Welcome to the Dragon Folk Club

Welcome to the official blog of the Dragon Folk Club, which meets for a singers night every Friday at The Bridge Inn, Shortwood, Bristol. Everyone is welcome whether you sing, play or just listen.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Burns' Night 2015

Robert Burns (1759-96)
A fine turn-out for our pre-Burns' Night session with 19 humans and three dogs including Gertie, who could possibly be described as a "Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie" if she wasn't listening. There were plenty of Scottish, psuedo-Scottish and debatably Scottish songs in evidence. I won't comment too much on their relationship to Burns unless it's reasonably obvious or was stated.

Richard was once again MC for the evening - it's becoming quite a habit. We were pleased to see Maggie S for the first time in a few weeks, but she and Mike still had to leave at half time.

A couple of other notable anniversaries were mentioned. Derek pointed out Ewan McColl's 100th birthday on Sunday 25 January, and Keith G mentioned the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill's death on Saturday 24 January.

Keith G proposed as appropriate to Churchill, Leonard Cohen's First We Take Manhattan (then we take Berlin).

Derek suggested that if he were present, McColl would look badly upon those present singing with sheets of words, and those singing Scottish songs who had no Scottish blood. While Ewan's real name was James Henry Miller and he was born in Salford, his parents were both Scottish.

Mike made a good McColl-approved start with John Barleycorn (Roud 164), a version of which Burns had collected, presumably on a trip South of the border, under the title "There were three men came out of the West".

Derek, who had vowed in previous weeks to sing songs by Fred Jordan, claimed to have managed to pick a song which was sung both by Fred and by Ewan McColl, which would be Scottish enough to cover the Burns theme, but not so Scottish as to offend McColl (even neglecting the fact that Derek is one eighth Scottish on his mother's side). This miracle song was The Outlandish Knight (Roud 21, Child 4).

Terry C thought he didn't know any Scottish songs (until reminded of those he knew by Eric Bogle), so he sang Red Is The Rose, an Irish version of Loch Lomond to the same tune: Kind Robin Lo'es Me.

Richard sang a parody of Waile Waile, called Aley Aley and written by David Diamond: "Oh water is weak, I don't drink wine...". Lesley gave us A Sailor's Life (Roud 273, Laws K12).

Alan, who hadn't been out singing for a while, picked one of his amusing Marriott Edgar monolgues, which, being still soon after Christmas was Recumbent Posture: "The day after Christmas, young Albert, were what's called confined to his bed...". What's more, Alan claimed the GP in the story was called Dr Burns. I'm not so sure!

Alan wasn't the only one with a comedy monologue, Roger having quickly penned one in the car on the way to The New Inn, regarding his supposed encounter with the Highland Light Infantry. This encounter involved, among other things the theft of the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey (which was actually performed by four Scottish students), which prompted Derek later to sing The Wee Magic Stane (John McEvoy).

Chris took us back to the 17th Century with Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes, with words from Ben Johnson's poem Song to Celia,

Simon sang Sylvia Barnes' version of The Handweaver and the Factory Maid (Roud 3085), which is set in Anderston in Glasgow. I mention this because there others who will say that the song is from Lancashire.

Steve G followed the Scottish theme with Bert Jansch's Caledonia, and so did Jo with Karine Polwart's The Sun's Coming Over The Hill.

Colin brought a smile to a few faces with The Haggis Season (Jeremy Lloyd and Jim Parker), not least because Maggie S clearly doesn't think Burns' Night complete without Colin singing this Captain Beaky song.

So that was the first round of the room this Burn's Night. The remaining Scottish contributions that I noticed were as follows:

Phil's last song of the evening, brought us home to Bristol with Adge Cutler's Virtute et Industrial before the evening was finished off by Colin with Gulls of Invergordon.

Here's a selection of these and other songs sung during the session.

(Number of people present - 19, of which 14 performed)


  1. Given McColl's aforementioned frequent strictures on people singing songs from, and in a phoney accent of, places from which they had not hailed, I was delighted to see you picked the 'False Lover Won Back' recording which features his partner Peggy McSeeger singing "That's ower long tae bide awa/That's oer lang frae hame". I wonder if they had words when they got home after that recording.

    1. Derek, I don't know about Ewan's reaction but apprently their children have had words to say, so says Peggy here.

  2. I didn't want to weigh the report too heavily with this, but since Richard commented that The Brown and The Yellow Ale, which he sang, though it wasn't mentioned in the report, was one of the stranger songs in his repertoire, I thought I'd investigate a little further.

    My research caused me to visit various places on the web, though most of the useful information (or conjecture) came from mudcat.

    There seem to be two potentially strange things about this song. The first is the subject matter. Why does the narrator let another man go away with his wife for an hour and a day? Why does he die on her return, and why does she bury him in what some suggest is a cheap coffin? One suggestion I've read is that he's prostituting his wife though, unless the words are very coy, no money seems to exchange hands. Another stranger, but more plausible, explanation might be droit de seigneur which supposedly gave feudal lords the right to have sexual relations with subordinate women (some say newly weds in particular).

    The second possible strangeness comes out of the song being, apparently, a translation from the Irish Gaelic, and that the refrain may be an unusual form of mondegreen. The song seems to come from S óró londubh buí (translated as "O my blackbird gay"). Someone has said that Dominic Behan told of it being translated by James Stephens.

    While the suggested translation for buí above is "gay", it is literally "yellow". And "londubh" (blackbird) could be misheard as "leann dubh" (which is porter or literally "black ale"). So, could this be the source (courtesy of a mondegreen or mishearing) of "The black or the yellow ale" - or "the brown and the yellow ale"?

    Yes, Richard, there is a lot of strangeness here.