The Yellow’s on the Broom

Travellers by their cart.

A song about the Travellers (sometimes called Tinkers) of Scotland who lived/live a nomadic life which often settled for a short while during the harder winter months. The lyrics show the Traveller anxious for Spring and a new start to travelling. This song was written by the non-Traveller Adam McNaughtan and is based somewhat on the book of the same title by a traveller named Betsy Whyte.

Well, I ken ye dinna like it, lass, tae winter here in toun
For the scaldies they all cry us, aye, and they try to put us doun;
And it’s hard to raise three bairnies in a single flea-box room,
But I’ll tak’ ye on the road again when the yellow’s on the broom.

The yellow’s on the broom, when the yellow’s on the broom,
Oh, I’ll tak’ ye on the road again when the yellow’s on the broom.
(Chorus repeats the last line of each verse)

Oh, the scaldies call us tinker dirt and they sconce our bairns in school,
But who cares what a scaldy says, for scaldy’s but a fool.
They never hear the yorlin’s song, nor see the flax in bloom,
For they’re aye cooped up in houses when the yellow’s on the broom.

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The Dowie Dens O’ Yarrow

The Yarrow Valley

So I had a fantastic weekend at the St. Louis Tionól last weekend, including five hours in a room with singer/folklorist Ed Miller from Edinburgh (although now living in Austin, TX.) He spent the day talking with us about the rich tradition of song in the Scottish Lowlands and the Border country, both traditional and modern folk.

This song is one of the older ones he taught us. It’s the usual sad tale. Boy courts girl. Girl’s family doesn’t like boy. Girl’s family kills boy. Girl apparently learns her lesson. Here’s Ewan MacColl‘s version. The text below is one of the longer versions I have found and includes a bit more than what Ewan sings.

The Dowie Dens O’ Yarrow

There was a lady in the North,
I ne’er could find her marrow,
She was courted by nine gentlemen,
And a ploughboy lad frae Yarrow.

These nine sat drinking at the wine,
As oft they’d done afore, O;
They hae made a vow amang themselves
Tae fecht wi’ him on Yarrow.

She’s washed his face and kaimed his hair,
As aft she’s done afor, O,
She’s made him like a knight sae hright,
Tae fecht for her on Yarrow.

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Follow the Heron Home

A huge tip-of-the-hat to singer Ed Miller for introducing me to Karine Polwart‘s music. This captivating melody and inexplicably amazing poetry combine in one of the best new additions to the tradition I have ever heard.

The heron is her favourite bird. According to Karine, the song was written after she had been a guest at a Shetland Folk Festival. She had been singing at an outlying island event, and as she was being taken home by sea, in the early morning, a heron rose in front of the boat and flew ahead. In the song the heron represents the return of Spring, light after darkness, hope after grief.

Follow The Heron Home

The back of the winter is broken,
And light lingers long by the door.
And the seeds of the summer have spoken
In gowans that bloom on the shore

By night and day we’ll sport and we’ll play
And delight as the dawn dances over the bay
Sleep blows the breath of the morning away
And we follow the heron home

In darkness we cradled our sorrow
And stoked all our fires with fear
Now these bones that lie empty and hollow
Are ready for gladness to cheer chorus

Long may we sing of the salmon
And the snow-scented sounds of your home
While the north wind delivers its sermon
Of ice, and salt water, and stone chorus x 2