Sangstories - Stories of Scottish Songs

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

The Yellow On The Broom

by Adam McNaughtan          Tune:The Female Drummer

I ken ye dinna like it lass tae winter here in toon
For the scaldies aye miscry us and they try tae bring us doon
And it's hard tae raise three bairnies in a single flea box room
But I'll tak ye on the road again when yellow's on the broom
When yellow's on the broom, when yellow's on the broom
I'll tak ye on the road again when yellow's on the broom

The scaldies cry us tinker dirt and they sconce our weans at school
But who cares whit a scaldy thinks for a scaldy's just a fool
They never hear the yorlan's sang nor see the flax in bloom
For they're aye cooped up in hooses when yellow's on the broom
When yellow's on the broom, when yellow's on the broom
They're aye cooped up in hooses, when yellow's on the broom

Nae sale for pegs nor baskets noo, sae just tae stay alive
We have tae work at scaldy jobs frae nine o'clock tae five
But we ca nae man oor maister for we own the world's room
And we'll bid fareweel tae Brechin when yellow's on the broom
When yellow's on the broom, when yellow's on the broom
We'll bid fareweel tae Brechin, when yellow's on the broom

I'm weary for the springtime when we tak the road aince mair
Tae the plantin and the pearlin and the berry fields o Blair
We'll meet up wi oor kin folk frae a' the country roond
When the gang-aboot folk tak the road and yellow's on the broom
When yellow's on the broom, when yellow's on the broom
When the gang-aboot folk tak the road and yellow's on the broom

When yellow's on the broom, when yellow's on the broom
I'll tak ye on the road again when yellow's on the broom

Words:
Ken: know
Scaldies: non-travellers, an unfriendly word in cant, the travellers’ secret language. Betsy Whyte’s glossary for Yellow On The Broom says it means “a lower class of town dweller (The word originally meant ‘bare’: bare of feet, money, clothes.)”
Miscry: speak evil of, give a bad name to
Sconce: to tease, especially in a way which belittles a person, according to Betsy Whyte’s glossary for Yellow On The Broom
Weans: children
Yorlan: yellowhammer

Adam McNaughtan wrote this song for Betsy Whyte, whose autobiography The Yellow On The Broom has become a classic of traveller life. Her singing and storytelling have been recorded, and can be heard for example on http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/ 

 from which the following information comes, based on an article by her grandson, David Pullar, who says that “Betsy passed away while attending the Auchtermuchty Folk Festival and the last song she sang was ‘The Yellow On The Broom’”.

David Pullar tells how Betsy (1919 – 88) was born in Old Rattray into a travelling family called Townsley. Because they did not travel in winter, she was able to make up her 100 compulsory days in the school year and managed to win a scholarship to Brechin High School, where she was the only traveller child, and sometimes subject to bullying. Once spring arrived with the first flowers on the broom, the travellers were free to roam the countryside again, looking for work and selling goods they had made.

 Betsy and her family were skilled at crafts like basket weaving, clothes peg and wooden flower making. They mended pots and pans and did seasonal work on the farms, picking fruit and lifting potatoes, harvesting peas and flax. The men also fished for pearls in the rivers.

She gave up the travelling life on marrying Bryce Whyte in 1939, living mainly in Montrose, where she came to the notice of the School of Scottish Studies, through the Stewarts of Blairgowrie. With the support of the School she wrote two books, The Yellow on The Broom and Red Rowans and Wild Honey, the first two parts of her autobiography, and was working on a third when she died.