Sunday, February 6, 2011

Kelvingrove, Iona and the dark side of the Scottish folk song

This is the story of the sanitisation of a Scottish folk song from gritty narrative to victorian parlour song and then to a modern hymn.

As a schoolboy I was indoctrinated with the Oxford Scottish Song Book which contained a selection of Edwardian versions of Scottish songs. None of them were very inspiring and Burns was surprisingly absent from the selection along with anything that was even vaguely political. One of the songs featured was Kelvingrove, and I made an instrumental recording of it a while ago:



The lyrics are:
Let us haste to Kelvin Grove, bonnie lassie, O
Thro' its mazes let us rove, bonnie lassie, O
Where the roses in their pride
Deck the bonnie dingle side
Where the midnight fairies glide, bonnie lassie, O.

Let us wander by the mill, bonnie lassie, O
To the cove beside the rill, bonnie lassie, O
Where the glens rebound the call
Of the roaring waters' fall
Thro' the mountains rocky hall, bonnie lassie, O.

Oh, Kelvin banks are fair, bonnie lassie, O
When the summer we are there, bonnie lassie, O
There the Maypink's crimson plume
Throws a soft but sweet perfume
Round the yellow banks o' broom, bonnie lassie, O.

Tho' I dare not call thee mine, bonnie lassie, O
As the smile of fortune's thine, bonnie lassie, O
Yet with fortune on my side
I could stay thy father's pride
And win thee for my bride, bonnie lassie, O.

But the frowns of fortune lour, bonnie lassie, O
On thy lover at this hour, bonnie lassie, O
Ere you golden orb of day
Wake the warblers on the spray
From this land I must away, bonnie lassie, O.

Then farewell to Kelvin Grove, bonnie lassie, O
And adieu to all I love, bonnie lassie, O
To the river winding clear
To the fragrant scented brier
Even to thee of all most dear, bonnie lassie, O.

When upon a foreign shore, bonnie lassie, O
Should I fall midst battle's roar, bonnie lassie, O
Then, Helen, should'st thou hear
Of thy lover on his bier
To his memory shed a tear, bonnie lassie, O.

In recent years the tune has been used as a hymn with new words written by John Bell and Graham Maule of the Iona Community:
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown,
will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare
should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean
and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

Will you love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found
to reshape the world around
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’II go
where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’II move and live and grow.

But the melody has a much darker past. It exists with various lyrics under the title "Oh the Shearin's No' for You" with various stages of sanitisation.

The earliest version is about the rape of a woman who then has to marry her assailant as she has been made pregnant by the attack:
Oh the shearin's no for you my bonnie lassie o
No the shearin's no for you my bonnie lassie o
No the shearin's no for you, for your back it willnae boo
And your bellies rowan fu' my bonnie lassie o

Dae you mind on yonder hill my bonnie laddie o
Dae you mind on yonder hill my bonnie laddie o
Dae you mind on yonder hill, where you said you wid me kill
If you didnae hae your will my bonnie laddie o

Well I'll no kill you deid my bonnie lassie o
No I'll no kill you deid my bonnie lassie o
No I'll no kill you deid, nor will I harm your pretty heid
I will marry you with speed my bonnie lassie o

It was in the month o' May my bonnie laddie o
It was in the month o' May my bonnie laddie o
It was in the month o' May, when the flooers they are gay
And the lambs all sport and play my bonnie laddie o

Oh the shearin's no for you my bonnie lassie o
No the shearin's no for you my bonnie lassie o
No the shearin's no for you, for your back it willnae boo
And your bellies rowan fu' my bonnie lassie o

It then went through a sanitisation to become the tale of a woman who is now too old for dancing:
Oh the shearin's no for you, my bonnie lassie o
Oh the shearin's no for you, my bonnie lassie o
Oh the shearin's no for you, for your back it winna bow
And your belly's o'erfu', my bonnie lassie o

Tak' the buckles frae yer shoon, my bonnie lassie o
Tak' the buckles frae yer shoon, my bonnie lassie o
Tak' the buckles frae yer shoon, for you've married sic a loon
An' yer dancin' days are done, my bonnie lassie o

Tak' the bloomsies frae yer knee, my bonnie lassie o
Tak' the bloomsies frae yer knee, my bonnie lassie o
Tak' the bloomsies frae yer knee, for it's better far for ye
Tae look o'er yer bairnies three, my bonnie lassie o

Tak' the ribbons frae yer hair, my bonnie lassie o
Tak' the ribbons frae yer hair, my bonnie lassie o
Tak' the ribbons frae yer hair and cut off yer ringlets fair
For you've naught but want an' care, my bonnie lassie o

And dae ye mind the banks of Ayr, my bonnie lassie o
And dae ye mind the banks of Ayr, my bonnie lassie o
Dae ye mind the banks of Ayr when you caught him in your snare
Now he's left you in despair, my bonnie lassie o

This was still too impolite for the Victorians so around 1819 John Sim (probably also Thomas Lyle) wrote the words about Kelvingrove which we know today.

Its an interesting evolution from profane to sacred, although in many ways the final use of the tune could address the first.

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