Mudcat Café message #3898396 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #162666   Message #3898396
Posted By: Vic Smith
09-Jan-18 - 01:15 PM
Thread Name: New Book: Folk Song in England
Subject: RE: New Book: Folk Song in England
Scotland has a fine repertoire of Bothie Songs made by farmworkers

Again, we need to be very careful in attributing a majority of Bothy songs to the farmworkers themselves. What we do know is that the bothy ballads found a willing audience of singers and listeners for these songs. By British standards, the farms of Aberdeenshire and the Mearns were large and often relatively isolated and the various farm tradesmen lived in the bothies and rarely left their farms during their six month 'fee'. The farms were regularly visited by all sorts of pedlars and as well as clothing, boots and 'bacca they brought song sheets to a captive market. Jimmy MacBeath was a popular figure in the bothies both as an entertainer and for the song sheets and books that he brought to sell. One of the few broadside ballads that I own was bought in a junk shop in Dundee; the lovely ballad of Tattie Jock and Mutton Peggy. It begins -
Ye'll a' o' heard o' Tattie Jock, likewise o' Mutton Peggy
They kept a fermie o'er in Fife and the name o' it was Craigie's

... though as you might expect from a song that has entered the tradition, it has been heard by me at the early TMSA festivals with the location changed - usually further north,
It was in print from the "Poet's Box" in Dundee as late as the 1950s though the subject is about transportation to Botany Bay for theft (1840s?). Extensive research has failed to locate the farm in spite of the song. Someone must have imagined the story as well as the location, but though the story sounds entirely believeable and likely, the odds are that it didn't happen. Who wrote it remains unknown but there is little doubt that the printed version helped its widespread popularity amongst old bothy workers that we met at those festivals such as Charlie Murray, Adam Young and Eck Harley. I heard a lot of these lovely old guys who must have started their work on farms around the time of the First World War. They sang all sorts of songs, not just songs about the farms; sentimental songs were prominent in their repertoires.
They talked a lot about the songs written by George Bruce Thomson, G.S. Morris and Willie Kemp, all of whom were famed as pro or semi-pro performers on stage and in village concert party and humour and 'bothy culture and songs' were prominent in their acts. They also recorded, mainly for the Beltona label and pedlars sold these '78s around the farms. The vast majority of the bothy songs sung by these old guys could be found in either one of these two publications by Kerr - Bothy Ballads - the songs of Willie Kemp and Buchan Bothy Ballads written by G.S. Morris. Both were still in print in that poor quality paper that Kerr's always used when I bought them (along with their many tune books) in the 1960s. (I would love to know the publication date for all of any of these Kerr publications. They seem to me to be difficult to trace.)
We also need to be very careful in taking as gospel the facts expressed in the lyrics of these ballads as Ian Olson, the expert of the bothy repertoire from the University of Aberdeen has said -
Bothies were more common in Angus than Aberdeenshire, but it is the latter that has become best known as the heartland of bothy songs.

Traditional bothy ballads were mostly composed between 1830-1890, and are often characterised as being songs decrying the conditions on a certain farm or in some cases certain farmers, seemingly gaining notoriety for places such as Drumdelgie, the Barnyards o Delgaty or Rhynie. However, bothy ballad expert Ian Olson points out that the songs were jokes rather than satires. He notes that Delgaty, for example, was a prestigious farm, "famous for having the very best of equipment, horses and horsemen. Singing that there was 'naethin there but skin and bone' would have been hilarious".

Now, it could be argued that the bothy evidence that I have been talking about came at a time when they were in terminal decline but three superb books that combine oral history with other written sources and account books by David Kerr Cameron - The Ballad & The Plough, The Cornkister Days and Willie Gavin, Crofter Man give us a detailed picture of life around the mid nineteenth century on the farms of north-east Scotland and they all talk about pedlars and their central importance in bringing news and song sheets as well as everything else to the farms.
The reason for my intense interest in this part of the world is that my grandmother born 1872, who I live with in Edinburgh when I was a boy, had been a 'kitchie maid' on an Aberdeenshire farm after leaving school before she achieved her ambition of training as a nurse in Aberdeen.