page 4

page 5

page 6

Some of the papers presented at the 1994 Collogue would, it was promised in the last   COMMON STOCK, be published. This paper by Andy Hunter cannot hope to convey the atmosphere enjoyed at Dunkeld, with Andy singing and the audience joining in.

The topic I have been asked to address is piping and song, something which lies close to my interests in traditional music. Half an hour is not a long time to deal with such a fascinating and varied subject.

In an early conversation with Hamish Moore I remember we both were agreed that it is   remarkable that so many of the regimental tunes of the Highland kilted regiments look to be remarkably Lowland in origin and even look as if words could be found for each and every one. A brief look at the Seaforths suggests that with the obvious exception of Caberfeidh we have:

Oh! But Ye’ve Been Lang A-Coming (playing in a draft)

Sleep Dearie Sleep (Lights Out)

Brose and Butter (2nd meal pipes)

Bannocks of Barley Meal (Officers’ Mess pipes) I Hae a Wife O’ my Ain (Retreat)

If we examine these titles you will see that they correspond to their function; except perhaps for the last tune although I warm to the idea of someone who, having a “wife of their ain” beating a hasty retreat under certain compromising circumstances. It is stating the obvious that the titles are significant. If these tunes do exist in a Gaelic (song/piping) form, why do they not have Gaelic titles? My own theory is that they belong to a phase in the raising of these regiments where they were obliged to recruit where they could and Lowland Scots were more likely to warm to regimental music that reflected their own culture as song tunes adapted to the pipes. We can see the conscious effort of the British army to recruit for Highland regiments in non-Highland areas reflected in the late 18th and early 19th century paintings of Lowland fairs and markets where the recruiting sergeant, accompanied by piper and drummer are nearly always depicted. Also in the song “Twa Recruiting Sergeants”.

But in researching this paper and looking especially for the connection between song and tunes, I revisited a dusty old volume which had been presented to my grandmother by two Highlanders who had taken lodging with her at the turn of the century. The volume in question was Captain Simon Fraser of Knockie’s Collection of Highland Music. It may not seem obvious to you how we could get from the Seaforth’s regimental pipe tunes and Lowland Scots songs to this very Highland Gaelic based collection. Hopefully this will become more apparent as we progress, but suffice it to say for the present, that Fraser’s collection and its accompanying comment and notes represents a manifesto proclaiming the right of Gaels to defend their own tradition and indeed to see that tradition as being the last pure light in a land surrounded by corrupt tradition. It is a revivalist statement from a community devastated in the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellions and by what he euphemistically calls “depopulation”.

It is a statement in which “North Britishness" is accepted, but only if the Gaelic culture is accepted and revered and action is taken to halt depopulation and bring employment to the Highlands. The Highlanders will play the British game and man the regiments of the British Empire, but it is obvious that there had to be militancy at the cultural level if the Gaels were to preserve the identity. In common with other publishers of traditional music, the material was presented in a form which would be acceptable to “Pianoforte, harp, organ and violoncello” ... reminiscent of Oswald’s German Flute arrangements. It is also paralleled by Thomson’s desire to hire prestigious continental composers such as Hayden and Pleyel to arrange settings for Burns’ songs. In other words, to make the national music accessible to people of taste and the drawing room while at the same time raising the self esteem of the people. Theirs is the story of An Commun but it is also the story of the Edinburgh songstresses, Lady Nairn, Lady Anne Barnard, Mrs Cockburn etc. Fraser’s collection was prepared for and presented to the Highland Society of Scotland. It is understandable, under these circumstances, that the Gaelic and the Highland sources of the “airs” be stressed. The musical items, (“Chiefly acquired during the interesting period from 1715 to 1745.” published 1816), are given Gaelic titles and invariably English translations, although a few are in Scots. The reason for this becomes obvious as one reads through the introduction,       appendix and notes to the airs which are nearly all ascribed to oral, i.e. song sources. In his comment, Fraser reveals a low opinion of Lowland Scottish songs, their collectors and their arrangements.

First of all, the Highland airs are beautiful in their simplicity and superior to the convoluted Lowland pieces.

“The Highland melodies have always been, and still are, exquisitely simple, whilst those of Lowland Scots, from some perverted taste for instrumental execution, with variations, had almost lost their characteristic simplicity till restored by the vocal powers of Messrs D. Corri, Urbani and other masters, within the last forty years, and their recent publication with the transcendent verses of Ramsay, Macneil and Burns.”

So it took foreign, Italian music masters to restore the original (no doubt celtic) beauty of Scots airs. Fraser was equally scathing about Scots arrangers and collectors who not only were responsible for such opportunistic acts of desecration, but actually stole Gaelic airs to perpetuate the same crime on them.... at one level the Highlanders were to be congratulated on not having had the equivalent “arrangers” in their midst, the tunes in their beautiful simplicity staying with the people.... and if the Scots had any good tunes, it was because the whole of Scotland and its court once spoke Gaelic and there was bound to be remnants still around in the Scottish tradition. The contemporary Scots songs were just that...and lacked the genuine antiquity of the Gaelic, if they were genuinely old, Fraser asserted, then they would be in the dialect of King James, Gavin Douglas and other poets contemporary with their composition. Given such poverty it was not surprising the Scots were tempted to steal from the Gaels.

“(....) there existed in Edinburgh an Oswald, a Macgibbon, and others, who were extremely industrious in collecting the Scottish melodies, and no doubt, eager to take up the subject of such as they could from the Highlands and Isles, easily metamorphosed, with the aid of Ramsay, to write verses to them. Of this description is the air “Wat ye wha I met yestreen”, undeniably a Highland melody.”

He nevertheless grudgingly admits that Oswald and Macgibbon did do some useful work in preserving airs although it is obvious that their ultimate restitution lay in discovering their Highland antecedents. Burns he singles out for special praise since Burns had made a tour of the Highlands and had the good sense to note down some good tunes. The same could not be said for George Thomson, Burns’ publisher to whom Fraser sent a prized Gaelic air as part of an equally valuable collection only to have this accepted and the other rejected.

“This air... [An Euchdag/The Sequestered Beauty]...the editor never heard from anyone but his father, who acquired it, with the words through the gentleman named in the prospectus. Both the air and words must have been addressed to a lady of superior beauty and accomplishment. The music with which she commenced in the morning, is represented to be so delightful, that the songsters of the grove ceased, and approached her chamber to listen. The verses contain many other beautiful allusions. But the editor regrets to say that, on submitting an MS of this work to Mr G. Thomson, with the intention of offering him some of the best of these airs to be associated with poetry, and brought into repute, this air, and another which shall be noticed, were all that that gentleman deemed worthy of being incorporated in his Scottish melodies, which nevertheless, includes “Jenny Dang the Weaver”, “Jenny’s

Bawbee” etc. The public can now judge of both the accuracy and object of such opinion.”

But one had to hand it to the Scots on occasion they had a good tune or two of their own: No.92 Bean na bainnse...Pipe reel “The Bedding of the Bride”

“This is generally performed with great rapidity during the ceremonial of bedding the bride, and as celebrated as “Cuttymun and Treeladdle” in the low country for exciting the agility of the dancers".

Finally, although the Irish shared the Gael language with the Highland Gaels, they had to be watched too referring to Air 112 “Cuir a chion dilis tharam do lamh/Place true love thine arm around me”.

“This melody has long been claimed, and by many supposed to be Irish. The editor has heard many harpers play it in Ireland, but on hearing his progenitor’s set of it, as sung in the Highlands, they absolutely, in spite of their national prejudices, relinquished their claim considering their own as an imperfect imitation of the simple original”.

We can clearly see Fraser's purpose in all of this, the rehabilitation of Gaelic Highland culture within a new social and political order. The editor’s notes reveal a resistance to the incorporation of the Highland tradition into a greater concept of Scotland, not as a nation but as a region henceforth to be referred to as northern Britain. Time and the course of our social and political history of Scotland that the Gaels have been unable to prevent that hi-jacking of their culture which has resulted in their image being not only incorporated into the tartanry that we know today (and parts of this of course were those Highland regiments and their amalgam of Highland and Lowland cultures). What Fraser and fellow Gaels of that period were trying to do was similar in many ways to the efforts of Fergusson, Burns and Ramsay to rehabilitate lowland Scots at a time when paradoxically the philosopher David Hume was sending all his correspondence to an enlightened friend to have the Scottish excised before sending it off to its final destination. In some ways those of us who are wed to the conservation and development of the Scottish idiom within our piping society as distinct from those whose affection is limited to the instrument per se, should learn from the mistakes of our predecessors. We should not attempt to prove our uniqueness by denigrating neighbouring cultures, but we should borrow from them those items which sit well with our traditions.

I would like to end with a song about pipes and pipers. It is one of my own songs and was composed 30 years ago when I went to the Aboyne games in the company of Jeannie Robertson's brother-in-law Isaac Higgins, a good piper in his day...and his nephew another Isaac Higgins, father of the brilliant fiddle player Carmen Higgins. We witnessed a gross injustice in the Aboyne Hotel public bar when a young piper, Alec Macphee a traveller, piper and gentleman was viciously attacked by other travellers, Stewarts from Lumphanan. It is a great privilege for me to sing this song in the presence of Willie MacPhee who is our next speaker...Willie was there that day...and as Jeannie would is the God’s honest truth and may I never rise oot o’ this chair if I tell a lee.

ABOYNE GAMES                                                         Tune: The Tramps and Hawkers.

Although I am a college boy at King’s in Aiberdeen

It's mony’s the road that I've been doun and mony’s the sicht I’ve seen

There’s some hae been and some hae seen and some just ken the names

But the coorsest thing that ever I saw was at at Aboyne Games It happened at Aboyne in nineteen sixty-four

A crowd of folk assembled there, but the rain began tae pour

Withoot a thocht we made oor way intae the village bar                                                                      

My friends and | the drink tae try, anither tae sell his car  

Noo a chap Macphee walked up til us and asked if we wad play

Upon his Hardie chanter tae see hou it wad dae                                                                                  

The laddie he could play himself bit if a judge he wis in need                                                              

So my friend took up the chanter and commenced tae set the reed

My friend he is a piper wha is kent baith faur and wide

At games he rocked the famous names roon a’ the kintrae side

He never was a man tae brag, though he never refused tae blaw

So he took the laddie’s pipes and said that he wad hae a go

Some Stewarts they had traivelled frae Lumphanan for the day

Thur laddies they had brocht their pipes and in the games did play

But the devil the prize they won that day and they soon began tae swear

And with jealous cries they were seen to rise as my friend began tae play

The Stewarts are a fighting clan, Prince Charlie’s sons and true

Wi’ the Prince’s smile and the Prince’s guile and the Prince’s pouted mou’

Weel kent roon a’ the kintrae side fort lads tae drink and fecht

They never think twice not take advice as wha is in the richt

Wan o’ them, the faither took the chanter in his hand

And said it wisna worth a damn the worst in a’ the land

Alec Macphee he couldna see his chanter handled thus

And asked of him quite civilly if he wad stop the fuss

But the Stewarts three they grabbed Macphee while the laddie stood his ground

He spattered their blood a’ roun the wa’s as their faces he did pound

But they cracked his heid doon aff the bar and threw him on the floor

But in their fear they grabbed their gear and ran ootside the door

My friend he took the laddie’s pipes and gied the drones a tune

And through the rain the bagpipe’s strain was heard until the room

Alex Macphee he joined us then, his bluid a’ doun his face

And he played us “John MacFadyen” and he marched it pace for pace

Next day the clan Macphee were telt and they cam frae near and far

And thirty stout and stalwart lads assembled at Braemar

But the Stewarts did not turn up that day so terrible was their fear

The first time that they missed the games for fully twenty year

Nou my sang is ended but I’ll have ye bear in mind

The Stewarts are not all like this, there’s plenty good and kind Drink gings roond a bodie’s heid in gills and quarts and pints But drunk or sober, never misca’ anither gadgie’s pipes.

(First published in Chapbook Vol 5 No 2 1968)


                                                Aboyne Castle, Aberdeenshire