Rantin Rovin Robin: Songs of Robert Burns
ROBERT BURNS (January 25 1759- July 21 1796) The Man, The Myth & The Music by Castlebay- Julia Lane & Fred Gosbee Robert Burns, Scotland's National Poet, lived in a turbulent and vibrant era. For all of his brief life, he was an extraordinary man; not only a man of his time but for the ages. The son of a painfully poor Scottish Lowland farmer, he worked physically hard most of his life. Generally painted as a romantic rake, he was also a passionate advocate for the common person and his works reflect his revolutionary views. He lived freely, testing limits and questioning authority. Amazingly, he was never prosecuted for his behavior and in fact became celebrated by a broad spectrum of society. Working in the Scots vernacular as well as in English, farm workers and aristocrats alike responded to his forthright and romantic writings which extolled the virtues of honesty, chivalry, hard work and joyous living while deploring exploitation and duplicity.In spite of all his blunders, he did try to live by his word. A great deal is known about his inner life as most of his myriad letters are preserved in addition to his many public writings. He also contributed heavily to Johnson's 'Scots Musical Museum', probably the most important collection of 18th century Scottish song. Burns gathered songs from the people around him, often revising or "mending" them, and included much of his original work. As a result the Museum embodies a living tradition combining innovation and musical anthropology. On this recording, Castlebay intends to portray the many facets of the life of Burns, not only through the selection of the songs, but in their arrangements. Rather than pretending historic authenticity of performance, we look to convey the spirit in which we believe they were created. The ensemble (lever harp, fiddle, baroque flute, whistle, guitar, cello) is typical of an 18th century convivial musical gathering. NOTES ON THE SONGS 1) RANTIN' ROVIN' ROBIN Tune- Dainty Davie An autobiographical song in the form of a prophecy by the palm-reading midwife who attended Burns' birth written by a 27 year old man well pleased with himself . The "Monarch's hindmost year" refers to the year before the death of KIng George.The "blast o' Januar wind" was a gale which did, in fact, blow down the chimney wall of the house William Burness, his father, had built. Young Robert and his mother were removed to a neighbor's house while repairs were made. There was a lad was born in Kyle, But whatn'a day, o' whatn'a style I doot it's hardly worth the while Tae be sae nice wi' Robin For Robin was a rovin' boy, A rantin' rovin' rantin' rovin', Robin was a rovin' boy, A rantin' rovin' Robin. Oor Monarch's hindmost year but ane, Was five and twenty days begun' 'Twas then a blast o' Januar' win' Blew hansel in on Robin. The gossip keekit in his loof, Quo' scho,'Wha' lives shall see the proof, This waly boy will be nae cuif; I think we'll ca' him Robin'. He'll hae misfortunes great and sma' But aye a heart abune them a' He'll be a credit tae us a'; We'll a' be prood o' Robin. But sure as three times three mak' nine, I see by ilka score and line, This chap will dearly like oor kin' So leeze me on thee, Robin. 'Guid faith,' quo' scho, 'I doubt you Sir, Ye'll gar the lasses lie aspar; But twenty fauts ye may hae waur- So blessins on thee, Robin.' Glossary Kyle-old district of Ayrshire whatna- whatever, no matter doot- doubt ane- one hansel- good luck gift gossip-midwife keekit- peeked or glanced loof- palm of the hand scho- she wha'- whoever waly- healthy cuif- fool abune- above prood- proud ilka- every oor kin'- our kind; humanity leeze me on thee- here's to you gar- make aspar- with legs apart fauts- faults hae waur- have worse 2) GREEN GROW THE RASHES A classic ode in appreciation of women, this is one of Burns' many songs that appears in several versions each for different audiences. A blue version appears in the Merry Muses of Caledonia, a collection that will probably not be found in most public libraries. He generally is ecumenical in his expressions of his fondness for female company of all kinds. Biographer Alan Cunningham said ' Burns calls this inimitable song a fragment, and says it speaks the genuine language of his heart. The incense in the concluding verse is the richest any poet ever offered at the shrine of beauty." As with many of his works, Burns based his song on one he heard in his daily ramblings, possibly the following The down bed, the feather bed, The bed amang the rashes, O ! Yet a' the beds are nae sae saft As the bosoms o' the lasses, O.' His last verse may have been influenced by 'Cupid's Whirly- gig,' published in 1607 'Oh! Who would abuse your sex who truly knows ye? O women, were we not bom of you ? Should we not, then, honour you ?... And since we were made before you, should we not love and admire you as the last, and, therefore, perfect work of nature ? Man was made when nature was but an apprentice; but woman, when she was a skilful mistress of her art; therefore, cursed is he that doth not admire those paragons, those models of heaven, angels on earth, goddesses in shape!' Chorus Green grow the rashes, O; Green grow the rashes, O; The sweetest hours that e'er I spend, Are spent amang the lasses, O. There's nought but care on ev'ry han', In ev'ry hour that passes, O: What signifies the life o' man, If 't was nae for the lasses, O? Green grow, &c. The war'ly race may riches chase, An' riches still may fly them, O; An' tho' at last they catch them fast, Their hearts can ne'er enjoy them, O. Green grow, &c. But gie me a cannie hour at e'en, My arms about my dearie, O; An' war'ly cares, an' war'ly men, May a' gae tapsalteerie, O! Green grow, &c. For you sae douce, ye sneer at this; Ye're nought but senseless asses, O: The wisest man the warl' e'er saw, He dearly lov'd the lasses, O. Green grow, &c. Auld Nature swears, the lovely dears Her noblest work she classes, O: Her prentice han' she try'd on man, An' then she made the lasses, O. Green grow, &c. rashes- reeds warly- worldly gie- give cannie- comfortable tapsalteerie- upside down douce- delicate 3) THE RANTIN' DOG, THE DADDIE O'T / MY LOVE SHE'S BUT A LASSIE YET Tune: East Neuk o' Fife In his notes for Johnson's Musical Museum, the author states "I composed this song pretty early in life, and sent it to a young girl, a very particular acquaintance of mine, who was at that time under a cloud." Alan Cunningham tells us "The heroine of this humorous ditty was the mother of 'Sonsie, smirking, dear-bought Bess,' " Although Elizabeth Paton, a servant to Burns' parents, was indeed the mother of his first child (also called Elizabeth) there is speculation that the song may have actually been written for Jean Armour who was also made pregnant by Burns out of wedlock. Burns never married Paton, contrary to the wishes of his mother, but he did provide a trust fund for little Elizabeth who was raised by her. He eventually married Jean Armour. O wha my babie-clouts will buy? O wha will tent me when I cry? Wha will kiss me where I lie? The rantin' dog, the daddie o't. O wha will own he did the faut? O wha will buy the groanin maut? O wha will tell me how to ca't? The rantin' dog, the daddie o't. When I mount the creepie-chair, Wha will sit beside me there? Gie me Rob, I'll seek nae mair, The rantin' dog, the daddie o't. Wha will crack to me my lane? Wha will mak me fidgin' fain? Wha will kiss me o'er again? The rantin' dog, the daddie o't. Wha- who clouts- diapers tent- heed rantin' -raucous, carefree faut- fault Groanin' maut- whisky for the midwife How to ca't- what to name it creepie chair- stool of repentance in church nae mair- no longer Crack- chat my lane- my loneliness fidgin' fain- eagerly ready 4) O' A' THE AIRTS Tune: Miss Admiral Gordon's Strathspey. His notes say 'This air is by Marshal; the song composed out of compliment to Mrs. Burns. N.B. - It was during the honeymoon.' While Burns was preparing a home at the Ellisland farm in June 1788, Jean stayed with his mother at Mossgiel. Their relationship had been tumultuous before their marriage: she had already delivered two sets of his twins. Although they had agreed to marriage in writing, her father nullified the union. Burns then became embroiled in several other romantic affairs which distracted him from his commitment to Jean. They were finally officially married in April 1788. This did not end his wandering, however, and upon taking in the child borne by another amour, Ann Parks, Jean was heard to say "Oor Rabbie should hae had twa wives". When he died on July 21, 1796, Jean was unable to attend the poet's funeral as she was lying in with their ninth child. Of a' the airts the wind can blaw, I dearly like the west, For there the bonie lassie lives, The lassie I lo'e best: There's wild-woods grow, and rivers row, And mony a hill between: But day and night my fancys' flight Is ever wi' my Jean. I see her in the dewy flowers, I see her sweet and fair: I hear her in the tunefu' birds, I hear her charm the air: There's not a bonie flower that springs, By fountain, shaw, or green; There's not a bonie bird that sings, But minds me o' my Jean. Airts -directions row- roll mony- many shaw-hillside 5) THE MOUDIWART / KISS ME QUICK, MY MINNIE'S COMIN' / THE STOOL O' REPENTANCE Burns was known to be an enthusiastic fiddler and collector of tunes. The popular melodies of the time often inspired him to poetry, with their evocative titles and rhythms. These selections from the contemporary repertoire reflect an emancipated attitude towards relations between men and women which Burns enthusiastically espoused. The Moudiwart is the Scots word for a burrowing garden mole (with obvious connotations) and the Stool of Repentance was a chair at the front of the church where sinners were put on display. 6) YE BANKS AND BRAES O' BONNY DOON This lyric was recast cast at least three times before Burns sent them to be published, and in the process were adapted to fit different airs, the original tune being Ballandallach's Reel aka Camdelmore, from Cumming's collection of strathspeys. The lyric for this runs thus: Ye flowery banks o' bonnie Doon, How can ye blume sae fair! How can ye chant, ye little birds, And I sae fu' o' care! He subsequently wrote to his editor George Thomson referring to the version of 1792, saying - 'There is an air, The Caledonian Hunt's Delight, to which I wrote a song that you will find in Johnson - Ye Banks and Braes o' Bonnie Doon. This air, I think, might find a place among your hundred, as Lear says of his knights." This melody has been attributed to a Mr. Millar of Edinburgh while Thompson says it has been claimed by both Ireland and the Isle of Man. The subject of the song is said to be inspired by the misfortunes of a Miss Kennedy, the daughter a gentleman of fortune in Carrick, who was deserted by her lover to whom she had borne a child out of wedlock. Although she instituted a court action against him she died of a broken heart before receiving satisfaction. Ye banks and braes o' bonie Doon, How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair? How can ye chant, ye little birds, And I sae weary fu' o' care! Thou'll break my heart, thou warbling bird, That wantons thro' the flowering thorn: Thou minds me o' departed joys, Departed never to return. Aft hae I rov'd by Bonie Doon, To see the rose and woodbine twine: And fondly sae did I o' mine; Wi' lightsome heart I pu'd a rose, Fu' sweet upon it's thorny tree! And my fause Luver staw my rose, But ah! He left the thorn wi' me. ^#^brae- small hill wantons- skips about pu'd -picked fu' -full fause- false Luver- lover staw- stole 7) WILLIE BREWED A PECK O'MAUT / THE MASON'S APRON Written to celebrate a convivial meeting at Laggan, the Dunscore, Dumfriesshire farm of William Nichols, an Edinburgh High school teacher. Nichols, Burns and Allan Masterton, another local schoolmaster gathered to enjoy the results of an experiment in fermentation during the autumn vacation in 1789. The reel, "The Mason's Apron" was originally played by an 18th century fiddler who would leap upon the table after Masonic meetings wearing his ceremonial apron and play madly. Burns was a Mason, and loved a good party, so the tune seemed appropriate. It is, even today, a popular party piece among fiddlers. Oh Willie brewed a peck o' malt An' Rob and' Allan cam tae see Three blyther lads that leelang nicht Ye wadna fin' in Christendie Chorus; We are na' fou, we're no that fou But just a drappie in oor e'e The cock may craw, the day may daw But aye we'll taste the barley bree Here are we met three merry boys Three merry boys I trow are we And mony a nicht we've merry been And mony mair we hope tae be It is the moon; I ken her horn That's blinkin' in the lift sae hie She shines sae bricht tae wile us hame But, by my sooth, she'll wait a wee Wha first shall rise an' gang awa' A cuckold coward loon is he Wha last beside his chair shall fa' He is the king amang us three fou- drunk leelang- whole entire Christendie-all Christian lands Just a drappie in oor e'e- only slightly craw- crow daw- dawn barley bree- ale trow- swear, believe mony- many nicht- night mair- more ken her horn- see her crescent blinkin' in the lift- shining in the sky sae bricht- so bright tae wile us hame- to lure us home by my sooth- truthfully a wee- a bit gang awa'- go away cuckold- wimpy or hen-pecked loon- fellow 8) THE DE'ILS AWA' / THE DEVIL IN KITCHEN Tune- The Hemp Dresser Burdened with the growing responsibilities that came with being a husband and father coupled with his lack of success at farming, Burns felt the need for more reliable employment and became an exciseman for the Dumfries area in 1788. An Exciseman was a collector of excise taxes on certain home commodities and licences for certain trades. They were generally not well liked by the population, but Burns seemed to transcend this attitude. He took part in a number of dramatic sting operations involving the numerous smugglers that plied the Solway Firth between England and Scotland. Allegedly, this song was penned after a long night waiting in a bog for the appearance of some such. The Devil in the Kitchen is a dance tune from the period. The Deil cam fiddlin thro' the town, And danc'd awa wi' th' Exciseman! And ilka auld wife cries: -'Auld Mahoun, I wish ye luck o' the prize, man! Chorus The Deil's awa, the Deil's awa, The Deil's awa wi' th' Exciseman! He's danc'd awa, he's danc'd awa, He's danc'd awa wi' th' Exciseman! We'll mak oor maut, we'll brew oor drink We'll laugh, sing, and rejoice, man, And monie braw thanks to the meikle black Deil, That danc'd awa wi' th' Exciseman! There's threesome reels, there's foursome reels, There's hornpipes and strathspeys, man, But the ae best dance ere cam to the land Was The Deil's Awa wi' th' Exciseman!' De' il- devil awa' - away ilka- every auld- old maut- malt monie braw- many great meikle- brawny threesome reels,foursome reels, hornpipes and strathspeys- various Scottish country dances 9) MY HEART'S IN THE HIGHLANDS Tune: Failte na Miosg (The Musket Salute) While waiting for publication of his poems in 1789, Burns was encouraged to tour the country for inspiration for future creations. His journey to the southern Borders was less than fruitful, but his exploration of the "highlands" ( the Trossachs and Perthshire just north of Glasgow and Edinburgh) yielded more works. It may be that he felt moved by visiting the country of his forebears, as his father's family came from the north. My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here, My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer; Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe, My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go. Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North, The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth; Wherever I wander, wherever I rove, The hills of the Highlands for ever I love. Farewell to the mountains, high-cover'd with snow, Farewell to the straths and green vallies below; Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods, Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods. My heart's in the Highlands, etc. 10) A PARCEL O' ROGUES William Burness, Robert Burns' father, had moved to Ayrshire from the Aberdeen area after the downfall of the highland supporters of the Stewarts in 1745. Burns felt a certain allegiance to his Jacobite heritage and wrote a number of pieces decrying the downfall of their dynasty in favor of the English Hanovers. In this song, the 'rogues' are the members of the Scottish parliament who signed the Act of Union with England in 1707. He also wrote in praise of George Washington and both the American and French revolutions. Needless to say, this kind of writing did not endear him to the political hierarchy of his time. Fareweel to a' our Scottish fame Fareweel our ancient glory Fareweel e'en to the Scottish name So famed in martial story Now Sark runs to the Solway sands And Tweed runs to the ocean To mark where England's province stands Such a parcel o' rogues in a nation What force or guile could not subdue Through many warlike ages Is wrought now by a coward few For hireling traitor's wages The English steel we could disdain Secure in valour's station But English gold has been our bane Such a parcel o' rogues in a nation O would ere I had seen the day That treason thus could sell us My auld grey heid had lien in clay Wi' Bruce and loyal Wallace But pith find power till my last hour I'll mak this declaration We're bought and sold for English gold Such a parcel o' rogues in a nation 11) THE RIGHTS OF MAN / JEFFERSON & LIBERTY These dance tunes, popular in the late 18th century, reflect Burns' political viewpoints about which he was quite vocal. 12) A MAN'S A MAN During his formative years in Ayrshire, Burns endured the cruelties of hunger and overwork and watched his father toil unsuccessfully to make his farm prosper and to pay an unfair rent. Throughout his life he keenly felt the weight of poverty and injustice and much of his work reflects his sensitivity to the imbalances of the world. Written the year before his death, this inspiring song reflects his lifelong sense of indignation for those who put themselves above others by virtue of their ego or social station. Is there for honest poverty That hings his head, an' a' that? The coward slave, we pass him by -- We dare be poor for a' that! For a' that, an' a' that, Our toils obscure, an' a' that, The rank is but the guinea's stamp, The man's the gowd for a' that. What though on hamely fare we dine, Wear hoddin grey, an' a' that? Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine -- A man's a man for a' that. For a' that, an' a' that, Their tinsel show, an' a' that, The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor, Is king o' men for a' that. Ye see yon birkie ca'd 'a lord,' Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that? Tho' hundreds worship at his word, He's but a cuif for a' that. For a' that, an' a' that, His ribband, star, an' a' that, The man o' independent mind, He looks an' laughs at a' that. A prince can mak a belted knight, A marquis, duke, an' a' that! But an honest man's aboon his might -- Guid faith, he mauna fa' that! For a' that, an' a' that, Their dignities, an' a' that, The pith o' sense an' pride o' worth Are higher rank than a' that. Then let us pray that come it may (As come it will for a' that) That Sense and Worth o'er a' the earth Shall bear the gree an' a' that! For a' that, an' a' that, It's comin yet for a' that, That man to man the world o'er Shall brithers be for a' that! ^#^coward slave- slave to cowardice gowd- gold hamely fare-ordinaryfood hoddin grey- course clothing birkie- dandy fellow cuif- a dolt aboon- above fa'- fault bear the gree- have the first place brithers- brothers 13) AULD LANG SYNE / WHISKY WELCOME BACK AGAIN / BOTTOM OF THE PUNCHBOWL Burns' authorship of the words has always been controversial. As a bona fide "songcatcher" , Burns sent the song to Johnson for inclusion in the Scots Musical Museum with a note that it was an old song to which he had made additions and alterations.Scholars generally agree that he was not the author of the words of the first verse, which is the only one familiar to everyone. The air to which he adapted the lyrics was from an old man's singing, and upon hearing it he immediately wrote it down as he thought it 'exceedingly expressive' and which he later remarked 'has often thrilled through my soul.' Several tunes by this name were published as early as 1711 and many variations have appeared since both with and without lyrics. The words and the present melody were first printed together posthumously in 1799 in George Thompson's A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs (London), but there is little clarity as to whether Thomson or Burns brought the words and melody together. Regardless of origins, the song had become a universal emblem of camaraderie and forgiveness. The following are Burns verses from a letter of 1793 to Thomson. Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And days o' lang syne? Chorus: For auld lang syne, my jo, For auld lang syne, We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, For auld lang syne We twa hae rin aboot the braes, And pu'd the gowans fine; But we've wander'd mony a weary foot Sin auld lang syne We twa hae paidlet i' the burn, Frae mornin' sun till dine: But seas between us braid hae roar'd, Sin auld lang syne. And there's a hand, my trusty fiere, And gie's a hand o' thine, And we'll tak a right gude willie waught, For auld land syne And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp, And surely I'll be mine; And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, For auld lang syne. Auld - old lang syne- long ago my jo- an endearment twa- two hae rin aboot the braes- have run over the hills pu'd the gowans- picked daisies mony a weary foot- many long journeys Sin- since paidlet- paddled burn- stream braid- broad fiere- friend, brother gie's- give me richt gude willie waught- a good swig pint-stowp- measure of drink (to each their own) BIBLIOGRAPHY The Burns Encycopedia by Maurice Lindsay Burns- A Life by Ian McIntyre The Complete Works by Alan Cunningham The Scots Musical Museum by James Johnson.