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Bothy Ballads

Bothy Ballads

Nowhere else in the western world possesses such a fine tradition of balladry and folk song as does the north east of Scotland and in particular a small tract of countryside in Aberdeenshire called Buchan.

This agricultural heartland has long been recognised for its music and song. Prof. Francis James Child (Boston, Mass. 1825 - 1896) who, when compiling his famous "English and Scottish Popular Ballads" collection, made reference that out of the 305 ballads given to him, 91 were from Aberdeenshire.

In the north east there are two distinct types of ballads. The first, the popular ballad or ‘muckle sang’, can further be sub-divided into two categories; the historical ballads which relate actual events such as ‘The Fire Of Frendraught’ (1630), and ‘The Battle Of Harlaw’ (1411), and, the romantic ballads often telling of true love and its erratic path; songs of deceit - ‘I Aince Hid A Lass’, and tragedy - ‘The Mill 0’ Tifty’s Annie’, sometimes known as ‘Andrew Lammie’, (Annie died in Fyvie in 1673). The forementioned song titles are but random examples from a vast collection.

The second type, born and bred in Aberdeenshire, is the "cornkister" or "bothy ballad". Like their ‘muckle’ counterparts the bothy ballads refer to romance and love, expose injustice, recount real events but specifically have grown and been nurtured from the experiences of the men and women working in and around the farms or fairmtouns of the 19th and 20th centuries. The bothy ballads were composed, (not necessarily written down initially), and set largely to existing pipe and fiddle tunes by the men and less frequently the women hired or fee’d for a six month period at the local hiring fairs or fee’ing markets held in towns and villages a week or so before the beginning of the terms; Whitsunday (28th May) and Martinmas (28th November).

"T’was in the merry month of May
When flowers had clad the landscape gay
To Ellon fair I bent my way
With hopes to find amusement.

A scrankie chiel to me cam near
nd quickly he began to spier
If I wid for the neist half year
Engage to be his servant.

I’ll need you as my orra loon
Four poun’ ten I will lay doon
To you, when Martinmas comes roon
To close out your engagement."

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