The celebrations of the King's birthday in 1802 were unprecedented:
it is beyond the recollection of the oldest citizen that they ever observed at any former period such general happiness unsullied with riot or outrage... it affords a pleasing prospect that in time coming our city will be no longer reproached with those dangerous and filthy demonstrations of tumultuous joy which endangered its inhabitants and disgraced its police.
The 18th century celebrations that writer had in mind were spelt out by Alison Dunlop in 1888 in her book Anent Old Edinburgh:
The principal event, the crowning feu-de-joie of the evening, was the rival turpentine balls. These balls were larger than a modern football. They were constructed of wire filled with tow and rags which had been fed, and gorged, and steeped with oil and turpentine for days beforehand. In fact, the morality of a turpentine ball was the very antipodes of modern teetotalism: its excellence was determined by its powers of suction. The balls had long wire strings, and were the work and care of all the apprentices of their respective districts. The Grassmarket ball came out of the "Roperie" of Samuel Gilmore, after whom Gilmore Place is named; and the West Port ball from "Yeben Gairdner's", the yarn-boiler, in the Vennel. Set on fire, the balls were whirled round, sling fashion, and swung off high and far into the air. They simply fell where they listed. Then ensued a game with no rules - Rugby, Association, or otherwise - at fiery football. The danger was minimized in the broad platz of the Grassmarket, but in crowded Portsburgh the wonder is there was not an annual conflagration. The hottest of the fray was on the site of the old city gate. The Vennel was created for a surprise party, and the Ferry Road, now the Old Castle Road, for an ambush. The aim on the one side was to capture the Edinburgh ball, on the other to kick the Portsburgh ball up the Grassmarket, and, in spite of burns and bruises and broken heads, these balls were as keenly fought for, taken, and gallantly regained as were ever regimental colours upon the battlefield.
Throwing fiery balls around is still part of Stonehaven's New Year festivities, and the old village game of mass football survives in many parts of Britain, but only Edinburgh seems to have thought of putting the two together. Hurling dead cats was another part of the fun that no other town seems to have gone in for. There was usually some genuine expression of loyalist feeling involved in these festivities despite their violence, but on occasions the celebrations went beyond riotousness into real riot, notably the Canonmills distillery riots of 1784 and the demonstration against Henry Dundas in 1792. King's Birth Day is a reel published by Thomas Skillern in 1780; a different tune of the same name was published by John Clark in 1795. A dim echo of the old celebrations survived in Gorgie in the Depression years, when boys would fight with paper balls attached to lengths of string on "Scotch or Irish Day".
Fire festivals, with candlelit windows and street bonfires, were the old way of celebrating any politically charged event. These "illuminations" occurred in other Scottish towns and cities, but nowhere as often as in Edinburgh. When popular allegiances were split, as at the settlement of the Douglas Cause in 1769, supporters of the winning side lit up their windows and took to the streets, with unlit windows becoming targets for stonethrowers. By the early nineteenth century illuminations were declining. A suggestion to illuminate the city for the acquittal of Henry Dundas after his impeachment trial in 1806 was not followed through, and a mid-century children's rhyme quoted by Robert Chambers cynically comments:
There's nae illumination!
It's a' big lees!
It's only the candlemakers
The Hallow Fair was held for a few days after Halloween and was the largest fair in Edinburgh's calendar for centuries. As well as the livestock market on the Borough Muir, there was a huge street fair elsewhere in the city, most often in the Grassmarket, attracting traders, prostitutes, gamblers and thieves from all over Scotland. There are two tunes called The Hallow Fair: a jig which seems to be a pipe tune, from Neil Stewart's collection of the late 18th century, and a reel which I have taken from the Brysson/Sharpe manuscript. There is also a joyfully celebratory poem about it, Hallow Fair by Robert Fergusson, in the Scots elegiac stanza form, which is almost never set to music (one such elegy uses a tune called Lang Unken'd which is now untraceable). The other Hallow Fair, by Francis Semple of Beltrees (c.1616-1682), was printed in the Scots Musical Museum. It's in a more conventionally singable metre and is said to go to a 9/8 tune most commonly known at the time as If The Kirk Wad Let Me Be. I've given both the Museum tune and the source its editors were said to have got it from, Walley Honey from Oswald's Caledonian Pocket Companion. Since the basic tune from the Museum fits the pipe scale, I've given an appropriate transposition of it as well. I have given two versions of the text, the near-gibberish from the Museum and a shorter but more coherent version from Eyre-Todd's Scottish Poetry of the Seventeenth Century.
The fair in Dalkeith was the next most important one in the Lothians, and persisted, mainly as a horse fair, until late in the 19th century. Dalkeith Fair is a version of the tune earlier printed as Cadgers of the Canongate. I've taken it from a 19th century collection of flute music, and have also given an arrangement for the Highland pipes of the 1890s by David Glen, which is unusual for a pipe tune by putting it in G. This sort of works because his version of the tune has a gapped hexatonic scale with the C missing, but all pipe tunes in G sound strange because of the unusual tuning of the Gs themselves and the violent dissonance of the A drones.
I have not identified a fair at Ratho around 1800, but Ratha Fair, published by the Gows, must refer to one. A bit beyond the present western edge of the city, it's not far from Ingliston, whose regular fairs and markets selling used cars, counterfeit clothing, smuggled cigarettes and pirated software are as near as we now get to the markets of old Edinburgh. The tune resembles several other minor-key reels, but has an unusual structure, with the first half rather than the second having a variant repeat. This would make sense if the tune had begun as a song with a chorus, but no such song is known.
Bruntsfield Links are one the last green parts of the vast Borough Muir donated to the city by David I. Golf has been played there ever since it was invented. There has been a Golf Tavern since 1456, but not the present building, which dates from 1717 - this is one of the many "oldest pubs in Scotland" which can only hold that title if you disregard finicky details like being demolished and rebuilt somewhere else. The links were used for stone quarrying by 1508, and golfers had to play around the quarry holes; these lasted until they were filled in by the relief-work projects of 1817-18 that built the Radical Road. Troops mustered there before the battle of Flodden; the links were often the site of cavalry training and army drill. Civilians used them for laundry, carpet beating, shinty, circuses and the annual Hallow Fair, when as many as 3000 cattle occupied the links for days at a time. Bruntsfield Links is by Robert Ferguson, from about 1790. At that time the course was only of six holes, but very rough and difficult by modern standards, not least because of balls falling into hoofprints and strokes being blocked by cowpats. Many different clubs shared the links and most of them had club songs. One of them, mostly devoted to listing the names of now-forgotten local golfers, was published in 1862 to mark the then-new Bruntsfield Allied Golf Club, possibly the first to have a membership largely drawn from manual workers. Its tune was A Hundred Pipers:
Wi' a hundred golfers and a', an' a',
The club, the cleek, and the ba', the ba',
O, Bruntsfield Links look braw, look braw,
Wi' a hundred golfers and a', an' a'.
The gentlemen's clubs had songs that were even worse.
Leith Links were a rabbit warren in the Middle Ages; their use has since alternated between grazing, sport and military exercise. Their artificial mounds were until recently thought to have been built by the English army when besieging Leith against its French defenders in 1560, but a rediscovered siege map shows no military works anywhere near them; so their origin is a mystery. The Links had a crude five-hole golf course by around 1600, though this was never their main use; with demands on the space for archery, horse-racing, fairs, athletics, quoits, cricket, football, pasture, and as a pedestrian route, there were continual struggles over the centuries among rival users. Horse grazing was first to be banned in 1839 after some boys caused a stampede, and cattle were removed after a woman was attacked by a cow in 1862, only being rescued by golfers battering it with their clubs; golf was stopped around 1907 with the opening of public courses elsewhere in Edinburgh. The fiery reel Links of Leith is from Bremner's collection of the mid-18th century. Many songs used Leith Links as a setting, starting with Sally's Answer to Sawney published in London by D'Urfey in 1719; mainly because it was a green space that rhymed with "breathe". These exercises in pastoral cliché had nothing to say about the actual history or geography of the Links.
Both the Borough Muir and Leith Links were used as places of quarantine during the plague of 1645; this was far worse in Leith than in Edinburgh, and Leith Links became a huge concentration camp of improvised wooden huts, with the prisoners on the verge of starvation. There were 2736 deaths from plague in Leith, more than half the population; most were buried in unmarked graves under Leith Links. When Leith had an outbreak of smallpox in 1893-4, its quarantine hospital was again on the links.
Address to Golfers, on the occasion of a lawsuit attempting to enclose part of Leith Links, is by Andrew Duncan (1744-1828), one of the leading physicians of the age. Inspired by the miserable death of the poet Robert Fergusson in 1774, he campaigned persistently, energetically and successfully for a humane lunatic asylum to be built with public funds. He wrote two kinds of occasional poems; one was for the Harveian Society, a medical social club, and the other on his annual ascent of Arthur's Seat on May 1, which he was still doing past the age of 80. He seems to have had an unusually healthy lifestyle, including dietetic doctrines encouraging the consumption of fish, and was a leading member of the Caledonian Horticultural Society, trying to get the Scots to grow and eat a wider range of fruits and vegetables. The second building used for his lunatic asylum was Craig House on Craiglockhart Hill. It had once belonged to the family of one of the "Queen's Maries" in the ballad Mary Hamilton, and had the appropriate historical background to be an asylum; according to Margaret Warrender, one of its former residents
overcome with grief and misery at the loss of an adored husband, shut herself up here, and spent the remainder of her life in a room all hung with black, into which the light of heaven was never permitted to enter.
It was used during World War 1 as a retreat for shellshocked officers, including some of the English literary celebrities of the era. It has recently been converted into the main administration building for Napier University (formerly Napier College, named after the mathematician John Napier of Merchiston).
The tune is an English one much used for broadsides, A cobler there was or King John and the Abbot of Canterbury; its "Derry down" refrain has been said to be a remnant of a Druidic processional song in Old Brythonic, and occurs in folksongs and broadsides from all over Britain. This version comes from an English broadside of about 1760, now in Glasgow University Library; another English broadside in the same volume from about the same time shows the kind of use the tune was often put to - a ballad about a gentleman who sat on a Cremona violin and crushed it:
Now woe to the Bum that this Fiddle demolish'd
That has all our Music & pastime abolish'd;
May it never want birch to be switch'd & be slash'd,
May it ever be itching, and never be scratch'd,
Sing down, down derry down.
Comely Garden, near Meadowbank to the south of London Road, was a walled pleasure garden open by 1758; a newspaper advertisement from January that year promoted a ball with fireworks. It was the spot used by James Tytler for his first balloon ascent in 1784 It closed a few years later, and became the site of the Elsie Inglis maternity hospital, closed in the 1990s. The tune Comely Garden is by Daniel Dow. Most of Dow's output is for the flute or fiddle, but this tune fits the Highland pipe scale. It is known in nineteenth-century pipe tune collections as Pussy's Tail or in Gaelic Tha car an earbul Stidan.
Portobello, named after a naval victory of 1739 against the Spanish, was Edinburgh's seaside resort from about 1790 on; it acquired bathing machines in 1795, a promenade in 1860, and one of the biggest open-air swimming pools in Europe in 1936. While badly run down by the council and with the swimming pool and steam bath closed, it is still an important leisure centre, with the promenade now full of amusement arcades. Its best-known personality was Harry Lauder, born there in 1870. Its beach has developed a feature unique in Britain since the closure of the Monktonhall coalmine. The mine was always wet, and after neighbouring mines closed, the pumps could not keep up on their own with river-sized torrents pouring in at every face. With the mining and pumping stopped, the water still flows: out underneath Portobello beach to create a patch of quicksand.
The Sands of Portobello is a slow strathspey by James Porteous. Portobello is from a manuscript book for the flute compiled in 1763 by Hugh Montgomerie of Mauchline (1739-1819), later to be the 12th Earl of Eglinton, when he was a young soldier fighting the French in Quebec. Montgomerie was interested in the bagpipes; a set of smallpipes he used to own is preserved in Edinburgh Castle, he agreed to fund the town piper of Eaglesham in 1772, and in the 1780s he employed Charles MacArthur, Highland piper to MacDonald of the Isles, who came to know Burns and pass on Highland tunes to him. This could well be pipe music, in which case it is would be the earliest of all the many pipe tunes commemorating British military actions abroad. There may have been some personal significance to it, given that the battle was in the year of Montgomerie's birth.
Theatre in Edinburgh has a long history of contentiousness. Its origins are in two kinds of play of the late Middle Ages: those put on by travelling gypsy players, who were still doing a regular season at Roslin in early summer late in the 16th century, and more importantly the guild plays performed on the trade guilds' holidays, with stock characters like Herod and His Two Daughters, Robin Hood, Little John, the Abbot of Unreason, or the Queen of May. These used small portable stages that were taken round the city and re-erected at a different spot for each show. These plays were considered so important that they continued uninterrupted despite the Battle of Flodden and the English invasion of 1544. Even when the play was discontinued, as it was by the Hammermen in 1516, the accompanying procession went on regardless. The Abbot of Unreason (or "Abbot of Narent", meaning "nae rent" just like it sounds) was not just a character in a play; it was a post that carried the responsibility of organizing festivities throughout the winter, from Halloween to Candlemas (1 February) and required an assistant, the Boy Bishop, from 6 to 26 December.
No music from the guild celebrations survives. We know what instruments were used (bells, fifes, bagpipes, kettledrums, organs and tabor pipes) from the guilds' accounts of payment for them and their players, but not what was played, or even the words that were sung. The trade tunes must have featured, but the huge scale of the celebrations implies that almost every kind of instrumental music of northern Europe must have been heard at them; many of the musicians were foreigners. The city may never spent as large a fraction of its resources on the arts before or since as it did for these guild festivities in the early 16th century.
All this was banned by a statute of Mary Queen of Scots in 1555. The result of attempting to enforce the ban in 1561 by hanging a shoemaker's apprentice was a massive riot in which the tradesmen both freed the prisoner and held the city magistrates hostage until they capitulated. The bans imposed by the Reformation were more effective; the Kirk and to a large extent the common people regarded plays as a remnant of the old political system and a manifestation of privilege.
Some kinds of procession, not tied to the guild system, survived for centuries beyond the dramas they once introduced. Both the King Crispin procession and the annual May Day procession before dawn to Arthur's Seat, accompanied by fifes and tabor pipes, lasted into the nineteenth century. Processions involving sporting events encompassed all classes; wealthy golfers paraded their trophies to Leith Links, curlers and skaters paraded to their rinks, and all of Edinburgh paraded to Leith at the start of the annual Leith Races, the biggest mass spectacle in Scotland for about 150 years. The Carters' Plays, analogous to the guild plays but involving semi-rural carters and incorporating a horserace as well as processions, were found all over the Lothians. One version from Haddington began by suspending a cat in a barrel of soot and beating it to death with hammers, but this seems to have died out by 1800. The Gilmerton Carters' Play dated from well before the Reformation; originally in May, it was revived in a more refined form in 1787 to take place on the last Friday in July, and lasted until the early twentieth century. The Edinburgh Common Riding, at Halloween, was a less popular event, and only took place every three years. The annual festivities of the miners were the last of these events to arise, beginning in the mid-19th century. The Edinburgh Miners' Gala, just after May Day, remained one of the largest annual public events in the city until the mines were destroyed under Thatcher in the 1980s.
Attempts to reintroduce plays from the late seventeenth century onwards came from the aristocratic elite, and were heavily resisted at first both by the mainstream of the Kirk and by its most extravagant polemicists. A season of plays at the tennis courts of Holyrood in 1715 was attacked in The Church of Scotland's Lamentation concerning the Setting up of Plays and Commedies, which depicted theatres solely as places to arrange sexual encounters:
Concurse of people meet by night, in Venus' School to play,
While Satan's Actors on the Stage, his Bennar there display,
By Commedies and Interludes, prophane and untrue Jests;
Spectators wantonly, all round, h[e]ave up their Naked Breasts,
That lustful eyes may feed thereon, whilst they with wanton glance
Give secret signals by their looks, and am'rous countenance.
Meanwhile the male spectators all, with bussy eyes, do spy
The jalts and neighbours' wives, for whom they like fed-horses bray;
To blow the coal of rampant lust, the Actors act their part,
By wanton and lascivious jestes, set off with all their art,
At once they batter ear and eye, with Hell's Artillery,
Reciet some wanton Love intrigue, or act of Venery...
Both from personal recollections of spectators, and from the song texts written in England for the theatre at around this time, like those printed in D'Urfey and Playford's Wit and Mirth, this description might not have been as off-the-wall as it looks at first sight to a modern reader. Erotic content in stage performances was not as permissible again until the 1960s. In London theatres the women on display in the boxes were as big an attraction as the action on stage.
Allan Ramsay started a theatre in Carubbers Close in 1736. It was managed by the Italian rope dancer Signora Violante. Madame Violanti's Minuet is attributed to Charles Maclean in the not-very-reliable Gairdyn Manuscript. Another one, on the facing page of the same manuscript is by William McGibbon; it turned up decades later, transcribed with different mistakes, as Madam Violante's Minuet in the Brysson/Sharpe Manuscript of the 1790s. I haven't attempted to edit these into a single fully coherent piece. No genre of dance created such confusion for Scottish copyists as the minuet, probably because of the alienness of the idiom.
The council shut Ramsay's theatre down after they got a petition arguing that special effects were an even worse menace than sex:
they evidently tend to debauch the morals of those who attend them, being filled with impure and vile jests, immodest representations, horrid imprecations and oaths, blasphemous reflections on Providence, and many other immoralities which cannot but pollute the minds of men; yea, in some of them they have the boldness to act some of the most awful and terrible works of God, such as thunder and lightning, etc, which is too daring for creatures to imitate, cannot be done without great guilt, and serves to make people atheistical contemners of these works and of the glorious doer of them.
Violante went on to run an Edinburgh dancing school but died soon after, in 1741. James Oswald's jig The Funeral of the Theatre, commemorating this episode, is from the Macfarlan Manuscript of the early 1740s. (The late 1730s was a boom era for the censors. In England, the Licencing Act of 1737 was almost as drastic in its impact, though the concern there was political satire of the government).
A formula used in Edinburgh to get round such bans was to make theatrical performances nominally interludes in musical ones; "a concert of musick with a play between the acts" - two Corelli sonatas framing a full evening of theatre. Only after the premiere of Home's Douglas did the elite's theatre start to become morally acceptable to the Kirk and the wider public and only then did such subterfuges become unnecessary.
The Theatre Royal was Edinburgh's main theatre for 100 years, in Shakespeare Square, which was where the eastern end of Princes Street is today. It got off to a bad start. It was begun at the north end of the North Bridge while the bridge was still under construction, with the idea that the bridge would be open in time for patrons to cross it from the city. The bridge collapsed in 1769, stranding the theatre just before it opened. It was demolished to make way for the (now closed) General Post Office at Waterloo Place, whose foundation stone was laid in 1861 in a ceremony that was the death of Prince Albert, who caught a fatal chill at it. Both Shakespeare Square and St James' Square nearby became notorious for prostitution, like theatre districts around the world. Even with its dramatic content rendered respectable, the institution of the theatre remained a moral danger, though the moralists could find few overt grounds for more than sporadic grumbles.
This theatre was the scene of at least two major riots. The first was in 1767, over the sacking of the popular actor Stayley; his supporters attacked the performers with swords and cudgels, forcing them to defend themselves with stage swords and fiddle bows. The whole inside of the theatre was wrecked. The proprietors took the rioters to court, but the rioters hit back by arguing that the theatre had never officially got a licence. Operators of unlicenced theatres were "rogues and vagabonds" under a law of Queen Anne's, punishable by being
stripped naked from the middle, and openly whipped until his or her body be blooded, or may be sent to the house of correction, there to be kept at hard labour
This stopped the action dead. The rioters included lawyers and law students, and the proprietors included several judges; since neither could get a fair trial, both processes were halted. The other disturbance was in 1794, when a Tragedy of King Charles I stirred up conflicts that had never died down since the Jenny Geddes riot. Partisans of both sides, led by Irish medical students on the Catholic side and lawyers' clerks including the young Walter Scott on the Protestant one, turned the performance into an all-out brawl.
Edinburgh Theatre Royal is another Porteous tune, a jig in an Irish style; being in E flat, it's probably intended for the harp or piano.
After Douglas, the theatre's most spectacular hit was the visit of Mrs Siddons in 1784, playing an unwitting bigamist in The Fatal Marriage. This created unprecedented mass hysteria. People queued for five hours to see her, and the military was called in to keep order; at first they used fixed bayonets, only removed later in the run after complaints that gentlemen had been wounded. (Most of Edinburgh's present club bouncers would doubtless think bayonets were a neat idea). Miss Gordon of Gight, one of the hereditarily-unhinged Gordons of Huntly, was carried out of her box in hysterics, crying "Biron! Biron!" after the hero in the play. Coincidentally the man who carried her out was called Byron, an archetypal cad and bounder who could have come out of a novel. He used his opportunity to marry her and gamble his way through her inheritance in a few years, while giving her a son who became the poet Lord Byron. The manic reel Miss Gordon of Gight is by Isaac Cooper (1755-1820), from 1783; it's very effective on the harp. The satire Miss Gordon of Gight was reprinted in an old newspaper or magazine. I found it in a scrapbook (NLS Ry.II.b.28) and I have not traced either the newspaper or the original source. It doesn't fit the reel; the older Bonnnie Dundee tune would have been intended, as the first line echoes Where are you going with that havermeal bannock, which uses it and which was familiar at the time from the Scots Musical Museum.
That run was marked by wider hysteria than the theatrical. It was the week of the Canonmills and Ford distillery riots, and performances must have continued through the sound of shouting, drums and gunfire from the streets outside. The Kirk conceded utter defeat to Mrs Siddons; they rearranged the timetable of the General Assembly so that delegates could see her.
The jig The Royal Circus long predates the street of that name. It marks a theatre built at the top of Broughton Street in 1790, where the steps of the Catholic Cathedral are now, which continued through an astonishing series of failures and disasters for 150 years. First called Stephen Kemble's Circus, it was taken over by Natali Corri about a year later as a concert hall. Corri was a talented musician but no better a businessman than his brother Domenico. He failed at so many enterprises that, according to Walter Scott, he one said that if he took up baking the people would give up using bread. One of his earlier attempts had been a pleasure garden called Ranelagh Gardens, on the model of one in London, set up in 1776 and which failed within about five years. The concert hall was no more successful. The theatre was still called Corri's Rooms long after he gave up; its name was later changed to the Pantheon, then the Caledonia Theatre, then the Adelphi, under which name it burned down in 1853; rebuilt as the Queen's Theatre and Opera House it burned down again in 1865. Rebuilt again as the Theatre Royal after the original one had been demolished, it burnt down a third time in 1875. After another rebuilding, another one burnt down in 1884, and the final one also burnt down, in 1946. A pub called the Theatre Royal, not far from where it used to be, burnt out in 1996. If anything ever deserved to become a theatrical superstition, surely this jinx does. This version of the tune is taken from the anonymous manuscript MS 21752 in the National Library of Scotland.
Edinburgh's most ironic theatrical flop must have been in the 1990s, a hundred yards down the hill, when the Playhouse Theatre's sprinkler system failed, deluging the whole building with tens of thousands of gallons of water. The show it interrupted was Singing in the Rain.
Slack wire dancers were among the first circus performers ever to play in Edinburgh, and remained popular for decades. The jig The Slack Wire comes from the Brysson/Sharpe manuscript. The city's most dramatic rope-walking performance ever was in 1733, when a troupe walked through the air from the Castle to the Grassmarket, one blowing a trumpet all the way.
The Edinburgh Festival of the present day, founded in 1947, had a predecessor: the Edinburgh Musical Festival, first put on in 1815 and repeated in 1819 and 1824. Handel's Messiah was its greatest hit. But in 1824 there were two major fires in the city. The second, after the festival, was a catastrophe that raged for days, melted the bell of the Tron Kirk and left 1000 people homeless. The nineteenth-century progressive response was a letter to the papers suggesting that the whole city should be plumbed with carbon dioxide gas for firefighting. At the other extreme the preacher J.A. Haldane made the obvious link in The Importance of Hearing the Voice of God, a sermon preached on the Lord's Day, after the late fire in the City of Edinburgh, with remarks on the alleged connexion of that calamity with the Musical Festival:
Those who are peculiarly alive to the harmony of sweet sounds, and who are engaged in the pursuit of pleasure, in the haunts of fashionable dissipation... see no evil in the Festival; they consider it as having more of a religious aspect than any other public amusement, and consequently, it appears to them, less blameable. On the other hand, this is the very reason why I consider it as far more sinful than the theatre or the ball-room. There, amusement is the avowed object, and God is not in all the thoughts of the company; but here, his holy name is continually profaned, and those things into which the angels desire to look, are made a subject of entertainment...
Infatuated votaries of pleasure! ye listen with rapture to the tones in which it is uttered the declaration, - that Christ shall come, in flaming fire, to take vengeance on those who who know not God, and obey not the Gospel. While another of your singers take up the strain - "But who shall abide the day of his coming". Ah! you little think, in the midst of your idle merriment, that for all these things, God will call you to account; and that, notwithstanding your present thoughtlessness and gaiety, your heart will not endure, nor your hands be strong in the day that he shall deal with you; when you shall exchange the profane mimicry of your exhibition for the dread solemnities of his tribunal, from whose face the earth and the heaven shall fly away, and no place shall be found for them.
A similar pamphlet, The Dreadful Voice of Fire, had been produced after the great Edinburgh fire of 1700. Its author was so angry it's hard to work out what he thought we had done to deserve it, though he clearly believed repentance was overdue for something. Maybe the seat of that fire suggested the sin being judged. It started in a brandy store.
The nineteenth century festivals were intended as charitable fundraising events, but receipts declined and expenses rose. They were abandoned when it was clear that a fourth one would only break even, the voice of the accountants being more persuasive than that of the Almighty. The organizers could have done better; the similar Norwich and Newcastle festivals, both held at about the same time, made much more for charity. The strathspey The Musical Festival, by "an Amateur", is from a dance sheet published by Nathaniel Gow in 1820.
The Three Graces is from the late 18th century, by Joshua Campbell of Glasgow. It refers to the classical original of the sculpture by Canova now in the art gallery on the Mound, bought at a cost of several hundred thousand pounds of public money per buttock. Canova's piece of soft porn in hard marble was carved in 1813. This tune must commemorate the acquisition by Baron John Campbell of Cawdor in 1780 of a copy of the second-century Roman sacrificial bowl now in the Louvre. Lord Campbell was Canova's first patron; so the better-known sculpture would probably never have been made without him. I like to think of those three stone bottoms jigging to this happy little tune.
Curling in Scotland must have started as a popular sport, but by the late 18th century in Edinburgh it was mainly for the rich, particularly at the prime site, Duddingston Loch. The Duddingston Curling Club at the start of 19th century had a membership made up largely of aristocrats and lawyers. As far as I can tell, they were all Tories. To name a few: the Marquis of Queensberry; the lawyer-poet Sir Alexander Boswell; the lawyer-antiquarian James Maidment; Principal George Baird of Edinburgh University; and the MP for Midlothian, Sir George Clerk of Penicuik, who was club president for a while. Clerk was an enthusiast for ice sports. Even as an old man, in 1846, he was on the council of the Edinburgh Skating Club, and they only admitted competent skaters, however exalted their social rank. In a letter to a fellow-curler of December 1819, a year of Radical agitation that had culminated in the Manchester "Peterloo" Massacre, Clerk saw curling as both a political defence for the Tories and an alternative to eternal damnation:
I trust that it is a more innocent mode of spending any leisure hours than in reading or listening to the seditious and blasphemous publications that have been so industriously circulated by wicked and designing men, who for their own ends endeavour by exciting a spirit of discontent to excite those who suffer themselves to be led by them to acts which must inevitably plunge them and their families into the greatest miseries. The period would, by undermining their religious principles, deprive them of all hope hereafter.
The Curlers March is from about 80 years before. It was used when the magistrates of Edinburgh went curling as a body, at first to the Nor' Loch and, after it was drained, to the loch at Canonmills (now the site of a private housing development west of Rodney Street). The tune, usually attributed to Carolan, was much reused. I've used the first printed version, titled The Princess Royal in a flute tutor by Daniel Wright in 1735. It was reprinted by McGlashan in 1782 and later by the Gows; the Newcastle-born composer William Shield adapted one of these later versions for The Arethusa, a patriotic song celebrating a naval victory. Shield's setting gave it the name that stuck, and it was still suggested as the air for election broadsides in Edinburgh in the 1830s under his title.
Curling must have more songs than any other sport in Scotland; the very first published book about curling is the songbook of the Canonmills Curling Club from 1792. Many of these songs have great flair despite their technical jargon, but the text for The Curler's March is not one of them:
Tho' Sol now looks shyly, and Flora is gone
To Mother Root's lodgings, of turf, mud and stone,
Where they two together,
Throughout the hard weather,
Unsocial as Vestals, keep house quite unknown.
Unlike are the curlers, now more social grown -
Unlike to recluses who winter alone -
With mutual friendship glowing, to action prone,
Forth come they,
Brisk and gay,
All in flocks like the sons of the spray,
Inspired by the sound of the curling-stone!
A persistent theme in curling is its imitation of Masonry; in their modern form, both started in the same places (Ayrshire and Edinburgh) and at the same time (the early 18th century). Curling acquired a "Curler's Word" of hidden principles, passwords and catechisms, and even a secret curler's handshake, based on the grip used on a curling stone, celebrated in this early 19th century song to the tune of Auld Lang Syne:
Losh man! I'm glad to see yoursel',
I'm glad to meet a freen';
But man, the pleasure's greater still,
When he's a curler keen.
Sae gie's the curler's grip, my freen',
Sae gie's the curler's grip.
Losh man! I'm glad to see yoursel',
Sae gie's the curler's grip.
Shield appears in the story of that tune too. It was originally a Lowland Scots bawdy song, I fee'd a lad at Michaelmas, was adapted as a strathspey, The Miller's Wedding, by Angus Cumming, and became enormously popular across the whole of Britain after Shield used it (scored for oboes and bassoons to imitate a bagpipe) in the overture to his opera Rosina, which is why Thomson selected it for Burns's words. Even long after Burns's song was published, musicians in Scotland usually called the tune Rosina. This is one of many occasions where the usual idea of Burns as a songwriter - rescuing tunes from obscurity by writing great words to them - is the opposite of what he was really doing. Instead, he was cannily promoting his verse by having it attached to tunes that had already become popular hits without his help. The older traditional tune for Auld Lang Syne is sometimes revived by folksingers of an antiquarian bent but never with much response.
The Three Open Winters is much better; it comes from the 1792 Duddingston songbook. It uses the old tune of Johnny's Grey Breeks, here taken from J.T. Surenne in the early 19th century. The only folksong about climate change I can think of; I'm sure somebody can adapt it to contemporary global warming.
The skaters of Edinburgh, the oldest skating club in the world, were not to be outdone by the curlers. They had a march too. The Skaiters' March was printed by J. Fielding of London in 1790 "as sung by Messrs Bannister and Wilson"; it uses the tune of the eighteenth century Sketcher's March. You really, really don't want to know about the words, but a 19th century song sheet described Edinburgh performances that would have made an atmospheric and attractive piece of it:
This Air is occasionally performed by a Band of bugle-horns and trumpets, stationed on the slope of Arthur Seat, rising from the romantic Lake of Duddingston, and skated to in cadence by the CLUB.
Another song from the same sheet was John Frost, a New Song to an old tune, by "Boreas":
John Frost with his blast
Lake and river hath glass'd
And Duddingston grey from bank to brae
Hath pinion'd firm and fast
Gather lads of the flying heel
Balanc'd true on the temper'd steel
Gather maidens fair and fleet
Acme iron on acme feet
Threes and eights and rock and roll
Back and meet and half and whole
Our song shall be
The ice that's free (x2)
And John the King of good companie (x2)
Coats we'll cast upon Arthur Seat
John we'll follow with flying feet
Sol may set on the Pentland hill
John we'll follow by moonlight still...
Which is the earliest occurrence of the phrase "rock and roll" I've seen.
As in most of Britain, hunting was one of the most important recreations for the wealthy; and not simply riding after foxes, but the dancing, drinking, gambling and whoring that went with it. The Royal Caledonian Hunt was the most prestigious of the hunts in Scotland. It was organized from Edinburgh, but moved its meetings from town to town around the country. The Caledonian Hunt, by Sir Alexander Don, is from volume IV of James Aird's collection of the 1780s. The Royal Caledonian Hunt's Delight, written by Mr James Miller of the Teind Office and published by the Gows, was already famous when Burns used it for Ye Banks and Braes of Bonnie Doon; the version here is the one the Gows published. It was probably an unwitting adaptation by Miller of an older English tune, Lost is My Quiet For Ever, which was first published without a title by Playford in 1690 and which was already known to Burns and his friends. The first event in the newly opened George Street Assembly Rooms, in 1787, was the ball of the Royal Caledonian Hunt; Miller's version probably dates from around then. North's (Milles Macphail) Farewell to the Caledonian Hunt is a much less familiar but equally good tune from the Gows' Fourth Collection. Both collectively and as individuals, the Hunt were important patrons of music and poetry. At the Earl of Glencairn's initiative, they placed a bulk order for the first Edinburgh edition of Burns, and Nathaniel Gow was still dedicating his collections to them forty years later. Nonetheless, Burns seems to have concluded that they were a gang of brainless drunken yahoos.
Football has been played in Edinburgh for centuries. There are laws trying to ban it from as long ago as 1424, though that would have been the older folk sport that still survives as the Orkney "Ba' Game" and which Edinburgh used to play with fireballs. Football songs are a product of the modern game, introduced into Edinburgh in 1874. There were formerly many more teams in Edinburgh than there are now. The oldest club in the city, Heart of Midlothian, began as a dance club of the 1870s that met in a now-demolished hall on the site of the Dumbiedykes housing scheme; football was at first a sideline for them. The other surviving local professional club, Hibernian, was set up to draw on the marginalized Irish immigrant community, centred in Leith and north-east Edinburgh. Both teams still have a culture that in part reflects the religious divide, albeit not as intensely as in Glasgow. Hearts fans ("Jambos", from the rhyming slang "jam tarts") sing their slightly-adapted local version of the song that arose in Glasgow in the 1930s in praise of the East End fascist gang leader Billy Fullerton, "King Billy of Bridgeton", to the tune of Henry Clay Work's Marching through Georgia, and sung wherever Glasgow Rangers supporters gather:
Hello! Hello! We are the Gorgie boys,
Hello! Hello! You'll know us by our noise,
We're up to our knees in Fenian blood, surrender or you'll die!
For we are the Gorgie Billy Boys.
Hibs fans retaliate with this, to the same tune, whenever somebody scores against Hearts or Rangers:
Ha ha! Ha ha! Ha ha, ha ha, ha ha, ...
The less sectarian official team songs are still often sung, like The Hearts Song, by the Edinburgh comedian Hector Nichol. This is played as the Hearts players emerge onto the pitch at home games. It uses a mixture of three different tunes, mainly The Old Orange Flute. The Hibs equivalent, also by Hector Nichol, is Glory, Glory to the Hibees to the tune of John Brown's Body.
And there are several other more or less official songs for both teams in the same blandly enthusiastic manner:
Hail Hail the Hibs are here
All for goals and glory
All for goals and glory
Hail Hail the Hibs are here
All for goals and glory now...
Meadowbank Thistle was Edinburgh's least successful football team, founded as a works team for the Ferranti electronics plant and now based outside the city in Livingston, another declining centre of Scotland's branch-plant electronics industry. Its supporters compensate by inventing some of the most ingenious songs in British football. Their fans produced a parody of The Hearts Song with lines like
Shite, shite, glorious shite,
It's down at Tynecastle they hide,
The boys in maroon are the shite of the toon
And Auld Reekie supports Meadowbank.
Nobody Knows Where That Gas Cloud Came From is another of theirs, about a game in November 1987 between Hibs and Glasgow Celtic when a Celtic supporter threw a tear gas canister into the Hibs main terracing. 46 Hibs fans needed hospital treatment, either from the gas or from the stampede to get get away from it. A Hibs fanzine commented:
During this period a section of Celtic fans kept up the spirit of things with such heartfelt ditties as Can you hear the Hibees sing? While I realise that the insertion of a word of more than one syllable into a song is a momentous feat for the average Celtic fan, the song was in despicably bad taste, considering that many Hibs fans could not see or speak at the time, never mind sing.
The tune for this less-than-sympathetic comment is Lesley Gore's 1963 hit It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To.
Most old football songs are gibberish to a modern reader, as they go into great detail about the idiosyncrasies of individual players now long forgotten. Most of the songs of the present day will join them in obscurity for the same reason. Drugs in sport is one issue that isn't likely to go away soon. Stephanie Paille is a Hibs song, though its subject is one both sides can agree to hate. Stephane Paille joined Hearts after having been Player of the Year in France, where he had failed a test for cannabis and been accused of cocaine trafficking, though it seems the latter was a matter of lending money to someone without asking enough questions. In May 1997 he became the first Scottish league player to fail a random drug test, when he was caught using the amphetamine-like stimulant clobenzorex. Hearts immediately sacked him. His story was that he was taking it as a diet drug, a permitted use for it in France. The French press's response was that he had also been using illegal anabolic steroids. The drug-culture version of Don Maclean's American Pie (1971) has been circulating round the globe for many years; I first heard it in New Zealand a year or two after the original song came out. But it was a real flash of inspiration that led "Hibbie Hippie" to tie it to this event, and the result was in the spirit of Alexander Pennecuik. It comes from a 1997 issue of the fanzine Mass Hibsteria. "Hibbie Hippie" adds:
It should be noted that this ditty was penned before Stephanny's later misfortunes, when his misguided enthusiasm for suppressing his appetite got him banged up in the Bastille for consorting with those well-known manufacturers of appetite suppressants from Medellin, Colombia.
Jambo No. 1: Aye that Stephane Paille was some player, I wonder what he's doing now?
Jambo No. 2: Uh... about six months I think.
One old and dubious explanation of why the Gododdin of Edinburgh lost the Battle of Catraeth against the Saxons in 600AD claimed they were all hung over from drinking too much mead. Malcolm Canmore and Queen Margaret started the trend of importing wine from France in the twelfth century. Around 1200, the monks of Holyrood discovered that the groundwater seam running from Gorgie to Arthur's Seat was suitable for brewing beer, and since then Edinburgh has always been one of the largest brewing centres in Europe. In the 17th century, English gin and then Highland whisky started pouring in. Like other northern European cities where similar factors were at work, Edinburgh went on a 200-year-long bender, with alcohol consumption starting at levels higher than today and rising to quantities now unimaginable. And appropriately Edinburgh has countless drinking songs. The problem is that most are so boring you have to be as pickled as one of Burke and Hare's bodies to find them singable. Burns collected and adapted them for his audience of iron-livered Georgian rakes, but even his are not much less dull than the norm. So, for a change, here are two instrumental pieces, a beer commercial, two songs about the evil consequences of drink, two about abolishing it, and one satirizing the abstainers.
"Luckies" were the women who owned and ran drinking dens in the Old Town in the 18th century; the best-known is Lucky Wood, the subject of Allan Ramsay's elegy of the 1730s. The word was also applied to prostitutes or old women. Lucky Kitchens Reel is from an anonymous manuscript of flute music compiled in the late 1740s and Lucky Currie (a variant of the old tune for Dainty Davie) is from the Macfarlan Manuscript. I haven't found any historical data about Lucky Kitchen; Currie's Tavern in Craig's Close was the meeting-place of several clubs, survived into the nineteenth century, and specialized in a mixture of whisky, small beer and oatmeal called "pap-in".
The Four Drunken Maidens of the Netherbow comes from the papers of C.K. Sharpe; he got it from Sir Walter Scott. Scott couldn't read music and had his friend John Lumsden write the tune down for him. Lumsden wasn't much better, and their collective effort is, in Lumsden's words, "very imperfect in the details", a euphemism for "total gibberish". Instead, I've given the tune from a version in Lady John Scott's manuscripts; it's close to the one used by Lady Nairne for The Auld House, printed here with its parody The New Licht o' Auld Reekie. There is nothing to indicate whether she collected it or wrote it herself, but at least it makes musical sense and fits the words. It's probably an adaptation of an English song; a variant with the same story has only three drunken maidens, all from the Isle of Wight. Sharpe knew who the Netherbow maidens were and why the adaptation was made, but his letter about it to Lady John Scott was lost. "Hear" must mean hare; but even the most dedicated of the heritage-theme pubs in present-day Edinburgh haven't got round to serving hedgehog as bar food yet. You read it here first. A mundane explanation is that it meant a dish made in the shape of a hedgehog; there is an elaborate dessert like this in Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery of the mid-19th century, with the spines made of sliced almonds.
John Fowler's Ale is a rhyme of 1839 by Henry Grover. Fowler's was a brewery at Prestonpans, part of the industrial complex there that included the mine, pottery and salt pans. I've taken it from an advertisement reproduced in a display at Prestongrange Industrial Museum. No tune is suggested and many fit; I've attached the 18th century drinking song A Health to Betty, and another good fit is Percy French's Abdul the Bul-Bul Emir though it wasn't written until a generation later. They Left Him Alone in his Glory, a parody on Emmanuel Walton's patriotic elegy The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna, is from R.W. Hume's Leith broadside series of the mid-19th century, The Lyre.
Laws against drunkenness in Scotland go back centuries. One from 1436 allowed for gluttons and drunkards to be drowned in rivers. Less drastic but more effective measures were needed as alcohol consumption escalated in Victorian times. As in the rest of the English-speaking world, the temperance movement was at its height in Edinburgh from the late 19th century to World War I, though it began to have an impact in the 1830s, as the worried tone of John Fowler's Ale shows. This reflected social realities: in the mid-1870s, alcohol consumption in Britain reached its highest level of all time, averaging around 15 units per day for every man, woman and child in the country, with the medical and social consequences that might be expected. The temperance reformers' rhetoric looks like preposterous hyperbole today, but it was a proportionate response to a threat far worse than present-day drug abuse. At first, unlike the modern drug-paranoia industry, its support owed nothing to the political right and religious extremism. Many Chartists saw alcohol as a means of exploiting the working class, while the political establishment and even the Kirk at first opposed the temperance movement as potentially seditious. (And also unlike the anti-drug campaigners of today, the temperance movement had some respect for civil liberties. Nothing in their propaganda advocated random sobriety tests at work or mass sackings of the intoxicated). A few decades later, James Connolly followed in the same tradition, as a lifelong abstainer.
Weary in our Warfare, Never is a hymn by Thomas Knox for the annual festival of the Edinburgh Total Abstinence Society held on New Year's Day 1878; given the alcohol consumption figures, this would have been among the most hung-over days in Edinburgh's history, and the abstainers doubtless knew how to hymn where it hurt. The tune is Rousseau's Dream, first published for the piano by J.B. Cramer in London in 1818 and soon adopted as a hymn. Energetic hymns like this had been popularized by Sankey and Moody's visit in 1875, and this tune was later used by the Salvation Army for Rock of Ages. I've taken it from a collection of Nathaniel Gow's. Sadly, the second line of this song must be one of the most disastrous ambiguities in the history of hymnody.
Temperance Song is from an Edinburgh book of 1900, Anti-Liquor Recitals, by Richard Cameron; the tune is The Highland Watch, also known as The Black Watch, The Land o' Cakes, The Earl of Glencairn's Reel, and several other titles. It was given many different roles, from a march to strathspey to a reel. I've given two versions: the melody from a Beethoven arrangement used by James Hogg, and the older Scots Musical Museum version, taken from Neil Stewart. The Hogg/Beethoven setting fits this song better. Hogg's own text, welcoming Highland troops back from Waterloo, is now even harder to take seriously than Cameron's.
Cola drinks seem to have been invented in Scotland; a recent book claims that the best-known American product of this type was consciously adapted from one made in Arbroath. They owe their origin to both quack medicine, as "tonics", and to the temperance movement, as alternatives to alcohol. Willie Brewed a Keg of Kola, from about 1890, is a parody of Burns's drinking song Willie Brewed a Peck o' Maut. It comes from the Reminiscences of the Monks of St Giles, which introduces it thus:
In these Temperance and Local Veto days some attempt may well be made to remodel the old drinking songs of our country. The following is an attempt in this direction, and may be accepted when McEwan & Co.'s brewery has been converted into a Kola manufactory.
The tune was written by a friend of Burns, Allan Masterton. This adaptation of it was made during the 19th century and comes from G.F. Graham's The Popular Songs and Melodies of Scotland (1900)..
Ultimately the temperance reformers won, through what we would today call "harm reduction". Alcohol consumption fell to a quarter of its peak level within a generation and never rose near it again. Nowadays, temperance hymns like these, with their catchy tunes, make great drinking songs.
Tourism accounts for about 5% of Scotland's GNP, but is not an occupation much celebrated in folk song. The New Benledi, an unusual exception, comes from R.W. Hume's The Lyre; its tune is the one usually known as Kate Dalrymple (The Lowland Lassie or The Highland Laddie in its earliest versions from the 18th century) given some of Hume's usual strange rhythmic twists. The 156-ton wooden paddle steamer Benledi was built in Glasgow in 1837; Andrew Greig bought it in 1838 for his Largo and Dundee services. At first it sailed from Granton Harbour, which was privately developed by the Duke of Buccleuch and opened with great ceremony by his brother Lord John Scott in 1838, but Greig bought Newhaven Chain Pier in 1840, mainly for his own ships. He sold the Benledi in 1844 and it was broken up in 1846.
The one recreation for which music is essential is dancing. Most of the tunes in the book are dance tunes, and some of them in addition mark moments in the history of dance. That history need not be retold in detail here when there are already several good books on the subject; George Emmerson's and Flett & Flett's are two. Every generation in Edinburgh remodelled the institutions of dancing to fit its own needs. The height of social rigidity and formal organization was reached in the 18th century, when the gentry of Edinburgh began to adopt both French-style minuets and English-style country dances for ther own social gatherings. These were fiercely opposed by the Kirk at first. Edinburgh's first assembly was started in 1710, in the Old Assembly Room in the West Bow; when a new assembly was set up in 1723 in what was soon named Old Assembly Close, most of the Kirk was still as disapproving, and Allan Ramsay was writing counter-polemics in its defence. The compromise solution was that the assemblies went ahead under strict rules laid down by their aristocratic organizers, when every partnering arrangement was laid down long in advance and spontaneity was unthinkable. The kinds of dancing that took place at these assemblies were often themselves split into different phases of minuets, country dances and sometimes reels; the dances and music, in effect, progressed down the class hierarchy from monarchy to gentry to peasantry through the evening. Class was not the only division; Oliver Goldsmith said of the atmosphere of the assemblies in 1753:
there was no more intercourse between the sexes than between two countries at war.
The less wealthy could dance reels and country dances in informal settings, though always with the risk of being attacked by the police under the suspicion of sexual irregularity; still, the freedom of these events attracted the more bohemian of the elite, of both sexes. And there were regular festive events involving dancing, which could either bring classes together, like the Leith Races, or rigidly separate them, like penny weddings (for the poor only) and hunt balls (for the rich). Musicians would often cross between these categories; while a fashionable performer like Niel Gow could pick his engagements and avoid playing for the poor, a desperate fiddler like Pete Baillie would have to take any work that was going. The instrumentation at the larger assemblies could be elaborate; in 1746 one was using two oboes, four fiddles and a cello.
Many dancing establishments and their patrons were commemorated by their own tunes. I've given two versions of The Old Assembly Minuet: a fairly normal-sounding one from the Brysson/Sharpe manuscript, and a strange modal variant handwritten into a copy of Neil Stewart's A Collection of the Newest and Best Minuets of the 1750s which is now in the Wighton Collection at Dundee, and which may or may not be what the transcriber really meant. It is difficult to work out which assembly it was for: the assembly of 1710, its successor of 1723, or that assembly after it moved to New Assembly Close in 1736. The patron of the later assembly was Susanna Kennedy (1689-1780), the leading socialite of her time. She was courted by Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, who wrote poems to her, but dumped him to marry the older and richer Alexander, ninth Earl of Eglinton (?1650-1729) - the Earl had checked with her father that she was available while his previous wife was still alive, explaining that she was sickly. The Countess of Eglinton's Delight and The Countess of Eglinton's Strathspey were both published by the Gows in their 1784 collection. At the end of her life, the Countess lost interest in patronizing music and the arts and took to keeping enormous numbers of pet rats instead, saying that they gave her unfeigned affection unlike human beings.
Miss "Nicky" Murray (1708-1777), the object of Goldsmith's comment, was the fiercely respectable proprietress of the most fashionable dance assembly of the next generation. Miss Murray's Reel, which would not be called a reel today, but a 3/2 hornpipe, is from Bremner's collection of 1759. Miss Murray's Jig is from volume 3 of Aird's collection, from the late 1780s, when she was dead but certainly not forgotten.
These assemblies steadily multiplied, culminating in those held at the grand Assembly Rooms in George Street, but the basic character of the dancing changed little in the second half of the eighteenth century. Many Scottish dance assemblies had tunes dedicated to them; Leith Assembly Rooms, by "A.G." (Andrew Gow?), is from a music sheet of the early 19th century.
The dancing scene was transformed at the end of the Napoleonic war, when the Scots could learn about French dancing for the first time in a generation. Suddenly waltzes, quadrilles, galops and mazurkas were danced in every fashionable ballroom in Scotland, and hundreds of these new tunes were printed in Edinburgh within a few years. But waltzing hit a snag. As a dance instruction booklet, Contre-Danses à Paris, put it:
With regard to the Waltzing it was all the rage in Scotland, but only for a very short period, not exceeding two years; nor can any reason be given for its disuse, excepting a ludicrous circumstance which made some noise at the time, after which waltzing almost immediately died away, and has never since been revived.
The Earl of Wemyss had a waltzing party to which several persons of distinction were invited and among others some military officers. One of these officers being thin and slender, and having a sort of lady-face, got himself dressed as a female, unknown to the whole party; with the exception of his friend who introduced him as Lady Corstorphine. No such noble lady had been heard of before, by any of the party; but as her Ladyship danced handsome, and was elegantly dressed, she was of course well received. The waltzing accordingly went on, but in the course of it, Lady Corstorphine fell on the floor on her back, and her partner right over on his face above her. The party were naturally thrown into confusion and the waltzing stopped for that evening. From that evening, waltzing fell into disrepute, and completely died away!
[Very much I think to the honour of Scotland.]
Most Scottish waltz tunes played today are from the Gaelic world; perhaps news of the scandal didn't reach that far. I have given two sets of waltzes elsewhere in this document. Very few were composed in Edinburgh, and none of those are in a Scottish idiom.
Scottish-idiom dance music continued to be composed after the Continental invasion, but most of the tunes written after the 1820s are in a distinctly different style, perhaps to compete or blend in with the new French and German music, a trend that culminated with Scott Skinner's Brahms-in-a-kilt idiom. The Waverley Ball strathspey and reel by Joseph Lowe are from his collection of the early 19th century; I have not identified the gathering they relate to.
Amateur musical societies are a creation of the nineteenth century. There were three main types. Choirs, primarily a middle-class activity derived from the singing of the wealthier church congregations, were the oldest, established by the time of the first Musical Festival of 1815. The first Midlothian brass band was first set up by the Duke of Buccleuch at his Dalkeith mines in 1843; he saw this as an alternative to a library, given that there was no suitable library building. At this time, a cornopean (the precursor of the cornet that was then the main brass melody instrument) cost 10, the same as the property qualification for a vote, and an unimaginable sum for an individual miner. Coalowners in other parts of Britain were setting up bands at the same time; often they were expected to play for the owner's party at election campaigns. For the Lothian coalmasters and the Duke in particular, this meant the Tories. And the bands may have been intended as a distraction from trade unionism; 1843 was a year of intense union organization in Midlothian. The brass bands may have used Scottish traditional material at the very beginning, but by the time we have any record of them they were playing the same classical music arrangements used by all British bands. Bands didn't always remain passive tools of their sponsors. As early as 1840 the Roslin Band played at a Chartist meeting (at an event where a Mr Sinclair did a turn playing a violin and cello simultaneously with his hands and feet). And a miner recalled the brass band's role in the 1921 strike in Newtongrange:
The miners got out the local band. They stopped and played a nice wee tune for Mr X, who stayed in Fourth Street and was up on the pit blackleggin'. They broke a window or two and put a big white slab on his door - BLACKLEG. I followed them round the village...
This was a subtle hint compared with a hundred years before, when the miners of Newbattle had cut blacklegs' ears off.
The last amateur musical groups to emerge in the nineteenth century, and the only ones to create local music, were the Highland pipe bands. A precursor of these was the scratch band put together to welcome George IV in 1822, but they only became permanent organizations later in the century when the Army had trained pipers in band playing and had established the usual lineup combining pipers with the drum corps. The Midlothian Amateur Pipe Band, by F. Beaton, is from this period. Brass and pipe bands were usually associated with workplaces, funded by a mix of levies on the workforce and subsidies from the employer. They often found survival difficult, and there were frequent disputes with the bosses, the Kirk (which sometimes provided premises) and the trade union movement. One employer who held an almost totalitarian grip over every aspect of his workers' lives was Mungo Mackay (1867-1939), manager of the Lady Victoria coalmine at Newtongrange from 1895 onwards. His employee James Reid recounted how the pipe band, formed in 1938, was no exception:
He sent for me one day and said "Reid I want you to be secretary and treasurer of the pipe band". I said, "Pipe band?" He said, "Yes, it's starting this week, and I want them on the right lines. We'll get permission to take a penny off." So I had to collect the pennies and report every month to him. Then he came to the choosing of the tartan, and he went through Maclean, MacDuff, Mackenzie, McGregor, Mackay. And he stopped at Mackay, naturally. And he says, "How would that look?" It wis a hellish tartan: it was yellow, and yellow, and more yellow, what I recollect. Of course it was all the same what I said. "Aye, we'll have the Mackay tartan for the band." Well, this actually happened. I had the order made up; it was an Edinburgh firm of kiltmakers. And this morning Mungo Mackay sent for me at half-past nine and he says, "I've changed my mind. Ye'd better cancel it and get the Royal Stuart." "Oh, my God," I says. I had everything written out: Mackay. The order was already in the post box. Ah had to belt down that road to the post office and I had to plead with the postmaster, "look, you've got to open the box and let me get that letter out or I'm shot, I'm as dead as a door nail." The postmaster knew me and opened up the box and gave me the letter back and I went up and rewrote it for the Royal Stuart tartan.
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Embro, Embro Copyright © 2001, Jack Campin