The Banff and Buchan Collection

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Tape 1994.044 transcription

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Local songs about local people

[MS] No, no, well not that I can recollect. Not really.

[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 days.

[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 inches thick.

[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 peat.

[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 tripod shape.

[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 more punishment.

[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 food.

[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 the Gambia.

[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 me there.

[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.

[MS] Eh?

[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 as well.

There never wis a bletherskite like Crafter James o Barrasgate
There yet his marra roon and roon for poorin oot a shoo'er o soon
The gab o him would diev the heid, and fairly split a livin heid
And gar ye wish he'd tie his tongue or else be either droond or hung
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 he's made-o
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 coughins-o
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 see-o
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 seven
As hameward then he waved along, his step wis short and feeble
For though his breath was unco strong, peer Sandy's legs were dreeble
But aye he shoudered up the hill, as weel's his feet would let him
Sine cleared the neuk by Nethermill and there the parson met him
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 smiles
He said 'I see yer headin hame', and Sandy hiccups (hiccups) 'Files'.

[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 wife
Her bield a wee bit but and ben, remote fae a life's stir and straif
Noo Belle wis auld, three score and ten, and a that time had nivver seen
Sik thing as a railway train, far less the toon o Aiberdeen
But three year back, or mebbe fower, her daughter settled near Abayne
Gat Belle persuaded tae come ower, as lang as the weather keepit fine
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 railway line
For hoors the widda wife wis lost afore she cam on hame eence mair
Sabbin oot, as white as a ghost 'I sa the de'il, auld Nick wis there!'
Noo efter Belle had settled doon and some fort mair had come tae hersel
And mony an awesome keek aroon, she telt her freens of what befell
I sa him she said through some palins, spewin fire or sulphur steam
And trailin on a ??? railins, a lichted up fae end tae end
And sine sa Belle wi baited breath, he gied an affa eldrich yell
And a at eence, as sure as death, lamped ben a hole awa tae hell
Sine jist as horny passed fae view he waved his hand and then cried back
I'm comin East guid wife for you, as seen as I hae taen my pack
And noo says Belle, I'm gan tae leave, I winna bide anither yoken
For if I dae, I will believe auld Nick will hae me at the stoken.
So peer auld widda wife McNeill gied hame a nervous shakin bundle
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 aff.

[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 oor
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 dander
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 it.

[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 noo.

[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 race
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 caul
And sine he said, I'll tak the road, doon through the Howes o Logie
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 anywhere.

[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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