About Alan Lomax's 1951 collecting trip in the North East

Alan Lomax's recordings of Scots song (as distinct from Gaelic song) are dominated by singers from North East Scotland, an area of mostly low lying fine farming land that has the grey granite city of Aberdeen at its heart, the rich North Sea before it, and the rocky almost peopleless Highland Massif at its back.

The land is rich in song. The pre-eminent authority on ballads, Francis J Child (1825-1896) of Harvard, selected many Aberdeenshire versions as his 'A texts'. Gavin Greig (1856-1914), the pioneering North East collector and commentator, worked with Rev James D Duncan (1848-1917) to amass from singers and informants an astonishing 3500 texts and 3300 tunes of "the older popular minstrelsy of the district". These include not only thrilling and highly informative multiple versions of 'Child Ballads' as identified and codified by F J Child, but songs of farm work, of sea and army life, love and longing and much else.

The songs of farm labour, the 'bothy ballads', are a distinctive creation of the North East. There are two types, those written by farm workers and telling in detail of the work and the character of the farmer, and the broader theatrical humour of the music hall style compositions of professional entertainers. The emphasis is more on text, and slight variations on the same tunes appear repeatedly, but the North East tunes have vitality and sweetness too.

Alan Lomax recorded many songs and stories from well known singers - Jeannie Robertson, Davie Stewart, Jimmy MacBeath and John Strachan.

But he also recorded other less-documented singers in The North-East.

Here is just a partial list.

* John Mearns and his wife singing duets and solos

* Willie Matheson singing only one verse of each of 23 songs

* Young Blanche Wood singing Portnockie songs

* Bob Cooney with The Wee Toon Clerk and The Road To Dundee

* 'Lordie' Hay gives The Bonny Lass o Fyvie, Jock Hawk's Adventures In Glasgow, and the Tarves Rant

* James Wiseman [of Portnockie?] gives a fine Codlins song

* Archie Lennox, grandfather of singer Annie Lennox, gives Come Up And See Ma Garret and I Have Never Ever Blacklegged In My Life

* John Mearns' son Jack and a group of Aberdeen school pals sing street and play songs and game lyrics

* George Chalmers sings I'm A Handsome Young Widow

* Dave Dowman sings Auld Maid In A Garrett

* Bill Finney sings Drumdelgie

To hear Lomax's North-East recordings use the below link, then choose Aberdeen, Davie Stewart, Jeannie Robertson, Jimmy MacBeath, Portnockie or Turriff - and explore!


For more information about Hamish Henderson's collecting work with Jimmy MacBeath, Willie Mathieson, Jeannie Robertson, Davie Stewart and John Strachan, see Alias MacAlias and Timothy Neat's two volume biography of Henderson.

This site is edited by Ewan McVicar

Jimmy MacBeath Page

Jimmy MacBeath was born in a thatched cottage on Church Street in the fishing village of Portsoy on the Banffshire coast, on August 30, 1894. For most of his life Jimmy footslogged the roads of Scotland and beyond, earning pennies from street singing and shillings from casual labour, living in “model” public lodging houses.

In the 1960s Jimmy began to be recorded commercially and to sing in folk clubs and festivals. Alan Lomax described Jimmy as “a quick-footed, sporty little character, with the gravel voice and the urbane assurance that would make him right at home on Skid Row anywhere in the world.” In November 1953 Lomax recorded several hours of Jimmy singing and talking. Much of this has been issued on the albums Jimmy MacBeath: Tramps & Hawkers[Rounder CD 1834] and Two Gentlemen Of The Road [Rounder CD 1793] with John Strachan.

Jimmy died in January 1972 in Tor-na-dee Hospital, Aberdeen, and was buried in Portsoy.

A newspaper article about him suggests he left home as a young man because he was unable to live with his mother’s strict house rules and her house-proud attitude, which saw Jimmy having to take off his shoes every time he went into the house. Peter Hall has written that Jimmy began work at the age of 13 at a farm a few miles inland at Deskford. For his six months feeing he got £4, payable at the end of the six months. He started to learn the store of bothy ballads that were to become his trademark. At school he [had] put by snippets of playground lore and at home listened to his mother singing old ballads like “Lord Randal” and broadside pieces like “The Butcher Boy.”
Jimmy left farm employment and began a life of casual employment and wandering. His use of time periods and place names in the varying accounts of his travels that he gave to Alan Lomax and others is often inconsistent, but his first long walk from Inverness to Perth seems to have happened in about 1908. In the First World War Jimmy served in the Flanders trenches with the Gordon Highlanders and later in Ireland with the Royal Army Medical Corps. Then he returned to the road.
In turn he was dishwasher, fruit picker, kitchen porter; but in addition he had his songs. Developed first in the bothies and later under the tutelage of old timers like Aul Jock o Blyth and Geordie Stewart of Huntly, Jimmy’s compelling voice and style were soon to be heard in the streets of the larger Northeast towns, at the markets and fairs, around the countryside and in every welcoming pub and bar.
He travelled not just the roads of Scotland. He went through England to the Channel Islands, and later to Nova Scotia, where he found the French Canadian girls “too verocious, like they were hot in the blood.” Most of the time he lived in “model lodging houses,” doing casual work and singing for money at fairs and feeing markets where he would find an eager paying audience.
In 1951 Alan Lomax and Hamish Henderson were collecting songs in Turriff, and veteran bothy singer “Lordy” Hay recommended they seek out Jimmy, who was based at the time in the North Lodge model lodging house in Elgin. An obituary article by Raymond Anderson gives a warm appreciation of Jimmy’s latter years.
Alan Lomax wanted Jimmy to go to Turriff with him, but the singer was very apprehensive about this, as the unappreciative police of that town had told him never to set foot in it again. But he decided to take a chance and was put up in one of the best rooms of Turriff’s best hotel — all at the expense of Columbia Records. The very next year he was off to London to record for the earliest folk series on television. Jimmy was now popular in folk clubs throughout Britain and he also sang abroad. But money never remained with him very long, it just slipped through his fingers.
This traveling minstrel sang in many unusual places — at wakes in Ireland and at silent movies in place of a piano. He is probably best known for a song he got from Geordie Stewart — “Come All Ye Tramps and Hawkers.”
Ironically, towards the end of his life, Jimmy got more invitations to sing at clubs in England than in Scotland. In his late life bronchitis left him fighting for breath, but he could astonish people by bursting into “Come All Ye Tramps and Hawkers” moments after finding it difficult to breathe.
“The sight of a stage would work wonders with Jimmy,” said Hamish Henderson.
But if Jimmy ever played any of his records at the “model” lodging house, the other men soon told him to turn it off. Few of them liked his songs. There he was looked on as a lost character. Possibly even the last of the characters who used to be well known in the “model.”
Ewan McVicar recalls well how delighted and impressed the 1960 audience at the Glasgow Folk Club were with Jimmy’s singing, but more vividly how astonished and embarrassingly grateful Jimmy was to receive the sum of eight pounds, more than he had ever before earned from an evening’s performance.

For much more about Hamish Henderson's collecting work with Jimmy see Alias MacAlias and Timothy Neat's two volume biography of Henderson.

The following text is from the Notes from the Jimmy MacBeath Rounder CD 'Tramps And Hawkers' in the PORTRAITS series, issue number 82161-1834-2

Jimmy MacBeath’s warm and husky voice made him one of Scotland’s greatest and most beloved traditional singers. This unique collection of songs, stories, and reminiscences draws from his varied life as soldier, farm laborer, and traveling singer in the British Isles, France and Canada.

10. BONNY PORTSOY, YOU'RE AA MA AIN 6:43 (Interview & story)*
12. A THREED O BLUE SONG 0:39 (Interview)*
14. FINED FIVE POUNDS 1:42 (Interview)*
15. TERIBUS 0:22

20. MCCAFFERTY 3:12*
21. I’D GET SHOT 1:49 (Interview)*
*Previously unreleased


Alan Lomax’s recordings of Scots song (as distinct from Gaelic song) are dominated by singers from Northeast Scotland, an area of mostly low-lying fine farming land that has the gray granite city of Aberdeen at its heart, the rich North Sea before it, and the rocky almost people-less Highland Massif at its back.

The land is rich in song. The preeminent authority on ballads, Francis J. Child (1825–1896) selected many Aberdeenshire versions as his “A texts.” Gavin Greig (1856–1914), the pioneering Northeast collector and commentator, worked with Reverend James D. Duncan (1848–1917) to amass from singers and informants an astonishing 3,500 texts and 3,300 tunes of “the older popular minstrelsy of the district.”[1] These include not only thrilling and highly informative multiple versions of “Child ballads,” as identified and codified by F. J. Child, but also songs of farm work, of sea and army life, of love and longing, and much else.

The songs of farm labor — known as “bothy ballads”[2] — are a distinctive creation of the Northeast. There are two types, those written by farmworkers and telling in detail of the work and the character of the farmer, and those incorporating the broader theatrical humor of the music-hall style compositions of traveling professional entertainers. The creators of bothy ballads were interested in narrative rather than in melody, and slightly varied versions of the same tunes are repeatedly employed, but the tunes used have vitality and sweetness, too.

Two of the Scottish subjects of the Portraits series, Davie Stewart and Jimmy MacBeath, were friends. They had both served in the Gordon Highlanders during World War II; both had the “roving notion” and made a living when and where they could, oftimes through the declaiming of songs on the street. Yet when they traveled and worked together, one sang while the other bottled (collected money from the crowd); they were unable to sing together because their styles differed so. Jimmy had the solid and vigorous farm worker style, Davie Stewart had the fluid high-drama traveler way with a song.

They were born close by each other, in fishing towns of the Northeast, but neither sang much of the sea. Rather, they turned to the rich agricultural land that grew fine versions of dramatic old ballads and pragmatic new bothy ballads. They seldom sing on these recordings with metronomic timing. The chord-based accompaniments of the folk song revival have more recently imposed a rhythmic choke hold on many old songs that live and breathe freely in these Lomax recordings, where the narrative rules.

They shared many songs. The Portraits recordings allow comparison of their differing ways with “Mormond Braes” and “The Dowie Dens of Yarrow.” Jimmy MacBeath’s version of “Tramps and Hawkers” became the standard text for Scots singers, who nevertheless preferred Davie’s virtuoso account of “MacPherson’s Rant.”

Jimmy MacBeath sings confidentially, with a pacing that maximizes the story, when he is singing to the microphone in Alan Lomax’s house. He uses a more regular rhythm, with an open-throated rasp and roar, when projecting to a crowd; he is yet always so confident and relaxed. His masterful presentation and distinctive appearance (he was described as having a “face like a tortoise”) charmed audiences. Alan Lomax described Jimmy MacBeath as “A quick-footed sporty little character, with the gravel voice and urbane assurance that would make him right at home on skid row anywhere in the world. He’s been everywhere and nowhere for fifty years running, and he has a song about it.” When he sings you can hear the sparkle in his eye, the arms waving to emphasize the swing of a tune or a comic point, and understand why he could draw an enthusiastic crowd of farmworkers at a hiring fair or market. ——Linlithgow, West Lothian, Scotland, 2001


Jimmy MacBeath, last “King of the Cornkisters,” was born in Portsoy in 1894 and died in Tor-na-Dee Hospital, Milltimber, Aberdeenshire on January 7, 1972.

Like his friend and traveling companion Davie Stewart, Jimmy spent the greater part of his life as wandering singer, and his travels took him into every corner of the North-East and (in his heyday) as far as Stornoway, Belfast, the Channel Islands, and Canada. Like Davie again, he became one of the few “professionals” of an earlier period to find a rather wobbly but welcome place in the ranks of the entertainers who have been doing the rounds of folk clubs and festivals since the present folk revival got under way in the late 1950s, and he was a familiar kenspeckle figure at Blairgowrie, Keele, Loughborough, and Cecil Sharp House. Although his last years were spent in relative poverty — he was for a decade an inmate of the model lodging house at 33 East North Street, Aberdeen — this new lease of fame and the occasional paid gig did do something to ease an existence that in the end must often have been hard to thole.

We have a description of Jimmy as a schoolboy from an informant who was in the same class at Portsoy School. Jimmy, whose nickname was Scout, sat at the bottom of the class with another lad by-named Piggy and “made fun of his lessons.” However, he had already begun to store songs and rhymes in his retentive memory, as I discovered when I began to record the fragments of nursery rhymes, playground songs, and harvest-field gallimaufries which are related to the “dreg song” of the Lothian and Fife oyster-fishers, and which can still be found here and there, sometimes far from their region of origin. Jimmy listened with interest to the recordings of dreg-song fragments and contributed a version of his own which he had learnt in the playground of Portsoy School:

Mary Annie, sugar cane
Bumbee bedlar
Saxteen saidler.
A mannie in a hairy caipie
Rowin’ at the fairie [ferry] boatie.
Fairie boatie ow’r dear,
Ten pounds in the year.
Jock Fife had a coo
Black and white about the moo.
Hit can jump the Brig o’ Dee
Singin' Cock-a-linkie.

Jimmy heard this version when he was eight from “a laddie cried Mair” who also became a farm servant. The “mannie in the hairy caipie” recalls the lines in Herd’s eighteenth-century version:

Hey hou Harry Harry / Mony a boat skail'd the ferry” and maybe provides a hint that the horsemen were not the only worker in Scotland to invoke the occasional aid of Hairy, alias Clootie.

Jimmy learned the “bothy style” — the way of life of the farm servants of the pre-First World War North-East — the hard way. He left school at thirteen and was fee’d at Brandane’s Fair to farm in the parish of Deskford, south of Cullen in Banffshire. His fee for the first-six month term was four pounds; this was raised to five guineas for a second term. His most vivid memory of that first year was a savage beating with the back chain of a cart for not being in proper control of his horses:

Ye ca’d oot muck wi’ your pair at that time, ye used your pair at that time. The foreman went oot first, and of course I was oot ahin’, man; I happened tae miss my hin’sling, o’ my cairt, like — and the horse gaed agley, dae ya see? He [the foreman] pulled me oot-ow’r the cairt and thrashed me wi’ a back chain — richt ow’r the back wi’ a back chain. An’ the faimer was passin’ at the time, and never lookit near hand.

This punishment, meted out a greenhorn halflin, does not seem to have been exceptional. Other informants such as Jimmy Stewart (a Turriff worthy, known as “the Laird o’ Delgaty”) have recorded similar stories for our archive. No wonder Jimmy MacBeath later described the North-East farm servants of that period as “a very sad-crushed people, very sair crushed doon.” Conditions of work, living accommodation, and the food (generally brose) provided for the lads were all the subject of outspoken complaint in bothy ballads, and when Jimmy sang “Drumdelgie” to audiences far outside the North-East, he was able to communicate more of the immediate reality of a farm laborer’s life in the old days than a hundred government papers or bureaucratic reports could possibly have done.

The outbreak of World War I did at any rate provide a chance of a break from this “hard slavery work.” Jimmy enlisted in the Gordons and saw service in the trenches of France and Flanders. He also spent some time in Ireland with the RAMC and helped to plant several bothy ballads in the rich fertile soil of Kildare.

When he was demobilised, he was faced with the depressing prospect of re-entering farm service, but fate — in the shape of Geordie Stewart of Huntly, a wealthy travelling scrap dealer, and a brother of Lucy Stewart of Fetterangus — willed otherwise. Geordie was a connoisseur of ballad singing, and it was he who put the idea into Jimmy's head that he might be better employed using his extraordinary voice, with its unique gravelly tone, as a street singer than meekly submitting to the necessity of a return to the bothy life. Geordie not only assured Jimmy that fame, money, and a great lyric future lay before him on the road; he also taught him two or three dozen of the songs which he was afterwards to make famous, including the best version collected to date of “Come A’ Ye Tramps and Hawkers.”

At first Jimmy seems to have been rather self-conscious about singing on the streets, especially in places where he was known. The same school friend of Jimmy, whom I quoted earlier, happened by accident to come on him at the very outset of his career, when he was singing in the streets in Banff. As soon as his compatriots appeared, Jimmy took one look at them, stopped in mid-song and moved off. But it was not long before he had that awkward hurdle behind him and was fully prepared to sing anywhere, and on any occasion, at the drop of a hat — or the crack of a nicky tam.[6] His became a welcome “weel-kent face” at all sorts of events, public and private, in Aberdeenshire — from Aikey Fair to a local football team celebration. Mr. MacKenzie, of MacKenzie’s tearooms in Elgin (where Jimmy was later to work as kitchen porter in the mid-1950s) informed me that it was not uncommon for Jimmy to earn as much as £25 in a single day, when he as at the top of his form, and this was naturally quite a lot of money in the 1920s and ’30s. But money always flowed through Jimmy’s hands like water: he spent quite a lot of it on booze, and was always ready to “stand his hand” in company, but he was also an impulsively — one might almost say compulsively — generous person and had a real sympathy with those who happened to be less fortunate than himself — as anyone can testify who ever saw him together with blind people.

The time of the year when Jimmy really came into his own was Aikey Fair, the famous “Continental Sunday” fair which is held in July on a brae not far from Old Deer, and in sight of Drostan's Abbey. (Aikey Brae was the locality of the final defeat of the Comyns by Robert Bruce in 1308.) This used to be a celebrated horse market (held on Wednesdays) but with the gradual disappearance of the horse as a working beast on North-East farms, this side of the fair faded out. However, the Sunday fair is still a great occasion, and attracts singer, pipers, fiddlers, melodeon players, and other wandering folk artists — the majority of them “travelling people” — from all over the North-East, and even further afield. There are also revivalist preachers who occasionally have a tough time of it if the musicians feel like drowning their fire and brimstone by the direct method. When Jimmy MacBeath turned up, he at once became the centre of a lively group of farm servants, who urged him to sing “The Banks o' Ross-shire,” “Torn A’, Rippit A’,” “The Ball o’ Kirriemeer,” and other colorful items from his repertoire. (In this he seems to have been in the direct line of descent from Blind Jamie Rankin, the singer Peter Buchan employed to collect songs and stories for him, cf. Gavin Greig and Alexander Keith, Last Leaves, pages 279–80.)

Afterwards Jimmy would repair to a hotel bar in Old Deer and the fun would continue. I remember well seeing him in his glory in that same bar in the evening of the fair day in 1953; one of the young farm servants, who had obviously formed a strong attachment to him, was sitting and listening attentively, while Jimmy taught him “Airlin's Fine Brae's” verse by verse. I felt it was a real privilege to witness the actual act of oral transmission, especially when the transmitter was once none other than the reigning “King o’the Cornkisters.”

Jimmy also used to sing at “Turra Market” (Porter Fair), and it was in Turriff that Alan Lomax and I made our first recordings of him in 1951. The lead that carried us to Jimmy came from “Lordie” Hay, a veteran bothy singer whom I had met on an earlier tour. This was the same humorous blue-blooded “Lordie,” brother of “Prince,” who is mentioned in the bothy balled “Wester Badenteer, “Syne Lordie wi the auld Scotch sands nae heard in music halls.” We recorded a number of songs from “Lordie” Hay the Commercial Hotel in Turriff; in addition, he provided a graphic account of the career and personality of Jimmy MacBeath and obligingly told us where we would probably find him; this turned out to be the North Lodge, a model lodging-house in Elgin.

The following day we drove west from Turriff, via Banff and Buckie. Alan dropped me off at Jessie Murray’s house in Buckie and drove on alone to Elgin to pick up Jimmy. Jessie Murray, a great ballad singer, was in rare fettle and I hardly noticed the two hours go by, when suddenly I heard Alan's car draw up in front of the house. A moment or two later, Jessie and I had a simultaneous first vision of Jimmy's beaming, rubicund, booze-blotched face as he walked into the kitchen, followed by Alan. There was a moment of silence. Then Alan said: “Hamish, Jessie — I want you to meet Jimmy MacBeath.”

lf an hour later we were en route for Turriff, and Jimmy was singing in the back of the car. To start the ball rolling, I had sung him a short four-verse variant of “Come A’' Ye Tramps and Hawkers” which I had learned from a Dundee-born farm servant, Tam MacGregor, when I was a student. (Tam and I had been “chaulmered” together on an Appin farm, and I learned several songs from him in the authentic bothy style when we were lying on adjacent bone-shaker beds). Jimmy at once sang his own version, now world-famous, and we were away.

When he learned that we were heading for “Turra Toon,” Jimmy was none too confident of his reception. The last time he had been there, he had been slung out of the town by the local police, who had told him never to set foot in Turriff again. However, Alan assured him that this was a “special case” — as indeed it was — and Jimmy rode back into Turriff in triumph. He was shortly taking his ease, and royal dram, in the best hotel in the town.

Indeed, Jimmy, who was never slow to claim descent from the Macbeth who “stabbed King Duncan through the mattress” — and, given any encouragement, from the best-looking of the three Weird Sisters too — was quick to realise that here, in the shape of two wandering folklorists, was fate in a Ford Anglia, and that his reappearance (against all the odds) in Turra Toon signified a qualitative change in more than his own personal picaresque career. Those early recording sessions in the Commercial Hotel marked the intersection in space and time of the old world of Aikey Fair and the new world of the as yet undreamed-of Keele Festival of the future, with its hundreds of youthful enthusiasts from all over Britain gathered to hear Flora MacNeil, Ewan MacColl, Margaret Barry, Felix Doran, Belle and Alex Stewart -- and Jimmy MacBeath himself, the symbolic unifying factor in the whole clanjamfrie.

So in the Turriff hotel bedroom which I was shortly to re-occupy when Edinburgh University finally “bought” the idea of subsidising a collecting tour, Jimmy really went to town. He gave an uproarious performance of “The Moss o’ Burreldales,” the song which epitomises the Scots tinker way of life; he delighted us with a lovely rendering of the “Forfar Sodger” complete with gesticulations; he put on gallus red-hackled swagger for “The Gallant Forty-twa”; and, after telling us the story of James MacPherson, the tinker-gypsy outlaw hanged at Banff in November 1700, he went on to sing the folk version of “MacPherson's Rant” which was shortly to supplant Robert Burns’ cloak-and-dagger rewrite on the lips of folk-singers all over Scotland.

Later that summer Jimmy came to Edinburgh to sing at the first People's Festival ceilidh organised by me for the Edinburgh Labour Festival Committee. This was held in the Oddfellows' Hall, just across the road from Sandy Bell's bar, and in both places Jimmy created a sensation. His first song in the hall was “Come A’ Ye Tramps and Hawkers,” and Alan Lomax’s tape recordings of the ceilidh communicate the elated atmosphere of that memorable occasion. Jimmy was much affected by the reception he got, and at the end of the show he informed the audience that this was his “swan song,” the culmination and the conclusion of his singing career: for reasons of ill health and age he would never be able to sing at a similar function again. (He was to visit Edinburgh and sing at my ceilidhs for close on another twenty years.)

After the “official” ceilidh had finished, we carried on at St. Columbia's Church Hall in Johnstone Terrace, and there Jimmy excelled himself. Ewan MacColl and Isla Cameron joined us, the Theatre Workshop show having finished, and the sight of Ewan's face, when he first received the full impact of Jimmy's personality and performance, remains vividly in my memory. Other singers and musicians present were Flora MacNeil, Calum Johnstone, John Burgess, Jessie Murray, Blanche Wood, and John Strachan. Hugh MacDiarmid honoured us with his presence; parts of A Drunken Man Looks at the Thistle were spoken during the evening, and at the end of a second or “unofficial” part of the show he was so moved that he publicly embraced old John Strachan after the singing of “Goodnight and Joy Be wi’ Ye A.”

A month or two later, in Alan Lomax's program “I Heard Scotland Singing,” Jimmy's voice was heard for the first time on the radio, together with the voices of several of the other singers mentioned above. This was the beginning of a protracted and often frustrating attempt on my part to get authentic traditional song on the BBC programmes, the “polished” lyric gem being what the public was supposed to want and — whether it wanted it or not — what is certainly got, in full measure.

We had two valuable allies in London, however; these were Peter Kennedy and Seamus Ennis, who at that time made up a small folk-song section in the BBC, under the aegis of Marie Slocombe. After the second People's Festival in 1952, I brought Seamus Ennis to the North-East, and in the Royal Oak Hotel, Banff, we recorded some wonderful sessions with Jimmy, “Lordie,” Frank Steele and other singers. The BBC discs made from these tape recordings gradually began to get heard on the radio even in programmes put out by BBC Scotland — although the latter showed a curious reluctance, literally for years, to use Jimmy and other authentic bothy ballad singers to anything like the extent to which they could — and should — have been used.

It was in 1953 that Alan Lomax invited Jimmy to London to take part in his first television series presenting folksingers from Scotland, Ireland, and England, and it is from his appearance in this series — which was much commented on — that one can really date Jimmy as an international celebrity on the folk scene. This was further enhanced by the appearance in 1954 of Volume VI (Scotland) of the Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music albums, which I helped Alan to edit. Later records which featured his singing include the Caedmon series of “Folksongs of Britain” (issued in Britain by Topic), and our own Bothy Ballads LP on the Tangent label. In 1960 Collector brought out an EP of his singing (JES10); recordings had been made at the Linburn Ceilidhs for War Blinded, organised by the School of Scottish Studies, and in 1968 Topic produced an LP (Wild Rover No More, Topic 12T173) edited by Peter A. Hall.

The festivals organised by the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland at Blairgowrie and Kinross made Jimmy's name and fame known to an up-and-coming generation of folk-song aficionados in the 1960s, and in 1966 Chapbook devoted a special number to him (The Rt. Hon. Jimmy MacBeath, Vol. 3, No. 2). At roughly the same time Sing (Britain's earliest folk-song magazine) produced a marvelous illustrated bumper number devoted to the first (1965) Keele Festival; the test was by very much an “Establishment” figure on the folk scene. “Jimmy MacBeath, King of the tramps and hawkers, and a surprise only to those who had never heard him before, endeared himself to his listeners with gesture, twinkling toes and throaty singing.”

Jimmy’s last public appearance in Edinburgh was at the bi-centenary ceilidh in honour of “The Shirra and his Gang” (Sir Walter Scott and his confederates) which was held in the Portobello Town Hall on August 17, 1971. In spite of worsening chest ailments, he put on a gallant performance and was much acclaimed by an audience which included scholars from many parts of the world.

Jimmy MacBeath died a few days after Hogmanay in 1972. Some months later the BBC made amends for years of neglect by broadcasting a splendid programme in his honour, put together and presented by Arthur Argo and produced by James Hunter.

Ah got that sang aff Geordie Ross, the Beauty tramp... he had many sangs... Oh, he wis a little wee man tae look at... a wee stoot... cheery kin... and he paiddled aboot with a box an he wis very crabbit at time tae. If onythin gaed against him he wis very contermashus... he would pretend that he wis a great knocker-oot, as it were, when he got this twa-three drams in o him an that, an when he startit tae pit up his fists he aye drew them doon again. Och! It wis the dram that was speakin. He’d face up [in a fight] but he’d aye fail. When the drink’s in the wit’s oot. Oh, he wis a great dancer. He hed a dance whit he caa'd the Pin Reel... He could dance on ae leg... he jist diddled himsel, and he had me play the mouth organ tae him... dancin the Pin Reel... on his one leg, and of course it took a bit o daen tae dae that. [7]


A Note On the Transcription of the Texts

The texts that follow have been transcribed according to the modern Scots practice not to treat Scots words as if they were incomplete English words, so apostrophes are used only when essential to indicate pronunciation. Spellings are based on the standard text, The Concise Scots Dictionary. I have used bracketed words within the lyric to show what I think the singer sings when I am not fully confident what the singer intends the text to be, because if the words are as I present them then the text does not make full clear sense. If however I cannot with any confidence say what I think the text is, I use [...]. Where the sung text is unclear or confused, and I know what the composer wrote or of a 'standard' text widely used by singers, I quote this in a footnote.


A positive account of the traveler’s that which became Jimmy’s calling card. His version was one of the most popular songs of the Scottish folk revival of the 1960s. The reputed composer, a nineteenth-century hawker called Besom Jimmy, was said to travel wearing a coat covered in feathers.

Jimmy usually sang the fourth stanza here as his second stanza.

Come aa ye tramps an hawkers, ye gatherers o blaw, [oatmeal]

That tramps the country roon an roon come listen, ane an aa.

I’ll tell tae you a rovin tale an sights that I hev seen,

It’s far up into the snowy north, an south by Gretna Green.

Aft times ah’ve lauched intae mysel when trodgin on the road,

Wi a bag o blaw upon ma back, ma face as broon’s a toad. (tod: fox)

Wi lumps o cakes, an tattie scones, an cheese an braxie ham, [potato,salted flesh of a sheep that has died of an intestinal disease]

It’s nae thinkin whaur ah’m comin fae, nor whaur ah’m gaun tae gang.[from, go]

But ah’m happy in the summer time, beneath the bright blue sky.

Nae thinkin in the mornin, at nicht whaur [I’re] tae lie.

Barns or byres or anywhere, or oot amang the hay, [cowsheds]

And if the weather does permit, ah’m happy every day.

I’ve seen the high Ben Nevis away towerin to the moon.

I’ve been by Crieff an Callander, an roon by Bonnie Doone.

An by the Nethy’s silvery tides, an places ill tae ken,

It’s far up into the snowry north lies Urquhart’s bonnie glen.

O Loch Kaithrin an Loch Lomun his aa been seen by me.

The Dee, the Don, the Deveron, that hurries into the sea.

Dunrobin Castel by the way, I nearly had forgot.

An aye the rickles o cyairn marks stands the hoose o’ John o Groat. [loose heaps of stone]

Ah’m aften roond by Gallawa or doon aboot Stranraer,

Ma business leads me anywhere, sure I travel near and far.

Ah’ve got the rovin notion, there’s naething what ah loss,

An aa ma dae is ma daily fare and what’ll pey my doss. [cost of a bed for a night]

But I think ah’ll go to Paddy’s lan, ah’m makin up ma min.

For Scotland’s greatly altered now, sure I canna raise the wyne. [wind]

But I will trust in Providence, if Providence will prove true,

An I will sing of Erin’s isle, when I come back tae you.


Previously unreleased

One of the most popular ballads of farm life, commenting with pride on the horses and describing vigorously the daily tasks of the horsemen — tending the horses, turning the mill by hand, winnowing, plowing, carting, and so forth. The ten texts in The Greig Duncan Folk Song Collection vary greatly in detail, but Jimmy’s version is close to Greig’s preferred text.

Come aa ye jolly plooman lads and hearken unto me,

And I’ll sing ye Drumdelgie wi muckle mirth and glee. [great]

There is a toon in Cyarnie, it’s kenned baith far and wide [known]

Tae be the hash o Drumdelgie upon sweet Deveronside. [large farm(?)]

We rise at five in the morning and hurry doon the stair,

Tae get some corn for wur horse and strakin oot their hair. [straighten or comb]

Half an oor in the stable each to the kitchie goes, [kitchen]

Tae get some breakfast for wurselve wha generally brose. [ourselves, oatmeal with boiling water or milk]

We’ve hardly gien wur brose a sup and gien wur pints a tie, [shoelaces]

When the grieve, he says, “Hullo, ma lads, the oor is drawin nigh.”

Sax o’clock the mill gangs on which fairly gies you work,

And sax o us gets work tae her till ye could wring wur sark. [shirt]

When the mill is over just up the stairs we rin,

Tae pit a quarter throu the fan until daylight does come in,

And when daylight comes in ma lads and the sky begins tae clear,

The grieve he says, “Hullo, ma lads, we’ll stay nae langer here.

“Sax o you gang tae the ploo and twa will ca the neeps, [bring turnips home from the fields]

And the oxen they’ll be after you when they ate up their neeps.”[8]

Pittin on their harness and drawin oot the yoke,

The driftin snaw ding on so thick that we were like to choke. [fell heavily]

And then the frost it did stick in, the ploughs they wudden go.

So we had to yoke the dung-cairt amang the frost and snow.

Aa will prayen ma beasties the shafts did scarcely fill,

We opened not the saiddler to help us ower the hill.[9]

Ah will prayen[10] my beasties though they be young and sma,

They’ll tak the shine aff a Broadlands[11] horse wha gyangs sae full and braw.

Drumdelgie keeps a Sunday school, he says it is but richt,

For tae preach unto the iggorant, preach them the Gospel light.

The term time is comin on, and we will get wur brass, [end of agreed work period, money]

And we’ll gae doon tae Huntly toon and get a pairtin glass.

We'll gae doon tae Huntly toon and get upon the spree,

And then the fun it will commence the quinies for tae see. [girls]

So fare ye weel, Drumdelgie, for ah’m gyaen awa,

Fare-ye weel, Drumdelgie, wi your weety weather an aa. [rainy]

So fare ye weel, Drumdelgie an I’ll bid yeese all adieu,

An I’ll leave you as I got you, a most infernal crew!


Previously unrealeased [[unreleased]]

A fragment of an English song that Gavin Greig says became “well known in the north.” Jim the Carter is sometimes Joe the Carrier (a carrier was a combination of bus driver and shopping agent.)

Crack, crack, groes [12] ma wheep, ah whistle and ah sing.

Ah sit upon my wagon, ah’m as happy as a king.

My horse is aye so willin, and for me ah’m never sad.

There’s none could lead a jollier life like Jim the cairter lad.

I used to sit upon ma wagon and hear ma father sing.

As merrily as his wheep gaed crack and merrily did he sing.

Crack, crack, goes his wheep, and he whistles and he sing.

Ah sit upon my wagon, ah’m as happy as a king.

My horse is aye so willin, and for me ah’m never sad.

There’s none can lead a jollier life like Jim the cairter lad.


Previously unrealeased [[unreleased]]

Jimmy McBeath [[MacBeath]]: Singin that time.

[[Alan]] Lomax: Tell us a little about how you — about your adventures in the markets and fairs.

M[[a]]cBeath: Well, now, I went to the markets.

Lomax: Where do you go exactly, when you go? What fairs are there?

M[[a]]cBeath: Well, the first fair would be, the first fairs at that time would be, would be, would be Streechen [Strichen] market. That’s always the, that was always the first one, and I’ve seen me gettin a, a dash good drink fae the farm servants, you see, and, eh eh there was that market, ah got, o, terrible drinks. Ah’ve seen me getting as much drink that night as ah was just helpless — fair knocked out. And they made you drink oot of the bottle, bottle beer, it was all bottle beer they selt [sold] in the tents, in the beer tent, you see, and of course they’d nae tumblers [straight glasses], nae tumbler like that, you just took the bottle and drunk it off there, just drunk it right off there, out, as you wis saying about the bottle o whisky, and of course, I’ve seen me getting, o, terrible. Just terrible drunk.

Lomax: What would be going on at these fairs?

[[omit - Jimmy]] M[[a]]cBeath: Well, they they there was games of aa kind and horse, selling the horse, horse markets, and engaging, engaging people to go over to the six months work, at that time, you see. That was aa fairm servants that was gettin engaged. They ca’ed it feein at that time, feein, and there’s, an hirins. That means in the south it’s hirin, as they call it in some parts.

[[omit - Alan]] Lomax: And were there all kinds of people there with gambling.

[[omit - Jimmy]] M[[a]]cBeath: There was aa kind of shows, fairs, aa kind of shows like merry-go-rounds, and hobby horses and chairieplanes[kinds of carousel] and all that and then there was men with stalls selling, selling aa their ware and that. And then there was sweetie stalls, too, they were selling sweeties and some of them were selling like a lot a, what we ca’ed Cheap Johns, Cheap Johns means that time . . . that was Jews selling, sellin eh, sellin, sellin watches and the like aa that and selling a lot of other trock [small cheap articles] and, shaving soap and one thing and another an that.

Lomax: When you’d go to these fairs, you’d stay around there for how long?

McBeath: I would stay right round the whole day.

Lomax: There would be a fair that would last a day and then what would you do then — go in the woods?

McBeath: No, I went, aye, and I’d go right to the, to get a lie-down somewhere, maybe in some o the, o the haylofts. And then I’d go to the next fair. The next fair maybe happened next day, that happened to be anither walk and then we would walk through the night a bit to that. If it was a bit, if it was a good distance to go till, say aboot five miles from that fair to the next one. So you met in with a different class o plooman there again and a different class of fairm servants there, at that next fair. They were no aa alike. O no. O no no no, there was no aa alike, there was different, different types of fairm servants at everywhere, you could tell. In fact, they were different natured, different natured.

Lomax: Give me an example.

McBeath: Well, I mean to say that some, some people, some fairm servants you couldna mak onythin o, they wouldna gie you a drink at aa. You’d be singing a whole day and they would hardly, they wudnae look at you. So in the next, the next place, the next fair you go to you couldna go wrong. You’d get as much drink and as much money as you likit, as much drink as you liked tae knock over. And pies, and aa that kind of stuff. There was stalls selling pies, and lemonade and one thing and anither, you see, at that time.

Lomax: And did, would you sing these bothy songs?

M[[a]]cBeath: Bothy songs, ah was singing the bothy songs, they asked me to sing good old bothy songs to them and cornkisters as it’s ca’ed, some o them ca’es them bothy ballads. The real name is bothy ballad songs, is the name of them. There’s no sic a thing as, well, they originated frae the corn kist [chest], I suppose, a lot of them when they were singing in the stables and duntin [bumping] their heels against the corn kist, ye see.

Lomax: And when you went round to the fairs did you go round with the other traveling people or did you always go alone? Did you kind of run with the crowd?

M[[a]]cBeath: O, no. I run wi the, wi the, wi the, aw wi the show folk, the show people.

Lomax: Not with the Romany, though? Not with the Romany?

M[[a]]cBeath: O, no. Well, some of them, no, some of them I did, and I got lifts frae them, o yes, frae the Romany people, I got lifts frae the travellin people. The show folk.

Lomax: Are they a good kind of people?

M[[a]]cBeath: O yes. They were aa right. O they gied you a good set away, and sometimes they gied ye a lie-down in their camp.


Previously unrealeased [[unreleased]]

This song was written by G. S. Morris (1876–1960). Morris was a professional performer who wrote, performed and recorded theatrical bothy ballads. He was an Aberdonian who worked as a blacksmith and a farmer and eventually ran a motorcycle business and a hotel in Old Meldrum. His “cornkisters” (see Jimmy’s [[omit - Macbeath’s]] explanation of this term in track 4) are rich in local language and comic invention. Pronunciations of the place name in the song vary. Jimmy gets one element of the story wrong: Annie runs to get the iron pail and crowns Jock with it.

Have you ever seen a tinklers’ camp upon a summer’s night, [travelers]

A nicht afore a market when aa thing’s goin richt,

When aa the tramps and hawkers they come frae hill and dale

Tae gaither in the gloamin in the Moss o Burreldale. [twilight, boggy moorland]


When the ale was only tippence and a tanner bocht a gill, [two pence, sixpence bought a measure of whisky]

A besom or a tilley pan, a shelt we aye could sell, [broom, saucepan, Shetland pony]

And we aa forgot our troubles ower a forty o’ sma ale, [weak beer]

As we gaithered in the gloamin in the Moss o Burreldale.

Noo, Jock Stewart would hae a fecht and tore his jacket aff,

But Squeekin Annie settlet him — we aa got sic a lauch,

He[13] ran ower amon the tilley pans for a wee bit iron pail,

And they [14] skepped him like a swarm o bees in the Moss o Burreldale.[clapped it over him]

Noo little Jimmy Docherty a horseman great was he.

He jumped on a sheltie’s back some tricks tae let us see,

But a gallant shoved some prickly whins aneath the sheltie’s tail, [twigs of gorse]

He cast a shot in a mossy pot in the Moss o Burreldale. [was thrown into a boggy hole]

But time was nae langer here when muckle Jock MacQueen,

He started tuning up his pipes he bocht in Aiberdeen,

He blew sae hard, the skin was thin, the bag began to swell

And awa flew Jock wi the sheep skin pyock ower the Moss o Burreldale.[pouch]

By this time Stewart got the pail torn aff his achin heid,

And kickit up an awfie soun, enough to wauk the deid,

When Annie said, “Come on, MacDuff, though I should get the jail,

Put them up my man, or you’re nae fit for Annie, the Rose of Burreldale.”

For the dogs, they started barkin, and the cuddy roared hee-haw. [donkey]

The tramps and hawkers aa turned roon and sic a sicht they saw,

It was Docherty as black’s Aul Nick, the bairns let oot a yell,

We shoodered wur packs, we aa made tracks, fae the Moss o Burreldale.

But the spring cairt is oot o date, the sheltie is o’er slow,

The tramps and hawkers noo-a-days have langer roads to go,

They aa maun hae a motorcar, of a winter goods for sale,

But I’ll ne’er forget the nicht we spent in the Moss o Burreldale.


Previously unreleased

This text is substantially another G. S. Morris composition, but with a complex ancestry that Hamish Henderson has detailed.[15] David Herd in 1769 printed a fragment of two verses and a chorus to a sweeter version of the tune, which Burns and others later made use of. Willie Kemp wrote and recorded a completely different cornkister lyric, which enjoyed new popularity in the 1960s when adopted by Scots entertainer Andy Stewart. Hamish Henderson says of this kind of composition that it inflates “themes, incidents and characters to bursting point, and sometimes beyond.”[16] Jimmy performs it with characteristic brio and panache.

’S at a relic auld craft upon the hill, [tumbledown old farm]

It’s roon the neuk frae Sprottie’s mill, [corner]

Cryin’ aa his life tae join the kill[17]

Lived Geordie MacIntyre.

He had a wife as sweir as himsel, [lazy]

And a daughter as black’s Aul Nick himsel.

There wis some fun, haud awa the smell, [keep away]

At the muckin o Geordie’s byre.


The graip wis tint, the besom wis deen, [dungfork, lost, done]

The barra widna row its leen. [wheelbarrow, roll along]

And siccan a soss it never was seen [such a mess]

At the muckin o Geordie’s byre.

For the daughter hed tae strae an neeps, [straw]

The auld wife started to swipe the greip, [gutter]

When Geordie fell splyte on a rotten neep

At the muckin o Geordie’s byre.

Ben the greip come Geordie’s soo, [after]

She stood up ahint the coo. [behind, cow]

The coo kickit oot and o what a stew

At the muckin o Geordie’s byre.

For the aul wife she was boo’in doon, [bowing]

The soo was kickit on the croon.

It shoved her heid in the wifie’s goon [gown]

And ben through Geordie’s byre.

The daughter come throw the barn door,

And seein her mother let oot a roar.

Tae the midden she ran and fell ower the boar

At the muckin o Geordie’s byre.

For the boar he clapped the midden dyke, [wall]

And ower the rigs wi Geordie’s tyke. [fields, child]

They baith run intil a bumbees byke [bumblebee’s nest]

At the muckin o Geordie’s byre.

The cocks and hens began to craw

When Betty astride the soo they saw,

And the postie’s sheltie rin awa

At the muckin o Geordie’s byre.

O, a hunder years have passed and mair,

Whaur Sprottie’s wis, the hill is bare.

The craft’s awa so ye’ll see nae mair

At the muckin o Geordie’s byre.

His folks aa deid and awa lang syne.

In case his memory we should tyne, [lose]

Whistle this tune tae keep ye in mind

At the muckin of Geordie’s byre.


A fairly confused version of the great ballad of James MacPherson, the Robin Hood-type freebooter and fiddler of the Northeast, said to have been framed and executed in Banff in 1700. Jimmy intermingles stanzas from the traditional story and from Robert Burns’ poetical rewrite, reversing the usual order of the two-strain tune, and using for the chorus what is usually sung for the verses.

Farewell, ye dungeons dark and strong,

MacPherson’s time will no be long.

Below thon gallows tree I’ll hing.


Sae rantinly, sae dauntinly,

And sae wantonly went he,

He played a tune and he danced aroon

Below the gallows tree.

The Laird o Grant, the Highland sant [saint]

That first laid hands on me,

He played the cause on Peter Broon

Tae let MacPherson dee.

An [unloft] the bands from off my hands

And gae bring tae me my sword.

For there’s no a man in all Scotland

But ah’ll brave him at his word.

O what is death but parting breath

Over mony’s a bloody plain?

For in this place I’ve dried his face,

I’ve scorn them yet again.[18]

The reprieve wis comin oer the brig o Banff

For tae let MacPherson free.

When they put the clock a quarter before

And hanged him to the tree.

There’s some come here to see me hung

And some tae buy ma fiddle.

But before ’at I do part wi her

I’ll break her through the middle.

I’ve lived a life o stoot and strife,

I die by treachery.

For it is my life to live in life,

Or live in slaverie.[19]


Previously unreleased

Alan Lomax: How do the people in Banff feel about this song?

Jimmy M[[a]]cBeath: O, they don’t like it. They don’t like it yet.

I’ve seen the fights, there have been fights there. I was asked to sing that, you see, that MacPherson’s song, you see, and 1 didn’t know, I forgot that it took place there, and they throwed oranges and rotten ingans [onions] at me. They didn’t like it.

It was in seventeen hunder and the fifteen day of December, it was, he was arrested. He was arrested in the town o Keith, with a blanket, a woman washin blankets above the, where they kill the cattle at the shaimbles[abbatoir]. And they couldna get near him — it was the day of a mart[cattle market] and they couldna get near him, you see. At that time Banff had independence that time, they could hing a man. A sheriff could sentence ye tae daith at that time. They had the power, a sheriff himself. But they lost that, and there’s about four or five year since they got back their rights. They lost their rights after that — the town of Banff, you see. But they got back their rights about six year ago. Got it back to what it was before. And he was tried and executed in the open. He was a great fiddler. He could play a violin, and he was hung in the open wi a cart. They took him up in a cart to the top o the Gallow Hill. There’s a street there at ye come down past it. Ye come past it yonder, thon brae as you come intae Banff. Well, intae your right, it was on the top of that street, they called the Gallow Hill — it was hung in a field. They hung him between two carts in a tree. There was a tree there. The tree’s away noo. But they hung him atween two carts and dropped him into the hole. Ay, that’s the way wi an outlaw. He was a —

Lomax: Well, what is this about the reprieve?

M[[a]]cBeath: The reprieve was — he was just at the — at eh — he would have been saved by ten minutes, but this Peter Broon, his right-hand man, turned King’s Evidence and went up and shifted the clock — the hands — put the hands up til — til ten o’clock. It was ten minutes to ten. He was goin to be hung at ten o’clock in the morning, so they put the hands up to ten o’clock and he was hung. And this reprieve was puttin [sent] away from Aberdeen on horseback, and his horse drapped dead at the bridge o Banff yonder — at the top o yon bridge— the same bridge. It’s about four hundred-year-old thon bridge. I believe it would be. And he ran up, all the way up the town and he was too late. He was four or five minutes late — or early, it was early, he would have been in time this page.

There was a page puttin away wi the reprieve. He’d have been — he’d have been saved by five or ten minutes. But when he went up they’d him [out to the neck] and hanged, and he says, “Henceforth,” he says, “that clock shall tell lies.” And it beats up the ten minutes ever since. That’s the clock on the plain stones. Not the clock wi the cu — wi the church, but the clock on the plain stones. He says, “Henceforth onward,” he says, “that clock shall tell lies.” And it always beats up the ten minutes yet.


On the transcript of this recording in the archives of the School of Scottish Studies, at the University of Edinburgh is the wry comment, “He put everything in for good measure, including a snatch of ‘The Trooper and the Maid.’” Jimmy’s verses 4, 5, and 6 are indeed an import from this latter ballad, Child No. 299, of a lass swiftly and eagerly seduced by a horse soldier who “gars all her ribbons reel” and then rides quickly away.

As I gaed doon tae Streechan toon

I heard a fair maid mournin.

An she wis makin sair complaint

For her true love ne’er returnin.

It’s Mormond’s Braes, whaur heather grous,

Whaur aft times I’ve been cheerie.

Mormond’s Braes, whaur heather growes,

An it’s there I loast my dearie.


So fare ye weel, ye Mormond’s Braes,

Whaur aft times I’ve bin cheerie.

Fare ye weel, ye Mormond’s Braes,

For there I loast my dearie.

I’ll pit on a goon o green,

It’s a forsaken token.

An that’ll let the young men know,

That the bans o love’s been broken.

For there’s mony’s a horse has tummult and fa’en. [tumbled]

An’ risen again fu sairly.

Mony a lad has loast his lass,

An gotten anither richt airly.

Will ye no come back again,

Will ye no come back an’ see me.

When the heather growes on yonder knowes,

I’ll aye come back an see ye.

Bonnie lassie, I’m nae awa tae leave ye yet,

Bonnie lassie, I’m nae awa tae leave ye.

When heather growes on yonder knowes,

I’ll aye come back an see ye.

For the drums cam beatin up the toon,

An ilkae beat got sharper.

Bonnie lassie, I’m nae awa tae leave ye yet,

Bonnie lassie, I’m nae awa tae leave ye.

When heather growes on yonder knowes,

I’ll aye come back an see ye.

Alan Lomax [[(spoken)]]: Go ahead.

[[Jimmy MacBeath (sings)]]:

For there’s as good fish into the sea

Or ever yet’s been taken,

So ah’ll cast ma min[20] intill again,

For I’ve[21] only aince forsaken.


Previously unreleased

A localized story that conflates two narrative elements found far and wide in British folklore. In one, sacrilegious thrill-seekers play cards on a Sunday in the haunted castle despite, the warnings of a mysterious figure, and are driven mad by what they then see. In the other, the teller has a vision of the devil claiming the area as his domain. Jimmy [[omit - MacBeath]] flounders at length, perhaps because he does not recall or understand some elements of the story he remembers being told.

Jimmy M[[a]]cBeath: Well, there was one time my grandfather told me a great, great story. In fact, it was a true story, and it happened to be in the town that — where I belong to — in the town of Portsoy. And there’s a castel there, not far away from Portsoy. It’s about four or five mile oot from Portsoy, and he told me the greatest story and I believe, that ever I heard in my life. He made my hair stand on end when he told me about it.

He says, “Laddie,” he says to us, “There was, there was one a [. . .] grocer — he kept a spirit and wine shop, McRobbie was his name. Now there was Georges — now there was Mearns — and the other was Johnston — and there was Alexander, and there were all that crowd went out. They went out to this castel every Sunday night tae worship the devil. And they used to crown a certain man there. I think it was Johnston or McRobbie. They used to crown him with the chamber — that was the chanty, the chamber pot — and they crowned him, they made him the devil, and they used to worship the devil.

Alan Lomax: How’d they do that?

M[aa]]cBeath: And of course, it was he was the crowned man. He was the head man, this McRobbie, he was the head leader. And they used to gamble with cards out there — out in that castel. And of course, there was one night, they went out — they went out — they went out three or four nights. They went out for ten year running, out to this castle, worshiping the devil. And they met a lady and she always vanished — this lady — in front of them. This lady says, “There’s twelve of you here in the bunch, and if you go down into this castel, into this room — in this castel and play the cards right, you won’t have to see the devil. But if you do not play the cards wrong — if you do play the cards wrong — you will sure meet the devil.”

So they went down and they played the cards the whole night. And those come back and the one didn’t tell tae the other. And when they went down this Sunday, they worshiped the devil, the devil appeared to them. The real devil, the real devil appeared to them. And this is when Portsoy was pretty young at the time — the town of Portsoy was pretty young at the time, and small — and he appeared to them. And he chased, he tummult, he come, appeared to them in the room and he upset the table, and everything, and they went home and they wouldn’t — and the one wouldn’t tell to the other, and next day — next morning, the shopman hanged himself — McRobbie. He was gotten hanged in his cellar — he hanged himself. And Johnston, he cut his throat. They all — they all got a bad death, they all committed suicide.

Lomax: How did they worship the devil? Did your grandfather tell you that? What they did?

M[[a]]cBeath: They believed, you see, they thought that the devil was more powerful than God.

Lomax: I know, but there are various things that people do when they worship the devil, and I wonder what these people did up there. Various dirty tricks that they do.

M[[a]]cBeath: You see, they, well, they — they were — well they were very tricky, this people. They were very — they were out for plunder, and everything, and they thought that the devil was more powerful. They thought that the, eh, what they believed — what the devil said to them — that they thought it was more handier and powerfuller.

Lomax: But you know, in order to, to placate the devil you have to pray in certain ways —.

M[[a]]cBeath: Well, they prayed, aye they prayed, they prayed, yes, they prayed, yes, they prayed every night. They prayed, aye they prayed, that’s right. Ah gone wrong. Ah yes, they prayed every night when they went out there. They prayed for the devil, they prayed and believed in him. They thought he was a god, he was a god, he was a god, a goddle[22], a goddle. And they thought that, aye, the devil was more powerfuller nor, nor, nor man nor God was, nor Goddle was himself. And they went out. It’s about a hundred years ago, close on a hundred, about seventy to eighty, one hundred years ago that this took place. And eh, they — they, they thought that, that the devil was more powerful and they believed what he said — what he said to them was more, was more handy and powerful than what the Goddle was.

Lomax: Eh, Jimmy, are there any haunted houses around your part of town?

M[[a]]cBeath: Yes, and when he went up, and when the devil, he appeared to them the next day — the next day he appeared. No, he appeared to them in the afternoon, in broad daylight, on the top of the hill, a place called Langie’s Braes. Langie’s Braes, Langside Hill. And he said, he — he — he shouted out and he put his arms right round and [the bigs, when he laid] this hill looked down on the top of Portsoy, called Langie’s Braes, and he cries, “Bonny Portsoy, you’re aa ma ain.” And he put oot his arms — he put his airms right round — he put his airms richt round aa the hale toon. Richt roon. The devil put his airms richt roon the hale toon. He says, “Bonny Portsoy, you’re aa ma ain.” He put his airms right round the whole town. An awful sight, his airms goin right roon the whole village, and he says, “Bonny Portsoy, you’re aa ma ain.” And he vanished out of sight.

The devil appeared to them and that was quite true and I believe that it happened right enough. On the top o Langie’s Braes, Langside Braes or Langside Hill. They call it Langie’s Braes, but it’s Langside Hill as they call it. Langside, the hill o Langside as they would call it. And he appeared to them on the top of the hill and he — o he had eyes like saucers. O what size o eyes he hed, great big eyes, and o what size o airms. His airms goed richt roond Portsoy, and that’s what he cried tae the town o, the people o Portsoy. He cried in a loud voice, in a great loud voice, he says, “Bonny Portsoy, you’re aa ma ain.”

11. THE DOWIE DENS O YARROW (Child No. 214)

Jimmy’s fine version of this ancient ballad from the Scottish Borders, which was found widely in the Northeast, omits the buildup to the fight: the nine noble suitors being challenged by one commoner who has been equipped for the battle by his beloved. Instead Jimmy stresses the tragedy of the loss. The tragic hero is a plowboy, perhaps one reason why the ballad was sung in the farms. Both Jimmy and Davie Stewart give the same name to the hero and the villain. Davie names him John, but Jimmy gives the puzzling name of “Joon,” and on one occasion “Jool.” Some texts name only the brother, others call the hero John and the brother George.

There was a lady of the north, you could scarcely find her marrow. [equal]

She was courted by nine noblemen and the ploughman boy of Yarrow.

As I looked o’er yon high high hill, and doon in yonder valley,

There did I spy nine noblemen sat a drinkin wine in Yarrow.

It’s three he drew, and three he slew, and three lay deadly wounded.

But my brother Joon, he come in behind and he pierced his body through.

Go home, go home, you false young man, and tell your sister sorrow.

That her true love Joon, he lies dead and gone in the dowie dens of Yarrow.[gloomy small valleys]

O, sister dear, I have dreamed a dream, and I think it will prove sorrow.

That your true love Jool, he lies dead and gone, a bloody corpse on Yarrow.

Her hair it was three quarters long, and the colour o it being yellow, [three quarters of a yard]

She has tied it roon his middle sma, and it’s carrit him hame from Yarrow.

O, father dear, thou got seven sons, you can wed them all tomorrow.

But a finer laddie I never saw lies a bloody corpse on Yarrow.

O, mother dear, it’s make my bed, an make it long and narrow.

There will I lie and will I die[23] for my ploughman boy of Yarrow.

Alan Lomax [spoken]: O, beautiful.

12. A THREED O BLUE SONG (Interview)

Previously unreleased

Robert Burns is credited with two lyrics for “John Anderson, My Jo.” One is polite praise of aged love, the other honest celebration of the carnal lust of a young wife for an older husband. Jimmy MacBeath’s verses draw a little from Burns, but are so startlingly basic that he is embarrassed to sing them onto tape. Such indecent songs were termed “thread of blue” songs. Now we refer to “blue movies.”

Alan Lomax: Who’s, who’s the meanest man you ever, the meanest person you ever met on the road, Jimmy? You must have run into some awful bastards.

Jimmy M[[a]]cBeath: Ah, well, there’s some awful —

Lomax: Policemen.

M[[a]]cBeath: Ah, there was a policeman — I was lifted one time, in the Town o Keith Show, and it was a wee bittie o blue you see, a threed o blue song that I was singin.

Lomax: What was that?

M[[a]]cBeath: Ah, well, a bittie blue kind, ye see.

Lomax: Well, sing it.

M[[a]]cBeath: It was a kinda, a kinda bluish kin, it was.

Lomax: It doesn’t matter.

M[[a]]cBeath: It was, it was, I just came away wi:


John Anderson, ma jo, John, you are a dirty devil.

Ye’ve muckle need tae wash yer airse and caimb yer hairy pizzle.

The crabs are crawlin roon aboot em and that ye’ll soon find noo.

For they’re richt up through yer shite bag, John Anderson ma jo.

John Anderson, ma jo, John, we’ve climbt the hills the gither,

And mony’s a canty rovin ride we’ve hid at [nane] anither.

But noo ye’re turnin auld, John, come, hand in hand we’ll go,

And we’ll fuck and fart till death depart[24], John Anderson my jo.

14. FINED FIVE POUNDS (Interview)

Previously unreleased

Spoken: And of course the policeman just [like] pit his hands richt on tae me right away. Right on the top of me right away. And I was ta’en in that nicht. And of course it happened tae be in the square. And if I hadnae shouted out in the square I was right, but it happened to be in the street. And of course I was lifted that nicht, and I just was ta’en up next mornin. And I got fined five pound or sixty days.

Lomax: God damn!

M[[a]]cBeath: Fined five pound or sixty days, that, that, that mornin, that was in the mornin after Keith Show. And there happened to be a butcher, at I was singin till in front, and he started his business with a five pound note. And I kent [knew] him long afore at. Well, he paid the whole fine. He paid, I did about four days in the prison, and he came up and he paid ma fine. And after he took me oot he gaed me aboot ten bob, and a great bit o slice o beef tae cook with. Well, I went doon tae the lodgin hoose and cooked it, and drunk his health wi it.

Lomax: a nice man.

M[[a]]cBeath: He was a nice mannie. He — he’s dead now. He’d a funny face. He’d a funny, he was born I think wi the, I think he got burnt in the face one time. And, eh, of course, he paid ma fine. A nice man he was. He, he come right, “Man,” he says, “Mac,” he says, “ah wiz very sorry for ye that nicht.” He says, “Mony hears you singin in front o my shop door.” And he says, “I told ye tae sing a lot o songs, but” he says, “that devils,” he says, “o ploomen asked ye tae sing a puckle blue sangs. And,” he says, “of course they got ye persuaded tae dee’t. And of course, ye got, I seen ye drinkin a lot o drams that nicht.” So ah did, I got a lot o drams frae them. And it was in the middle o the street, and I started tae sing that, that, that song.


Previously unreleased

This tune is called “Teribus,” and is the ancient town tune of the Borders town of Hawick, thought by some to be a pre-Christian invocation to the Norse gods Tyr and Odin. Border poet James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd (1770–1835) wrote 24 stanzas to the tune, a heroic tale of a flag won in glorious battle with the English and still displayed in Hawick. Hogg’s chorus is “Teribus, ye Teri-Odin. Sons of heroes slain at Flodden, / Imitating Border bowmen, Ay defend your rights and common.” Jimmy MacBeath learned the decidedly less heroic scrap he sings “long long ago from an old feller up that Great North.”

Teery bustin, teery awdin, I defy yer rights in common,

O’er the hedges you went creepin, stole the flag when they were sleepin.

Teery bustin, teery awdin, aa the sons that died in Flodden,

Aa the borders up an bobbin, ower the Borders an awa.


Previously unreleased

Jimmy M[[a]]cBeath: That time I went to eh, Fraserburgh, I started peddlin. Of course I came off wi the singin a while, then I had a turn at the peddlin. Of course, eh, it was bad tae get gear that time. Bad tae get eh, get, eh, we called it swag, we called the, the gear, that was eh, pirns o thread an needles an, an packets o preens [pins] an that. We called that swag at that time, we called it swag, you see. And it was a job tae get that gear, get that material, so I started peddlin. Wi a, wi a case. And sometimes I had a box too on my back, wi straps on it. Pit it on ma back and away I’d go peddlin, had a good turn o that, then I started the blacksmithin.

That was my own town where I belonged to. Course they’re all dead that, that I did the blacksmithin. I was about eighteen month at that, at blacksmithin. I was learnin to drive on shoes, sheen, drive on sheen, horse sheen at that time. Horseshoes that they pronounce [. . .]

Alan Lomax: And what happened?

M[[a]]cBeath: And then I — then — the, the, the — I — I got fed up of that. It was too hard, and I said, och, I’d like a lighter job. So I went away travelin again, away on the tramp again. So I took a harvest, a harvest, and I was about six weeks at the harvestin. I got five pound for my six weeks. I had tae work the whole six weeks for five pound. It was harvest wages at that time.

Lomax: When was that?

M[[a]]cBeath: That was away back afore the 1914 war.


Previously unreleased

There are several popular songs about the Forty-second Highland Regiment, also called the Black Watch from the dark Government tartan they wore. They were formed in 1739 to keep dissident Highland clans in order. One would also expect there to be a few songs about the Gordon Highlanders, the local regiment of the Northeast, in which both Jimmy MacBeath and Davie Stewart served, but they are lacking. This lighthearted theatrical song, with its listing of Scots regiments, shows Jimmy’s warm and winning way with comic songs other than those of farm life. Some of the audience have a different opinion on the end of the second line of the chorus.

It is noo I am a weaver, an they call me Jaickie Broon.

I ainst wis a weaver, and ah lived in Maxwell toon. [once]

Noo ah’ve joint the sodjers, tae Perth ah’m gaun awa,

Tae jine the Hieland regiment, the gallant Forty-twa.


You may talk aboot your First Royal Scottish Fusiliers,

Your Aiberdeen Mileesha, an your dandy volunteers, [militia]

Seaforths in their stickit kilts, yer Gordons big and braw. [stitched]

Gae bring tae me the tartan o the gallant Forty-twa.

O, the very first day on parade was a lot o raw recruits.

The sergeant he got on to me for aye lookin at my boots.

He tapped me on the shouder and says, “Lad, you’ll come awa,

For I think you’re gaun tae mak a mess o the gallant Forty-twa.”

O it's eence oot on manoeuvres the sergeant said to me,

“You’ll oot aboot an you’ll scoot aboot and you’ll see whit you can see.

But if you keep your heid aye bobbin up, sure you’ll gie us aa awa,

For you’ve got the biggest napper in the gallant Forty-twa.” [head]

When the bugle sounded and dinner time’s come roon,

When I sat at the table, aye they handed me a spoon.

Roond cam th’ orderly officer and turnt his heid awa,

Sayin “You are the biggest glutton in the gallant Forty-twa.”

[Spoken (unidentified man?)]?: Good, Jim.


Previously unreleased

Jimmy M[[a]]cBeath: And then I —

Alan Lomax: What part of the army were you in?

M[[a]]cBeath: I was in the Gordons. And then I was in the RAMC, the medical corps, the Royal Army Medical Corps. And I got transferred into the Gordons, I went in, eh, a fightin unit. And ah went tae France. I got wounded in a place called Passchendaele Ridge. And I come back—

Lomax: How did you like the Frenchwomen?

M[[a]]cBeath: O, they were good, o, my god, they were —

Lomax: What did you say to them?

M[[a]]cBeath: O, I used to say, “Comment allez vous, mademoiselle?” I used to say, “Comment allez vous?” I said, “ Long promenade five francs, mademoiselle.” She says, “Oui, oui.” I says, “Tres bon, bon sanc, tres bon mizzour.”

Lomax: And, uh, did they like your kilts?

M[[a]]cBeath: O, aye. They wanted to, they wanted souvenirs. They even wanted to take — they wanted even to buy the kilt off of me. And of course I had no underpants there. Sometimes ye had underpants, but — They used tae pit their hand up my kilt. And ah didn’t like it, of course, especially in daylight in the street. But of course it was a common thing to them and, of course, I was sometimes affrontit, wi them, plestering aboot it like that. Of course I begun tae get tipsy one night, and some of them would get in and get round about me that way. So I used to correspond wi the girls. Ach, I got, I got upset one day and, och, I says, “Here goes nothing, we’ll just —” I had two of them, two French girls that night. O, they were all right, but they were very verocious[25] sometimes. Very verocious. Terrible, they seem to be that, the French people’s more hot in the blood. More hot-blooded nor they are on this side altogether.

Lomax: Yeah?

M[[a]]cBeath: Very fiery. Very fiery.

Lomax: How do you mean, they got verocious?

M[[a]]cBeath: Well, they got outrageous sometimes. They got too verocious, like they were hot in the blood, you see, I mean to say, they — And eh, then I cam back from France, after I got wounded. I came right back into Scotland again, I got my discharge in a placed called the [Olympia], that’s Edinburgh. So I got ma ticket [discharge from the army] and come home again, and then I went away tae Canada. I says, I’d like a trip across tae Canada. They thought tae tell me that the streets was paved with gold there. And of course I got swelled headed, I believed in that, at that time I did believe in it. And I went across but I found different stories, that the streets wasn’t paved with gold at all. But I got a job over there, at the lumbering camp at a place called Halifax, Novy Scoshy, and I left that and went till a penting job, penting trawlers.


Previously unreleased

Irishman Patrick M’Caffrey joined the Thirty-second Cornwall Light Infantry (not the Forty-second or the Forty-seventh) and at Fulwood Barracks near Preston on September 14, 1861, he shot and killed Colonel Hugh Crofton and Adjutant Captain John Hanham with the same bullet. He was hanged in public in front of Kirkdale Gaol at Liverpool, on January 11, 1862, before a crowd of over 30,000 people.

Several ex-soldiers have said that, far from being banned, the song about the incident was the most popular one sung in barracks. Liverpool is 20 miles from Preston. Does Jimmy give the game away that he is inventing the story with his last remark? The fine tune is also used for the great Irish ballad “The Croppy Boy” and for “Lady Frankin’s Lament.”

Alan Lomax: Go ahead. Tell me first.

Jimmy M[[a]]cBeath: Well, McCafferty was a great soldier, and it was in Fulwood Barracks, and eh, he was on guard one night, and this time that he was on beat and a lot of children come to play, you see, and he told them to come away off his guard. And there was a woman there, a young lady, she come on till his beat and, he told her to go away. So, she wouldn’t go away, so he chased her right down to get away frae his beat, and he chased her richt down off his beat down the street and, of course, the captain come on the scene, and eh he took his name and everything. He was told to take the children’s name, and he was telt to take the, he was told to take the woman’s name but he only took three, against his will, you see, and eh he was apprehended right away off his guard and he was tried and —

Lomax: Why did he eh, why was he apprehended? What did the captain accuse him of?

M[[a]]cBeath: Accused him for not doing his duty right. He was told to take the children’s name and he wouldn’t take but one.

Lomax: Um hmm.

M[[a]]cBeath: You see, and the captain apprehended him, so he took a dislike to the captain. Took a dislike to the captain.

Lomax: He got tried, he got sent to the guardhouse for that?

M[[a]]cBeath: Yes, yes, and he got sent to the guardroom, and then instead a — instead a shooting his captain, he was going to take a rifle and shoot the captain, and hap — the captain and the colonel was passing, in the square, but it happened to be that the captain passed first and he let bang, he thought it was the captain and he shot his colonel, he shot the colonel dead.

Lomax: God! And then what happened to him?

M[[a]]cBeath: And then the song starts, you see.

Lomax: Come on.


Previously unreleased

Come all you soldiers, come listen to my sad tale,

As here I lie in Carrick Street Jail.

It’s my sad feelings no one can tell,

As here I lie in my condemned cell.

I was scarcely eighteen years of age,

And to the army I’d engage.

I left my fantry[26] with good content

To join the Forty-seventh Regiment.

To Fulwood Barracks I there did grow,

To serve few days in that depot.

As I was placed on guard one day

When some children children cam there to play.

From the officers’ quarters my captain came

And ordered me to take their parents’ name.

As I took one instead o three,

For neglect of duty Captain Hammond charged me.

Into the guardroom I did go,

Vowing vengeance with my heart o’erflown,

With a loaded rifle I did prepare

To shoot my captain on the barracks square.

I took my aim, it was deadly there,

When Captain Hammond passed the Gordons[27] Square,

I shot my colonel against my will,

And that was how I was tried in Walton Jail.

O, I have no father tae take my part,

Nor yet a mother to break her heart,

When the judge he [did’n] said, “McCafferty,

Prepare yourself for the gallows tree.”

Come all you soldiers who come this way,

And raise your hats on McCafferty.

And all you soldiers who pass this way,

Say, “The Lord have mercy on McCafferty.”

21. I’D GET SHOT (Interview)

Previously unreleased

Alan Lomax: Good gracious, that’s a beautiful song, Jimmy. A beautiful song. Who composed it, anyway? Do you think McCafferty made it himself?

Jimmy M[[a]]cBeath: O, I couldn’t say if McCafferty was there, I couldn’t, I couldn’t say that I —

Lomax: Where did you learn it?

M[[a]]cBeath: I learned it was when I was in the army, but it was — it was persuaded,[28] it was — it was — it’s persuaded yet. You don’t sing it in the army.

Lomax: Why not?

M[[a]]cBeath: No, you don’t sing that in the army, you get the jail. I sung it one time in a street in Peterhead, in the town of Peter — And I was running, and they chased me all over the shop, the policemen was — o there was about five of them, I sung it right up the place called the Landgate in Peterhead. And, I was all out, in the top notcher, and the policemen, and they said, “Mac, here’s the policeman after you.”

So I run richt up, and I run intil a wumman’s washing hoose, and, my God, they got me there and I was sittin, and the weemin was washin, standin washin, and, I’ll never forget that. And eh, the weemin says, “My God, laddie, what’s adae wi you? You gaed me a fright, you gaed me an awful fright.” I says, “There’s a policeman,” I says. “They’re comin to apprehend me, they’re comin tae lift me, they’re comin tae lift me for for singing McCafferty in the street.” “O,” she says, “my God,” she says, “You should never have sung that,” she says, “That’s a — that’s against the British Army, that, that’s against the government and the British Army.”

Lomax: And they were bound to get you, were they?

M[[a]]cBeath: Aye, they got me, and they tried me, aye they tried me and I got off for ten shillings, I got a fine of ten shillings, in the town of Peterhead, for singing that then. They told me not to sing —

Lomax: What did they accuse you of?

M[[a]]cBeath: They caught me for singing a slur against the, the British Army. It was, it’s no supposed to be sung in the British Army, it’s no supposed to be sung nowhere, [. . .] Not supposed in the street there. Supposin I was out in the street there, they’d have me. I don’t know for here but they’d have me up in the north there and eh, I got off for ten shillings o a fine.

Lomax: What would happen to you if you sang it in the army?

M[[a]]cBeath: Ah, I’d get worse: I’d get shot.


Previously unreleased

Alan Lomax: I know, but I don’t understand how it is that you yourself never got hitched up. You’re a handsome enough man, you’ve —

Jimmy M[[a]]cBeath: Well, I don’t know, I don’t know how it was that I didn’t get married, that — I’ve been very near married, many’s the time, but I wasn’t so, so far advanced as get tied up. I did get very near tied up, at one time. But that girl went away with another boy, you see, and I was lost then. Didn’t get much chance of doing that. Never thought, never come across my mind to do that.

Lomax: Never thought of getting married?

M[[a]]cBeath: Never thought of getting married, no.

Lomax: You always could correspond with women easy enough, without marriage?

M[[a]]cBeath: O, yes. Yes. I likit the Canadian women, too, they were good, the Canadian women. It was French, it was a French province, you see, they were all French Canadians there. It was very good, them that was there, that ah saw, them that ah come across was very good. Of course you’ll get the good and bad all over the world. I expect you will do. But the ones that I come across was very good and some of them pretty tricky, too. Very bad, too, but I never got into contact with much of them.

So I come back from that, and that was the way it happened in 1920 — that was in 1920. I come back from Canada that time.


Previously unreleased

Up until 1582 the area of Dundee now called the Magdalene Green was called Maidlane Geir. The older pronunciation lives on in this song. The green is still there, a grassy stretch near the north bank of the wide River Tay. This song is, unusually, from the repentant sailor’s viewpoint.

“It’s here am I a sailor boy, just newly come from sea.

My ship lies at the anchor in the harbour o Dundee,

Yer face it is the fairest that ever I hev seen.

Fair maiden, will ye walk wi me down by the Madlin Green?”

With a roguish smile upon ’er face the lass answered me and said,

“Kind sir, I’d go along wi you, but you know that I’m afraid.

The paths, they are so slippery, and the nichts sae caul and keen,

And you know it wouldn’t do for me tae fall down by the Madlin Green.”

With some kind words and promises the lassie gave consent.

We wanert here, we wanert there, on lovely pleasant bent. [wandered]

Day after day we met and roamed about yon lovely scene.

I’m afraid this maid had mony’s a fall down by the Madlin Green.

But soon my time for parting came, my ship, she hoisted sail.

No longer could I meet my girl and tell’s o pleasant tale.

I sang, “Farewell tae old Dundee where happy I hae been.”

An ah left my girl alone tae walk down by the Madlin Green.

As I lay in my berth one night when weary watch was done,

I dreamt I was the father of a darlin little son.

And there her mother right plainly it’s there it could be seen,

For she was weeping bitterly down by the Madlin Green.

But when my boat’s put in again in the harbour o Dundee,

I’ll search the town all up and down for my girl I can see.

Ah’ll ask her to forgive me for a rascal I hae been,

And we will make it up again down by the Madlin Green.

Come, all ye jolly young sailor boys, a warnin take by me,

Never dowsh a poor young girl an lave her in poverty. [despite?]

Tae court a girl, then sail away, it’s neither calm nor clean,

And never do as I have done down by the Madlin Green.

Alan Lomax [spoken]: O, that’s a beautiful song, Jimmy.


Previously unreleased

This is a sentimental product of the “Kailyard” school of nineteenth-century poetasters, who took the floweriest and most sugary aspects of the work of Robert Burns and imitated him relentlessly till they almost choked Scots song altogether. But it has a nice tune and is eminently singable!

It’s weel ah mind the joys we had

In youth’s bright sunny days.

When we were pu’in buttercups

On Carkin’s[29] flowery braes. [hillsides]

But better weel ah mind the time

When first ma hert ta’en low [alight].

I was dappin[30] wi my Jessie

In the aul quarry knowes. [knolls]


In the aul quarry knowes,

In the aul quarry knowes,

1 was dappin wi my Jessie

In the aul quarry knowes.

Years ago I used to think

The bellman he got fu. [full: drunk]

He towed the bell at ten o’clock, [tolled]

I cwidna think it true. [couldn’t]

I cwidna say, “Good-bye, ma love,”

Till I heard the hintmaist tow. [hindmost]

I was sweir tae leave my Jessie [reluctant and sad]

In the aul quarry knowes.

Weel I mind the time we sat

On yon mossy steen. [stone]

We sat and watched the wagglie-tail

Beckon to his bride.

But never I shall forget the day

I slipped away unseen.

O farewell to my Jessie

In the aul quarry knowes.

Noo those days have passed and gaen

And aul grey beard at times.

When he pit years upon her head

Are far beyond her prime.[31]

But I never shall forget the day

Though my hair be like the tow, [white flax fiber]

O dappin an the coortin

In the aul quarry knowes.


Previously unreleased

This is a beautiful, much-loved and much sung song of the humble plow lad and the handsome daughter of the high and mighty farmer. Jimmy’s tenth and eleventh verses were not known to the Greig-Duncan informants. Volume 7 of the Greig-Duncan collection tells us that “Isabel Morison, the heroine of the song, was born at Boghead, 20/11/1823. Her illegitimate son, James, was born on 16/6/1843, the father being James Stephen.”

It’s a plooman I engaged tae work for met and fee. [meat, food]

It was there Bogheid o Cyarnie, it was there I did [ogree].

Noo Bogie hed a daughter, her name was Isabelle,

She wis the primrose o this native land and none could her excel.

One night as her [preramble] she choosed me for her guide,

To watch the small fish sweeming in Cyarnie’s burnie side.

I slipped my airms aroon her waist, and fae her feet did slide,

And there she lay contentit on Cyarnie’s burnie side.

But when her father heard of this, he swore he was [none dull[32]]

Says, “You beguiled my daughter, my sorrows has begun.”

For it’s nine lang months has past and gone, she brought to me a son,

And I was quickly sent for tae see what could be done.

They said that I wid marry her, but o that widna dee.

Sayin, “You are nae a match for her, nor her nae match for thee.”

But if she gets anither match, her father, he can tell

That Geddes got the maidenheid o Bogie’s bonny Belle.

But noo she’s merrit tae a tinsmith and lives in Huntly toon,

Maks naphty lamps and ladles, aye till all the country roon. [naptha]

For the powers above protect this girl, and keep her aye in [pine].

And keep her all from danger who has this heart of mine.

And keep her aye contentit, and always free from pride.

And I’ll return till Bogie’s lands on the crooked burnie side.

For it’s nine lang month has past and gone, auld Geddes, he can tell,

For noo she’s Mistress Bowman, nae mair she’s Bogie’s Belle.

Alan Lomax [spoken]: O, that’s a beauty, Jimmy. O, that’s smashing!


Previously unreleased

Another cornkister written and composed by G. S. Morris. Jimmy has lost a verse that shows that the indignant lad is enticed by the thought of milking alongside the dairymaid, not along with the auld wife as Jimmy’s revised and rather muddled text has it.

Jimmy M[[a]]cBeath [spoken]: What song was it?

Alan Lomax: The one you were just singing a while ago.

M[[a]]cBeath: That ane?


It wis on ae Martinmas market day, when the snow lay on the groun,

When a fairmer he walked up to a lad, and he offered him ten poun.

“Ye hev neeps tae pluck and ye’ve nowt tae muck, and a hunder other jobs forby. [turnips, cattle, as well]

And seein the gweedwif,e she’s laid doon, ye winna mind milkin the kye, [farmer’s wife, cows]

Ye winna mind milkin the kye.”

Out spoke the lad, o, he wis mad. “Fit is that you said?

That you’d mak me, a farmer’s boy, not to a dairymaid?

O, yer neeps ah’ll pluck and yer nowt ah will muck, and dee ony ither job forby.

But tak in hand tae be a dairymaid or milk yer bloomin kye,

Or milk yer bloomin kye.”

“O, haud yer tongue,” the fairmer said, “and nae mak sic a soon.

Here, tak ye the shillin, and say nae mair, afore a crood gaithers roon.

Bit mind ye’ve neeps tae pluck and ye’ve nowt tae muck and a handful ither jobs forby.

And seein the gweedwife she’s laid doon, ye winna mind milkin the kye,[33]

Ye winna mind milkin the kye.”

O, the laddie said, wi a froon on his broo, “O, that is aa very weel.

Bit I maun hae mair [warnin] than that afore I enter yer door.

O, yer neeps I wunna pluck, nor yer nowt I wunna muck, nor ony ither jobs forby.

And if the gweedwife she cams alang wi me, we’ll very soon milk yer kye,

We’ll very soon milk yer kye.”

Noo, the laddie arrived wi his pooches fou, and a chackie on his back,[pockets, striped cotton bag]

When he spied the fairmer wi an awfu ugly dame, it’s ha’en a quare crack.[chat]

“That’ll be the gweedwife,” the laddie thocht, “ah’m gled she’s nae laid doon,

For ah dinna wint tae start the milkin yet afore I see the toon,

Afore I see the toon.”

Noo the fairmer said, “Yer supper is, and that’s yer supper laid.

And there’s the gweedwife, she’ll come alang wi you and help you wi yer dairymaid.”

“O yer neeps ah winna pluck, nor yer nowt ah winna muck, nor dee ony ither jobs forby,

It’s a wonner that a woman wi a face like that, she disna pit yer coos aa dry.

So noo ah’ll bid ye baith good-bye.”


Previously unreleased

At an event that was a crucial landmark for the Scottish folk-song revival, the 1951 ceilidh of the Edinburgh People’s Festival, Jimmy sings almost the same text as he sings on track one, but in his public performance style, not conversationally to the microphone. He sings a different order of verses and omits the verse that begins “Ah’m aften roond by Gallawa or doon aboot Stranraer.” You can hear the enjoyment and high excitement of the audience as riches of Scots song they had thought long lost were being laid before them.

[DNS Query: Matt, the speed of the tape is clearly a little faster on this song, making Jimmy’s voice sound different. Can this be fixed, or should it be commented on?]



Ford, Robert. Vagabond Songs and ballads of Scotland. Paisley, Scotland: Alexander Gardner, 1904.

The Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection. Shuldham-Shaw, Patrick and Emily Lyle et al., eds. Edinburgh: Mercat Press, 1980. Seven volumes published to date.

Henderson, Hamish. Alias MacAlias: Writing on Songs, Folk and Literature. Edinburgh: Polygon, 1992.

Herd. David. Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs: Heroic Ballads Et.Volume Two. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1973 (Reprint).

Kerr’s “Buchan” Bothy Ballads: by G S Morris. 2 volumes. Glasgow: James S Kerr, 1956 and 1957.

Kerr’s “Cornkisters”: (Bothy Ballads) as sung and recorded by Willie Kemp. Glasgow: James S. Kerr, 1950.

Musical Traditions. Internet magazine (

Ord’s Bothy Songs and Ballads: of Aberdeen, Banff, and Moray Angus and the Mearns. Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers, 1990.

Porter, James and Herschel Gower. Jeannie Robertson: Emergent Singer, Transformative Voice. East Linton, Scotland: Tuckwell, 1995.

Robinson, Mairi, editor in chief. The Concise Scots Dictionary. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1985.

Scottish Tradition Series, booklets published in Edinburgh, jointly by Greentrax Recordings and the School of Scottish Studies, to accompany the CDs of the same names.

Volume 1, Bothy Ballads: Music from the North-East.

Volume 5, The Muckle Sangs: Classic Scots Ballads.


Original field recordings produced and recorded by Alan Lomax in 1957

Collection Producers: Anna L. Chairetakis and Jeffrey A. Greenberg
Portraits Series Editor: Matthew Barton

Portrait Essay by Hamish Henderson

Introduction, Song notes, and Transcriptions by Ewan McVicar

Sound Restoration / Mastering Producer: Steve Rosenthal
Mastered at the Master Cutting Room, NYC, by Phil Klum

Production Coordinator: Matthew Barton
Art Direction and Design: Jay Sylvester Design Inc.


Associate Editor: Ellen Harold

Editorial Consultant: Carole McCurdy

Series Coordinator for Rounder Records: Bill Nowlin
Collection Consultants: Bess Lomax Hawes and Gideon D'Arcangelo

Special Thanks: Linda McVicar, Joe Brescio, Elliot Hoffman, and Hunter College of the City of New York

Every effort has been made to make these historic recordings sound as good as they did

when they were made