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Gary West

The study of names - onomastics - has for long been a popular pastime for interested individuals and academic institutions alike. Most of this attention has been given to place names, for in a country like Britain which has played host to so many language groupings during its history, the study and interpretation of place names can reveal a great deal about all manner of things from our past. Population movements, land use and ownership, trading points, belief systems, festival and battle sites and many more historical features can be identified through the place name records kept in such holdings as the Scottish Place Name Archive held in the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

Surprisingly, however, little attention seems to have been paid to names within a musical context. Just as place names can provide a glimpse of the thought patterns and social backgrounds of our forebears, so tune naming practices and fashions can surely reveal something of the cultural contexts within which they were composed, I stress from the start, however, that I am not a ‘names’ researcher - places, tunes or otherwise - and certainly can’t do this theme justice in this short article. Please treat this therefore very much as a preliminary suggestion as to what could constitute a useful study for someone to take up and develop much more fully.

Leaf through any of the ‘standard’ collections of Highland pipe music, and it becomes immediately obvious that the contexts within which most of the tunes were composed and named differed enormously from that reflected in collections belonging to a different genre, such as the William Dixon manuscript. The contrast in naming practices can be explained in a single word - patronage. Whether relying upon clan-based aristocratic support or employment in one of the regiments of the British Army, most of the prolific composers of Highland pipe tunes have owed their living to sponsorship and patronage, a fact which is underlined firmly in the names of their tunes. Aristocratic support is of course reflected most strongly in the ceol mor or piobaireachd tradition, with the salutes to and laments for the clan chiefs serving as the musical parallel to the panegyric eulogies and elegies of the household bards. (We have to look to the rather more entertaining local folklore and story- telling traditions to find out what people really thought of the lairds and their hangers-on!).

The military connection is even more strongly represented in the Highland naming tradition. A quick survey of Harry Bain’s Directory reveals a total of 372 tunes named after commis- sioned officers, including 90 captains, 57 majors and 65 colonels, most of them either 2/4


or 6/8 marches. All the Scottish regiments are well represented in names of tunes which mark tours of duty - the ‘Welcome to’ and ‘Farewell to’ class, and of course battles and skirmishes formed the inspiration for many army-based composers.

All this resulted in a massive body of tunes whose titles reflect a heroic, militaristic and at times sycophantic flavour which stands in stark contrast to the more earthy repertoire of the lowland and border areas, and indeed, of pre-military Highland piping. The tune-names in collections like that of Dixon display a healthy irreverence and classlessness which celebrates the everyday concerns and goings-on of the folk who would have played and listened to them. While some of the names are obscure, many get straight to the point and leave little to the imagination. In this respect they closely resemble the lowland Scots folk song tradition which, despite the pretensions of most collectors and publishers, has for long contained a strong element of the bawdry. Burns’ Merry Muses and Peter Buchan’s less well-known manuscript collection , The Secret Songs of Silence housed at Harvard, represent only the tip of the iceberg of blue songs and ballads, for a lifetime’s collecting by Hamish Henderson has unearthed much more of this risqué material which was common fare in the farm bothies up and down the country.

It is of no surprise, then, to find such titles as Young and Lusty Was I, Over the Dyke and Till Her Laddie, Hit Her Between the Legs, Lasses Make Yer Tails Toddle and Cuddy Claw’d Her show up in the Dixon manuscript which was put together a good century before Victorian sensibilities began to change attitudes towards this kind of thing. Matt Seattle’s excellent notes don’t shy away from explaining these titles, although in these particular cases they mean exactly what they say! (Both ‘over the dyke’ and ‘tail toddle’ are euphe- misms for sexual intercourse, the explicit surviving lyrics of the latter serving to correct any confusion over this.)

Female drunken-ness seems to have been another favourite theme for songsters and composers to celebrate. Burns’ tale of an informal female drinking club, Guid E’en Tae Ye Kimmer is mirrored in Dixon by The Lasses Bushes Brawly which could be roughly translated as ‘the lassies drink well’.

Of course, it would be a mistake to imply that all the Borders’ repertoire relies on licentious tales for its inspiration, for by far the majority of tunes have titles which reflect the more innocent pastimes and surroundings of daily life among the masses. As with all folk genres, people, places and nature are the most common themes used in the naming process.

Working life is also reflected strongly in tunes such as Souters of Selkirk, The Apprentice Lads of Alnwick and Cut and Dry Dolly New Way. The latter, I assume, refers to the common tradition of keeping the last sheaf from the harvest as a good luck charm and permanent thanksgiving. The sheaf was dressed in ribbons and hung in the house until the


following year’s harvest had been successfully brought in, and there was often strong competition or ‘kemping’ among the harvest workers to see who would be the one to win the last sheaf. In Gaelic speaking areas this token was referred to as ‘am maighdean’ (the maiden) or ‘an cailleach’ (the old woman), but in Lowland areas and certainly in Berwick- shire where the tradition was particularly strong, it was the ‘kirn-dolly’ or simply ‘dolly’ which watched over the household for the coming year.

The one tune title in Dixon which remains obscure is number 22, Wally as the Marquess Ran. As Matt points out, Dixon uses the word ‘Markets’ in his contents page and ‘Marques’ above the tune itself. I agree with his suggestion that the mists would only be cleared if lyrics were discovered which accompanied the melody, but a search through the extensive song collections of the School of Scottish Studies has proven fruitless. Certainly, ‘Wally’ or ‘Waly’ is a common exclamation of sadness or lamentation within the British folksong - and ballad traditions, as in Waly, Waly Up the Bank, for instance, although almost paradoxi- cally the word can also mean beautiful, jolly or pleasant. One interpretation of the title suggested by Jock Agnew is that the word ‘ran’ could be used to refer to a border or a garment hem, thus giving ‘Lovely as the hem of the Marquess’ gown’. This, and several other interpretations are certainly plausible. Any suggestions will be warmly welcomed!

Another popular Lowland tune which people always seem to find intriguing when learning it is Linkum Doddie. ‘Doddie’, or ‘Dod’, of course, is a Scots diminutive form of ‘George’, and so it would be reasonable to assume that it referred to George from somewhere called ‘Linkum’. However, Burns uses the whole phrase as an imaginary place name within his song, Sic a Wife as Willie Had;

Willie Wastle dwalt on Tweed
The spot they ca’d it Linkum-doddie
Willie was a wabster guid,
Cou’d stown a clue wi’ onie bodie

The reference to the Tweed obviously places this in the border area, although the unfortunate woman referred to was reputedly the wife of a farmer who lived near Burns at Ellisland. Burns’ tune for this, usually named as The Eight Men of Moidart in most collections, is essentially the same as that which we know now as Linkum Doddie. Exactly where this leaves us I’m not sure. Did Burns invent the name himself, with our tune starting its life in this song, or was it already in common currency by his time? I’m sure some deeper research would provide the answer. Once again, suggestions are welcomed.

There are of course many other tune names which pose interpretative problems, but as I said at the outset, this article merely represents a tentative toe being dipped in some rather muddy waters, and it certainly raises far more questions than it answers. With more thor- ough research, I think a study of tune names could prove very helpful in our attempts to understand the roots of the music we are playing and enjoying today.


References Cited

Bain, H (ed) 1983 Bain’s Directory of Bag-pipe Tunes Albyn Press

Buchan, P The Secret Songs of Silence Manuscript, Harvard University Collections

Burns R The Merry Muses and Other Burnsian Frolics. An Entirely New Compendium of Scottish Songs and Fragments from the Secret Collections of Robert Burns

Cunningham, A (ed) 1835 The Complete Works of Robert Burns Grange Publishing

Seattle, M (ed) 1995 The Master Piper: Nine Notes that Shook the World. A Border Bagpipe Repertoire Prick’d Down by William Dixon AD 1733 Dragonfly Music