Alasdair Roberts, Amble Skuse & David McGuinness

Alasdair Roberts, Amble Skuse & David McGuinness


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‘Easter Parade’ (written by P. Buchanan and R. Bell, published by Flag 22). This song originally appeared on ‘A Walk Across the Rooftops’, the 1984 debut album of Glasgow band The Blue Nile. Alasdair, David and Amble first developed their arrangement of it to perform as an encore during tour dates for their 2018 Drag City album ‘What News’.

‘Maria Muoter Reinû Maît’ is’ein Geisslerlied’ – a ‘flagellant song’. ‘Geisslerlieder’ were the songs sung by wandering bands of self-flagellating penitents in mediaeval Europe (particularly in Italy and Germany), mainly during two periods in the 13th and 14th centuries. It was during the second period, at the time of The Black Death, that a priest, Hugo Spechtshart of Reutlingen (1285-1360), noted down the words and music of some ‘Geisslerlieder’ as he heard them sung. He presented them in his work ‘Chronicon Hugonis sacerdotis de Rutelinga’ (1349), making him perhaps one of the earliest known collectors of vernacular song. Reutlingen lies in modern-day Baden-Württemberg, south-western Germany (coincidentally, it also happens to be the town where Alasdair’s mother Annegret was born).


























The Dun Broon Bride (Child 73, Roud 4)

This is a version of the ballad more widely known as ‘Lord Thomas and Fair Ellinor’ (in England) or ‘Lord Thomas and Fair Annet’ (in Scotland). This version was learnt from a recording of the Glaswegian singer Gordeanna McCulloch, who in turn learnt the song from Peter Shepheard. Peter in turn learnt the ballad from an octogenarian traveller man from Dunkeld, Perthshire. A version of the ballad appears in Percy’s Reliques of 1765, based with alterations on a broadside of the time of Charles the Second and licensed by L’Estrange, who was censor from 1663 to 1685; according to Professor Child, this is the version which had become traditional in Ireland in Scotland in his time (the late 19th century).

Young Johnstone (Child 88, Roud 56)

Our source for this ballad was the Glasgow singer Ellen Mitchell, although it has also been influenced by that sung by the late Perthshire traveller singer Betsy Whyte, from whom Ellen originally had the song. Indeed, the song is often regarded as the jewel of Betsy’s repertoire. Ellen tells us: ‘this rare old ballad has survived in the song tradition of the Scottish traveller family of Johnstones. It has been collected from several members of the family since the 1960s – Duncan Johnstone of Birnam in 1967 when in his 80s, his niece Margaret Johnstone recorded in Fife in 1968, another niece Betsy Whyte (nee Johnstone), author of two books about Scottish traveller life, The Yellow on the Broom and Red Rowans and Wild Honey, and also from Betsy’s sister in Australia.’

Johnny o the Brine (Child 114, Roud 69)

‘Johnny o the Brine’ is one of the titles by which the Scottish travellers knew/know the ballad often known as ‘Johnnie o’ Braidesley’, ‘Johnie o’ Cocklesmuir’ or ‘Johnie Cock.’ The original source for our version was Jock Duncan, formerly of New Deer, Aberdeenshire and now of Pitlochry, Perthshire, but it has also been influenced by versions from John Strachan and Willie Matheson of Aberdeenshire and the late traveller storyteller Duncan Williamson of Argyll (and, latterly, Fife). According to Professor Child, the first notice in print of this ballad is in Ritson’s Scottish Song, 1794.

Rosie Anderson (Roud 2169)

Alasdair first heard this ballad on Yorkshireman Dave Burland’s 1971 LP A Dalesman’s Litany (Trailer, LER 2029), although it is in fact a Scottish song, based on historical fact, with its setting in Perth. It appears in Ord’s Bothy Songs and Ballads and there are thirteen version of it in the Greig-Duncan Folksong Collection, vol 7, no. 1462, where a full historical account is given. Thomas Hay Marshall was a member of an eminent 18th-century Perth family and is generally credited with the building of Perth’s new town. It is said that Lord Elgin went on to become the British Ambassador at Constantinople and brought the Elgin Marbles to the British Museum.

Babylon (Child 14, Roud 27)

This version of the ballad which appears in FJ Child’s collection The English and Scottish Popular Ballads under the title of ‘The Bonnie Banks o’ Fordie’ in addition to the present title, was learnt from the singing of the late Aberdeenshire traveller singer and storyteller Stanley Robertson.

Clerk Colven (Child 42, Roud 147)

This ballad, which appears in FJ Child’s collection as ‘Clerk Colvill’, comes from the singing of the late Jean Redpath, who observes that 1769 appears to have been the earliest printed version of the tale. The original source of this variant seems to have been Miss Brown (Anna Gordon) of Falkland (1747-1810), from whom were noted some 35 ballads in total. This song perhaps has its origins in ‘Sir Olaf’, a Scandinavian ballad on a similar theme, the oldest known version of which appears on a Danish manuscript printed in 1550.

Long A-Growing (Roud 31)

This ballad was learnt from a recording of the late Glaswegian folk singer Alex Campbell, with whom Alasdair’s father collaborated in the seventies. Despite the huge popularity of the song throughout the Anglophone world, with versions known from traditional singers in Scotland, England, Ireland, North America, Australia and beyond, it appears to have gone unnoticed by Professor Child and does not feature in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads.

It can be found in Maidment’s A North Countrie Garland (1824) under the title ‘The Young Laird of Craigstoun’ and, apparently, is based on historical fact. The estate of Craigstoun was acquired by John Urquhart, better known by the name of Tutor of Cromarty. The ballad would seem to refer to his grandson, who married Elizabeth Innes, daughter of Sir Robert Innes of that ilk, and by her had one son before dying in 1634. The historian Spalding mentions that young Craigstoun’s death was generally attributed to melancholy, in consequence of Sir Robert Innes refusing to pay old Craigstoun’s debts, the creditors ‘bestowing many maledictions, which touched the young man’s conscience, albeit he could not mend it.’

The Fair Flower of Northumberland (Child 9, Roud 25)

Alasdair learnt this ballad from his late father Alan. Alan can be heard singing the song on a compilation LP of recordings from Folk Treff ’77 in Pforzheim, (West) Germany . According to Professor Child, the earliest copy of this ballad is introduced as ‘The Maiden’s Song’ in Deloney’s Pleasant History of John Winchcomb, in his Younger Yeares called Jacke of Newberie, a book written as early as 1597; Child finds ‘interesting agreements’ between the song and certain Scandinavian, Polish and German ballads.


ARTWORK by Amy Whiten

Band Interview - In which we seem rather lethargic at first