Sangstories - Stories of Scottish Songs

Tales of Scottish traditional and newer songs sung by Sangschule of Linlithgow

Bonnie George Campbell

High upon Hielands and laigh upon Tay,
Bonnie George Campbell rade oot on a day.
Saddled and bridled, sae bonnie rade he,
Hame cam his guid horse, bit never cam he.

Saddled and booted and bridled rade he,
A plume tae his helmet, a sword at his knee.
But toom cam his saddle a’ bluidy tae see,
Hame cam his guid horse, but never cam he

Doon cam his auld mither greetin fu sair,
Oot cam his bonnie wife rivin her hair.
"My meadows lie green and my corn is unshorn
My barn is tae bigg and my baby's unborn

High upon Hielands and laigh upon Tay,
Bonnie George Campbell rade oot on a day.
Saddled and bridled, sae bonnie rade he,
Hame cam his guid horse, bit never cam he.

 Words:
Laigh
: low
Toom: empty
Rivin: tearing
Bigg: build (My barn is to bigg : My barn has to be built)

Anne and Scott Murray of Sangsters brought us this song. It appears in “the wee red song book” – 101 Scottish Songs – where the tune is given  “as sung by Rory and Alex McEwan”, two prominent singers in the 60s.

Robert Ford includes it in Vagabond Songs and Ballads (1904) as “brief almost to a fault” yet a “beautiful and suggestive ballad.” He quotes suggestions from two other editors as to the story’s origin.  It “might be the lament for some adherent of the house of Argyll who fell at the battle of Glenlivet, in October, 1594”, according to Motherwell’s Minstrelsy, Ancient and Modern. The second suggestion is that it alludes “to the murder of Campbell of Cawdor, by one of his adherents, in 1591.”

Ford believes that, short though the ballad is, only two verses are ancient, the first verse and the one starting “Doun cam his mither dear, greetin fu sair”.

 “Saddled and bridled, and booted cam he”  - his 3rd verse – is to Ford “evidently of modern origin” – as is a fourth verse which has been dropped from our text. This verse obviously grated on Ford as it was “without rhyme or reason” and he “dared, by a slight alteration , to give it both rhyme and geographical consistency.”

As he found this verse it read:
‘Where is he lying, tell me but where, / Is he drowned in the Yarrow, or lost in the Quair?/ O vain are thy wailings, the echoes reply,/ Bonnie George Campbell, ye’ll see him nae mair.’

Ford changed it to:
‘Where is he lying, ye winds, will ye say?/ Is he drowned in the Tummel, or lost in the Tay?
Oh, vain are our wailings, in vain our despair;/ Bonnie George Campbell we’ll never see mair.

Whether he greatly improved it is a matter of personal opinion, but the end result of the ballad as we have it seems to be an example of doubtful verses being lopped off in the singers’ version.

 

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