This page celebrates the work, books and songs of Sheila Douglas of Scone, an extraordinary bonny fechter on behalf of Scotland's traditions in song and storytelling.

The site was set up in particular to share with you the latest book Sheila has written, a biography about another great champion of Scots tradition, Arthur Argo of Aberdeen. Sheila wrote the book some years ago but to her great regret was unable to find a publisher, and told me this when I interviewed her for my Eskimo Republic book. She has become very unwell, but in late 2011 I visited her, and she and her sons gave me permission to put her unedited text online. Various helpful people have suggested ways the ms can eventually be published.

When I looked through the manuscript, I found that it fell into two pieces. One is a biography of Arthur. The other, in two chapters late in the ms, is a detailed account of the highly influential folklore magazine Chapbook that Arthur created and published for several years in the 1960s, with Sheila's detailed accounts of and comments on some of the articles and other material, plus her own reflections on and anecdotes about issues raised in the magazine.

However, when I at last managed to make contact with Arthur Argo's family they requested that the ms be removed from this site until some editorial improvements can be made, so I have done this.

Ewan McVicar, April 2012

Still no movement by Arthur's family, who insisted the ms must exclude aspects of Arthur's later life, and must include tributes from Billy Connolly and Aly Bain. Good luck with that. I did manage to extract Sheila's work on some 1960s P&J articles by Arthur about beginning to collect songs. These, with a CD of Arthur's work from the School of Scottish Studies, were published as a limited edition booklet for Aberdeen Folk Club.

Ewan, February 2017


Sheila, a stalwart activist for and champion of Scotland's traditional culture in several spheres - folk club organiser, ballad singer, songmaker, author, Scottish Arts Council member, writer, storyteller and more - is a retired teacher living in Scone, Perth since 1960. Dr Sheila Douglas, she studied for her PHD degree at Stirling University.

The following is a chapter is from Sheila's book 'The Sang's The Thing.

The west of Scotland is also the part where I grew up, living in Renfrew, but with strong family links with Ayrshire. My father worked on the River Clyde, and its busy traffic of big ships, pleasure steamers, tugs, scows and fishing boats and the oily, metallic smell of a ship's engine-room figure large in my childhood recollections. The streets of Glasgow were, in my imagination, places where wonders were to be seen, where danger seemed to stalk and where the whole world seemed to jostle and throng. Music always played a big part in my life, and singing came as naturally to me as breathing. I can't imagine what my life would have been without songs and the Folk Music Revival that began in the Sixties was one of-the greatest life-enhancing experiences I have had.

I was born on 19th June 1932 in Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire where my mother came from, in a tall, thin house with three floors and a cellar with a copper boiler and a clanking mangle, and an outside lavatory. My mother had grown up in Ayrshire , where her father had worked as a blanket weaver. She met my father there in his native Dalry.
He'd gone to sea as a marine engineer and, when I was born, he was on the Indian Ocean and the China Seas, from which he brought back beautiful ornaments and china. I didn't see him until I was three, when he came home on leave and never went back. He spent the next two years trying to get a decent job ashore in engineering. In the end, his father's cousin got him a job on the Clyde as a chief engineer on one of the Clyde
Trust's hopper barges. He worked there until he retired.
In Sowerby Bridge, the house was always full of people singing - everything from Handel's 'Messiah' to 'Keep the Home Fires Burning'. There was an old-fashioned pedal organ which my mother could play, and she sang too. When I tried it, of course, it would only groan and wheeze - a great disappointment to me. I could sing, however, and did, I'm told, night and day. We were staying in my Grandma's house, my grandfather having died before my parents married. Grandma sang old music-hall songs like 'Two Little Girls in Blue' and 'The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo', and she told me a long-running, never-ending serial story about a fairy who lived at the top of a tree. My mother's Uncle Wilfred sang 'Why Do the Nations so Furiously Rage Together?' and 'The Bold Gendarmes' along with her cousin, Ernest Ainsley. Outside in the street, I learned 'The Big Ship Sails on the Eeli-alli-O'. I've also a vivid memory of boys singing in the street what I later recognised as a First World War parody of 'Little Redwing', an American pop song of the time:
Oh the sun shines bright on Charlie Chaplin
His boots are cracking for want of blacking,
And his little baggy trousers they'll need mending
Before we send him to the Dardanelles.
We moved to Renfrew when I was nearly five and my brother was only five months old, and it was like moving to another planet. Our house was newly built in 4930s style, a semi-detached in a scheme that was not completed when the Second World War broke out. The ground was flat and although we were between Babcock and Wilcox engineering works and the Rolls-Royce factory at Hillington, nevertheless there were green fields nearby. It couldn't have been more different from hilly Sowerby Bridge, although even there, from where we lived, we could see the moors, where I loved to go for a picnic and to run among heather and gorse.
I went to school at Moorpark Public School and, because I'd been to a nursery school in Sowerby Bridge and could read, write and count, I was put into a class with children older than myself. Someone made fun
of my Yorkshire accent and I bit her, which, needless to say, didn't make me popular! However, I did my own thing and tried not to let the opposition worry me.
When the War broke out in 1939,I was seven years old and didn't really understand what was happening, excePt that it was exciting. I remember the day it was announced on the radio: I could see that my parents were upset and, when I asked what was happening, was told that the War had begun. I danced about the house crying, "The War's on! The War’s on!” as if it were some kind of gala and was somewhat puzzled when my father skelped me! During the War, my pals and I had put on back-garden concerts to raise money for Salute the Soldier or Wings for Victory and we sang all the Vera Lynn, Bing Crosby and Carmen Miranda hits. At school, I loved the French and German songs we learned in the language class. I had a curious experience with the French song 'Ma
Normandie. When we learned it, I knew it already! I've never been able to explain in that. I became interested in the music of other countries as well, partly through playing 'The National Anthems of the Allies' like they did on the radio quite often. When I got the chance, I would sit at the piano and sing songs from my mother's Morven Collection of Scots songs, Kennedy-Fraser Hebridean songs (I knew no better), French songs, Schubert songs, pop songs, hymns - anything that could be sung - and, of course, I made my own songs. Soldiers were billeted in our school, so the school had to move into local church halls. You didn't move from Primary Three to Primary Four, you moved from St Margaret's to Trinity.
One night, my father came in from visiting a workmate nearby and remarked on there being a full moon. "What a night for a raid!" he said. He’d hardly spoken when the sirens sounded. That was the start of the Clydebank blitz. For two nights, my mother, my brother and I sheltered under an iron bedstead against the ground-floor back wall of my Grandma's bedroom and listened to the ominous vroom, vroom of German bombers overhead, heard the crump of bombs falling and the roar and rattle of the anti-aircraft guns that were concentrated in the Glasgow area after the first night. My father took me out on the front porch, where he kept watch all night, to see the searchlights and the tracer bullets making their patterns in the sky. After the second night, my father evacuated us to Ayrshire.
The Clydeside blitz interrupted my schooling in Renfrew, but my few months at Dalry School, when we stayed with my aunt and uncle, seemed to stimulate me to do even better. I was dux of the primary school and, later on, dux of Renfrew High School, from where I went on to the famous - or infamous - Paisley Grammar School on a bursary. Most of my friends went on to Camphill Secondary and I experienced the effects of both snobbery and inverted snobbery. One lot of people started speaking to me and another lot stopped. I felt they were both equally silly. For me, social class didn't figure in my scheme of things. It still doesn’t. Like Burns's 'man of independent mind', I look and laugh at aa that.
At Paisley Grammar, I pursued a heavily academic course of five Highers, none of which were my two favourite subjects, Art and Music. These were fripperies for those who weren't able for the real world, according to the educational outlook of the time. I continued to sing, play the piano and compose songs and tunes out of school. Maybe it's just as well that I didn't take music as a school subject, since the school music course was all about classical music, which I loved although I knew there were other kinds just as interesting and valuable.
With the help of grants and a lot of sacrifice on the part of my parents, I went from Paisley Grammar to Glasgow University in 1950-51, the Fifth Centenary Year, and the year during which the Stone of Destiny was
recovered from Westminster Abbey. To say it was an exciting time is an understatement. I joined the International Club and met all kinds of people from many countries, including my husband Andrew. We
marched together in the torchlight procession from Glasgow Cross to Gilmorehill and attended the famous Rectorial Installation of Nationalist John McCormick during which the ermine robes of the Glasgow Council
got covered in eggs, flour and tomatoes from the battling factions in the hall. 'What a disgraceful sight for the overseas visitors at the ceremony!' wailed the papers. Like hell! The overseas visitors were returning the
missiles and enjoying it hugely! There was some expectation that the Stone would turn up at the Rectorial, and indeed, burly CID men ineffectively disguised as students had infiltrated the hall, and at one point we all thought it was happening. But when something like the Stone made its appearance, it was carried in by two characters in ballet skirts and bowler hats, who opened it up and distributed Coca-Cola from it amid gales of laughter.
At the International Club, I became responsible for organising the Saturday evening entertainment, which usually took the form of coaxing, brow-beating or bullying the students of any one nationality into putting on a programme of music, dance or whatever from their own native tradition. The easiest night was the African Night: as long as I could get the African students to come along, we were assured of great entertainment. No rehearsal, no special instruments, no reluctance for them.
They were natural performers, able to create irresistible drum rhythms from table-tops and bits of wood, graceful and exuberant in the dance, amazing in vocal harmony, drawing everybody into their joyful celebration of life and living, in which I felt then as I still feel now, the heartbeat of the human race. I enjoyed other music too, the calypsos of the West Indians, the subtle ragas of the Bengalis, haunting Jewish music, beautiful
songs from the Greek Islands, American country music, Scandinavian hopsas, passionate Arab laments and love songs, Nigerian High Life, French ballads and songs from Poland, Hungary and Italy. It seemed to me that there was hope for world peace if only people would let music show them how to enjoy life. Naive perhaps, but I was young then.
After I had left University and tholed my year at Jordanhill, I taught in Glasgow for four years before getting married and moving to Perth in 1959. I’ve never stopped feeling how lucky I am to live in such a bonnie
part of the country. During that time, I was aware of the skiffle craze that was to be one of the triggers of the Folksong Revival, the songs of Lonnie Donnegan, which my brother liked, and tlose of Burl lves. But it was
only after the birth of my elder son that I became involved with the Folk club that had just started locally. Most people were singing Bob Dylan songs or Tom Paxton songs: protest was in the air, the Joan Baez Songbook was on sale, the guitar was de rigueur. The Corries appeared on the scene and I liked their spirited renderings of Scottish songs. Then I heard a singer with a sensitive voice and a charismatic style, called Archie Fisher. The Folk club night became the highlight of the week, with new discoveries coming thick and fast: Ewan McColl unforgettably singing 'The Cruel Mother' and opening up the world of ballads to me, Matt McGinn showing me the possibilities of songwriting and, most important ofall, the Stewarts of Blair with their uninhibited unaccompanied singing that showed me that I didn't need a guitar. I began singing at the club and at other clubs too, in Dundee, Stirling, Leuchars, St Andrews, Edinburgh, Forfar, Irvine, Elgin and Buckhaven. It was during this period that fire destroyed the Michael Colliery in which many of the members of the Buckhaven Club worked, and I wrote a song about it.
At a New Year reunion at Buckhaven Folk club after the disaster, I had to sing that song. It was an experience I'll never forget. It convinced me forever that song tradition is not just a source of entertainment but an expression of humanity. Norman Buchan and Peter Hall didn't put my song into the Scottish Folksinger because they said it was too pessimistic. But I had several songs published, in Chapbook, the folk magazine, and
in Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger's New City Songster.
In the 1960s, Perth Folk Club met in the County Hotel to begin with, but later moved to York House Hotel, then to the Plough Inn, where it stayed and flourished for six years. Luckily, there were few real disasters and an awful lot of great nights. Every Tuesday night, I compered the evening and enjoyed hearing all the guest artists who wwere classified at that time as 'traditional' or 'contemporary'. Both of these terms were somewhat vague. 'Traditional' could mean anything from an unaccompanied ballad to a group of people with instruments, harmonising on Johnny Cope'. 'Contemporary' sometimes meant a good, recently written song, but more often an introspective wallow in juvenile emotions, described by Ian Campbell as 'the wet-dream school of song-writing'. There were many people using the Folk Revival as a stepping-stone into the world of show business, like Billy connolly, Barbara Dickson and even the Corries, who soon deserted the clubs for the more commercial (and lucrative) solo concert circuit. Unaccompanied singers were looked at somewhat askance, until Hamish Henderson and the Traditional Music and Song Association gave a platform to people like Jeannie Robertson, Willie Scott, the Stewarts and Jimmy MacBeath, the source singers whose influence was to revolutionise the Revival in Scotland. During this time, I also guested at other clubs and at festivals,
won singing and songwriting competitions, ran concerts, published the Scone Ceilidh Songbook, started a small magazine called Folk News, started the Scottish Folk Directory, which I was to edit for twenty years, and
organised three festivals in Perth as part of Perth Festival of the Arts.
After I gave up running the Folk Club, I became active in the TMSA, running ceilidhs and helping to run festivals, eventually serving five years as Chairman.
My song bag was full of all kinds of songs, as it had always been, and I've written a wide variety. of songs too. I loved to sing the old storytelling ballads like 'Johnny o' Braidislie' and 'Eppie Morrie', and learned songs from Belle Stewart, whom I first met in the Sixties, and with whom I’m still good friends. 'The Queen among the Heather', ‘The Twa Brithers', 'The Berryfields o' Blair' and 'Betsy Bell' were the favourites.
From Belle and her family, I also learned stories and a lot of the wisdom of the travelling people, whom I came to admire and appreciate very much. They're people who've adapted to change for hundreds of years with tremendous courage and who value the non-material things in life.
I liked comic and bawdy songs, like 'The Cuckoo's Nest' and 'John Anderson my Jo' (old version), as well as songs about work and working life, love, death and war. I wrote all kinds of songs, both tragic and comic, about Aberfan (translated into Welsh and sung by Siwsann George), about the breathalyser, about the oil boom in the North, about a bull and an electric fence, about Vietnam, about night-visiting, about the sexual symbolism of musical instruments, about politicians, about anything that is a talking-point.


The King o the Black Art and other folk tales, collected and introduced by Sheila Douglas, published 1987 by Aberdeen University Press, holds over 50 traditional Scots tales, told by closely related travellers John Alec and Belle Stewart and Willie MacPhee. These tales were the foundation of her doctorate thesis.

The Sang's The Thing, voices from Lowland Scotland, published 1992 by Polygon, has 28 in depth accounts of the interviewees' lives and involvement in traditional songs.

The Magic Chanter, published by Scottish Children's Press, is a children's book. "Nine-year-old Iain Barlass lives in Perth in Central Scotland. One day, a gypsy woman gives him a chanter, or pipe. It is a magic pipe and Iain finds that he can play it, although he has never been taught how. When he plays it, he suddenly discovers that he can see events that happened years ago."

Come Gie's A Sang, 73 Traditional Scottish Songs, published 1995 by The Hardie Press, includes not just the songs by details notes on them and on the singers from whom they were got.

Lines Upon The Water, published by Ossian, 52 original songs by Sheila. This book was typeset by Sheila's son Colin.

Last Of The Tinsmiths, the life of Willie MacPhee, published 2006 by Birlinn, is a detailed biography that includes many tradtional stories and tunes.

Personal Odyssey - the life of Arthur Argo, is as yet unpublished.

Sheila edited various other publications, e.g. The Atholl Collection Catalogue, 300 years of Scottish Music and poetry, published 1999 by Perth & Kinross Council, detailing the Atholl Collection of publications held in the A K Bell Library, Perth.

She has contributed chapters on her ballad researches to various scholarly publications.



An article published in TESS on 9 May, 1997
By: Sheila Douglas

Sheila Douglas believes the Scottish Office could do more about classroom materials
It is hard to believe that it is now nearly two years since we launched the Merlin Press to supply Scots language materials to schools. The idea came about through a combination of circumstances. First, the Scots Language Resource Centre in the A K Bell Library in Perth, while it was constantly receiving pleas for such material, was unable to satisfy the demand because of constraints of time, finance and personnel. Second, as a Scots language activist and long-serving member of the Scots Language Society Committee, a retired teacher who had taught Scots language and literature in the classroom and a published author I was able and willing to create such material. Third, my elder son, trained in computer skills, layout and design, but lacking full-time employment, was able and willing to typeset and print the material in a professional format. My other son works as an accountant, so the business side of the enterprise could be kept under professional scrutiny, very necessary for the success of any commercial initiative.
We were able to do a considerable amount of market research in schools and among educationists, because of my contacts in that sphere. I had already compiled a local anthology for Tayside schools, made up of poems, songs, prose, drama and history, "from James IV to Dougie McLean". Its title was Fair Upon Tay.
From Alastair Horne, my local educational development officer, I got information that enabled me to send samples to his colleagues across the country to be looked at and commented on. I also visit schools as a writer and storyteller under the Scottish Arts Council's Writers in Public Scheme, and could show samples and discuss the idea with a large number of teachers.
One of the most helpful was Liz Niven, then Scots language development officer for Dumfries and Galloway. She recommended the materials to teachers in her area and followed up schools who tried it or later bought it to see how they used it and whether it was satisfactory. I received some very good feedback. One of the discoveries I made was that pupils of all ages and teachers are more or less beginners in learning Scots in any formal way, and the materials designed for the youngest children on basic topics like the human body, food and drink and clothes were equally suitable for secondary pupils.
I also attended some in-service days. The teachers immediately wanted photocopies of the materials to try out. Two schools in Perth also tried out the scheme and gave it the thumbs up. In addition, I had the material vetted and approved by educationists and linguists. Robbie Robertson of the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, who was largely responsible for the Kist, gave me generous encouragement, and Catherine Macafee of Aberdeen University vetted my teacher's starter pack, with its background information on the language and its history, vocabulary and usage.
Then my sons and I took our idea to our local enterprise company which commended our extensive market research, which also included findings on the most suitable format, pricing and distribution. We thought it most useful to produce packs of material that would be flexible, photocopiable and affordable, important considerations in the current financial climate. We designed a leaflet which was distributed to schools through the regional authorities' internal mail, giving them information about what we had available.
A steady stream of orders began and continued right through to the changeover in local government in April of last year. In the resultant chaos, the stream of orders dwindled but hopefully will increase with the change of government and the prospect of a devolved Scottish parliament. Our last piece of publicity was a newsletter, reporting on our progress and detailing our plans. We now have some schools subscribing to receive four packs of material in the year for Pounds 70, with 20 per cent discount on other products.
Our list includes, as well as the teacher's starter pack, three sets of 20 Scotsheets, which are double-sided A4 sheets on different topics, with information, dialogue, poems, songs (with music), stories and history, with a glossary and accompanied by a cassette, and a larger resource pack on the Fower Saisons. This also includes plays, as well as all the other sorts of material, and also has a cassette tape. The cassettes are recorded in the studios of Heartland Radio in Pitlochry, for which I record a lot of programme material.
We also have laminated Scotscairts for the classroom wall, with Scots phrases, sayings and short rhymes. In the coming months we intend to produce another resource pack on Work: Past and Present. Writers have been generous in allowing me to use their work and I have also contributed some of my own. The spelling used follows the Concise Scots Dictionary, and the Scots School Dictionary, which every school should have.
In autumn 1995, I did a presentation to the Inspectorate's English panel. It was heartening to feel that I was working along the right lines and also to know that members of the panel were knowledgeable about Scots and in favour of its being included in the curriculum. The teaching of Scots as a language in our older universities' degree courses, and in the Royal Scottish Academy's new Scottish music degree course, shows that things are moving in a positive direction. Teacher education institutions are also covering this field, which means that teachers in future will have more knowledge of Scots than in the past.
The Merlin Press applied for but was refused funding from the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages, whose criteria we certainly met, and we have not received any financial backing from anywhere else, although we are helping to supply a genuine educational need for officially approved courses in a majority of schools. It seems that, while schools are being encouraged by the Scottish Office to include a Scottish dimension in their 5-14 courses, no one wants to fund it.
As far as Merlin Press is concerned, we are not looking to make a fortune out of jumping on a bandwagon, but we do need to get out of the red. Powermacs, laser printers and photocopiers cost a lot but are necessary to produce material to standard. We are optimistic, however, as we know that there is room for us in this rapidly expanding market, as teachers strive to implement Scottish Office recommendations to include Scots in the curriculum. I have spoken to many teachers who are in favour of this, but who lack the resources which we, among others, can supply. There is a significant movement towards the raising of the status of Scots, so long neglected and despised, yet with 600 years of history and literature behind it.


Among Sheila's best-known songs are

The Men O The North


The Michael Colliery

O Mither Mither

Lines Upon the Water, Sheila's collection of 52 original songs

was published by Ossian Publications.

The following link is to a review of her book of songs.

Jean Mcmonies

8:32 AM on April 20, 2013 by

I have lovely memories of Sheila and Andrew...Singing at their home in Scone , and at the many festivals .she and Andrew stayed with me after Copshaw Festival while she spoke to local singers about their songs and tradition ...Andrew must have been mighty impressed by my bathroom as he wrote me a poem on the subject .....She gave us(Stravaig)one of her many songs Oh mither mither which we recorded...She was a feisty lady who didnt suffer fools gladly!!..An academic who knew all there was to know about scottish song and WAS a great advocate of the TMSA..Her own songs are written in the traditional style and have stood the test of time She was fiercely proud of her Ayrshire roots ..She was from Dalry ..She will be long remembered and missed by all on the traditional music scene and by her sons Gavin and Colin... ...Jean Mcmonies....