Music of the Travelling People || Scottish Tinker Songs

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Scottish Tinker SongsAuthor(s): Peter A. HallSource: Folk Music Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1, Music of the Travelling People (1975), pp. 41-62Published by: English Folk Dance + Song SocietyStable URL: .Accessed: 12/06/2014 17:59Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact .English Folk Dance + Song Society is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to FolkMusic Journal. This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions Tinker Songs PETER A. HALL IT IS only in the last twenty five years that we have become fully aware of the importance of the tinkers as carriers of Scots tradi- tional song. Social prejudice has limited the contacts between middle class collectors and the travellers who are often on the very edge of social acceptability. This situation has been dramatic- ally transformed by the work of the School of Scottish Studies, and particularly by the redoubtable Hamish Henderson. He vividly describes the position of the collector visiting both travel- lers and other informants: "as the School's collectors have found in the recent past, these social barriers, although much less solid these days, do still form a real stumbling block. It does not pay to let some informants know that one has been consorting socially with tinkers-let alone camping with them, or scrounging peats with them." (Henderson and Collinson). As might be expected in an academic institution, much at- tention has been given to the "Child Ballads" and an interesting selection has been published in the School's journal, Scottish Studies (Henderson and Collinson), including versions of The Cruel Brother (Child 11) and The Bonny Banks o'Airdrie (Child 14), from Martha Stewart and Martha Reid, both tinkers. Professor Child in his great anthology groups songs with similar features together, and this is clearly the case with numbers 11 to 14. Lord Randal (Child 12) is already known from the superb version recorded by Jeannie Robertson as Lord Donald. Here is Lord Ronald as collected by Helen Fullarton from John McDonald in Glasgow. Dr Fullarton is one of a number of part time collec- tors who have recorded extensively from tinkers in recent years. 41 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions RONALD Where have you been hunt-ing, Lord Ron-ald, my soni, I'vo been hunt -ing wild geese, mo-ther make my bed soon, For I'm wea - ry wea - ry hunt - ing, aye and fain wid lie doon. 2. "What had ye for your supper, Lord Ronald, my son?" "I'd a cup full of honey, mother make my bed soon, For I'm weary, weary huntin', and fain wid lie doon." 3. "What brought ye to your mother, Lord Ronald, my son?" "All my household and furniture, mother make my bed soon, For I'm weary, weary huntin', and fain wid lie doon," 4. "What brought ye to your sweetheart, Lord Ronald, my son?" "I brought a rope for to hang her, mother make my bed soon, For I'm weary, weary huntin', and fain wid lie doon." The four songs from this section of the Child canon all show extensive incremental repetition, often cited as a general charac- teristic of the ballad although in fact appearing in rather few pieces. Lord Randal is probably the commonest example of the "testament verses", and is often enough recorded from non- travellers. The Cruel Brother is on the other hand a rare piece and it is interesting to see it surviving in the mouth of a traveller. Survive is perhaps the wrong description to use in regard to The Bonnie Banks o' Airdrie. Five versions were found in the century preceding the Child anthology and Gavin Greig got only one fragment, without tune, from Bell Robertson. The piece seemed rare but in the past twenty years, apart from a number in the archives of the School, versions have been recorded from travellers, John McDonald, Duncan Williamson and Jessie McDonald, the last named having been published in The Scottish Folksinger (19). It is instructive to compare the Bell Robertson fragment published in Last Leaves with the corresponding verses from the Jessie McDonald set. 42 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions Robertson: 1. "Will ye be a rank robber's wife? Aiken ay so bonnie, 0. Or will ye die by my penknife? On the bonnie banks o Airdrie, O." 2. "I winna be a rank robber's wife, Aiken ay so bonnie, 0. But I'd rather die by your penknife, On the bonnie banks o Airdrie, O." Jessie McDonald: 3. "Would ye be a rank robber's wife, Eek in aye sae bonnie-o! Or would ye die by my penknife? On the bonnie banks o' Airdrie-ol" 4. "I'll not be a rank robber's wife, Eek in aye sae bonnie-o! I'd rather die by your penknife, On the bonnie banks o' Airdrie-o!" Bell Robertson heard her version sung by "a tinker boy nearly 70 years ago". This would be about 1840, and suggests a distinctive version in the mouths of travellers for upwards of a century, the locale being given as Airdrie as is the case with a set in Groome's book The Gypsy Tents (1880). The ballad seems to be much more common than was thought hitherto, or perhaps a lack of investigation into the tinker repertoire has hidden its existence from us. The fourth example of our ballad group is Edward (Child 13) of which the superb version My Son David was recorded from the most famous traveller singer, Jeannie Robertson. Angela Brasil in England and Paddy Doran in Ireland are other travellers with this seldom heard piece. (For recorded versions see The Child Ballads-Topic 12T160). The picture emerges of the small number of tinkers apparently retaining this particular group of ballads much better than the general population. This is so striking as to demand an explana- tion, and perhaps this can be found in an examination of the social background of the travellers. The narrative technique of the songs cited does not conform to our modern stereotype of cause and effect relationship. Instead of a gradual unfolding of the story, with logical connections between events, these pieces rely on repetition of a basic situa- tion, suddenly and catastrophically overturned by an unexpected tragic revelation. In many ways the view implicit in these songs 43 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions the travellers' experience in making the protagonist passive rather than active, victim rather than hero. Tinkers are less insulated from natural disaster and must contend with social institutions they perceive as external and alien, which they have little or no possibility of manipulating. In general travellers, being socially conservative, have retained many older pieces, although it is not valid to see their repertoire as merely a reflection of the past unaffected by change and the special features of their own life style. The relationship between tinkers' songs and the general folk song corpus can illuminate the factors affecting the survival and modification of older forms. The series of Robin Hood ballads provide an interesting illustration of the ambiguities regarding age in ballads. Professor Child considered these pieces old yet relied on broadsides for most of his examples. He quotes references to Robin Hood from late 14th century England and early the next century in Scotland. Possibly the wide popularity of the hero at the time of the development of the broadside presses led them to exploit his charisma in pieces that in fact lack any connection with oral tradition. Despite the early knowledge of him in Scotland few versions of the ballads have been recorded north of the border; Greig got only three fragments from his non-singing informant Bell Robertson. Here is a setting of The Bold Pedlar and Robin Hood (Child 132) from Jessie McDonald, a traveller born in 1876. THE BOLD PEDLAR AND ROBIN HOOD Come ped - lar bright, and come ped - lar guid, lie bein' com-in' out ower thon high hill sae free, Wh-en there he met wi' twa trou-ble-some men,Aye, twa troe-ble-some men he took them tae be 2. "What is in your pack?" says bold Robin Hood, "What is in your pack, come tell up to me?" "Well the de'il a bit o' my pack you'll see, Then, till baith your names bes telt up to me." 44 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions Bold Robin drew, then until his sword, Ach! the pedlar, he drew til the same; Wi' the straikit brands this twa men did sweat, Cryin' "Noble pedlar, come stop your hand." 4. Says Little John, he was standing by, "I have got a weapon in my right hand, I have got a weapon in my right hand, It will thump the pedlar and ither twa." 5. "What is in your pack?" says bold Robin Hood, "Oh, what is in your pack, will ye tell to me?" "Well the de'il a bit o' my pack you'll get, Then, till baith your names bes telt up to me." 6. "They call one of us, then, bold Robin Hood, Aye, that's come so far fae beyont the sea, And they ca' the tither, then, Little John. For the killing o' a man in wer father's land, To the term green woods I was forced to flee." 7. "There is my pack, you will get fae me, And cover and a' you will get it free; You'll get twa broon shellin's and a puckle fog, Aye, and pack and a' you will get fae me." 8. "Aye, me and you is twa sister's sons, And what nearer kinsmen then, can we be ?" The denouement in which, after boasting of his wares the pedlar turns out to have only "twa broon shellin's and a puckle fog" (two husks and a little moss) shows similarities with a version in the British Museum catalogue in which he boasts that in his pack. "There's seven suits of good green silk, And bow-strings either two or three." Finally the pedlar admits, "Its seven sarks and three gravats. is all the kitt that I carry." As this version is an Edinburgh broadside of 1775, we may be dealing with a Scots setting, separate from the English tradition for two hundred years. The tune is a relative of the "Logan Braes" family, a particularly well known melody group in Scot- land over the past two centuries. We are on firmer ground when we maintain the antiquity of the supernatural elements preserved in many tinker ballad variants. Travellers have given versions of The Elfin Knight 45 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions 2) and The False Knight Upon the Road (Child 3), both supernatural pieces from the earliest, and Child presumed, the oldest part of the canon. In tinker variants of The Twa Sisters (Child 10), known as The Swan Swims Bonnie, the magical trans- formation of the drowned girl into a musical instrumnent is preserved, in contrast to other present day versions. One of the most striking of the fairyland ballads is Tam Lin (Child 39), for which there are already published sets (Henderson and Collinson). These are the first with both text and music since Burns supplied his version to the Scots Musical Museum. Our variant was recorded by the assiduous collector George McIntyre from traveller Duncan Williamson. Duncan's air is related to the Dives and Lazarus family and shows a resemblance to the set recorded by Hamish Henderson from Bessie Johnstone. Both of these versions open in similar fashion to Child 52, The King's Dochter Lady Jean, this providing a perfectly logical introduction to the tale of Tam Lin. Presumably some singer in the past has made the transposition and this suggests that the two modern variants are lineal descendants of a single older version. The two traveller's sets then continue with narrative totally foreign to Child 52, Duncan with the beginning of Tam's capture by the fairies and Bessie with his rescue at the ballad's conclusion. This confirms that we are dealing with a set of Tani Lin, albeit one effected by a typical piece of traditional cross fertilisation. LADY MARGARET (TAM LIN) Mar - garet stood in the high chiam - ber sI-te'd sown her silk - en seam; She look - ed east a-nd she look - ed west and she saw those woods grow greeni. 2. She lifted up her petticoat, Beside her holland gown, And when she came to those pretty green woods, It was there that she laid them down. 46 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions She had not pulled one nut, one nut, Nor scarcely bent one tree, When the highest lord in a' the countryside Come a-riding through the tree. 4. "Why do you pull those nuts, those nuts, Why do you bend those trees? Oh, onceten time those nuts were mine, Without the leave of yours." 5. "Oh, now you've got the will o' me, Come tell to me your name, And when my baby it is born, I will call it the same." 6. "A fairy king stole me away, While I was very young," (That's as far as I know) So much for the authorised ballads. Having established the travellers' retention of some of the older forms and themes other parts of their repertoire, just as ancient, may be used to illustrate the less imposing songs so often overlooked by nineteenth century collectors. Tinkers have not preserved song in any static, unchanged sense but nevertheless they do give us much that is old and convince us of the variety that is possible within a conservative social and aesthetic milieu. Tammy Toddles, here taken from the singing of Lizzie Higgins, may not be particularly old as a song but it does preserve long standing beliefs and an easy matter-of- fact relationship with the supernatural, which is as often as not benign in the eyes of the traveller. Lizzie's singing, like that of many of her people, manifests the continuing and fruitful relation- ship with the instrumental music that is such an important part of her background. The tune is a strathspey and ends away from the tonic, creating a feeling of continuity from strain to strain, of which pipers in particular are very fond. TAMMY TODDLES Tam-my Tod-dle he's a can-ty chiel,sae can-ty and sae coul-thy. The 9-) fair-ies liked him un - cae weel and built him a wee hous- ie. 47 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions And when the housie it was built A' finished but the door, A fairie man cam skippin' in, And danced upon the floor. 3. He louped up, he louped doon, He frisked and he flung, Till puir wee Tammy Toddles, Was malmaist among the thrang. Much of the basic material of foLk song has been around, in one form or another at least as long as most ballad themes, but unsuited to the grand presentation, has seemed more immediate and less remote. Thisis especiallyso withthe comic andthe bawdy, many examples of which have been widespread in European folktale for several centuries. Spanish peasants seem to have been particularly fond of one biting and hilarious satire on religious hypocrisy. Jeannie Robert- SOll has a cante-fable of the piece which she calls Minister Gray and the existence of tllis form of narrative and the considerable body of foLktale emphasises aspects of the wealth of tradition, which for lack of space we can only refer to here. Peter Buchan recorded the text of a SOllg version and Greig found the tune twice but failed to record the text of either. Two versions appear in the School of Scottish Studies magazine Tocher number 4. The following setting is from the singing of Robin Hutchison of Aberdeen, whose text is the fullest to date, and whose air is closely related to the two collected by Greig and also to the Orcadian version in Tocher. THE MINISTER'S WEDDER veI s e 2 SS bIJ 97 - in' thl ough the nrood; it's aye the mer _ ri-ls &S:X t; D --j--e-51nY J vs he sang,'&ly fa-ther's killed the min-i-ster's wed-der and I L 5 ID>; 2 I; S J a NW in-na tell that tae .R1w - y - one . ' Sing, fal ral ral rum n J 1 IJ h D If 2.;Jll t il - dar dum did -dy, sing fal ral ral rum did -dy dum day. 48 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions "Christmas it is drawin' near, And nae meat in the house. The Minister has a fine fat Wedder; I'll tak' some crumbs intae my pouch, And I'll trace it tae the house." 3. The Minister its he's goin' through the wood, He put his back against an oak; He said, "If you sing that in this kirk on Sunday, I'll give you a croon and a coat." 4. The Minister he gaed to the church, His congregation for tae view. "I've a little boy comin' here today, He'll sing you a song and I'm sure it's true." 5. So the little boy he gaed tae the church, And its aye the merrily he has sung, "I catched the Minister kissin' my mither, And I winna tell that tae anyone." 6. "You're a liar, you liar," the Minister said. "On the pulpit where I stand. I was never near your mother, As I could have touched her with my hand." 7. "You're a liar, you liar," the little boy said, "By the pulpit where you kneel. I catched you in the bed o' my mither, And a' your breeks hingin' ower your heel." 8. The Minister jumped from the pulpit, And gaed out o' the church just like a shot. The little boy, he cried after, "Come back wi' my croon and my coat." Another indication of a flourishing tradition is the addition of new material into the repertoire. The most obvious, although not the only way this may take place is by the composition of original songs. Maggie Stewart, formerly living in Aberdeen and now in Montrose, has written a number of fine pieces as well as being an important contributor of traditional material. The song given here illustrates the dilemma of tinkers who wished to become integrated into society and yet at the same time not to discard any of their own character and custom. The Second World War was an important era for the travelling community, when the expanded bureaucratic machine pushed tinkers into the main- stream of society, requiring them to fight and to be listed and counted. 49 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions one of the best papers on the tinker's life style Farnham Rehfisch deals with the institution of marriage: "During the two wars quite a number of Tinkers were taken into the Armed Forces. It was very much easier for wives to collect family allowances and other government-granted aid if they were able to show documents proving a legal marriage to a serviceman. This was often essential since many of those who were in charge of the distribution of such benefits were very much prejudiced against members of the group and went to great lengths to avoid satisfying their just claims." (Rehfisch). Society is still ambiguous about accepting tinkers into its midst and the mutual tension embodied in the relationship is well caught in the next song. I CAN'T GET A HOUSE IN THE COUNTRY 9"5 P--- I can't get al house in the coun - try, Nor I can't got a house in the town, But I have my horse and iny w%ag-on, And I tra-vel the coun--try a - r-ound. 2. For its fine to get up in the morning, When the larks flying high in the sky, And pack up all your belongings, And you bid all the travellers good-bye. 3. And away to the hills we go roaming, To find our new resting place, It may be clearing in the woodland, Or it may be some wide open space. 4. Then why should I join the army? When I've no home to call my own. I would fight for my king and my country, But I've no place that I can call home. A rather more common pattern for the making of new songs is the adaptation of older pieces, by bringing them up to date or inserting new personalities or events into them. Many tradi- 50 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions singers do this to a minor extent, the implicit freedom of the oral form being present even with the most literate performers and even in cases where there is a well known standard version of the song in print. Maggie McPhee of Macduff is one of those singers who im- press their own creative personality upon the songs and as well as composing complete pieces a large number of her traditional songs have been remodelled. It says much for her skill and perfect feel for the tradition that it is virtually impossible to detect her contributions, indeed she herself finds it difficult to remember those parts that are of her own making, and this itself indicates the flexible nature of both text and music in the minds of the traditional exponents. The Moss O'Burreldale exists in two forms, the best known nowadays being a well formed narrative text learned by many singers from the old 78 r.p.m. recording of Willie Kemp, a popular local platform entertainer from between the wars. Jimmy McBeath has recorded this version more recently. The other form is a rather episodic piece usually regarded as older and one which is now most often found in the mouths of tinkers. Such songs with their suggestions of communal authorship (in character if not in practice) show the highland influence also in their love of vivid and irreverent character sketches much in the manner of puirt o'beul (the mouth music of the Gael). The movement out of the highland areas to the west of Aberdeenshire, particularly after the famines of the 1 780s, brought similar features into the bothy ballads and the tinkers have continued to import such models into lowland parts. For comparison here is a version of the older form of The Moss o'Burreldale, followed by Maggie McPhee's own set of words which she sings to substantially the sanmie air. In it she celebrates the on goings at the traditional horse sale of Aikey Fair, held annually in the shadow of Mormond Hill. First then Robin Hutchison with the standard traveller's setting. 51 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions O'BURRELDALE Oh, it was a bon - ny aut - umn day, when Al tin - kers met in grand ar - ray, and each ti E U 1 . -j i ther's hom-age for to pay, up - on the Moss o'Bur-rel-dale. 2. There was heather een o' beesom braw, Sae follae as they trudge awa', And try and they could sell them a', Around the Moss o' Burreldale. 3. Oh, the weemin folk wi' jug and pail, Sae boldly as they fetched the ale. And try and they could get good sale, Around the Moss o' Burreldale. 4. Oh, there was Stewarts, McKenzies and McPhees, Sae gently as they played their knees, And walloped their tins just at their ease Upon the Moss o' Burreldale. 5. Oh, it happened on a day o' Kinkale, There their horses for tae sell, And they filled their bellies full o' ale, And tramped back tae Burreldale. 6. And when they landed the pipes did play, They hooched and danced till break o' day, And upon the grass there was dozens lay, Upon the Moss o' Burreldale. 7. Noo up spoke aul' McPhee, "Noo boys, will ye tak a good advice fae me, And try and you could end the spree, Upon the Moss o' Burreldale." 8. Oh, the brawest laddie on the green Was a heather merchant ca'd McQueen, He'd tarry tows tied till his sheen, Upon the Moss o' Burreldale. 52 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions FAIR 1. It was on a day o' Aikey Fair, When a' the hawkers they were there, Tae sell their cars and buy some mair, In bonny Aikey Fair. 2. Oh, the first come in was Jamieson, And he was steppin' tae his chin, Wi' an aul' black car that he cam in, In bonny Aikey Fair. 3. Oh, the next come in was Jock Munro, Wi' his aul' lorry that widna go, He should o' selled it lang ago, In bonny Aikey Fair. 4. Oh, there was McDonalds on the green, Some was dirty and some was clean, And sic a mess I never seen, In bonny Aikey Fair. 5. For the next come in was Jimmy White, He stripped his jacket and wanted a fight, And someone kicked him across a dyke, In bonny Aikey Fiar. 6. For there were heilan' Stewarts, fae Inverness; The Buchan Stewarts, they tried their best, They took a drappie wi' the rest, In bonny Aikey Fair. 7. For aul' Wick was there himsel', You'd think that he cam oot o' hell, He cursed and swore, and started to yell, In bonny Aikey Fair. (That was my man-laughter!) 8. It was on a Sunday afternoon, When Aikey Fair was upsidedoon, There was kickin' and slappin' a' aroon, In bonny Aikey Fair. 9. For uncle Henry he was there, Wi' his sister Sally, withoot the hair. I looked at her and said nae mair, In bonny Aikey Fair. 10. The next come in was Donald McPhee He was so drunk, he couldna see, He had a baimie on his knee, In bonny Aikey Fair. 53 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions number of travellers' songs have distinct highland affiliations brought about by the general population movement from the west into the more prosperous regions. The break up of the clan system after 1745 robbed the itinerant trades of a sound economic base leading to a general move east in which the travellers were joined by many settled highlanders, hence the widespread use of highland surnames among tinkers today. The next song from Stanley Robertson is known with Gaelic words as well as being a popular instrumental strathspey among both fiddlers and pipers. The present text may be relatively recent, representing the consciousness of the settled tinker of the past couple of generations. It illustrates very well the circum- stances which require the traveller to be master of a wide variety of trades, fitting instantly into whatever economic niche is available. This array of talents was always a necessity for the traveller but as his more usual jobs, like casual farm labour, disappeared or like providing entertainment, have been taken over by others, he has been driven into a wider variety of in- creasingly lower paid occupations. The only alternative has been to settle and become integrated with mass society, taking on the same jobs as "flatties". One interesting development has been the einergence of tinkers as scrap dealers, a profession which sits well on the shoulders of travellers. Perhaps an example of what Levi-Strauss would describe as a survival of man's primary ability as "bricoleur" ? PU'IN' BRACKEN I'm tired on my knees, pu' -in' brack-en, pu' -in' brack-enf I'm tired on my knees, o' wi' pL' -in' brack - en. Pu' -in' brack_en a' day l ng, o' wi' pu'-in' brack - en. O= ; J @J ~~~EA _ LE-> lPu' -in' brack-en a' day lang, o' wi pu - in' brack - en. 54 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions My hand's fired raw, cuttin' beesoms, makin' beesoms. My hand's fired raw, oh, wi' makin beesoms. Makin' beesoms a' day lang, oh, wi' makin' beesoms. Makin' beesoms a' day lang, oh, wi' makin' beesoms. 3. My feet's blistered sair, hawkin' houses, etc. 4. My back's bent and bowed, cookin' habins, etc. 5. My heid's throbbin' thrawn, peingin' baims, etc. 6. My soul's perjured sair, tellin' fortunes, etc. 7. Fan I'm deid and in my grave, I'll find rest, I'll find peace. Fan I'm deid and in my grave, then I'll find some peace. Then I'll tak a lang lang sleep, then I'll get some rest. Then I'll tak a lang lang sleep, then I'll get some rest. One of the consequences of the traveller's move into more prosperous areas, and more especially into the urban environment, has been a growing conflict of norms and values. This is intensi- fied by the increasing bureaucratic intervention which requires a close compliance with legally enforced standards of behaviour. This first affected tinkers when property rights in land became strictly defined and conflicted with the travellers' traditional pursuits of fishing, snaring and pearl fishing. The Trespass (Scotland) Act of 1865 codified this tendency and barred tinkers from many of their customary camp sites. Despite growing concern about the travellers' way of life, local and national authorities have largely ignored both the problems of their integration and of the preservation of their life-style. Even the inadequate Caravan Sites Act (England) 1968, which aims to ensure stopping places for travellers, does not apply to Scotland. The song Jimmie Drummond (sometimes he is Hughie) conveys, especially in its last verse, the travellers' dilemma when faced with laws that place his way of life in jeopardy. The song uses some words of tinker's cant e.g. chorin=stealing, which is the same word in Sanskrit and has come into the travellers' vocabulary from contact with the gypsies. This raises the whole question of the relationship between tinkers and gypsies. Certainly some gypsies found their way into Scotland, although the vagueness of early reports and the imprecision with which the terms tinker and gypsy are used makes accurate assessment impossible. McRitchie states, "When they (the gypsies) came they found an already 55 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions caste of nomads, magic-working tinkers, pedlars, ballad singers, mountebanks, etc .. , and either left or became affiliated with them." (McRitchie.) This account tallies rather well with the existing evidence, and as he shows that gypsies were present in Scotland as early as the year 1505, this indicates that the tinkers have been a distinct and recognisable group for at least 470 years. Cant, in present day usage, has not the status of a separate language although certain key words in each sentence are spoken in cant, a fact which serves to make any communication between tinkers incomprehensible to outsiders. The usefulness of this in trading is obvious and, in addition, it helps to reinforce feelings of group solidarity. One would guess from the mixed etymology of the language (it has Gaelic words as well as Scots dialect and Romany accretions) that it has a functional rather than an or- ganic historical origin. Here is a verse which includes a number of cant expressions, recorded from John McDonald by Peter Shepheard, a collector who has done a great deal to introduce the general public to the riches of the tinker tradition in his work with the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland: "Last night I lay in a gransee, My mort and my kencheens vree, But tonight I lie in ker stardee And I dare nae nash avree." gransee=barn, mort=wife, kencheens-children, vree=there, ker=house, stardee=jail, nash=go, avree=away. Jessie McDonald sang a fuller version of the same song. 56 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions DRUMMOND i$01; a Oh, my name it is young Jim - my Drum mond, oh, a 4t 2-; ; Ir- man that youse all knows quite wellg I was took-en and neat-y got 4, Ss,h, Ju=-'l ;=1 J ' shack-led, aye, ancl laid in - to old Ar - ran jail. Oh, it's ^ A f i ; . r r r 17 r- - ; | up spoke his a-ul' ag - ed mo - thez, she szati AS 1 1 1 stand_in' back by in de - spair ffi 'Oh, well son we will go bro - kell i-} I I 'n heart - ted, if you be log - ged this day.' 2. Oh, its up spoke the sheriff and jury, Oh, and him to poor Drummond did say, 4'Oh, its Drummond, oh, Drummond you're gliilty, You're lookin' so white and so pale;" But he veIy soon altered his colours, When he heard upon twelve months in jail. 3. If ever I dae get oot o' this, I will swear to my great god above, I will decently work for a living, And go home to the friends that I love. 4. If ever I dae gang a-cllorin, I'll be sure ae and chor by mysel7 And if ever the gaffies comes on me, There'll be naebody there for tae tell, And I'll moully the gaffies in dozens, And there'll be naebody there for tae tell. As the old ways of the travellers have been undermined so they have settled in urban centres, mingling with the rest of society and yet still retaining many of their distinctive features. Rehfisch has indicated the significance of the extended family in tinker life, and he notes no real difference among settled members of the 57 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions in this respect. Town life has brought travellers into contact with new experiences and new songs, among them that typically urban phenomenen, the broadside ballad. The story of Dr Pritchard could be expected to have a fascination for tinkers, given their highly sceptical attitude to- wards modern medicine. This criticism reveals just how much such institutions reflect our social mores rather than deriving from the scientific or objective criteria we associate with them. One sinister aspect of the medical world important in tinker memory was the operations of the body snatchers whom they refer to as Burkers, after Burke who formed the infamous partner- ship with Hare. These servants of the early anatomists did not restrict themselves to dead bodies and, according to numerous tales, tinkers were among their prime live targets, a fact which caused little or no trouble with the authorities at that time. For travellers who had little access to medical treatment a hospital was the place you went to in order to die, and I vividly remember Maggie McPhee's genuine amazement at getting out after treatment for a serious fracture. All of which lends a physi- cian an aura of dread and mystery, making him seem much like a witch doctor would to us. Robin Hutchison sings, to a tune usually associated with "Tramps and Hawkers", the ballad of Dr Pritchard, reputed to be the last man to be publicly hanged in Scotland. DOCTOR PRITCHARD Oh, come a' you poe-ple great and small, o' high and low de-gree,l hope you'll pay at - ten - tion and lis -ten un - to me, It's con- cern-ing Doc-tor Prit-chard and his un-hap-py wife, Ah, by A~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ poi-son and curse o' jea-lou-sy they both have lost their life. 58 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions Now many a year in Glasgow Doctor Pritchard he did dwell. He was brought up in high respect there's numbers here can tell, Till he poisoned Mistress Taylor, a lady of great renown, A wealthy merchant's loving wife, in Edinburgh town. 3. When Pritchard was arrested and the bodies analysed, This deadly dose o' poison gave the doctors all surprise. The jury found him guilty. and the judge made this reply, "On the 28th of July, Doctor Pritchard you must die." 4. He made no reply but shook his head, his heart being full of woe, Its thinking on the scaffold, eternity also. His guilty conscience then gave way and he says, "I am undone. Oh, I canna meet an angry God, his wrath I canna shun." 5. But when his son and daughter came to see him in the cell, It would grieve your very heart to see them tak the last farewell, They says, "Then cruel father your fate we do deplore, For you've poisoned our dear mother and we'll never see her more. 6. "I'll give one advice to married men, when I am lying low, To mind their wives and families, no matter where you go, Shun false deluding company and heed not what they say; Oh, remember Pritchard and Macleod when I am in the clay." Despite the move into the town the traveller carried with him his array of talents for earning a living, particularly as an enter- tainer. Some became street singers and the numerous markets were a specially good outlet for musicians. Later the practice of busking to cinema, football and bingo queues grew and many travellers, like the late Davie Stewart, became well known faces at such gatherings. Davie was famous for singing his traditional and unexpurgated version of The Ball of Kirriemuir to the young bloods gathered round Aberdeen's Castlegate, a song which he could instantly bowdlerize if any policeman showed an interest. Of course any popular professional entertainer must cater to his public and this led to the acquisition of more songs. A favourite with the young ploughmen was The Overgate, the cautionary tale of a farm servant's adventures with a young lady of the town. Davie's set is similar to that of other tinkers with its rather flamboyant version of the chorus and the additional verses tacked on at the end. 59 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions OVERGATE As I gaed up the 0-ver-gate, I met a bon-nie wee lass, And she looked at me wi' the tail o' her e'e, as I was walk-in' past. Hi ini A i doo dum da, fal mi did-dle a, right fan doo-dle a - die o, #->ibum ; t r ~~~~1 a Right fal a too ral a, for I'm a ploo -man lad -die o. 2. I speired noo fit she ca'd her sel', She says "Jemima Ross ?" And they lived in the toon, wi' Mrs Broon, In a house up the Beef Can Close. 3. She taen me tae a public house, Awa' up the Scouring Burn, And its true what Rabbie Burns said, That man was made to mourn. 4. As we gaed up the aul' dark close, The place bein' afa dark, And I slipped my siller fae my inside pouch, And tied it tae the tail o' my sark. 5. We gaed up the stairs, ye ken, Intae the kitchie there. There's plenty tae eat and drink for a lad like me, And plenty mair tae spare. 6. 1 got richt fou and settled doon Tae spend a peaceful nicht, When at the door cam' a loud rat tat, At the brakin' of daylicht. 7. Here was twa big bobbies, man, They got me by the hair, And they gied tae me the whirly-ma-jig, And they flung me doon the stair. 8. I gaed up the stair again, It was tae get my claes. The bobbies says "Get oot o' here, Or we'll gie ye saxty days." 60 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions 1 says "I ve lost my watch and chain And also noo my purse." She says '1've lost my maidenheid, And that's a damned sicht worse." 10. The hale nicht noo I was dreamin' I was lyin' In the airms o' Jemima Ross, But when I awakened I was lyin' on my back ln the middle o' the Beef Can Close. 11. We hiv a man upon oor fairm, He his a widden leg, He jumps aboot fae byre tae barn, Suckin' ilka egg. 12. Oor foreman cheil is Jackie Thill, He canna be sae mean, For you'll gie him a pint and pey for it, But he'll nae pey for neen. 13. But I'll ging back tae bonnie I)undee, Lookin' bonnie bricht and fair, Wi' the brakin' o' the 5 note Wi' the lassie in Dundee. 14. Come a' ye jolly plooman lads, If ye ging oot for a lark, Slip your siller fae your inside pouch And tie it tae the tail o' your sark. That almost ends our story of the evolution of tinkers' song, but not quite. Some travellers are carrying the process into the folksong revival, making regular appearances at clubs and festivals and even taking part in their organisation. This will no doubt affect their attitudes, performance and repertoire, as well as greatly influencing enthusiasts in the folk song clubs. As with any cultural achievement the last word can never be written and indeed this article has only attempted to introduce a few of the most interesting and distinctive features of travellers' song, with only passing reference to the equally important areas of folktale, custom and instrumental music. I have also endeavoured to relate the songs to the social background of the singers, to show how different economic and communal patterns give shape to the expression. If this treatment has a rather impersonal ring let me make amends by thanking all those of the travelling community who have cherished their heritage and allowed myself and others to share it. We all owe 61 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions a debt, one that in time, I believe, will become increasingly obvious and more generally acknowledged. NOTES AND REFERENCES 1. Both expressions used for the group, "tinker" and "traveller", may be criticised, the latter because it could apply to any collection of vagrants, and travellers in our sense are a stable and well defined community, many of whom do not now wander. Tinker originally descr-ibed an occupation only pursued by a minority of the group, and the term is now used often in a pejorative sense. It is, however, the label most generally used and best understood. On that basis I would favour it. N. Buchan & P. Hall, The Scottish Folksinger, Glasgow, 1973. F. J. Child. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads Boston & New York (various editions). C. Greig, Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads & Ballad Airs Aberdeen, 1925. H. Henderson & F. Collinson, "New Child Ballad Variants from Oral Tradition" Scottish Studies Volume 9 Number 1. Edinburgh, 1965. D. McRitchie, Scottish Gypsies under the Stewarts Edinburgh, 1894. F. Rehfisch, "Marriage and the Elementary Family among the Scottish Tinkers" Scottish Studies Volume 5. Edinburgh 1961. 62 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:59:14 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions Contentsp. 41p. 42p. 43p. 44p. 45p. 46p. 47p. 48p. 49p. 50p. 51p. 52p. 53p. 54p. 55p. 56p. 57p. 58p. 59p. 60p. 61p. 62Issue Table of ContentsFolk Music Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1, Music of the Travelling People (1975), pp. 1-96Front Matter [pp. 1-1][Photograph]: Frank Stewart Howes 1891-1974Editorial [p. 2]The Singing Tradition of Irish Travellers [pp. 3-30]Irish Travellers around London [pp. 31-40]Scottish Tinker Songs [pp. 41-62]English Gypsy Songs [pp. 63-80]ReviewsReview: untitled [p. 81]Review: untitled [pp. 81-84]Review: untitled [pp. 84-85]Review: untitled [pp. 85-86]Review: untitled [p. 87]Review: untitled [pp. 87-88]Review: untitled [pp. 88-89]Review: untitled [pp. 89-90]Review: untitled [pp. 90-91]Review: untitled [pp. 91-92]ObituariesJeannie Robertson, 1908-1975 [pp. 93-94]Mrs Los Blake 1890-1974 [pp. 94-95]Frank Howes 1891-1974 [pp. 95-96]Back Matter


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