Bothy Ballads

Fit are Bothy Ballads, well they’re sangs about the wye o life on a ferm. Noo they wernae caad bothy ballads fin they were written, they were ballads that telt aboot life on the ferm and they date back till the early to mid 19th centrury. The North east o Scotland his a lang history o grat muckle ballads tellin stories like The Battle o Harlaw, Jean o Bethelnie(also kent as Glenlogie), Mill o Tifty’s Annie etc
It wis probably around the beginning on the 20thcentrury that the term bothy ballad wis created, spikkin about the sangs o the bothy’s dien them a separate identity fae the ither ballads. Noo ye can debate if that is richt or wrang bit there is nae doot that as stories being telt (efter aa that’s fit songs are), there are bothy ballads that are the equall o onny o the other ballads!
Noo fit are the sangs aboot ? well there wis nae radio, TV o social media in them days so the workers made up sangs aboot the places they worked and maist o i time it didnae show the fermer and /or the fermers wife in a guid licht and aften complained aboot the workin and livin conditions they hid tae pit up wi. These songs were sung fan ivver fee’d men gaithered and acted as a warnin tae ither lads about the place, Hence mony o them are caad efter the fairmtoun i.e. Drumdelgie, Barnyards o Delgaty, Guise o Tough, Hairst o Rettie,
Wi you have like’t tae work wi Adam Mitchell at Sleepytoun far the order wis “tae scrape oor denners fae the secks” meaning the meal that was stuck to the inside o the bag cause I hid gotten weet and they had to scrape the meal aff the bag and it wid be used for their brose that day. (gaad sakes)
Of course when Adam Mitchell was hirin the lads at the feen market, he bummed the place up in great light (If you and I agree, he said Ye’ll hae the fairest oay, For I nivver bid my sevents work abeen ten oor’s a day. Bit it turned oot they were fined for leavin the toun (toun refers to the ferm toun, nae Aiberdeen as a lot o fowk refer tae Aiberdeen as the toun noo aadays) If the couped a cairt or got up tae only pranks
Or fit about Drumdelgie far “on the cauldest day that ivver blaws the servants get their share”
“At five oclock we quickly rise and hurry doon i stair there tae corn oor horses likewise tae straik their hair” Syne efter work in half an oor each tae the kitchie goes, there tae get oor brakfast which generally is brose” At sax o’clock the mulls put on tae gie us a stracht work” And that was how the working day started.
Swearing was frowned upon “an if ye use profanities Ye’ll be pitten awa) I.e. sacked and you would probably lose the fee agreed for the half term.

Sone o the sangs poked fun or telt stories aboot the ither workers like in the Guise o Tough (Near Alford) This aboot Jamieson the little baillie (He’s gaen doon tae Alford and aside an affa fame, He’s gaen doon tae Charlie Watt’s for tae hae a dram, bit lang, lang or I won there the laddie couldnae stan”
Or Simpson the kitchie deem “for tae tell he pedigree I really wid tak shame, she gangs tae kirk on Sunday we here heid abeen the level, aye an twa raw o ivory that wid fear the very devil.
The Hairst o Rettie (Near Banff) is unique in that it praises baith the fermer and the workers, Willie Rae was the fermer and he introduced the reaper in place o the scythe in cutting the corn, therebye cutting oot an affa lot o hard work for the scythers. It tells folk “if ye’re in search o Hairvest work upon a market day , be there in time and look for Willie Rae” Then the last verse is in praise o the workers.
Oh come aa ye jolly Rettie Coves a ringin cheer hurrah, A better bunch o workin chaps a gaffer nivver saw, Aye sae eager for the pairt and ready for the frae, It wis you that made the boattie row, that wis steered by Willie Rae.
There are still ballads aboot the work on the ferm being written even now and adding tae the history.
The sangs tell ye o the work and life and how is has evolved over the years and act as a great social commentary of there times. In today’s language I would call them the Social media of their day, a away of passing on or recording a story. A great source of history (albeit you can’t take them all at face value ) but a great starting point to research and find out more about the people and places.
The Ballads and Bothy Ballads are an amazing, extremely rich and valuable oral resource of the life, time and history of our unique part of the country.
There are hundreds of songs and I’ve only touched on four of them so, go and find CD’s/recordings from John Strachan, Jock Duncan, Tam Reid as well as those still singing these songs today, Joe Aitken, Hector Riddell, Geordie Murison, Shona Donaldson, Scott Gardiner, Bill Gray, John Dickson and myself to name a few. You will be astounded by the volume and depth of the sangs, the fun, the hardship and the work. Have a go at singing them yourself. You will learn so much about the history of the land of North East Scotland and mibbie a few new Doric words as weel.

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