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The Raggle Taggle Gypsy

Busy week for me. After the Sons first leg play off on Wednesday, I have a solo gig to do on Friday night. Just me, a guitar and a harmonica rack. One of the songs I’ll be doing is Raggle Taggle Gypsy.

This is Mike Scott and Steve Wickham performing the song:

It is the story of gypsies arriving at a nobleman’s hall and one of them charming the lady of the house to run away with him. The lord, on discovering what has happened rides on his “milk white steed” until he finds his lady.

When he locates her he asks plaintively how she could leave her house, land, money, comfort and her husband to lie in a field with a “raggle taggle gypsy”. The lady is scornful and retorts that she doesn’t care and that “I’m away wi’ the raggle taggle gypsy oh!”

I’ve been familiar with the song, originally through the Waterboys, for years but I have never checked on its origins before. When I did I found that it started life as another song and is based on a historical event in the Scottish Borders.

That song was The Gypsy Laddie and it dates to around 1720. However the tale it tells is from many years previous to that.

Nick Tosches, in his Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock ‘N’ Roll, spends part of his first chapter examining the song’s history. He compares the song’s narrative to the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The ballad, according to Tosches, retells the story of John Faw or Faa, a 17th century outlaw, described as a Scottish Gypsy, and Lady Jane Hamilton, wife of John Kennedy, 6th Earl of Cassilis.

Lord Cassilis led a band of men to abduct her.

The story goes that the gypsies (possibly as many as 16) were hanged by the lord and his men and that Lady Jane spent the rest of her life imprisoned.

Robert Burns recorded his love of the song in the Reliques of Robert Burns which was a collection of traditional poems and letters and critiques of traditional songs. It is believed that the Burns songs Leezie Lindsay and Tibbie Dunbar were inspired by The Gypsy Laddie.

The Raggle Taggle Gypsy would therefore seem to be a somewhat romanticised if not sanitised version of the story but that is the one I’ll be sticking to on Friday. However the introduction could be longer than the song!

Supper Finished

I performed and spoke at my fourth and final Burns Supper of the season on Friday night. A friend of mine had asked me a few weeks ago if I could do this one. As there was the promise of a seat at the top table, complimentary hospitality and a hotel bed to fall into afterwards, it was as they say a no brainer.

Jim had asked me to do a “Toast to the Lassies” which is a traditional part of such occasions. This entails preparing a speech in praise of women and toasting them at the end. Of course any such venture will go down a few humorous by ways and have to turn at a few culs de sac en route.

Mine was a very eco-friendly toast as almost all of the jokes were recycled. I sang three songs, one Burns solo effort, another traditional one which Burns modified, and another traditional Scots folk song.

The one which Burns modified was Killiecrankie performed here in a 1966 film by the Corries:

The battle was fought on a traditional Scottish subject i.e. religion. It had the additional element of competing claims to the English/British throne with the Highland Jacobite Roman Catholic and Episcopal supporting King James VII (II) and the Presbyterian Lowland government forces supporting William of Orange and his wife Mary.

The European Royals in those days were quite an incestuous lot as William was not only James’s nephew but also his son-in-law. Just for added spice, the Jacobite highland army was led by a lowlander, John Graham of Claverhouse aka Viscount (Bonnie) Dundee and the lowland government troops were led by a highlander, General Hugh McKay of Scourie.

The battle resulted in a victory for the vastly outnumbered Jacobite army and the song is written from the point of view of a returning government soldier who meets a young lad kitted out and ready for service in the government army.

The version above includes the Burns verses and some of the traditional ones.

The full story of the Battle of Killiecrankie is here

The supper, under the auspices of a trade association and attended by folk from all over the UK, included a reply to Tam O’Shanter by his wife Kate O’Shanter.

Here is a beautiful verse from Tam O’Shanter

But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white-then melts for ever;
Or like the Borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the Rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm. -
Nae man can tether Time nor Tide,
The hour approaches Tam maun ride;
That hour, o’ night’s black arch the key-stane,
That dreary hour he mounts his beast in;
And sic a night he taks the road in,
As ne’er poor sinner was abroad in.

The poem is about ne’er do well drunkard Tam O’Shanter who gives his wife Kate a hard time. It involves Tam’s drunken night-time trip home through the countryside on his horse an encounter with some witches, ghosts and ghouls.

The last lines of Kate’s reply (Not a Burns poem incidentally) are as follows:

What the Hell!!
Kate had gone, the twins as well.
But she had left a note for him `
I’ve sailed tae Canada wi’ Jim
And we expect tae settle doon
In a nice wee farm near Saskatoon !

Forgive me, Tam, and don’t be sore
I couldna take it any more
I have tae find a better day
Before I slave my life away
Don’t fash yersel’ aboot the twins
I might as well confess – they’re Jim’s

Now wha this tale o’ truth shall read
Ilk man and mothers son tak heed
Just try tae live a sober life
Remember Tam O’Shanter’s wife.

Anyway, a good time was had by all with a rendition of the Star o Rabbie Burns (including standing and singing on chairs) finishing off the evening.

This was the view from the top floor of the hotel. That’s the River Clyde with Clydebank and Knightswood on the other side and Glasgow in the distance:

A matter of taste

Address To A Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn,
they stretch an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve,
Are bent lyke drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
“Bethankit!” ‘hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect scunner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,

Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a haggis!

There’s a two fold reason for my publishing this. Number one was my seeing this fine cartoon published in the Telegraph a few days ago.

The other was just to record how much I like haggis!
There is an excellent information page on Burns and haggis here as well as a translation of the poem. It tells how haggis became an integral part of Burns suppers through that poem.

Two suppers down for me and two to go.

Here I am in action last Friday night.

Blogger does Burns - photo Bill Kean

A Penitential thought, in the hour of Remorse

It was Kate at Burdz Eye View who drew my attention to this Burns poem

All devil as I am, a damned wretch,
A harden’d, stubborn, unrepenting villain,
Still my heart melts at human wretchedness;
And with sincere tho’ unavailing sighs
I view the helpless children of Distress.
With tears indignant I behold th’ Oppressor,
Rejoicing in the honest man’s destruction,
Whose unsubmitting heart was all his crime.

Even you, ye hapless crew, I pity you;
Ye, whom the Seeming good think sin to pity;
Ye poor, despis’d, abandon’d vagabonds,
Whom Vice, as usual, has turn’d o’er to Ruin.
O, but for kind, tho’ ill-requited,
I had been driven forth like you forlorn,
The most detested, worthless wretch among you!

O injured God! Thy goodness has endow’d me
With talents passing most of my compeers,
Which I in just proportion have abus’d;
As far surpassing other common villains
As Thou in natural parts hadst given me more.

The information at the Beeb site that I’ve linked to above, says the following on the poem:

“This poem is thought to have been written sometime during 1777 when Burns was at Mount Oliphant with his family.

The tone of the poem reflects the misery which the Burnes family endured on the farm during this time, and before the family managed to move to Lochlie later in the year.

The poem was first published in the Scots Magazine, November, 1803.

The opening lines are reminiscent of lines found in Thomas Otway’s play Venice Preserv’d: ‘Yes a most notorious Villain: / To see the suffring’s of my fellow Creatures, / and own my self a Man’. The poem is also notable because it demonstrates a keen awareness of Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), which Burns had read early in his life.”

Written in 1777 eh?

That’ll be when the bard was eighteen then.


Burns Day

It is today.

Rabbie’s 253rd birthday.

This week a survey was done in Scotland to find out peoples’ favourite Burns work. Whilst the most popular answer was “don’t know”, just behind that with 25% was Tam o Shanter.

It is a masterpiece, which you can read in full along with its English translation HERE

What about this for imagery?

But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white–then melts for ever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.–
Nae man can tether time or tide;
The hour approaches Tam maun ride;
That hour, o’ night’s black arch the key-stane,
That dreary hour he mounts his beast in;
And sic a night he taks the road in
As ne’er poor sinner was abroad in.

(Thanks Toronto Tam)

AnElephantCant Forget Burns

If he had written
Haikus we would drink far less
Whisky on Burns Night

Poetry in Motion

I enjoyed performing at my first Burns Supper of the season last night. I’ve been asked to sing and play at four this year. Last night’s immortal memory was very interesting and quoted William Wordsworth from his poem “At the Grave of Burns 1803″

“I mourned with thousands, but as one
More deeply grieved, for He was gone
Whose light I hailed when first it shone,
And showed my youth
How Verse may build a princely throne
On humble truth.”

The full poem is here

I had read before about Wordsworth’s visits to Scotland but only discovered this morning on a search, that his 1803 visit was the subject of a book by his sister Dorothy with the rather snappy title “Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland 1803″

I was delighted to find that this book is available on line. If you click here it will take you to page 56 which describes the arrival in Dumbarton of the Wordsworths and Samuel Taylor Coleridge who accompanied them on the first part of the tour.

Simply clicking on the right hand page advances it and on the left page to take you back.

Below, Dorothy Wordsworth describes their accommodation in Dumbarton.

There is an absolutely fascinating account of their stay in Dumbarton including a visit to the Rock, followed by their journey to the Vale of Leven and north via Loch Lomond.

My photo of I Vow September 2010

I have quoted Wordworth’s poem about Island I Vow on the Loch before. He was interested to find a hermit living in the ruined castle there in his visit in 1814:

Proud remnant was he of a fearless race,
Who stood and flourished face to face
With their perennial hills…All were dispossessed, save him whose smile
Shot lightning through this lonely isle!
No rights had he but what he made
To this small spot, his leafy shade

On a subsequent visit in 1831, Wordsworth learned that the hermit had died some time previously and wrote:

How disappeared he? Ask the newt and toad;
Ask of his fellow men and they will tell
How he was found, cold as an icicle,
Under an arch of that forlorn abode

I wrote about my first visit to I Vow here

Anyway I hope this partially dispels the myth that Burns Suppers are ONLY for the purpose of drinking whisky.

Mind you last night there was a fair bit of that too!

Thanks Scotrail for the (free) journey home!

Aye fond kiss and then we sever?

Thanks Claret and Amber for this and the Pravda article.

Final Journey

The view from the summit at the Loch Lomond island of Inchcailloch is a fine one indeed. I took this photo there in May last year:

The hill on the right in the distance is Ben Lomond. On the left is Glen Luss. The islands of Inchfad, Inchcruin, Inchmoan, Inchconnachan, Inchtavannach, Buccinch, Inchlonaig and Ceardach are visible in the photo. At the spot itself such is the panorama that the islands of Eleandarroch, Torrinch, Creinch and Inchmurrin are also visible.

When my mother died last October I had the idea that her ashes should rest here. It was one of her favourite spots. I can remember when I was a youngster my mum talking about the islands and how much she loved visiting them for the walking, the views and the wildlife and trying to encourage me to go.

At the time I wasn’t interested.

It was only in later years that I developed my own interest, by which time mum was too infirm to visit the islands. She did however enjoy hearing about them and always loved seeing the photos.

The weather yesterday morning was dull and damp. It wasn’t too cold though and I decided that having a day off, this would be the day I would keep my promise and mum would have her final journey.

The loch was about eight feet higher in level than in summer. For example this tree in the loch is normally on Inchcailloch.

I paddled in my canoe, via the lowlands to Port Bawn at the west of the island. Along with Conic Hill and the islands of Torrinch, Creinch and Inchmurrin, Inchcailloch forms part of the highland fault line so that these islands mark the boundary between lowland and highland Scotland.

There had been a memorial service at my mother’s church in November. Many bereaved relatives were there and each was offered a pebble from a plate to symbolise their loved one. The pebbles were then collected and offered again -thus people had a different pebble.

I’m not religious but I kind of got the idea that it was to unite with others in their grief.

The pebble now lies on the bottom of the loch at the precise point where the highlands and lowlands meet.

After hauling the canoe ashore I climbed to the summit. This is normally a simple task as there is a reasonable path to the top. Yesterday however it was rather more of a challenge with all the fallen trees from the recent storms.

Having got to the top I admired the view even though it was much more cloudy and dull than the photo above:

When I have visited before I have sometimes had a seat on the wooden bench there. Yesterday I noticed a plaque on the bench in memory of a Peter MacFarlane 1917-2002:

It quotes from Burns’s Epitaph on William Muir. It seemed appropriate for the occasion and so I have adapted the quote for my mum.

An honest woman here lies at rest
As e’er God with his image blest.
The friend of man, the friend of truth;
The friend of Age, and guide of Youth:
Few hearts like hers with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so inform’d:
If there’s another world, she lives in bliss;
If there is none, she made the best of this.

Having done the duty of the day, I made my way back down (alone) to Port Bawn and boiled up a welcome cuppa on the stove.

Sustenance for the trip home.

Then it was back into the canoe and forward to Balmaha, via the ‘high road’ between Inchcailloch and Inchfad. By this time there was a significant breeze and a fairly strong current – all with me I’m pleased to say.

As I came back to the boatyard at Balmaha, by now basking in misty drizzle, some men were working on their boats and watched me coming in.

“Aye and we thought WE were daft!” one remarked cheerily.

Daft or not I’m glad I got out on the loch and kept a promise.

Slàinte mhòr agus a h-uile beannachd duibh!

Which is Gaelic for “Great health and every good blessing to you.”

May the best ye hae ivver seen be the warst ye’ll ivver see.
May the moose ne’er lea’ yer girnal wi a tear-drap in its ee.
May ye aye keep hail an hertie till ye’r auld eneuch tae dee.
May ye aye juist be sae happie as A wuss ye aye tae be.

The above, in translation, reads:
May the best you have ever seen be the worst you will ever see.
May the mouse never leave your grain store with a tear drop in its eye.
May you always stay hale and hearty until you are old enough to die.
May you still be as happy as I always wish you to be.

Here’s to all those that I love
Here’s to all those that love me.
And here’s to all those that love those that I love,
And all those that love those that love me.
(You have to think about that one!)

I drink to the health of another,
And the other I drink to is he -
In the hope that he drinks to another,
And the other he drinks to is me!

Here’s to them that like us -
Them that think us swell -
And here’s tae them that hate us -
Let’s pray for them as well!

Here’s to the heath, the hill and the heather,
The bonnet, the plaid, the kilt and the feather!

Here’s to the heroes that Scotland can boast,
May their names never dee -
That’s the Heilan’ Man’s Toast!

Here’s tae us -
Wha’s like us -
Damn few -
And they’re a’ deid -
Mairs the pity!

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
The sun shine warm upon your face,
The rain fall soft upon your fields.

Lang may yer lum reek! (Long may your chimney smoke!)
Wi’ ither folks coal! (With other people’s coal!)
(The second line is said to have originated in Edinburgh! – only joking Adullamite!)

May we be happy – and our enemies know it!

A guid New Year and mony may ye see.

May ye ne’er want a frien’ or a dram to gie him.

When we’re gaun up the hill of fortune, may we ne’er meet a frien’ comin’ doun!

Which all adds up to me wishing you all the happiest and healthiest of new years for 2012. Have a good day today and every day. We’re having the traditional Scots neerday lunch of steak pie today. No doubt Burns Selkirk grace will come to mind as we prepare to tuck in:

Some hae meat, and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat -
And sae the Lord be thankit.

O Thou who kindly dost provide
For every creature’s want!
We bless Thee, God of Nature wide,
For all thy goodness lent.
And, if it please Thee, heavenly Guide,
May never worse be sent;
But, whether granted or denied,
Lord bless us with content.


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