The CD includes a 24 page booklet with full song texts.
Jock Duncan is one of Scotland's great traditional singers. He inherited a rich repertoire of folk songs from his family and from other singers in the Buchan area of Aberdeenshire. At the age of 70 he recorded this his first album – with a backing band led by Brian McNeill (of Battlefield Band fame), who has also produced the album for Springthyme.
Songs on the album include old favourites such as Sleepytoun and Barnyards o Delgaty and Bonnie Lass o Fyvie, outstanding ballad versions The Cruel Mother and Glenlogie and lesser known songs such as Rhynie and Lothian Hairst and the great old bothy ballad The Hairst o Rettie.
Jock Duncan: Gruel
Jock Duncan: Rhynie
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Jock Duncan: Gruel
or Jock Duncan: Rhynie
on springthyme/ soundcloud
Artistes: Jock Duncan: lead vocals; Brian McNeill: fiddle, bouzouki, concertina, guitar & electric bass;
Peter Shepheard: melodeons (A/D/G & C), Gordon Duncan: highland pipes, cauldwind pipes and whistles and
with chorus vocals from Chris Miles, Aileen Carr and Maureen Jelks (of Palaver) and Peter Shepheard & Tommy Bonnar.
'Superb performance from a 'real singer.' ENGLISH DANCE & SONG
'A brilliant singer, a born performer.' SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY
- To find the meaning of any Scots word - enter in the box above and press return!
- 1: Gruel
~ Brian - bouzouki; Pete - melodeon; Gordon - cauldwind pipes, flute; Chorus vocals
A favourite comic song about a cantankerous and newly wed weaver whose only desire was to sup his gruel - his porridge of oatmeal. Jock remembers his father humming and singing snatches of the song.
Oh there wis a weaver in the north,
And oh but he wis cruel,
For the very first nicht that he wis wad,
He sat an he grat for gruel.
He sat an he grat for gruel,
Oh he couldna want his gruel,
For the very first nicht that he wis wad,
He sat an he grat for gruel.
Jock: Ma faither wisna a singer by any means, it‘s the only een I heard him gaun on wi. But his cousin from ower the hill of Belnagoak, Charlie Duncan, sang it - with his melodeon.
~ Brian - fiddle; Gordon - cauldwind pipes
Jock learned this masterpiece from the singing of the great John Strachan who sang it accompanying himself on concertina. The song was included in Norman Buchan‘s influential 101 Scottish Songs published in 1962 and is in the Greig-Duncan Folk-Song Collection (GD 343) under the title Jock o Rhynie. An old man, William Forsyth, told Greig thet he ‘remembered as a boy his mother sing Jock o Rhynie and this would take the song back to say 1830.‘ The farmer at Mains o Rhynie (in the high glens of Auchindoir in Strathbogie about 8 miles south of Huntly) from 1830 until his death in 1851 was John Gordon and he was known as ‘Jock o Rhynie‘ but there may have been earlier Jocks at Rhynie and the song could well be earlier. He is said to have denied his work was ‘ill to work‘ although he admitted that Rhynie‘s work was ‘very hard.‘
At Rhynie I sheared my first hairst,
Doun by the fit o Benachie,
Ma maister there was ill tae fit, [hard to please
But laith wis I tae loss my fee.
Linten ourin ourin addie,
Linten ourin ourin ee.
Jock: He was never bettered at this song about the hand shearin days before the reaper made short work of it. This young man‘s first shearin wis an unhappy experience, wages were sma and it wis a hungry place and the farmer‘s laws were double strict. Folk think o Rhynie as being ‘My God, thats a wild place, there canna be much growin up there.‘ It‘s hilly and there‘s a lot a sheepie grun, but it‘s (also) some o the finest corn growin country that ever wis.
Jock never worked on Rhynie, but not long ago he and his wife Frances climbed the nearby hill Tap o Noth to look down over Rhynie. Jock: Whit drew me to Tap o Noth wis the fine walk through the whin and up through the breem. You‘re gaun back 4, 5000 year because ye‘d the vitrified fort on the top. And here‘s me standin on the top o the vitrified fort singin Rhynie, lookin doun, a beautiful sunny day, on the hairst parks o Rhynie away in the distance. And I wis thinkin o Jock.
3: The Lothian Hairst
~ Brian - concertina, fiddle; Gordon - flute
In the days before the machine reaper, the harvest was brought in on many of the larger farms by hired harvest gangs. The Lothian Hairst celebrates the scything squads of the early 1800s who travelled south by boat from Aberdeen to Leith to cut the corn on the large farms of the Lothians before following the ripening crop north to bring in the Aberdeenshire harvest a month or so later. In the previous song, Rhynie, the harvest is cut with the shearing hook or sickle but, by the early 1800s, the scythe in its Scottish form was in widespread use.
Jock has always remembered parts of the Lothian Hairst and, when planning the record, he got the full text of the song from his cousin, long retired Dr. Duncan Murray. who used to sing the song as a loon and who took part in John Strachan‘s broadcasts from Crichie during and before the war.
On August twelfth fae Aiberdeen we sailed upon the Prince,
And landed safe on Clifford‘s Field‘s the harvest to commence;
For six long weeks the country roun, fae toun tae toun we went,
And we took richt weel wi the Lothian fare and felt richt weel content.
Jock: It is scything ‘I follaed at the point‘ as it says in the song at the point of the scythe, cutting about six feet wide, whereas the wee shearin heuk, it jist took a handfu at a time.
4: The Cruel Mother
~ Brian - concertina; Chorus vocals
Jock learned this ancient supernatural ballad from George Kidd, farm grieve at the family‘s neighbouring farm back in around 1935 when Jock was 10 or 12 years old and he never heard the song from anyone else. The ballad is number 20 in F.J. Child‘s The English and Scottish Popular Ballads and Greig-Duncan has three tunes and four fairly full texts from the North East (GD 193). To find a new version in the 1990s as full as Jock‘s is remarkable and sung with such style and authority.
Jock‘s version is unique in many ways but is perhaps most similar to the north-east version collected by Peter Buchan in the early 1800s (Buchan: Ballads of the North of Scotland 2: 217/ Child 20 version I). This includes the use of flower and plant symbolism in the chorus: the rose being the flower of passion and the lindie the linden or lime tree, being somewhat akin to the Rowan and having significance as a holy tree giving protection against evil.
A maiden was coorted seiven years an a day,
Hey tae the rose and the lindie O,
Until her beau did her betray,
Doun by the greenwood sidey O.
Jock: I used tae visit him quite a lot, Geordie. He wis greive in the 30s at North Faddenhill for ma father we were South Faddenhill. Fen he retired he bought a wee croftie away in the hill o Meigle at New Deer and there he skuttered aboot, rearin a calf, and keepin a hen or two. Geordie used tae sing that song tae me even fen he wis retired. It wis one o his favourites. It wis in the 50s the last I saw o Geordie.
5: Hash o Benagoak
~ Brian - bouzouki; Pete - melodeon; Chorus vocals
This song by George Morris is typical of the later bothy ballads or Îcornkisters‘ of the early 20th century. Jock first heard the song on a ‘78’ sung by George Morris when it was issued around 1932 when Jock‘s family got a loan of a gramophone from a neighbour. A hash is a large farm. But the Hash o Benagoak was a mythical fairm toun conjured up by Geordie, inspired no doubt by the Hill of Belnagoak not far away.
Oh sax month come Martinmas I fee‘d in Turra Toun,
They said I wis the smairtest chiel in aa the country roun.
Wi a ring dum day, a ring dum a day,
Ring dum diddle come a dandy O.
Jock: Geordie had a hotel in Oldmeldrum [still there] and he and his brother in law, Willie Kemp, both wrote songs and competed tae write the best eens. Although Geordie wis niver fee‘d - he wis niver in ferm work - he succeeded in getting the atmosphere o the ferm touns just right.
6: Bogie‘s Bonnie Belle
~ Brian - concertina, fiddles; Gordon - low whistle
Perhaps because of its subject matter Bogie‘s Bonnie Belle has rarely been in print but most traditional singers in the North East have a version in their repertoire. The farmer ‘Bogieside o Cairney‘ or ‘Bogie‘ for short, did not approve when his daughter Belle fell pregnant to one of his fee‘d farm servants, and the young lad was ‘sent packing withoot a penny o his fee‘ in spite of his love for Belle and his offer to ‘mairry wi Isabella and gie the bairnie his name.‘ Instead, in a tragicomic turnaround, Belle runs off with a ‘tinkler lad wha bides in Huntly toun‘ and ‘wi pots and pans and ladles they scour the country roun.‘
The song is based on an event that took place around 1843. In the 1930s George Morris recorded a version rewritten to exclude some of the sexually explicit details but this did nothing to inhibit the survival of the full story in the oral tradition. The song is sung to a variety of rather beautiful tunes.
Ae Witsun fair in Huntly toun ‘twas there I did agree,
Wi auld Bogieside o Cairney a saxmonth for tae fee;
Tae caw his twa best horses, likewise his cairt or ploo,
And dee onything at fairmwark that I be socht tae do.
Jock: There was a lassie o the travelling people - that‘s her tune - a lassie McPhee. She belonged to Banchory but it wis in Banff that I heard her - at a soiree. It wis more or less a picnic and there wis chapejohns aroun the place an they sell oot bits an pieces and this lassie wis singin that song. I kent aa the song. I kent Morris‘s an I didna bloody like it, an I kent a lot o ither eens. I decided tae tak it doun, tae write doun her een. An she gied me the notes [the words] o the last verse, which I thocht wis better nor onything.
Gavin Greig commented that this was one of the most popular north east ballads (FSNE 58, Child 238, Last Leaves 131). The ballad is often known by the alternative title Jean o Bethelnie, as in the earliest form of the ballad provided to F.J. Child in 1768. Jean is in some versions Jeanie Gordon and in others Jeanie Melville. Jock is certain that the song should refer to Jeanie Meldrum who came from a family of landowning gentry who at one time owned Fyvie, Meldrum and Tolquhon Castles and most of the land in between. The Meldrums had sold Fyvie Castle to Alexander Seton who became Lord Fyvie and was created Lord Dunfermline. ‘I‘ll wad ye to Dunfermline‘ is in the song. Jeanie was no doubt exercising a little female guile to get her chosen Glenlogie.
There wis nine and nine nobles
Rode through Banchory fair,
And bonnie Glenlogie,
Wis the pride that wis there;
There wis six and six maidens
Dined in the King‘s ha,
Bonnie Jean o Bethelnie
Wis the flooer o them aa.
Jock: This wis an awfa familiar song fin I wis young even at the school. Grace Leslie was the teacher at Fyvie school and she used tae sing it. She wis a tremendous singer and much socht after in the 30s and the 40s and the 50s to sing on the radio. She sang on John Strachan‘s concerts tee fae Crichie. John Strachan used tae sing snatches and auld Willie Allan at Tifty used tae hae bits an pieces. Willie had a wee croftie and he worked a pair of horse till his late 70s and he wis a tremendous singer and we used tae land up there whiles, wi Willie. And George Munro, he‘s another lad that sang that song what a deep beautiful voice. He‘d a ferm away out on the Kaithenside and he and Grace Leslie used tae sing in duet Bonnie Glenshee.
~ Brian - concertina, guitar; Pete - melodeon; Gordon - low whistle
A song that sings the praises of Udny (5 miles east of Oldmeldrum) and her ‘rovin blades‘ who ‘tak great pleasure in a-courtin fair maids.‘ Greig has a number of versions (GD 1089) with various spellings of the town indicative of local pronunciation. He comments that the song is constantly being asked for in the columns of papers which encourage the hunt for old songs (FSNE 32). But the song does not originate in Aberdeenshire: Logan‘s Pedlar‘s Pack has the related song Bonnie Paisley, the Sam Henry collection has Bonnie Portrush and Greig mentions other versions with Portmore, Kilkenny, Ury and Yarmouth and links the song back to a song Over Hills and high Mountains dating from the late 1600s in Chapell‘s Old English Popular Music.
Oh Widny, bonnie Widny, at present adieu,
Wherever I wander I‘ll still think of you;
Through hills and through valleys how often I roam,
Through brushwood and brambles myself all alone.
Jock: John Strachan had this song and it wis John I heard first. But of course Geordie Morris wis a great favourite. I‘ve heard many versions o it - an tunes an aa, fen I wis young. Widney wis the pronunciation. Never naebody heard o Udny: “It‘s Widney boy - are ye gaun doun tae Widney the nicht?“
9: Bonnie Lass o Fyvie
~ Pete - melodeon; Gordon - low whistle, cauldwind pipes; Chorus vocals
This song telling of the dragoon captain who died for the love of the bonnie lass o Fyvie has been widely popular. There are over 20 versions in the Greig-Duncan Collection (GD 84) with considerable variation in text and tune. The song was collected by Cecil Sharp in the Appalachians under the title Pretty Peggy O (EFSSA 95) and Ford‘s ‘Vagabond Songs‘ has a song Bonnie Barbara O localised in Derby. But the song seems certainly to belong to Fyvie.
There may or may not have been a barracks in or near Fyvie but it is clear from the song and local tradition that Fyvie was a staging post on the military route from Aberdeen to Fort George on the Moray Firth.
Green grow the birks upon bonnie Ythanside,
And low lie the bonnie lewes o Fyvie O;
In Fyvie there‘s bonnie, in Fyvie there‘s braw,
In Fyvie there‘s bonnie lassies mony O.
There cam a troop o the Irish Dragoons,
And they were stationed in Fyvie O;
And their captain fell in love wi a very bonnie lass,
And her name was ca‘d Pretty Peggy O.
For there‘s mony a bonnie lass in the howe o Auchterless,
There‘s mony a bonnie lass in the Gearie O,
There‘s mony a bonnie Jean in the toun o Aiberdeen,
But the flooer o them aa is in Fyvie O.
The howe of Auchterless lies to the north of Fyvie and follows the river Ythan turning west at Towiebarclay Castle to the Kirkton of Auchterless. The Garioch, or the Gearie as it is pronounced, is the land to the west of Inverurie between Benachie and Oldmeldrum.
Jock: After Fort George wis built they cam through Fyvie and they took the ford at Gicht the roads wisna good then. In the song: ‘Early neist mornin they aa mairched awa, And oh but oor captain wis sorry; An the drums they did beat ower the bonnie braes o Gicht, An the pipes played the Bonny Lewes o Fyvie O.‘ The Lewes is the name given to the land around the village the low lying ground. Another thing they said (in Fyvie): during the Irish rebellions that the Irish Dragoons cam over here wi prisoners heading for Fort George. They aye mentioned the name O‘Connors -- Irish prisoners. That wis a very favourite song wi Willie Allen, and the wife tee, at Tifty Croft. They baith sang that een thegither.
~ Brian - bouzouki; Gordon - whistle
This bothy ballad is said to have been composed by Willie Clark, ‘poet Clark‘ a farm servant on the farm of Sleepytoon near Kennethmont south of Huntly, probably around 1870. Through his Buchan Observer articles Gavin Greig managed to get a number of versions of the song, some with many more verses that others, and no doubt various singers added verses (GD 356).
It happened at last Witsunday,
I tired o ma place,
And I gaed up tae Inch tae fee,
Ma fortune for tae chase.
An sing airy arity adie O,
Sing airy arity ann.
Jock: The fairmer’s son cam back fae the mill and got the meal bags drenched wi rain – and when the bowies [bags] o meal were emptied intae the girnel the wet meal stuck tae the bags. The hungry [mean] fairmer wanted the men to scrape the meal off tae mak brose for their dinner – which they refused tae dee.
11: Mormond Braes
~ Brian - concertina; Pete - melodeon
This was one of Gavin Greig‘s early favourite songs. He first came across the song around 1895 and included it in his serial story Logie o Buchan. It was then printed in Ford‘s ‘Vagabond Songs‘ (in 1899) and Greig gave it pride of place in the first of his weekly articles in the Buchan Observer in December 1907, a series that eventually extended to 180 weekly articles containing numerous versions of over a thousand North East songs and ballads (FSNE 1; GD 1142).
As I gaed doun by Strichen toun
I heard a fair maid mournin,
She wis makin sair complaint
On her true love ne‘er returnin.
It‘s Mormond Braes where heather grows,
Whaur oft times I‘ve been cheery,
It‘s Mormond Braes whaur heather grows,
And it‘s there I‘ve lost ma dearie.
12: Hairst o Rettie
One of the greatest of the serious bothy ballads (GD 408, Ord p271). This famous song tells of the change over from the scythe to the back delivery reaper which took place in a big way in the middle of the last century. Jock dedicates this song to the late Charlie Murray who ‘never failed to sing a good Hairst o Rettie.‘ Rettie wis flat as a pancake, so flat that when the war started they commandeered it right away an made an aerodrome o it. Five six hunder acre went intil an aerodrome right away.
Oh I‘ve seen the Hairst o Rettie lads
An twa three on the throne, [i.e. farms of that ilk
I‘ve hard for sax or seiven weeks [i.e. heard
The hairsters girn an groan;
For a covie Willie Rae
In a monthie an a day,
Gars aa the jolly hairster lads
Ging singin doun the brae.
Jock: There wis Jimmy, ootside the beer tent an aa the boys wis roun him ready poised wi the beers in their hand listenin tae Jimmy. "Fit wad ye like tae hear," he says. "The Hairst o Rettie, Jimmy." He started and stuck at the second line. So I telt him, "Aye an twa three on the throne." An on he went. And then after he'd finished he cam over. "Fit wey ye ken that sang man?" Well I'd heard it from aul John Strachan . . . . . .
13: Macfarlan o the Sprotts
~ Brian - guitar, electric bass; Gordon - low whistle & Chorus vocals
This is by George Thomson, one time trainee chemist in New Deer who was a prolific composer of songs. He clearly loved to make full use of the local broad Scots vocabulary Ò the Doric. According to Jock‘s mother he sometimes tested his songs out on the customers for approval. Jock is sure that most of his songs were lost or given away. The song was included in one of Gavin Greig‘s weekly Buchan Observer articles in 1910 shortly after it was written (FSNE 145). Jock first heard Macfarlan o the Sprotts on record by Willie Kemp and later heard it sung by him on stage in 1947 in New Deer.
Oh it‘s oh that I be tyraneesed as I this file hae been,
I‘d raither run fae here tae Birse wi peas in baith ma sheen,
I‘d raither dee for wint o breath than tae pine for wint o love,
An it‘s aa because Macfarlan mairried Suzie.
Noo Suzie‘s cankered faither and me could never gree,
An ilkae time I gaed ower the gate he‘d hun his dog at me, [i.e. chase his dog
So I sent ma freen Macfarlan doun tae see fit he could dee,
Macfarlan o the Sprotts o Birnieboosie.
14: The Plooboy Lads
~ Brian - guitar; Gordon - low whistle; & Chorus vocals
A bothy version of a song that is well known among the Scottish travellers and was made famous through the singing of Jeannie Robertson. She recorded it on her first Topic album (now on Springthyme SPRC 1025) under the title When I was new but Sweet Sixteen. A related song Peggy on the Banks o the Spey is in Greig (GD 1131). Charlie Murray sang this bothy version as: For they‘re awfa lads, the bothy lads, If they get fit they‘re seekin; They pack their kists and they gang an they list, An they leave the lassie greetin. (on Scots Songs and Music, Springthyme SPR 1001).
The plooboy lads they are gey braw lads,
But they‘re gallus and deceivin O,
They will pack their kist and they‘ll gyang far awa,
And they‘ll leave their lassies greetin O.
~ Pete - melodeon; Brian - concertina
Perhaps the most legendary bothy ballad of the lot, this song gives a description of a day in the life of one of the largest ferm touns in the North East (GD 384, Ord p209). Drumdelgie is in hilly country between Huntly and Keith, the farm buildings now holiday homes and the near thousand acres converted to forestry.
Jock: That‘s an interesting song. It has a bit of history aboot it. The song speaks about the water mill: ‘It took four men tae mak tae her.‘ They made hand windlins o straw at the tail o the mill. The straw cam oot loose and they made small bunches wi their hands - fit ye call windlins. We didna dee it in my time [at Faddenhill] but ma faither had tae dee it fen he wis young. A windlin wis ration for two beasts for a day. They thrashed a ruck o corn most mornings at Drumdelgie to supply the strae requirements for the byres.
There‘s a fairm toun up in Cairney wha‘s kent baith far an wide,
Tae be the hash o Drumdelgie upon sweet Deveronside; [i.e. large farm
The fairmer o yon muckle toun he is baith hard an sair,
And the caulest day that iver blaws, his servants get their share.
Jock: That's an interesting song. It has a bit of history aboot it. The song speaks about the water mill: 'It took four men tae mak tae her.' They made hand windlins o straw at the tail o the mill. The straw cam oot loose and they made small bunches wi their hands - fit ye call windlins. We didna dee it in my time [at Faddenhill] but ma faither had tae dee it fen he wis young. A windlin wis ration for two beasts for a day. They thrashed a ruck o corn most mornings at Drumdelgie to supply the strae requirements for the byres.
16: The Battle of Harlaw/ The Desperate Battle
~ Gordon - Highland bagpipe
Gavin Greig wrote: One cannot visit the Garioch in minstrel mood without thinking of Harlaw. The grim battle, fought in 1411, takes us back to a time when Lowlander and Highlander had to settle which of the two was to have political supremacy in Scotland (FSNE 11; GD 112). In fact, the battle was more of a feudal conflict and Gaelic was spoken on both sides.
According to the ballad the battle was a disaster: ‘Oot o fifty thoosand Hielanders, Bit fifty three gaed hame; And oot o aa the Lawland men, Scarce twenty marched wi Grahame.‘ There is reference to a song The battle of the Hayrlau in The Complaynt of Scotland (1549) but the text of this is lost and it is probable that the present form of the ballad is more recent.
The ballad is followed by part of the pibroch The Desperate Battle played by Gordon Duncan. The origins of this ancient pibroch is not certain but it is of great age. Gordon plays the last part, the crunluath which Jock interprets as representing the return of the battlefield to the grouse after the battle was over.
As I cam in by Dunideer,
An doun by Netherha,
I saw fifty thoosan Hielanders,
Aa marchin tae Harlaw.
Oh a dirrum a doo a daddie O,
A dirrum a doo a day.
Jock: This wis a Charlie Duncan favourite. Charlie had the aul words boy, oh aye. An he pit in the ‘dirrum a doo a daddie O.‘ It wis him that I got the style o that song.
17: The Banks of Inverurie
~ Brian - guitar; Pete - melodeon; Gordon - whistle
A lyrical love song with some of the feeling of the older ballads that Jock learned from the great Jimmy McBeath (GD 1263).
Ae nicht as I went a-walking and doun as I did pass,
On the banks of Inverurie I met a bonnie lass;
Her hair hung ower her shoulders broad, her eyes like stars did shine,
On the banks of Inverurie and oh gin she were mine.
Jock: I aye met in wi Jimmy - sittin at the Queen in Union Street - there wis benches there. He wis aye sittin there or near or han top o Bridge Street. He wis aye ready wi a song ye ken. It wis aboot a fortnight afore he dee‘d [in 1971] that he sung it the last time tae me - in Aberdeen, in the Castlegate - a room in the Castlegate. Jimmy resided there for aboot five year.
18: Barnyards o Delgaty
~ Brian - concertina; Pete - melodeon; Gordon - whistle; Chorus vocals
One of the most famous of all the old bothy ballads. The farm of Barnyards is on the Delgaty estate a mile north east of Turriff. Greig opens his Buchan Observer article on Ploughman Songs with Barnyards (FSNE 4, GD 347). The song is no doubt a parody of life as it would really have been on this particular farm. The song, which was probably written early last century, seems to be related to Rhynie. There is an overlap between the various versions of each, both song and tune.
As I cam in by Turra market,
Turra market for tae fee,
I met in wi Drunken Scot,
Fae the barnyards o Delgaty.
Linten adie touran adie, linten adie touran ae,
Linten lourin lourin lourin, lilta lourin lourin lee.
Jock: There‘s no way that any place, Barnyards o Delgaty or anywhere else, would hae a deen pair of horses. The Barnyards had aye the best pair o horses a great ferm toun that. I jist wonder what the present owner that cam back fae Canada thinks o the song. I aye reckon that Drunken Scot he wisna mairried that wis his sister, Lang Meg Scot, that wis in the hoose.
JOCK DUNCAN: A BIOGRAPHY
JOCK DUNCAN was brought up in the ballad-rich farming country around New Deer and Fyvie in Aberdeenshire. He has been singing traditional songs and bothy ballads as long as he can remember.
Jock's father had the farm of Gelliebrae beside New Deer and Jock was born there in 1925. Three years later Jock's father took over at South Faddenhill of Fyvie when Jock's grandfather gave up the farm. Jock grew up to take his part in the every day work of the farm and by the age of 10 he was good enough to be driving a horse at the plough.
One of the major influences on Jock's music was his mother. Jock writes: My mother was what I would term 'the stang o the trump' [the best of the bunch], a fine pianist and accompanist to the many fine fiddle players who graced the great splores [house ceilidhs] she organised in the ben the hoose end at Faddenhill. We could listen or participate – singing the ald Scots sangs and ballads, the ald bothy ballads and the new cornkisters of Willie Kemp and George Morris. They were my pop idols made famous with the advent of their '78' Beltona records in the early 1930s. Halcyon days indeed!
Jock's elder sister Marion was a great singer, and also his father's cousin, Charlie Duncan, who often visited Faddenhill. It was from him he picked up the style of Harlaw and many of the bothy ballads including Drumdelgie. Jock's brother Jimmy played fiddle. Jock also plays moothie and diddles and as a boy he took chanter lessons with piper Peter Elder (ex. of the Scots Guards) who had a 'wee shoppie' beside Millbrex School – where Jock was a pupil.
Another major influence was the great traditional singer John Strachan, farmer at the farm of Crichie the other side of Fyvie. Jock's father and mother knew him well and often invited him to the musical evenings at Faddenhill on a winter evening. John Strachan brought his songs into the local schools and to the WRI concerts in the local village hall – telling stories and singing songs accompanying himself with a concertina on his knee. Jock well remembers singing along with the chorus of Down by the Farmyard Gate. During the war the BBC broadcast an occasional programme of songs and John Strachan stories live from Crichie. Jock's brother, Fred remembers hearing the programme when out in the desert in North Africa in 1943. Jock learned his versions of both Bonnie Udny and Rhynie from John Strachan.
When he finished school at the age of 14 Jock worked for a couple of years at Faddenhill. Then in 1943, when he was 18, he joined the Air Force and finished up in Lyon in France. After the war Jock was back in the North East working on farms for a short while and during that time Jock formed a bothy ballad concert party 'The Fyvie Loons and Quines'.
Then Jock moved from the area taking a job with the Hydro Board working first in Caithness and finishing up at Pitlochry where he has lived ever since. Being out of the North East put him out of touch with other singers and on his return visits he found the ballad singers fast disappearing. But Jock never lost his rich Doric speech nor his love of the old ballads and songs nor his sense of 'place' and knowledge of local tradition and history. His enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, traditional music has no doubt been partly responsible for launching his two sons into the world of piping, Iain as Pipe Major of the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band and Gordon being involved there and also as a very highly regarded solo piper.
In 1975 Jock entered and won the bothy ballad competition at the Kinross Festival and he has taken part in the Auchtermuchty Festival every year since it started in 1981. In 1978 Jock took part in the Bothy Ballad King competition held open air before an audience of over 12,000 at Turriff where he gained third place. Jock is now recognised as one of Scotland's finest traditional singers. The richness of his repertoire and quality and style of his singing reflect the pedigree of his musical influences. His knowledge of traditional songs, including as it does several of the older classic ballads and his all inclusive repertoire of bothy ballads is today unique.
Jock Duncan was inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame during the Scots Trad Music Awards December 2006 in Fort William and had earlier been made an Honorary Member by the TMSA for his major contribution to traditional singing in Scotland.
Peter Shepheard © 1996
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