Sangstories - Stories of Scottish Songs

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

Lord Gregory

(Lass of Roch Royal, Love Gregor)  18th C

Oh I will build a bonny boat
And I will sail the sea
And I will gang tae Lord Gregory
Since he canna come hame tae me
Oh open the door, Lord Gregory
Oh open and let me in
For the wind blaws through my yellow hair
And the rain draps ower my chin

When the cock had crawen
And the day did dawn
And the sun began tae peep
Then up and rase Lord Gregory
And sair, sair, did he weep
Oh I hae dreamed a dream, mither
I hope it may prove true
That the bonny lass o Lochryan
Was at the yett e'en noo

Oh, cherry, cherry was her cheek
And gowden was her hair
But clay-cauld were her rosy lips
Nae spark o life was there
Oh wae betide my cruel mither,
An ill death may she dee,
She turned fair Annie fae the door
Wha died o love for me

Words:
E’en noo: just now
Wae betide: may misery overtake; bad luck to
Yet: gate

This ballad was brought to Sangschule by Christine Kydd. It was included in her CD Dark Pearls and her note there says:

“This is a ‘parlour’ version of a much greater ballad sometimes known as ‘The Lass of Roch Royal’ (Child collection no.76). I adore the haunting melody. One of my students pointed this short version out to me – a lovely singer, Linda Gilligan.”

Paddie Bell sang this short version in a recording called The Corrie Folk Trio and Paddie Bell (1965).

The longer story usually opens with verses asking who will shoe Annie’s foot, who will glove her hand, and who will comb her hair until Lord Gregory comes home – familiar questions from verses that “float” into other songs, and have no connection with the ballad – according to MacColl and Seeger in Travellers’ Songs from England and Scotland.

In the big ballad, fair Annie sets out by sea either pregnant or with their baby son to find Lord Gregory. Lord Gregory’s mother comes to the door, and answers cruelly in her son’s voice, accusing Annie of being a witch. In Scottish Ballads, Emily Lyle comments that it seems the mother is the witch, using supernatural power to mimic her son’s voice. In that version, Lord Gregory wakes, hears what has happened, and goes down to the shore and shouts to Annie, out in the boat on a wild sea, But ay the louder he cried Annie / The louder roared the sea. The boat capsizes and Annie’s dead body is washed up at his feet, But her young son raise no more.

The ballad had probably been in circulation before the 1750s because a later 18th century manuscript version was already “obviously disordered by traditional transmission” according to Bronson, quoted in Travellers’ Songs from England and Scotland p.72 edited by MacColl and Seeger.

It appears in Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border as “The Lass o’ Lochryan”. Scott says: “Lochryan, whence this ballad probably derives its name, lies in Galloway. The lover, who, if the story be real, may be supposed to have been detained by sickness, is represented, in the legend, as confined by fairy charms in an enchanted castle situated in the sea.  The ruins of ancient edifices are still visible on the summits of most of those small islands, or rather insulated rocks, which lie along the coast of Ayrshire and Galloway; as Ailsa and Big Scaur.”

Another possible connection with Galloway is the opinion of William Stenhouse that the tune was “a very ancient Gallowegian melody”  (Illustrations of the Lyric Poetry and Music of Scotland) but James Duncan was not so sure, saying  “ If so, it is not now in traditional form.”

Versions appear in the Greig-Duncan Collection, Vol. 6, No.1226. Duncan said that only one tune for the ballad seemed to have been in print, in Johnson’s Musical Museum, No.5 (1787). This is the same tune that Christine used.