Sangstories - Stories of Scottish Songs

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

Rattlin Roarin Willie

3rd verse by Robert Burns, published 1788 
Tune published 1724

Rattlin Roarin Willie, O he held tae the fair
For tae sell his fiddle an buy some ither ware
Pairtin wi his fiddle, the saut tear blint his ee
Rattlin Roarin Willie, ye're welcome hame tae me

O Willie come sell yer fiddle, come sell yer fiddle sae fine
Willie come sell yer fiddle an buy a pint o wine
If I should sell my fiddle the world wad think ah was mad
Mony's the rantin day, my fiddle an I hae had

As I cam by Crochallan, I cannily keekit ben
Rattlin Roarin Willie was sittin by yon boord-en
Sittin by yon boord-en an amang good company
Rattlin Roarin Willie, ye're welcome hame tae me

Words:
Ben: inside: to the best room
Blint: blinded
Boord-en: end of the table, head of the table (a likely seat for Willie Dunbar, as club President)
Cannily: cautiously
Crockallan: a drinking club, the Crochallan Fencibles.
Held tae: went on to
Keekit: peeped
Saut: salt

Chamber’s note, from Scottish Songs Prior to Burns, tells how Burns, finding two verses in this old song, wrote the third verse himself.

“This song, which appears to have appeared for the first time in Johnson’s Musical Museum, 1788, has little intelligence in it – little more than rant – and yet…..we should not like to part with it. So also had felt Robert Burns, who communicated it to the Museum, along with the original air. The bard, on coming to Edinburgh, found his way to a certain club of good fellows taking to themselves the name of the Crochallan Fencibles, from the name of a Highland song wherewith their host, Daniel Douglas, used to regale them. Among these merry men, the face of one Willie Dunbar – in daylight a respectable “writer” (that is, solicitor) – shone out with extraordinary lustre, seeming to the rustic bard a perfect realisation of the Rantin Roarin Willie of the old song. Hereupon the muse of Kyle broke out in an additional stanza, descriptive of Dunbar’s appearance in the presidentship of the Crochallen Fencibles.”

Chambers continues “It is curious to learn that the simple little ballad…must have been kept alive on the breath of tradition for a century before the days of Burns. It is “mentioned as a tune in the Tea-table Miscellany, 1724, being in all likelihood that of the song which Burns preserved.”

Chambers goes on to quote Sir Walter Scott’s story, “that Rattlin (or Rantin) Willie was a real person,……that he probably lived in the seventeenth century, being a musician well known on the Border, and who, having the misfortune to murder a brother in trade who passed by the name of Sweet Milk, was executed at Jedburgh.”
“A contemporary ballad jested with the unfortunate minstrel on his condemnation to an ignominious death, saying;
“Drink maun be dear wi’ Willie, / When Sweet Milk gars him die”

Chambers adds “another snatch of traditionary song to the same tune”:
Rattlin’ roarin’ Willie, / Where have ye been sae late?
I’ve been to see my Peggy, / Sae weel as I ken the gate!
 
Sae weel as I ken the gate, / And the tirlin’ o the pin,
And gang I late or ear’ / She’ll rise and let me in!

The Crochallan Fencibles:
“Fencibles” was a variation of Defensibles, and the preface to The Merry Muses  edited by Eric Lemuel Randall, 1966 says that the club  “was formed by a few radical free-thinking wags as a wine-bibbers’ parody of the various corps of stalwart, well-meaning defence volunteers that existed to fortify Scotland against the French.”

Maurice Lindsay in his biography, “Robert Burns: the man, his work, the legend” says that “the club at which he found the most congenial relaxation” was “the Crochallan Fencibles. They met in Dawney Douglas’s tavern in Anchor Place, further up which William Smellie (printer) had his business premises. It took its name from the landlord’s fondness for singing the Gaelic song “Crodh Chailein” (Colin’s Cattle), and in facetious imitation of the volunteer corps then being raised in the city.”

“For a mere sixpence, suppers of tripe, rizzared haddocks, mince collops, and hash could be enjoyed by its members, all of whom bore quasi-military titles, and included Adam Smith”.
“Drink flowed freely at these suppers, and much of the talk must have been bawdy.” Burns wrote letters to two members. Those to Smellie were burnt by his biographer as being “totally unfit for publication”. Those to Cleghorn disappeared “though not before they shocked the eyes of – of all people! – Lord Byron.”
“It was for the Crochallans however, that Burns wrote his magnificent collection of bawdy lyrics, later surreptitiously published (with puerile additions not his own) as The Merry Muses of Caledonia.”

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