Local songs about local people
[MS] No, no, well not that I can recollect.
[TM] Mostly names and places that people recognise
and can have a laugh at and so on.
[MS] Mostly eh, happenings and places within
I would say a radius of
.. 20 miles or so. Mostly
very local. And then of course some of the better known bothy
ballads became well known sort of all over the country, but
eh the ones that I am talking about, the ones that I call
the true bothy ballads, but jist, the spur of the moment things,
they were purely local, purely local.
[TM] I suppose a lot of the famous ones started
out that way.
[MS] Yeah. And they just, they'd be added to,
they'd mebbe started off with just a verse or two, and then
someone else would add a verse or two more, and they grew
and they grew and they grew until they were quite a lengthy
thing. Then as the, the bothy get togethers sort of died out,
I think the longer ones, and maybe the better ones, the more
musical ones, sort o survived and eh, they are the ones that
we know today.
[TM] Then they would have been printed and standardised.
[MS] Aye, printed and put to proper music rather
than just the sing song versions that were done in the old
[TM] You mentioned a while ago, you mentioned peat, was it
mostly peat that people burned.
[MS] Oh yes, aye, yes that was, well roon the
Lonmay area there was very, very few ever burned coal, it
was all peat there. There was huge, huge peat banks.
[TM] So part of the farm servants job would
be to get the peat.
[MS] Oh yeah, aye. You always had yer few days
casting peats in the moss and then what they call ricklin,
dry them, then stack them and they'd all to be carted home
and stacked again.
[TM] Rickles being the wee stacks.
[MS] Aye, sort of three together like a tripod
and then one on top. That varies from place to place. The
type of peat too. The peat from there was cut in a sort of
a, oh roughly, 4 inches, 4 inches, and a foot long. In northern
Caithness when we were, totally different peat altogether,
it was about a foot long, roon aboot a foot wide, and two
[TM] Big flat squares.
[MS] Aye, totally different kind of peat altogether.
Well, a different method of cutting them. But eh, Caithness
peat banks are shallow, that's why. The peat banks round about
Lonmay, Pitsligo are deep, deep mosses and you can go down.
Oh, I remember working on one there, it was, we were sort
of about three levels doon, you know that would be what, about
eighteen feet below the surface, ye know? You took about six
feet to a bank, or what you could reach. You put your spade
in, you took your turf out of the top and that was put down
on the bottom, and that gave you sort of dry standing on the
bottom, then you went in from your peat, peat spade, you went
in like that laid at the side ye see, you went in like that.
And the length of the blade of your spade was the length of
yer peat and the width of the blade was the width of your
[TM] A little tab on the side.
[MS] Aye, that was the little cut on the edge,
well that was about four inches high, that was, that was the
maximum that you could take a peat. Eh, there was, a barrow
load wis a score, at wis twenty peats, wis a barrow load.
You barrowed them out on to dry land, you tipped the barrow
to the side so the peats were all on end, they were dried
like that for a while and then they were rickled under their
[TM] How many would you need for a winter.
[MS] Eh, well depends on eh, depends on the size of the household
really. Ah, a farm I worked on for a while I cut all the peats
there, four days, four days cutting, and we used tae put oot,
eh, (thinks), we used to put oot aboot eighty score a day,
I think it was eighty score a day, no it must have been more
than that. Aye, it woulda been aboot eighty score a day, four
or five days, well that was for the farmer and his wife, and
a young lad and myself on that place. Some had a lot more
than that ye know. I would say that would be aboot the, no
that would be one of the smaller households.
[TM] About eight thousand maybe?
[MS] Uh huh. It was alright if the moss was
fine and handy, you know.
[TM] If you had to journey away it would have
been quite a dark.
[MS] Oh yeah, and some mosses, you know it was
eh easy access on some of them, you know if it was wet weather
it wis jist impossible, ye'd tae carry them out. Oh that was
a back-breaking job, carry them oot on yer back until ye know,
you could get tae where you could get a horse and cart.
[TM] What eventually took you out to Africa.
[MS] Well, 1950 my father decided to retire
and eh, I said oh well, I woulda had to borrow money to take
over the place from him ye know. But ach, itchy feet, itchy
feet [laughs]. My father was a wanderer in his young day as
well, he left Echt, and went all through Canada, USA, Mexico,
landed in Australia. Did all sorts of work, ranching, cowboy,
gold-mining, cattle drover in Australia. Joined the Australian
Infantry in the first World War and got all shot to bits.
Was in the first Battalion of the Australian Infantry. Finished
in the regiment as Sergeant Major.
[TM] Where was he in the war. Where did he?
[MS] Gallipoli. Gallipoli beaches, wounded there,
was Egypt. And eh, and landed back to Britain where he recovered
and back to France and got shot up some more in France. Got
[TM] What were you doing out in West Africa.
[MS] Eh, to start with, the first spell I was
there, the first couple of years I was there, my job was to
find ways and means of increasing rice production, which,
I mean, I wisnae alone, there was four or five of us engaged
in the same task, we all had an area to work in. Glad to say
we did it quite successfully. We went on an aerial survey
taken just after three or four years and it had increased
by about 3 or 4 thousand acres. Not only that we had introduced
a lot of new varieties of rice which increased the yield per
acre as well. We had something like a 250% increase in total
crop. And then eh, I was home on leave and eh, got a cablegram
from the boss, the director, saying would I mind cutting my
leave short to come back. And I said no, come back anytime.
So eh, went back oot to discover that the protectorate, the
colony area, was a small bit of the Gambia was a colony, the
rest was a protectorate. The colony area was classified as
a famine area and he wanted me to work with the World Health
Organization on famine relief. So to help me to start with
me, I had a Dutchman, a Mr Cornelius van der Plas, who had
the theoretical knowledge, and I had the practical knowledge.
We worked together for about six months and then he left and
I was left to carry on on my own, at the end of five years,
we had the famine beaten and we were showing a surplus of
[TM] Very good.
[MS] Still got nice letters from the Government
of the Territory thanking me for my services.
[TM] Quite a change from a bothy in the Lonmay district to
[MS] Oh yes quite a change. I was scheduled
to go to University, but in those days there wis no grants
or anything else, and eh, just they couldna afford to put
[TM] Life caught up.
[MS] Jist had to work instead. Not that I've
ever regretted it mark you. Had a good life.
[TM] And now you're back home again.
[MS] Oh, I've been home since, the Gambia was,
West Africa from 1950 - 1958. It was a good life there, you
worked hard you lived hard. You know. No, you dinna ??? Again,
you'd to make all your own amusements, there was no radio,
no TV, no cinemas no nothing. It was very very primitive.
[TM] You didn't take to making songs yourself.
[MS] No, no, I'm afraid the local population
wouldn't have known what I was saying anyway. [Laughs.] The
first station I was on there was another chap there, our next
nearest neighbour was 91 miles away, next nearest European
neighbour. You just made your own amusements jist.
[TM] Do you still have that book of poems your father made.
[MS] Oh aye, aye. Bitties fae Barrasgate. Barrasgate
was the name of the croft we had at Drumoak.
[TM] Do you fancy reading one or two of them.
[TM] Do you fancy reading one or two of them.
[MS] Well, if it's any benefit to you.
[TM] It would be great yes, I'd like to hear
one. The book, when did he have it printed?
[MS] Oh, 19, this is a reprint which my mother
got done at a place in Aberdeen, after my father died, this
is 1969. But it was, 19, oh it woulda been in, we left Drumoak
in 1930, ah, what, (thinks) woulda been early 1930's. There's
a photograph of my father. To the day he died his back was
as straight as a rule. That's an introduction by JM Bulloch,
you've maybe heard o him, no, no.
[TM] No I haven't.
[MS] This is his own introduction.
O warldly praise I crave nae mean
But only ask for them that read
Their fair comment
And if for chance I raise a smile
Then will I coont my work worthwhile
And rest content
That was his ain introduction. Eh. He wrote his own epitaph
There never wis a bletherskite like Crafter
James o Barrasgate
There yet his marra roon and roon for poorin oot a shoo'er
The gab o him would diev the heid, and fairly split a livin
And gar ye wish he'd tie his tongue or else be either droond
Well mebbe this will be his end, and mebbe no, ye nivver ken
Giv he set aff wi sik a claik, and trip ower's tongue and
brak his neck
Then on his tomb wid read the gether 'a'neath this stane,
belies a blether'
[MS] At Drumoak, we put in a little barn threshing mill. And
I had an uncle who stayed at Midmar and he was always mad
keen on anything mechanical. You know anything that wis driven
by an engine, anything like that. So the first day that this
threshing mill was going to be in operation, is Uncle Adam,
he came across from ????? at Midmar to the croft at Drumoak.
And this is what my father wrote.
Adam's ower tae gie us a day and show us what
So we let Adam say his say, and this is what he said-o
Afore that we put on the mill, says Adam blithe and cheery-o
First of a, the barn we'll fill and sine ye shall no weary-o
We'll fill her up fae top tae tae and mak a rukky sikker-o
We'll hardly leave a neuk for strae, sine let the milly bikker-o
Janet, she will louse the knots, and I will hud it in-o
James will notice strayin oats, say let the milly rin-o
We shae seen Adam fill'd their moo, there Janet sent him fuffin-o
Till James wis gey near smore't wi stew and biggit oot wi
But aye the milly gied on burlin, and Adam lough wi glee-o
A strae came ower the shacker's dirlin, o it wis a sicht tae
But faith he hid tae stop at last, for ilky neuk wis chokin-o
And glaid we were a the trash wis past, it fairly wis a yokin-o
But fan we need anither thrash, by sir we'll send for Adam-o
And get it by wi little fash, so here's oor thanks tae Adam-o
[TM] That's just like a bothy song isn't it.
[MS] Aye, this is one that's been done on BBC,
goodness knows how often, and it's been done at country concerts.
I heard it done on a boy at the Theatre here, but it wisnae
done to its best advantage because the lady that did it hadna
got the right twang and she's gone through it like a dose
of salts, mean she rattled it off far too fast. I don't know
if you've heard it or not.
Fan miser Toon's pig wis smoort amon glaur
The fairmer declared that it might ha been wa'r
And as she hid died on the ay ither ??
The halflin wis roaded for twa steen o sa't
So the piggie wis scrapit and cleaned o the dubs
Sine pat in sa't brine and twa muckle tubs
And a they ate seen, fan finished wi work
We hid pork tae a tattie, or tatties and pork
And noo when the tubs were wearin well doon
Anither mashunter befell Miser Toon
For ay Sabbath nicht fan a were asleep
A ferra coo chokit hersel on a neep
At five in the mornin fan he gied tae the byre
The loon jist wis in time tae see her expire
Woe's me co the fairmer, my protty fine beast
Ye hae nae disease though plainly deceased
So eens mair for some sa't the halflin wis roaded
And come back in a dreep the wey he wis loaded
Sine aff come her heid, the heeves and the jacket
And intae the tubs she was sa'ted and packit
And a the sax months they hid beef ilky day
Til the halflin wis scunnered, but darner say nay
Noo jist aboot ??? when the bowie's wore deen
Miser Toon's mither, a cankered auld deem
Took some kinda income that stoppit her breath
Though naebody grieved when they heard o her death
Except for the halflin, for packit his kirst
And jinkit awa afore he wis missed
For he thocht he ??? fit the chiel would be at
And again he'd be roaded awa for mair sa't
And he said tae himsel 'I've aten the soo
And long I hae chavved wi his aul ferra coo,
But I'm through bein' loon he can fee him anither
For I fair dra the line at aten his mither.
[TM] What inspired him to write that I wonder.
Twis files, when Sandy left the ??, the oor hid struck eleven
Though he had sworn by a that's guid, that he'd be home by
As hameward then he waved along, his step wis short and feeble
For though his breath was unco strong, peer Sandy's legs were
But aye he shoudered up the hill, as weel's his feet would
Sine cleared the neuk by Nethermill and there the parson met
Sandy sa him through a mist and tried tae stracht himsel
But aye his cargo gied alist and Sandy a but fell
The Parson oft had seen the same, his face wis wreathed in
He said 'I see yer headin hame', and Sandy hiccups (hiccups)
[MS] That's een aboot the church beadle, the
church officer. ?? Well this is one that eh, I was asked aboot
just not long ago. Eh, somebody hid. [End of Side A.]
[MS] I know that poem, I know that poem too
my father wrote it [laughs]. And this is it.
Awa far up in Foudland's Glen, lived Belle McNeill, a widow
Her bield a wee bit but and ben, remote fae a life's stir
Noo Belle wis auld, three score and ten, and a that time had
Sik thing as a railway train, far less the toon o Aiberdeen
But three year back, or mebbe fower, her daughter settled
Gat Belle persuaded tae come ower, as lang as the weather
Well, the change wis daein the widda guid til fate gie her
an unco skelp
It fairly jeeled the crittur's bleed, and left nae poor tae
cry for help.
The wey she landed in sik a plicht, as gart auld Belle near
lost her mind
Wis a through getting lost ey nicht and wanderin doon the
For hoors the widda wife wis lost afore she cam on hame eence
Sabbin oot, as white as a ghost 'I sa the de'il, auld Nick
Noo efter Belle had settled doon and some fort mair had come
And mony an awesome keek aroon, she telt her freens of what
I sa him she said through some palins, spewin fire or sulphur
And trailin on a ??? railins, a lichted up fae end tae end
And sine sa Belle wi baited breath, he gied an affa eldrich
And a at eence, as sure as death, lamped ben a hole awa tae
Sine jist as horny passed fae view he waved his hand and then
I'm comin East guid wife for you, as seen as I hae taen my
And noo says Belle, I'm gan tae leave, I winna bide anither
For if I dae, I will believe auld Nick will hae me at the
So peer auld widda wife McNeill gied hame a nervous shakin
And swears aye yet she'd seen the de'il and nae a train ga'n
through a tunnel.
[TM] Very clever.
[MS] Oh, there's umpteen. A Lass o Parts. That's
about a lad who married a lady, a female anyway, and eh, when
she went to bed at night she started coming apart, her wig
came aff, her glass eye came oot, and her wooden leg came
[TM] Oh have a go at that one.
[MS] Speakin about the cow running off, this is it.
The hummel coo run aff ae day, and gied throw
the wid like stoor
Sine cleared the dyke and doon the brae at forty miles an
James and Janet busy hewin, set aff in het persuit,
And a the time an anger vowin vengeance on the brute.
Janet flew over near a mile through summer heat and fleas
Sine tummeled ower at Newton stile and barkit baith her knees
James skelpit on ??? aye breathin forth his ire
And nivver kent his breeks ahin were left on Cally's wire
But noo the coo had hid eneuch, nae langer wished tae wander
And James and Janet swore she looked and gied them sich a
But then nae mair will play sich pranks, they've finished
a the gither
For James his ranket oot the branks and pat it on a tether.
[MS] That's jist exactly what happened. The
coo run off and left oor croft and went right doon the road,
straight doon the road, came to Newton, at Newton stile ye
see, and Cally's wire, that's the fence between oor croft
and Coldstream Farm. Janet by the way, was my late mother.
[TM] That's very good, it's got everything in
[MS] Aye, it's. A bit aboot Charlie Murray,
ye know Charles Murray that wrote Hamewith. I remember him
there, at winter.
[TM] Do you remember your father writing these things?
[MS] Oh yes, oh yes, aye.
[TM] Did he only start later.
[MS] Oh, up in the loft here, up in the attic
here I have a suitcase full of his writings that nobody's
ever seen yet. Robbie Shepherd wis interested in them and
he said he was going to come oot and go through them, but
he's never done it, he's maybe forgotten. Oh, a whole, there's
a whole suitcase full of notepads. Delirium wi trimmins, plums
and puddocks. No that's back tae Doric, you didnae know that
[TM] No I didn't.
I see there is some little doot fit country cradled Adam
And maybe that's a question moot that ne'en will ever fathom
But here's a fact that a should ken, aul Noah wis o Scottish
And fan he moored on Clachnaben, this is fit he tald the Press.
Black wheat dan doon for ????
And droon the world wi a its folks, I'll way some time o weet
And sine he said, I'll tak the road, doon through the Howes
I'm makin for the London Road ?? on Strathbogie.
[TM] I didnae ken that.
[MS] You didnae know that the ark was moored
at Clachnaben across there. [Laughs.]
[MS] This is one of my favourites. McClusky's Lament. I read
this one through a, there was a pensioner's club here that
meets on a Monday, and they asked me along to do something
for them, and I read a few of these things to them. This one,
eh, was jist, they were so, you know, engrossed in it, and
then when it came to the end as you'll see, howls of laughter.
A piper stuid by a muckle grey steen,
T he sa't tear blint his ee
Sabbin in sorra forlorn an aleen
Puir Donald McCluskey, ah me, ah me
Robbed for a that he cared for in life,
His anguish and grief were painfae tae see
Gone wis his helpmate in peace and in straif,
Puir Donald McCluskey, ah me, ah me.
Lang, lang he stood till the nicht was far spent,
Syne mountainous pipes he let the wind free
And poured oot his soul on a hielan lament,
Puir Donald McCluskey, ah me, ah me
It wailed through the glens, sae awesome and shrill,
Twas heard by the fishers awa oot at sea
And wakened the sleepers on forest and hill,
Puir Donald McCluskey, ah me, ah me
Noo the cause o the loss o this love o McCloskey,
W was a muckle grey rock aside Bennachie
For the dunt fen he fell on't broke his bottle o whiskey,
and the spirit departed, ah me, ah me.
[TM] Oh dear.
[MS] This is one, o years ago, ??? Was turned
into a sketch. Och, it's ?? another very funny one. And so
on it goes.
[TM] Oh, that's very good, thanks very much.
[MS] Well, I suppose ye canna buy these.
[TM] I was just going to ask are there any more
[MS] Nope, and eh, that's the last copies I
have. I had a few copies, but I've, you know you lend them
oot to folk and ye never get them back. So that one's not
going oot o my hoose.
[TM] Quite right, quite right. Well thanks very
much for taking the time to speak to me about this.
[MS] If it's any help to you.
[TM] Oh yes it's great.
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