Sangstories - Stories of Scottish Songs

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

Eence Upon A Time

Eence upon a time
Fan I was young and bonny
Eence I had a bonny lad
But noo I hinnae ony

Fan I was cook aboot the hoose
An’ he was bit a laddie
I gied him a my breid an’ ale
Tae be my bairnie’s daddie.

My mistress aft times says tae me
An’ weel I ken she’s richt-o
That I maun be safe in the hoose
Afore ‘twas caunlelicht-o

But Johnny took me for his ain
An I was weel contentit
But noo these nichts are past and gaen
An it’s aft times I’ve repentit

Noo Johnny he is lang since gaen
An thinks on me nae mair-o
An I maun seek anither lad
Tae faither Johnny’s bairn-o

But dinna ye think my bonny lad
That I’m mad aboot ye
For I can dae wi a man
An I can dae wi oot ye

So lasses a’ tak heed o me
When the threshin time it fa’s-o
Be shair ye gaither in the grain
An no the chaff that blaws-o

Words: 

Aft-times: often
Bit: but, just
Caunlelicht: candlelight
Chaff: useless husk of the grain
Eence: once
Fan: when
Shair: sure
Threshin time: Time to separate the grain from the chaff after harvest

The song takes place against the background of the ferm-toun with the cook as part of the mistress’s household and the young male farm-workers living out in the bothy where they looked after themselves, or in the chaumer where they slept and came into the house for their meals.

Gordeanna McCulloch brought this song to Sangschule and told us how Ray Fisher had learned the core of it from Jeannie Robertson and then added verses herself to complete the song. Our lyric appears in Come Gies A Sang edited by Sheila Douglas.
Notes there and in The Scottish Folksinger leave doubt, because of the numbering of verses, as to which verses were Jeannie’s and which were Ray’s. Ray Fisher herself has been kind enough to write out her version for this project and mark with # the verses which are Jeannie’s:

#  (1) Eence upon a time, When I was young an bonnie
       Eence I had a bonnie lad, But noo I hinna ony.

# (2) When I was cook aboot the hoose And he was bit a laddie 
      I gied him a’ my breid an ale Tae be my bairnie’s daddie

(3) My mistress afttimes said to me, And weel I ken she’s richt-o
    That I maun be safe in the hoose, Afore twas candlelicht -o

(4) But Johnnie took me for his ain, And I was weel contented
    But noo these nichts are past an gane, It’s afttimes I’ve
    repented.

(5) Noo Johnny he is lang since gaen, And thinks o’ me nae
    mair-o
    And I maun seek anither lad, Tae faither Johnny’s bairn-o.

#(6) But dinna ye think, my bonny lad, That I’m mad aboot ye
     For I can dae wi a man, And I can dae without ye.

(7) So lassies a’, tak heed o’ me, When the threshing time it
    fa’s-o,
    Be sure ye gaither in the grain, And no the chaff that
    blaws –o.

#(8) For when I was cook aboot the hoose And he was bit a
     laddie
     I gied him a’ my breid an ale Tae be my bairnie’s daddie.

Ray adds that Jeannie’s verses, here marked with #, are 1, 2, 6 and 8.  Ray does not use verse 2 as a chorus, but repeats it as the last verse.

 In the biography Jeannie Robertson: emergent singer, transformative voice (1995) Jeannie’s version is given as:
O ainst upon a time / Fin I was young and bonnie;
Ainst I had a bonnie wee lad, / But nou I hinnae onie.

Fin I was cook aboot the hoose, / Fin he wis bit a laddie,
I gied him a’ my breid an’ milk / Tae tickle up ma baggie.

O dinna think, my bonnie lad, / That I’m mad aboot ye;
For I caud dae wi’a man,/ But I can dae without ye.

Ray Fisher commented that “the phrase ‘Tae tickle up ma baggie’ didn’t ring any bells” and was not known to her in any other context.

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