The Banff and Buchan Collection

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Tape 1993.006 transcription

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[Fiddle music]

[RS] Thank you very much. Youth will flourish, youngsters will flourish and I'm sure when Gavin well, I'm not so sure, when Gavin Greig set out to eh, collect the folk songs and instruct his pupils, I wonder if he realised, I wonder what he thought of today when we have youngsters like this all playing on the same kind of instrument, the same kind of music. This is what was Mary Milne's group, but Evelyn Strachan is now leader of the Young Fiddlers from Banchory [Applause.] A big hand again. [Applause.]

Starting off with Scott Skinner's, 'The Bonnie Lass of Bon Accord', that then went on to 'Early Grey' and 'The Marquis of Huntly's Reel'. We are here tonight at New Deer to honour this great man and I still, other people speak about it, I'd better get my word in afore ither folk. But other people will speak about the fact that this school teacher could be bothered tae gae awa oot there in candlelight, and gae awa the sma oors o the mornin and collect these songs. We all know the volumes of songs now because he was bothered cause he had the foresight. But that will be borne out by other people as we go along. My job tonight is to push through as quickly as I can, and that means John Argo dinna interrupt me, itherwise you are in a heap of trouble [Laughs.] I have got to keep us going as quickly as I can, and this time we have got three slow airs. We start off with 'The Flooer o the ??' then 'The Music of Spey' and 'Goodbye Cramond'. Evelyn Strachan and her young fiddlers [Applause.]

[Fiddle music.]

[RS] Thank you indeed our young fiddlers.

Well as the night unfolds it's a sorta formal, informal night. It's nae affa formal at the back ere, cause we're pushin abody left, right and centre. Lets hope out where you are it is informal, and you will enjoy right through to the end o our wee tribute if you like, or the Buchan Heritage Society's tribute to Gavin Greig. Knowing the number of people in here that fought hard to set up the Buchan Heritage Society, also we acknowledge the fact how much Gavin Greig did and worked so hard to set up and make our folk songs secure the whole way through. I'm listenin tae the folk at the back o me there jist now, and I'm trying tae speak aboot Gavin Greig, but they are all professionals, apart from me. Ye are. Which reminds me of meeting Jock Morgan, the Cairnie fiddler. True story, I met Jock at a ceilidh, oh, aboot twenty years ago when I wis a, well I thocht I wis an aspirin singer, but I've changed ma mind noo. I canna sing ava. But at that time, I thought, well. I wis in a ceilidh wi Jock, and I sang 'The lang road back hame', one o Jock's own compositions, takin him back tae Cairnie. It's only five miles awa fae my placie, and I thought now this is the perfect song for Robbie tae launch intil. Which I did. And I finished at this informal ceilidh and I shut up waiting for Jock Morgan to say to me 'you are the greatest singer to come oot a '.. ye ken! He nivver such a thing. And there wis this affa pause. And I looked across to Jock, and I says 'Well Jock, I did ma best, but I'm jist an amateur compared to you.' And Jock says 'Laddie, there's nae sic thing in this world as an amateur or a professional. Either ye can dae the damn thing or ye canna'. [Laughs, applause.]

So I would think tonight that my role then, reminding mysel o these days when I wis cast aff and baith feet in the watter, is to introduce the folk that know all about Gavin Greig and tell you and throughout that we'll, ye'll be able to get some insight of the marvellous work he did. For one thing, for sure, I was very sure in telling our next guest coming on that of course Duncan that worked along with Gavin Greig came fae my area, he come fae Lain?? In Alford. No, says Dr Ian Olson. He did not. And at that stage I says, I'm nae sayin nae mair. Let me introduce you right now to Dr Ian Olson. [Applause.]

[IO] It's a great honour to be here tonight to honour such a man as Greig. I'm little surprised at bringing in someone outside when you've got people from, who can give it from the horse's mouth like Jack Webster and John Argo. But I'm pleased to be here. I see in my section of the programme. Gavin Greig in the first half, ten minutes. And when I totted up the whole programme, all the ten minutes, I saw that the programme came to one hour, twenty minutes, including the interval. Which means that this society is getting very soft, because it used to be a minimum of three and a half hours, and that was with a half hour break for tea and buns in the middle.

I have seen the Reverend Birnie come off the stage at 11:30 at night shouting 'it's ower lang, it's ower lang'. I see in the paper that I am going to talk about the Buchan Dominie who spent his life in this part of the world collecting folksong. And in a way I'm going to disappoint you because in some respects that description is a load of nonsense. The first thing to realise about Gavin Greig, and the thing that they said in his obituary, in his service, his funeral service, was that he was an outsider. He didn't come from Buchan, wasn't a Buchan man, although he'd Buchan ancestors, and to the end of his days he wasn't allowed to join the Buchan Society because they said he wasn't from Buchan. And that I think makes his achievement all the more important. He was born in 1856 in Parkhill near Dyce, and his father was a forester in the estate of Parkhill there. And it's an important time, because when he was about four or five years old he watched the first train go past in the railway network that was to open up all of the North East of Scotland and beyond. The point I'd like to make about Gavin Greig, that he was born into a period which we tend to look back on as being a golden age of stability and quietness and peace, with the roses round the door and this sort of thing. Whereas in fact it was one of the most exciting, the most tumultuous periods in the history of this country and this part of the world, that ever there was. The railways had arrived and opened up the whole of the North East. There was a huge newspaper explosion between about 1880 and about 1914, there was forty newspapers published in this area alone. The great herring industry took off round the coast, and brought wealth and prosperity and employment. And everything was changing. When Greig started off there was horse and cart. When he died the flying machine was in the air overhead. So, I want to give you the impression not a quiet rural past, but of a man who was born into an era in which there was change, continuous change, all around. Not one thing that he looked at out of his bedroom window at Whitehills, New Deer, not one thing had been there when his father was a boy. It had all changed. Everything was on the move.

As I say, born in 1856, which is just about the beginning of the big changes that took place. He was brought up, educated in Dyce, and then about the age of 15 he went into the University Bursary competition and got I think 20th place. Not bad going. But he decided to wait another year and the next year he got fourth place in the University Bursary competition--one of the fiercest competitions in the whole of Scotland. And this enabled him to go to University, to study an Arts degree for four years. And then when he came out he went surprisingly enough--well not surprisingly for the time because it was the top job--he went to train for the Ministry. But half way through this he gave it up, got married, looked around for jobs--took a while to get a job or two--but at the age of 23 he got the headmastership of a little school, little board school at Whitehill, New Deer.

Now, I want to again give you a different perspective. This was not a little, tootie, sixpenny, out of the way school in the back of beyond. Because the North East of Scotland at that time, and even now, was unique because there had been changes taking place, not only in education. There was an act in 1872 which changed education dramatically, giving education to everyone. But earlier than that in the North East there was a benefactor called Dick, who had decided to put enough money into the North East virtually to double the salary of any teacher that could pass, not only the entrance exams, but the constant inspections that took place. And this meant that in the North East of Scotland the men that start the country schools were of the very highest character. And on the short leet for the school for Whitehill that Gavin Greig was on, there was men from Inverness, almost as far away down as Newcastle, trying to get the job. So I want to emphasise this was not a wee school at the back of beyond, this is one of the best jobs in Scotland, and in fact one of the best jobs in Britain.

Now Gavin Greig, age of 23 mind you--arrived at Whitehill in the worst winter in living memory and one of the worst winters for the winters to come, with a wife, new baby. A fairly run down school. The previous headmaster had got out before he was sacked, he was virtually alcoholic. But Greig took over. It was his second choice of job. Both his parents, and at least one of his sisters was to die very shortly afterwards. It can't have been a good time for him, it can't have been a sort of job in which--well it could have been the sort of job in which he could have sat down, done next to nothing, turned alcoholic, depressed, the like. But for the next 25 years, Greig set to and made his school one of the best in Scotland. The ordinary Inspectors, as well as the Dick's Inspectors, in their reports they say this is one of the best schools we have every been to. And he not only transformed it from the point of view of the children's education, but he introduced music, singing and a whole number of very modern ideas as well. So for the next 25 years, and in the second half I'm going to talk about what he did during those next 25 years. He transformed the school.

Now, one of the things he didn't do, for those 25 years, was take much interest in local song. It's a sad thing this. It's a thing that Greig himself said to his friend Duncan. He said 'I spent 25 years in the area, without taking any notice, without realising what was going on all around me' And it was only in the last 10 years of his life, when he was a very sick man indeed, that with the aid of his friend, James Duncan, the minister at Linnturk, who had been born near Whitehill, at Weetinghill. It was only in the last 10 years of his life that he, somewhat desparately, managed to collect the song and music of the North East. But for the 25 years before that, it's a different story. And Greig during that period, and I'll talk about it in the second half of the concert, he wrote his poetry, he wrote his plays, he wrote his operettas, and he wrote his novels. And by the turn of the century these were the things that have made Gavin Greig famous, certainly in the North East. He was a by-word. No concert like this would have been complete without either Gavin Greig either compering or at the piano, or having written the little operetta that was taking place in the evening. He was the top man in Buchan. As I say, but not for folk song. In fact as Flora Garry said to me 'When he took up folk song, people were in some ways a little disappointed. They thought it was a bee in his bonnet. He would have been a lot better doing the other things, his novels, his poetry, and his plays'. And some were quite surprised that a man in his position should bother collecting bothy ballads and the like. So, I'm going to jump twenty-five years of Gavin Greig's life, and come up to 1904 when, it's quite late on his life of course. He's nearer, nearer about 48, and about this time, at the turn of the century, a whole lot of things were happening throughout Scotland, England, Europe and America as well. People were beginning to take an interest in their past, because the Industrial Revolution, the Agricultural Revolution, all these changes had done tremendous damage into old style culture. And people like Greig thought, realised, or was frightened by the idea that the whole lot was going to vanish. And about that time, there was a publishing society in Aberdeen. A slightly stuffy historical publishing society. And one of the King's Surgeon Generals put it to the society, it would be a good idea to have what was left of the music of the North East collected into a wee book, a little volume. And by that he meant fiddle tunes, psalm tunes, hymns, anything that could be scraped together to get a wee bookie, to preserve what was left before. I like to think it was the King himself who suggested it, because it's said that Edward was a pure Doric speaker with a great interest in the North East, but I can't prove it, and never can.

So round about this time, this society decided to publish a wee volume, just a wee slim thing, of what was left around. And Greig got the job of doing a survey to see what was left. Because Greig had had a look a couple of years before, and he'd gone on record as saying there wasn't anything worth collecting. But he wasn't the only one to make that mistake. But in 1903/1904, he set about, and within 10 miles of his home, on foot or on bicycle, he discovered 400 songs, words and music. And this shook him quite badly, because in all the time his 25 years, he'd only come across two songs he thought was any use. So when he actually looked, when he actually asked folk what they were singing, he got a tremendous response. He then realised he was sitting on a goldmine, one of the biggest collections of folksong and music in Europe, perhaps the world. He got his old teacher from the University, James Bruce Duncan. And he was a Buchan man, as a I say, from Weetinghill, who spent his youth collecting folksongs. Duncan was a real folksong collector originally. The two of them got together and they set about systematically taking the North East to pieces. By the time Greig died in 1914, which was 10 years later, having struggled during those 10 years to keep going, never mind collect folksongs, they had got together the pair of them 3,500 songs, and some 3,000 tunes. And as I say this is the biggest collection ever made. It's coming out now in eight huge volumes, being produced by Aberdeen and Edinburgh Universities. And the first three volumes are out, including number three which has got all the bothy ballads in it. And as I say, at the time, when it came out, it made Greig and Duncan internationally famous. I want to get away from the idea of a simple, country, Buchan Dominie, in his simple country school, collecting simple, country songs. The truth of the matter is, he was a man, like Duncan, of the highest ability. Duncan for example had studied in Edinburgh and Germany as well. They were men as I say, of the highest ability in a period of great excitement and change. And when they started producing the results of their folksong collecting, the rest of the world sat up and took notice. People began to write in, began to come North to consult them, from Scotland, England, Germany. And their work began to be quoted all over the world. When the English Folksong Society, which had started about 1894 I think, itself decided to become serious, and do a series of lectures on folksong to a British audience, the very first person they decided to invite to give that talk was Gavin Greig of New Deer. He never got there, but that's another story. But it gives you an idea of the sort of standing that these two men had. As I say, get away from the idea of the simple country doctor, eh the country dominie on his bicycle. Once they'd started their collecting, once they'd got it going, the whole world got up and took notice. And today, the North East of Scotland has this reputation, which is being reinforced by these eight volumes of Greig and Duncan songs, collected from the North East. Three of them out already, and when the eight volumes are out, and remember these are only the volumes, the songs they could collect they could get during their brief 10 year collecting period. Once that is out then the idea, the concept that is internationally known that the North East of Scotland is the best place for the finest folksong and ballads in the world, that will be completely confirmed.

Thank you very much [Applause.]

[RS] … Bruce wis teaching a gey little class tae me but Miss Bruce wis teaching me Latin and French afore I wis twelve year aul, tae get me a Bursary, because my dad couldna afford to go anywhere else. So Ian, the only thing I would say is when you said that Gavin Greig didn't have any oot of the wey school in the country, there are nae oot o the wey schools, we're far in front o them! Miles in front of them we are! [Applause.] And I just realised James Michie, the Director of Education is doon there [laughs, applause.] At must be three plus points for Auchenblae for a start! [Laughs.] Well, here we are, now. It's the environment of Gavin Greig we've met tonight, and the things that Ian spoke about, the collecting of the folksongs, the tradition's being kept alive. And here's a lassie's been keeping her family tradition alive for a long time through the folksong, not only that, through the playing. And I acknowledge again the Buchan Heritage Society and what they do. And they, competitions they hold every year and how to encourage people to come forward. I hiv met and listened to Liz singing a lot. But never have I heard her play the piano on such beautiful form, so we have got a duo tonight, but it's the same quine. She's fae Mintla'. 'I once knew a lad', is the first song, then another song. Then on the piano, let's welcome please, Liz Stewart! [Applause.]

[ES] I'm gan tae start aff by singin 'I eence hid a lass', nae 'I once had a lad'. [Laughs.]

[RS] That's enough o that! [Laughs.]

[ES] It's a very sad sang, and it tells how this young lad was slighted by his girlfriend, it's usually the ither wey aroon. But, not in this case. It's an affa bonnie sang. As they all are really.

I eence hid a lass, I liket her weel,
I hate a the people that spak o her ill,
But whit hiv I gotten for all o ma great love,
She's awa tae be wed tae anither.

The next time I sa ma love wis tae church go,
Wi bride and bridesmaidens she made a fine show,
Wi a tear in ma ee ???,
She's awa tae be wed tae anither.

The next time I sa ma love wis in the church stand,
Wi gold rings on her fingers and gloves in her haunds,
Wi gold rings on her fingers and gloves in her haunds,
She's gan tae be wed tae anither.

Oh the minister that mairried them,
He gave a loud vow, if there's any objections then let them dra' now,
I thocht in my ane hairt objections hid I,
For tae see my love wed tae anither.

Oh when mairriage it twas ower and gang in tae dine,
I filled up their glaisses wi brandy and wine,
I leaned ower the table tae kiss the sweet bride,
Sayin, here's health tae the lassie that ought tae be mine.

When dinner wis ower, and gan intae bed,
I put on my heart and I bade them goodnight,
The bridegroom said stop, I bid ye tak leave,
Ye whistled too lang for tae get er.

Ye can keep her and keep her, and keep your great prize,
For the bed that she lies in, she canna deny,
She is lain by my side, nae eence, twice nor thrice,
She is only my auld shoes, noo you got her.

Oh the folk in the forest, they a' laugh at me,
Sayin hoo many, blaeberries grows in the saat sea?
I turned her round wi grief in my ee,
How many ships sail in the forest?

Ye can dig me a grave and dig it sae deep,
And I'll turn in, for tae tak a lang sleep,
And I'll turn in for tae tak a lang sleep,
And it's mebbe through time I'll forget her.

So they dug him a grave, and they dug it sae deep,
And he's turned in, for tae tak a lang sleep,
And he's turned in, for tae tak a lang sleep,
And it's mebbe by noo he's forgot her.


[ES] I'd like to sing one of my favourites, in fact they are all my favourites, but this one has a special meaning, because I learned ma sangs at the knees o ma auntie Lucy, and that's a lang time ago, near twenty year ago. And they a hiv a special meanin for me because I heard is songs every day, ower and ower and ower again. And one o the ones she song a lot wis the 'Plooman Laddies'. It's a bonnie wee sang.

Doon yonder den there's a plooman lad,
And some summer's day he'll be a my ain,
And sin laddie o and sin laddie aye,
The plooman laddies are a' the go.

I love his teeth and I love his skin,
I love the very cairt he hurls in,
And sin laddie o and sin laddie aye,
The plooman laddies are a' the go.

Doon yonder den I could a got a millert,
But the smell o dust wid hae deen me ill,
And sin laddie o and sin laddie aye,
The plooman laddies are a' the go.

Doon yonder den I could a got a merchant,
But a his things werenae worth a groat,

[section of tape not recorded properly]

[RS]…..he stood aboot twice as high as me, and he also served the dainners, and he could hid twelve plates wi twa haunds [tape damaged] Speak to me aboot bothy ballads. And in the classroom there we used tae, we used tae sing thegither, 'The Muckin o Geordie's Byre', and at aboot that time, shows foo aul I'm getting, at that time ye hid the works o Wullie Kemp and George Morris comin oot and we used tae flick ower there. We used tae sing them the gither. God knows fit they wid ca'd us noo! But at's what we did. In the playgroon at dennertimes, [Laughs.] aye, we used tae sing the bothy ballads together. And that's why as an introduction to our next guest, I am delighted to hear that he is related to George Bruce Thompson the man that wrote affa clever words, affa clever words to simple tunes. But to tell you, mebbe not so much aboot George Bruce Thompson, to tell you more about Gavin Greig, can we have we welcome the Reverend Charles Birnie. [Applause.]

[CB] I take my cue from Robbie. They were howlin in the kitchen like a caravan o tinkies. So wrote a New Deer songster, George Bruce Thompson, befriended by the scholar Dominie of Whitehill. And then awa aboot the First World War years, a Peterheid loonie hid been richt nae weel, and he wis sent up tae New Deer tae get better. Weel he did get better. And he grew up tae be the skipper who wrote 'Mount Pleasant'. And in this collection, Peter Buchan asks his boyhood cronies, 'Div they min how they roved aboot the braes, as cheery and as hardy as a caravan a tinkies'. Now notice the repetition of that simile. Both men, George Thompson and Peter Buchan were drawing on an expression native to this North East airt. Both drew on the common coin of country currency. And it, Gavin Greig's ear picked out many, many such examples from the folksinging of the countryside.

There wis a quine brocht up at Auch??, New Deer, Flora Campbell by name. Teached at Strichen, mairried a Professor and wrote Bennygoak. Now, she knew, she knew the debt that the lad or lass o pairts owes to their working origins and background. And so, she tells us that there's twa weys o kennin. Wi yer heid yer risen and muckle respec for the weel stored min. Wi yer finger a eens, yer instinct and yer een, learnin o anither kin.

Gavin Greig employed his scholarship to combine both kinds o kennin. And so, he preserved the tunies that cairried the wordies and owercomes, which folk can still sing in the quaet chaumer of the heart. Giving us to this day an echo that vibrates through New Deer tonight.


[RS] Charles Birnie! The Reverend Charles Birnie, thank you very much indeed, thank you [Applause.] It's nae affen I've been caught short, but I wis there jist noo! [Laughs.]

As I come in once again. Well, we meet with friends tonight, friends and eh, of the Buchan Heritage Society and that obviously means going back in the years to friends of what this is all about, our night reminiscing of Gavin Greig, and not only the tunes but the music as well. And one lad has done a tremendous lot for this area, not only this area but any of the places I have been. Wherever it be throughout Scotland, especially for the Fiddlers Spectacular in Aberdeen. And if you ask him if he would come to judge, if he would come to play. I was with him up in Shetland last week, so he's got to learn a new tongue when he comes doon here. And he's going to play for you first of all, I think it's 'Cirona' of Scott Skinner, and it's that well-known fiddler from Elgin, Bill Bryan. [Applause.]

[Fiddle. Applause.]

[BB] Thank you very much indeed ladies and gentlemen. We are going to, apparently Gavin Greig had a favourite tune which he enjoyed playing on the organ. There seems to be a wee bit o doubt as to what particular tune it was. Some say it was Mendelsohn's 'Cradle Song', but unfortunately I cannot find a Mendelsohn's 'Cradle Song', I've found a 'Spring Song', but not a 'Cradle Song'. There are various other suggestions that it might have been Greig's 'Cradle Song' and so on, but we are not just quite too sure. But we know it's a 'Cradle Song', so what I'm going to do is I'm going to play you Scott Skinner's 'Cradle Song'.

[Plays. Applause.]

[BB] Thank you very much indeed ladies and gentlemen. Two years ago, eh, Arthur Scott Robinson, who is a fiddler from Shetland, who happened to win the Champion of Scotland title in 1969, run by the BBC at that particular time. Two years ago he wrote a tune called 'The Buchan Heritage Society' which is a march, and I have been asked, I have been given the great pleasure of asked to play it tonight. I didn't realise what I was tackling when I was asked this! But however, I'm going to attempt to play for you this eh new tune, which I believe is the first time played in public, it's called 'The Buchan Heritage Society', and it's a march.

[Plays. Applause.]

[BB] Thank you very much. Thank you.

[RS] Speak a wee bit more aboot that, if ye jist guide your attention to me, because there's a wee bit of difficulty in the back there, we've called for a doctor. So a doctor is going out. But there's nae need, no dinna look roon folks, let's just continue with our concert. But we, if a doctor is in the audience, we know exactly where the exit area is there, and we'll get the person out concerned. Can I just say, knowing Artie Robinson from Shetland and knowing the mannie and his compositions, I would think that you folks in Buchan here are honoured with that tune, 'The Buchan Heritage Society'. I hope you agree with me. Thank you [Applause.]

The other thing that I would like to say is, when Bill Bryand said the first time he got this tune, and I hope I can play it well, whatever he said, I'm only listening from the back there, what he meant was the first he played it, I hope I did it justice. Well I presume Bill hid it for a wik or something like at. But my wife Esma sat doon tae it for the first time ten minutes ago, so a hand tae Esma on piana [Applause.] And I only say that because every place I go, folk say tae me, ye gonna gie yer accompanist enough credit. Well I know, having mairried a wifie for twenty odd year, I ken the number. Well I say twenty odd noo, cause it's hin abeen at ye see, but. Of course I do acknowledge the great effort made by them. But we tend when we get a soloist on stage, we tend, don't we, just to forget there's somebody there, just building up that soloist. I'm nae only speakin aboot Esma, I'm spikkin aboot a the folk on stage. [Tape obscure.]


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