate encounter.
By contrast chastity is preserved, though with some regret, in An Old Maid’s Advice (John Gillies, The Chearful Companion Containing A Select Collection of Favourite Scots and English Songs, Catches, &c, Perth, 1783). The song is noteworthy because as well as assuming, as do our other lyrics, that the tune is known, it also appears to assume that the reader knows what the title means, and mentions it seven times in the song. The first of its four stanzas runs:

     Ye young maids so sprightly,
     And widows so sightly,
Who wish to be marry’d, my counsel attend;
     Come hear an old maiden,
     Deserted, forsaken,
Advise you to listen to humours of glen.
     When I was a young one,
     I flounced, I bounced,
Disdained the offers of several young men;
 I thought it so airy,
     My head high to carry;
And never to marry for humours of glen.

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1. Irish versions

We have found three published and three manuscript Irish versions:

Page 1 of O’Farrell’s Pocket Companion for the Irish or Union Pipes, London, c. 1810, is the tune’s first sighting to be accompanied by an unequivocal claim of Irish origin.
B min / D maj, 2 x strs, 8 bars, 12 bars, no repeats.

It is followed by Francis Roche, The Roche Collection of Traditional Irish Music, 1927; facsimile edition 1982, Cork (Volume 1, Tune No. 36).
B min / D maj, 6 x strs, all 8 bars except str 2 (16 bars), all repeated except strs 2 & 6.
The third brings us into the modern era:
Pat Mitchell, The Dance Music of Willie Clancy, Dublin & Cork, 1976.
Tune No. 54, B min / D maj, 2 x strs, 8 bars each, no repeats.
Willie Clancy’s strand of the tune is acknowledged as the source of the version recorded by Ronan Browne with the group Cran. Described as a ‘piece’, it is distinguished from the other Irish versions (excepting O’Neill’s Thomas) and all the Scottish ones by the opening bar of its first strain suggesting the major mode: although many strains of other versions also open in the major mode, their first strains all begin with a minor mode motif. Brian McNamara and Emmett Gill have also recorded the piece, and Brian credits  “a great piper called Pierce Power, from the border of County Waterford and Tipperary,” as the composer.
Brian’s informant may be Capt. Francis O’Neill, who writes in Irish Minstrels and Musicians, Chicago, 1913:
“The earliest of the “Gentleman Pipers” of whom we have any available record is Pierce Power of Glynn, whose fame is perpetuated in the song called “Plearaca an Gleanna;” or, “The Humors of Glynn,” which he composed in the first quarter of the eighteenth century... The Glynn from which the air takes its name is a small romantic country village situated at either side of the Suir, not far from Clonmel, being partly in the the counties of Waterford and Tipperary. Glynn was anciently the residence of a branch of the Powers, to which family it probably still belongs. One of them, Pierce Power, called Mac an Bharuin (the Baron’s son, for his father was the Baron of an annual fair held there), was celebrated as a poet and musician, and there is a tradition among his descendants that he was the author of the popular air of “The Humors of Glynn.” We may as well add that Grattan Flood ascribes its composition to O’Carolan.”
The Captain does not quite retract his own attribution of a decade beforehand of “Thomas Leixlip” to Carolan, but now seems to disagree with it and with Flood, who ascribes the song, but not the tune, to Power (William H. Grattan Flood A History of Irish Music, Dublin, 1905).
Two of the ms versions are in the James Goodman mss, vol. 1 p. 252 and vol. 3 p. 75, accessible online via
Goodman [v.1] B min / D maj, 2 x strs, both 8 bars, both repeated
Goodman [v.3] ] A min / C maj, 4 x strs, 8 bars, all repeated
and the third in the Curtin ms, p. 15, accessible online via
may be a jig rather than an air or ‘piece’
Curtin B min / D maj, 3 x strs, all 8 bars, both repeated

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2. Scots versions

We have also found three published and three manuscript Scottish versions:
Charles McLean, A Collection of Favourite Scots Tunes with Variations etc., Edinburgh, c. 1774
p. 31, Amin / C man, 10 x strains, effectively of 8 bars each (strs 1 + 2 written as 4 bars with 1st- and 2nd- time bars); str 3 has repeat marks at start and finish, str 6 at finish only, the remainder have none.
The set appears long but this is deceptive: strain 7 is a repeat of str 3 an octave higher with some tremolo bars; strs 9 and 10 are close copies of strs 1 and 2, and it would not be inaccurate to describe strs 5 and 8 as padding.

We have not counted as a distinct version the set, nearly identical to McLean’s (though with a different bass), which appears on pp. 13-14 of A. McGoun or J. McFadyen (“This collection has a somewhat unclear lineage” - see ) The Repository of Scots & Irish Airs, Strathspeys, Reels &c., Glasgow, n.d. (dates between 1785 and 1827 have been proposed).

John Clark, Flores Musicae, Edinburgh, 1773
p. 50, No. 73, B min / D maj, 10 x strs, all 8 bars, all repeated
While this is also essentially the same set as McLean it has a few differences of detail: a tone higher, consistent repeats, and some seemingly erratic notes. Given that the two sets were published around the same time, one may be a near copy of the other or both may derive from an unknown common source.
Neil Gow & Sons, Complete Repository of Original Scots Tunes etc., Edinburgh, 1799 et seq.
Vol. 2 p. 12, A min / C maj, 3 x strains, 8, 4, 8 bars, all repeated.
Presumably copied from the above, the same set appears on p. 14 of vol. 2 of: Malcom [sic] Keith, The Complete Repository of Original Scots Slow Strathspeys & Dances, Glasgow, c. 1823.

Following Jack Campin’s lead we have made transcriptions of the manuscript versions in NLS Ing 153, which is one of the place-books made in Edinburgh by John Brysson around the end of the 18th century, and one of the sources which informed our publication Geordie Syme’s Paircel o Tunes. The versions are on pages 15, 19 and 26 respectively. All are in B min / D maj.

The p. 15 version includes a ms correction which we have followed (str 2 bar 3 was orig as str 2 bar 7), and we have also sought to clarify the scribe’s intention regarding anacruses.

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3. The Border connection

The one sighting of the tune that we are aware of from the Border region is in the John Rook manuscript (Waverton near Carlisle, 1840). Rook, who was in close contact with the leading Northumbrian smallpipers of the day, played many instruments himself, including smallpipes. His large collection draws on sources known and unknown, and while the source of his 8-strain version of The Humours is a mystery, it appears to have been a written source as there is an apparent copyist’s error in strain 5 - a bar is obviously missing after bar 4, but the instruction to play bar 7 twice does not rectify the mistake. The version is otherwise worth a good look, with some unique motifs along with much that is shared with other versions.

While the various versions of The Humours disagree in detail, taken together they readily fit into the baroque sauvage idiom of Border piping. There is no evidence that The Humours was played on Border pipes but the evidence of our Border poets shows that the tune was familiar to Borderers. They may have known it from Burns’ song or have heard it from travelling players of Union pipes such as Billy Purvis (1784–1853). And it may be from among the earlier generation of Pastoral pipers such as Jamie Allan (1734-1810) that John Brysson got his three versions - perhaps even from the same player on different occasions.
In any case, following the modus operandi employed in Geordie Syme’s Paircel o Tunes we have permitted ourselves to have our way with The Humours and to introduce it into the Border piping canon. We have employed pinched notes, and the E minor mode, as discussed in the Introduction to Geordie’s Paircel. Our examples and the brief descriptions of the versions we have surveyed show that the tune is eminently flexible, and from the standpoint of an overview of these we are confident that ours is both as similar to and as different from them as they are to and from each other.

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The Humours of Glen:
three settings from NLS Ing 153,  John Brysson, Edinburgh, late 18th century; above: p. 15

The Humours of Glen:
John Brysson, Edinburgh, late 18th century;  p. 19

The Humours of Glen:
  John Brysson, Edinburgh, late 18th century; : p. 26

Matt Seattle’s way of The Humours of Glen