Sangstories - Stories of Scottish Songs

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

Bonny Glen Shee

 Do you see yon high hills
All covered with snow
They hae pairted mony's a true love
And they'll soon pairt us twa

Busk, busk, bonny lassie
And come alang wi me
And I'll tak ye tae Glen Isla
Near bonny Glen Shee

Do you see yon shepherds,
As they walk alang
Wi their plaidies pulled aboot them
And their sheep they graze on

Do you see yon sodjers
As they all march alang
Wi their muskets on their shouders
And their broadswords hinging doon

Do you see yon high hills
All covered with snow
They hae pairted mony's a true love
And they'll soon pairt us twa

Words:
Busk
: get ready, dress

Our version, apart from the verse order, is found in The Scottish Folksinger edited by Norman Buchan and Peter Hall, 1973 who note that it is from the singing of Belle Stewart, of Alyth. Belle’s order was “shepherds”, “sodjers” and “high hills.”

MacColl and Seeger included  “Busk,Busk, Bonnie Lassie” (“Bonnie Glen Shee”) in Travellers Songs from England and Scotland, 1977, as sung by Charlotte Higgins.
They say:
“This piece does not appear in any of the major Scots collections. It is a kind of mirror-image of ‘O No, No’, a song of the ‘Lisbon / banks of the Nile’ genre, in which a girl’s plea that she should be allowed to accompany her lover to war is rejected on the grounds that her beauty would fade and her colour stain when exposed to the frost and rain of the highlands.”

“The song is a great favourite with Scots Travellers.”

In the Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection vol.5, no.1053 there are versions of a song, called “Oh No No”, where the girl wants to go with her sailor or soldier lover and is refused. The first of these was recorded from “William Forsyth, shepherd, per Arthur Barron, Whitehill” and carries lines reminiscent of “Bonny Glenshee” e.g.

Verse 1:Oh, don’t you see yon mountains, sae gloomy and sae high?/ They’ve parted many a lover, and they’ll part you and I / But sae sair’s that does grieve me, away  I maun go/ And ye canna come wi me, lovie, oh, no, no.

Verse  3 Oh, don’t you see yon soldiers how they march along ?/ Their guns are all cocked, and their swords are all drawn  / But sae sair’s that does grieve me, away  I maun go/ And ye canna come wi me, lovie, oh, no, no.

“Oh No No” appears also in Ord’s Bothy Songs And Ballads p136. In Ewan MacColl’s book with Peggy Seeger Till Doomsday in the Afternoon; the folklore of a family of Scots Travellers, the Stewarts of Blairgowrie, 1986 he comments that “the melody given by Ord for this somewhat trite song  (‘Oh, No, No’), appears to be a simplified variant of the air associated with ‘Busk Busk’.”

The tune is related to “The Bloody Fields Of Flanders”, used for Hamish Henderson’s “Freedom Come-All-Ye” according to Ewan McVicar in One Singer One Song.
“Hamish notes that the ‘Flanders’ tune itself stems from the Perthshire folksong “Busk busk bonnie lassie”.