The Fifers of the Black Watch, 1813

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These tunes are from a set of six manuscript books (National Library of Scotland MSS 21739-21744) used by the fife players of the 42nd Regiment (the Black Watch) in 1813. I've reproduced the entire contents of the collection; most are Scottish tunes, but there are also English marches, Continental waltzes, and Irish jigs. The players were from the Oban area. Their handwriting ranges from precise and educated to barely literate; English was possibly a second language for some, some could write music more legibly than words, and some used the covers as practice for signing their names, like schoolchildren given an exercise book for the first time.

Each book was owned and written out by a single player, except for one that passed through four owners. All follow the same layout, with the tunes at the front of each book being in common (the official tunes of the regiment) and those at the back forming a personal selection, with one player (Archibald Clark) having a much larger written repertoire than the others. I've placed all these tunes together, because they are all at a similar technical level and together make a unique snapshot of a particular kind of Scottish flute playing at a single moment. The selection isn't one you'd guess at from other sources of the time; most of these were in print, but weren't the universally popular hits that every Scottish music publisher anthologized. I've listed earlier print sources for the tunes; it seems likely that Archibald Clark, at least, had direct access to collections by Aird and the Gows. The earliest of the books is dated 26 January, the latest (Archibald Clark's) November 23. The 42nd spent much of that year in Spain and western France, fighting in the Peninsular War; their battle honours were for the Pyrenees, Gohrde, Nive and Nivelle. Because some of the books say "Oban" on the flyleaf, it seems possible to me that these fifers were not part of that campaign, but recruited as replacements for casualties, and compiled the books while waiting to embark.

Tactics at this period put the musicians towards the rear with the regimental colours, playing to encourage the men forward. They were often expected to remain on one spot exposed to enemy fire, and were targeted by both sides because of their role in raising morale. Their casualty rate was very high, and often only a few motley fragments of what had been an elaborate wind band returned from a campaign. One French regiment returned from Moscow with its band reduced to a single drummer. (Less grimly, at Fuentes d'Onoro in 1811 there was a truce held at a convenient patch of flat ground where the men played football and the French bands played for both sides to dance).

Two tunes are often mentioned in accounts of the Peninsular campaign: The British Grenadiers and The Downfall of Paris. Neither is in these books, but surely the men played both.

There seems to be no influence from bagpipe music on what these men played; the tunes are mostly adaptations of fiddle, keyboard or wind band music, and in some cases where a tune is known from the bagpipe repertoire (like the familiar Highland Laddie) the version they used can be unplayable on the pipes.

The tunes (at least the official ones) would have been played with drum accompaniment, but the books don't mention it. Drummers at this period, according to Army manuals, followed the metre of the tune quite closely.

The notation is not always accurate, and there are many small inconsistencies between the different books; if every player in the band really played their own version exactly as written all at the same time the result would have sounded bizarre. I've ironed these out into a compromise; the position I've taken is that these men must have played better than they could write, and accordingly the presence of a refinement like a dotted grouping or an articulation mark should be taken more seriously than its absence. Where any of them agrees with a printed source, that's the reading I've adopted.

Many of these tunes are written with common time signatures where C| would be more usual. I've left this as in the original, but added a signature where there is none at all in the source.

The ABC file gives details of which tunes occur in which books, and also uses the sometimes very odd original spellings for the titles.

The Regimental Tunes

The King's Anthem is now considered the British national anthem, but at the time of this manuscript it was associated mainly with the King. The tune, by John Bull, dates back to the sixteenth century. A form of the words may have been written in support of Charles I against Cromwell, got closer to the present form when rewritten in both Latin and English to support James VII & II after his deposition by King William, and suddenly acquired their present character in 1745. A version had been published anonymously in 1744, and this was adopted by Thomas Arne as a patriotic finale for performances at Drury Lane in London in 1745, a few days after the defeat of the Battle of Prestonpans; this made it into a huge popular hit. It was not used at a royal coronation until that of George IV in 1821. Rule Britannia was closer to what we now think of as a national anthem; it dates from 1744, with words by the Scottish poet James Thomson and music by Thomas Arne.

The title The Marquis of Huntly's Snuff Mull, or the Royal Gift is due to the Gows, who plagiarized a tune composed by William Marshall, originally Miss Dallas; but the Gows' title stuck (one of these books, the anonymous MS.21744 has "Niel Gow" written at the end of the tune). It's an elaboration of Whistle o'er the lave o't.

Miss Flora McDonalds Reel, named for the Jacobite heroine, was first published in Bremner's first collection in the 1750s.

The Highland Laddie (6/8) is by Thomas Arne; it was first published in 1754.

Buonaparte's Gallop from Leipsic was startlingly topical. It's near the beginning of all the books, and since the battle of Leipzig was on 16-18 October 1813, it must have made it into these books within weeks. General Blutcher's Waltz and The Prussian Waltz both celebrate the victors of that battle, Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (1742-1819) and his Army of Silesia. I have not discovered where any of these tunes came from.

The 42nd Regiment's March, the official slow march of the Black Watch, was first published as The Highland Character and is usually called In the Garb of Old Gaul after the opening line of its text. It was written by General John Reid (composer of many marches for drum-and-fife band, and several larger-scale flute pieces) in the second half of the 18th century. Its familiar set of words is a tub-thumping expression of defiance of the French by Harry Erskine, supposedly based on a Gaelic original by a soldier of the regiment which is now lost. Its first version (never printed in book form) was an anti-Jacobite song with a somewhat lighter touch, and it acquired countless later parody texts. Two of the tunebooks have "as performed before his Majesty" written beside the title.

Duke of York's march and Duke of York's new march were for the regiment's patron, Frederick Augustus, Duke of York and Albany (1763-1827), younger son of George III. (Duncan Clark describes himself as "fifer to his Royal highness the Duke of York", as if he had a personal appointment). He seems to have been a competent administrator but a total disaster as a general, leading his forces in Flanders twice into some of Britain's worst defeats of the Napoleonic campaigns, in 1794-5 and 1799. By this time Frederick had been sacked from his administrative post as commander-in-chief because his expensive mistress had been taking bribes to get promotions fixed; she retired to lead a long and happy life on a very large pension after threatening to publish Frederick's letters to her. The first tune was printed in a slightly different form, in a different key, and without the trio section in Aird's fourth book; there are other tunes of the period called The Duke of York's New March but this one doesn't seem to occur in any other source.

I can discover nothing at all about Colman's Grand March, not even who Colman might have been. One phrase sounds a lot like the chorus of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar.

March in the Battle of Prague is from a "programmatic sonata" by Frantisek Koczwara (c.1750-1791), who worked mostly in England; this piece was published while he was in Dublin in 1788. It describes a battle of 1757, with more details than any of the other battle pieces of the period: "Word of Command", "First Signal Cannon", "The Attack (with cannon and flying bullets)", "Cries of the Wounded", "The Trumpet of Victory" and so on. Originally for piano or harpsichord, violin, cello and drum, it was enormously popular and arranged for many other groupings (as recently as 1996, for eight guitars). Koczwara's lurid rock-and-roll-star death - accidentally hanged by a prostitute while being erotically strangled in a London brothel, with a sensational trial following - seems only have boosted the popularity of his music. This march forms the introduction to the sonata.

Lady MacDonald's Reel is in the front of Archibald Clark's book, but in none of the others, so it seems he tried to get the other fifers to go for it but couldn't persuade them. It's called Lord Macdonald's Reel in every one of the dozen or so printed sources for it preceding 1813.

The Personal Selections

Six of the tunes in the "personal selection" part occur in more than one book:

Eight Men of Moidart, commemorating the Highland aristocrats who met Bonnie Prince Charlie at his landing, was first published by Robert Bremner in his first collection. "Moidart" is spelt in several ways in the books, typically "Mudart" or "Mudwart". Lady Mary Ramsey was first printed in Niel Gow's fourth collection in 1800. Sir David Hunter Blair's Reel, dedicated to the wealthy entrepreneur behind the construction of Edinburgh's South Bridge (which made him even wealthier) is from Abraham Mackintosh's fourth book of 1803. Crop the Croppies was first printed in Gale's Pocket Companion for the German Flute or Violin of 1800. It is a different tune from the more familiar Orange song Croppies Lie Down, which came out of the 1798 Irish uprising, "The Year of the French"; this tune probably dates from the same year, but I know no words for it. The 2/4 tune Highland Laddie is one of the oldest pieces in the present-day bagpipe repertoire, its earliest known copy is in Blaikie's lute manuscript of 1692 and it was printed a few years later in Playford's Dancing Master of 1701 as "Cockle Shells". Mrs Bakers Hornpipe was published by Aird as Miss Baker's Hornpipe. St Patrick's Day in the Morning was first printed by Aird in his first collection.

Morgiana in Ireland is described as a quickstep here, but was published as a waltz by Nathaniel Gow and is usually played as a jig today. The only one of these books it occurs in is that used by Duncan Clark, Angus Campbell, and Duncan Campbell, and whichever did it made a garbled mess of it, particularly with the dotted staccato rhythm in the second part. I've reconstructed something playable by referring to an 1807 reprint of Gow's original sheet of 1805, changing as little as possible. There were several "Morgiana" tunes, following the first one by Miss Bouverie which was published by Nathaniel Gow.

The remainder of the tunes here are only found in Archibald Clark's collection.

Carraig's Rant is better known today as a strathspey, The Smith's a Gallant Fireman. It was first published by McGlashan in 1778, but Clark would most likely have got it via the first volume of Nathaniel Gow's Repository of 1799. It's an adaptation of a much older Border song in 3/4 or 6/8, Mary Scott, used in that form for the Northumbrian Jacobite song Sir John Fenwick's The Flower Amang Them A'.

The Monaghan Jig is usually played with one or two extra parts. Clark probably got it from the Gows' fifth collection of 1809.

The Black Mull is possibly a Gaelic song tune (with three mutually inconsistent stories to explain the title) but was first published by Bremner as The Oyster Wives Rant, which associates it with the fisherfolk of the Forth.

Come Under My Plaidie (Johnnie McGill) is a song by Hector McNeill (1746-1818), a failed slavemaster who turned to songwriting after returning to Sotland from the Caribbean. The tune is named after its composer, Johnny McGill, the piper of Girvan in Ayrshire: it was first published by Joshua Campbell in 1778 and then by Robert Riddell in 1794 as My silly auld man, which may be the title of an older song McGill adapted.

A Reel was published by the Gows as O She's Comical; 19th century collections more usually called it O She's Coming (who said the Victorians were prudish?).

Grig's Pipes, named after Greig the piper who composed it, is found in several collections of the late 18th century.

Money in Both Pockets was first published by Aird, but this version is closer the the later one in the Gows' third collection.

The Fife Hunt was first printed in Niel Gow's first collection of 1784.

Loach Ern Side Reell is a confusion of titles. It's really a tune called Loch Ericht Side or Loch Eireachd Side, published by both Aird and the Gows in the late 1780s, related to the older song tune Loch Errochside; there is also a reel called Loch Earn in the same books but it's entirely different.

Blakemore Jigg (or The Blackamoor Jig, first published by McGlashan) is somewhat garbled in the manuscript and I've restored parts of it from printed sources (where it's in D minor, with chromatic notes omitted in Clark's dorian-mode version). This is one of the tunes Clark could not have got from a readily available printed book - neither Aird nor the Gows republished it - and perhaps trying to transcribe an orally transmitted 9/8 tune without help from a paper source was beyond him. As written, it goes down to low C; some military fifes could play that, but it seems more likely to me that he was working the tune out on another instrument and intended to transpose it up to E dorian; I've included versions in both keys.

Lady Haddoes Strathspey is from the Gows' second collection of 1788.

The Duke of Gordons Birth Day is by William Marshall; he first published it himself in his 1822 collection, but it appeared in print before under the same title in several other collections. Clark's source for this, Kiss me sweetly and Neil Gow's wife was probably Nathaniel Gow's Repository.

Staten Island is known in some early sources as Burns's Hornpipe, but it predates the poet becoming well known. If it's a sailors' tune, the island may be the one near Cape Horn rather than the better-known one in New York harbour.

Sailors Laddy (Sailor Laddie) was first published by Aird and later by the Gows. There are two different tunes of this title.

ABC tune file

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Old Scottish Flute Music
Copyright © 2003, Jack Campin