From Keith Sangar


The article in the last issue of COMMON STOCK (Vol 9 No.1), by Charles Coventry, on the air Tweedside can be taken further, The poems and background information in “The poems and poetry of Scotland” were probably taken by James Wilson from an earlier Blackie publication, “The Book of Scottish Song with Historical and Critical Notices” by Alex Whitelaw, in various edi- tions from 1844 to 1867. (My own copy is dated 1855). Both versions of Tweedside can be found on p49 - 450.

According to these notes, Lord Yester's poem would have been composed before 1697 when he succeeded his father and be- came Marquis of Tweeddale. It is also suggested that the family property at      

Neidpath Castle was the locality of the poem,

Although Lord Yester's poem did not appear in print until Herd’s collection of 1776 while that of William Crawford was published with music in Ramsay’s Orpheus Caledonius of 1725, it is clear that an air called Tweedside, presumably with some words, was in existence prior to circa 1695, a time when Crawford would have been in his infancy. The music occurs in two early manuscript collections, as “Twide Syde” in the Leyden Ms for Lyra-Viol dated circa 1695 and as

“Tweedsyde” given in two versions in the Balcarres Lute Book of circa 1692-4. Since the latter manuscript belongs to the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres there may be some musical connection between branches of the Crawfords that lead to William     Crawford's familiarity with the air.

A very drawing room version of Crawford's poem was ‘Harmonized’ and published in ‘A Hundred of the most favourite Scottish Songs’ (Edinburgh 1807) by John Elouis, the Swiss born Harper who resided and taught in Edinburgh between 1804-21 and whose choice of music no doubt reflected the drawing room tastes of the period.

The statement in the article by Mr Coventry that Alasdair MacDonald “seems to be the first Gaelic poet not also to be a musician as previous poets composed their own music and composed orally” cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. As William Matheson makes clear in his edition of the poems of Roderick Morison, The Blind Harper (p152-3), none of the Gaelic poets were innovators in terms of musical com position, merely using and adapting exist- ing orally transmitted airs. Even the Blind Harper, himself a musician, does not seem to have composed original music for his own songs.

A version of the Tweedside air was also used by the Uist poet John MacCodrum (1693-1779) for his poem ‘Oran na hOige’. In the notes to the edited poems of MacCodrum, (p326-7), William Matheson noting Alasdair MacDonald’s use of the air suggests that Alasdair merely quoted Tweedside as a published air having a strong resemblance to the tune of his poem, which had probably reached the Gaelic poets from Scotland via Ireland.

The ’Tweedside’ air was popular among the eighteenth century poets of Munster in Ireland. Some five songs at least, were composed to it, including perhaps the earliest ‘Abha na Laoi’ in praise of the river Lee, also the one now known as ‘Ar Eirinn ni Neosfainn Ce Hi’, (For Ireland I would not tell her Name), with its eighteenth century text from the Maigue school of poets from Limerick.

Unusually for that side of the celtic pond, the Irish authorities have no doubts in attributing the original air to Scotland.


From R.W.Odlin

Sedro-Woolley WA, USA

In view of the letter from Mr R.G. Nelson in the last issue of COMMON STOCK there may be some interest in the enclosure, which comes from CARN (#83) the journal of the Celtic League:-

“As a maker of bagpipes and other musical instruments I am faced with a bit of a dilemma. Most people like them to be made in African Blackwood or other exotic hardwoods, African Blackwood is difficult to obtain in large enough dimensions dimensions to make the whole set in the same wood, but as far as I can find out, it is coming from a renewable resource. Whatever kind of wood is used it has to be hard to do a satisfactory job. There are a few native woods that are hard enough; holly, laburnum, pear and other fruitwoods have been used in the past, but these are also quite difficult to obtain. They are also not so attractive as exotic hardwoods which in many cases come from tropical rain forests.

Suppliers are well aware of the widespread feeling of people against the destruction of the rain forests world-wide, and especially in the Amazon Basin, so they are very anxious to put their case. In three catalogues that I have received recently the suppliers used a lot of space setting out their side of the argument. One of them states that only about 10% of the wood felled in these regions ever reaches the timber trade, most of the rest is wasted by burning and we all know what that dues to the atmosphere. They say that the UK timber trade Imports 0.93% of the world’s sawn tropical hardwood production and 0.03% of tropical hardwood logs. As they point out, the cropping of mature trees coupled with re-planting is a perfectly legitimate use of forests. They are buying as much of their timber as possible from properly managed     areas. The Timber Trades Federation have initiated a campaign in conjunction with the International Tropical Timber Organisation which will ensure that by the year 2000 all timber imported by member countries will come from renewable resources, In addition there will be a levy on all timber imported which will be used to support renewable schemes in the exporting countries. They point out that the countries from which this timber comes are likely to be in need of foreign currency for the development of health, education and other services for their populations. Therefore it seems illogical to boycott a resource which could be managed and renewed to those countries’ benefit, and may even be encouraging them to waste it because there appears to be no demand.

All this sounds very responsible and I believe that the wood suppliers are doing their best to maintain supplies in an ecologically sensitive way. However we all know that most of this forest is being cleared, and largely wasted, by people coming into the area from outside, driving out the indigenous people, and changing the land use. This can also lead to walking off the fertility of centuries on the hoof and leaving the impoverished land a prey to erosion with almost no chance of recovery. Worse still, the money is almost never used to the benefit of the population which has been displaced. Little enough of it even remains with the incoming farmers or ranchers. I doubt whether much of the money earned from properly managed forest actually reaches the people who lived in it before it became managed. That is not the way the economies of the developed world works.

So there it is. If I use tropical hardwoods I may be participating in rain forest destruction, If I don't use them I may be encouraging their destruction. If I use them I doubt very much whether I am dis- couraging waste.

In the end, like many other craftsmen, I shall probably come down on the side of use. Much has been paid about the forests being the lungs of the earth. This is true of young growing trees, they consume a great quantity of carbon dioxide and yield a profit of oxygen. Mature trees, however, achieve a balance between consumption of carbon dioxide and oxygen production, so culling of large trees, before they fall naturally, makes sense. In any case, as they   decay, they release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, undoing the good they did at an earlier stage in their growth.

The use of wood, not just exotic species, should be extended rather than reduced. It is a very versatile material for so many purposes and has often been replaced by materials which do great damage to the eco-system. Throughout the world it could be a means for putting money where it would do most good. A lot of things would have to change before it would work properly. The whole concept of to whom a resource belongs would need to be revised.

In the case of using the rain forest to everyone's benefit, for all purposes, the in- digenous people are already being used to identify plants with medical properties, without proper reward, according to some people, They ought to be in control of and benefiting from, the sustainable use of their entire habitat. They are the best equipped to know the location of trees fit to be cropped. Ideally it should be their decision how the crop should be conducted and managed. Until that happens we have to act for the best in an imperfect world.

Colin Jerry.”

There certainly seems to be room for unimpassioned discussion of the concern addressed.

P/M Jas. Robertson, when he resumed production of bagpipes after the War, brought forth a little brochure discussing the materials used in their manufacture. .... The pages on African Blackwood give a very good idea of the wastage involved in its slow process towards the Musical Instrument Market. His pages afford as well a valuable disinfectant or antidote to currently fashionable concerns about the Ivory trade, pointing out the percentage of Fossil and Mammoth Ivory in what was available on the market. Mammoths are not endangered; they are extinct! And pipers had no share in the guilt - if guilt is the right word!


From Seamus Richmond Newcastle upon Tyne

With reference to several books of tunes that have been published for pipers of the L.B.P.S. ie. players of the Scottish small-pipes, Lowland pipes and Northumbrian half-longs, I consider that our Society is going down the wrong road in giving their support to these books. The tunes therein have the melody notes only, and as written are quite lifeless.

These instruments died out a century or so ago, and have mostly been resurrected from exhibits in museums and private collections. It seems to me they are attempting to resurrect the tunes from that era also, whereas, when these instruments fell out of popular use, the music didn't die, but was used and developed by other instrumentalists, the fiddlers, harpers, highland pipers and the like.

I consider that any person attempting to learn to play the small-pipes, lowlands or half-longs, for the first time, has an up-hill struggle, so that it is much harder to learn to wind the pipes, and maintain a steady bag to support the drones and chanter, with bellows, than is the case with a mouth-blawn pipe. After achieving a reasonable standard - and sometimes before - the first thing a learner wants to do, is to play a tune, and this he does, using melody notes only, which is all that he finds written in these collections. Granted there is usually a foreword, advising that grace-notes can be played, and that the technique can be learnt from a highland piping tutor, or else to improvise. One publisher has even commented that grace-notes can totally disrupt the flow of the tune, and further suggests that some tunes thrive happily with hardly a gracenote to be heard!

I consider that for a tune to be pleasing to the ear, it must be played properly, with the correct gracing, with dots and cuts, as is shown in Highland piping collections. If it is a Border or Northumbrian tune, and within the compass of the nine notes of an open chanter, then it can be rewritten with the appropriate gracing by a highland piper.