Songwriting Basics Section II – Analysis 16: Ah Wid Dance wi Ye, Darlin

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Bob Leslie is an Independent Scottish Songwriter, Singer, and Recording Artist

 

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On guard! …

This is one of the songs I describe onstage as “A 600-year-old folk song I wrote last week!”

The Scots Guard – Garde Écossaise – was founded in 1418 by Charles VII of France (that’s their official uniform above – the kilt hadn’t been invented yet!).

The Scots soldiers of the Garde Écossaise fought alongside Joan of Arc against England during the Hundred Years War, and various companies using the name saw active service for France until 1747 (although the name continued to be used for some time after that).

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The song Ah Wid Dance wi Ye, Darlin came about when I imagined a young personable Scots lad, from a poor background, going to a dance, and falling for the daughter of a well-to-do family. goil.gif

It’s a pretty standard theme in folk songs, but instead of the usual parental opposition to the match, I had the young lady herself demand that her swain prove himself by gaining enough wealth to bring himself up to her social level.

That immediately threw up the question of where and when it would be possible for a young fellow to accumulate riches in a short period of time.

Plunder in battle seemed a likely source, and the 100 Years War between the Crowns of France and England (1337 – 1453) provided a theatre in which an intrepid and martially-inclined young Scot might prosper.

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I envisaged the laddie fighting in the battles towards the end of that period as the French were in the ascendant and it’s the winners who generally get the loot.

 

So, I sent my protagonist off to join the Garde Écossaise where, indeed, he prospered.

However, to maintain a touch of dramatic tension in the song, I had him suffer wounds which marred his good looks and sowed doubt as to whether or not his lady would still find him an acceptable match.

Upon his return, he asks her for another dance before his final departure. To his yay.gifgratified surprise (and a cry of “Hurray!” from the song’s listeners!), she tells him she loves him and cares not a fig for his scars. Happy ending!

The song featured on my 2017 album Land and Sea (available here).

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Lend an ear and an eye …

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Ah Wid Dance wi Ye, Darlin

© 2017 Bob Leslie

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Building the story, brick by brick …

Stanzas 12 have the young man ask her to “dance” – really a metaphor for “marry” – only to be informed that it’ll take more than a “gallus” (cheeky) look to win her heart. Does he have money? Does he have livestock (yowes = sheep, kine = cattle)?

Stanzas 34 show him admitting his poverty, but he swears that if she’ll stay single for a year, he’ll return with riches enough to be worthy of her. She agrees that she likes him enough to give him that chance.

Stanza 5 sees him going off to fight in France, where he does indeed strike it lucky wealth-wise, but ends up battle-scarred.

Stanzas 67 have the soldier return, convinced she will no longer love him, but begging for one last dance. To his surprise, she confesses her love and that she always saw more in him than a pretty face.

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How the rhythms roll along …

The song has 4 stresses per line – which is nice and regular.

However, it uses a fairly wide range of rhythmic feet over stanzas that all vary slightly:  anapests (dah-dah-DUM), dactyls (DUM-dah-dah), trochees (DUM-dah), and iambs (dah-DUM)

There are also a few incidental syllables (“and”, “but”, “sae” et al.) that only marginally affect the main flow of the song.

To accommodate this, some words, e.g. “darlin”, are compressed a bit (“darl’n”) to take up the space of a single syllable.

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The first stanza is fairly typical, but there are minor variations all through the song.

  • 4anapest …
    “Ah wid dance | wi ye darl’n | through the lang | win-ter’s night” |
  • 4anapest …
    “We wid fly | through the dark– | -ness and on | ‘ntae the light” |
  • 3dactyl 1iamb
    “(Sae) lang’ve happed ye | in mah hert’n | held ye in |mah mind (sae)” |
  • 2anapest1dactyl1iamb
    “Wid ye dance | wi me darl’nwid ye be | sae  kind ?”|

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Rhyming regularity …

The end-rhymes follow an absolutely consistent pattern:

  • A  A  B  B
  • “night” “light” “mind” “kind”
  • “fair” “care” “kine” “mine” etc.

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Keys and chords …

The melody is in 2 parts, with each 2nd stanza (including the instrumental break) going back and forth between the closely related key of  D major and the mode of  B Aeolian (aka B natural minor).keych.gif

The other stanzas are more complex in structure, changing on every line:

  • L1  is in B minor using the A major chord as the dominant chord of Dm in 
  • L2, which then takes the Dm chord as the tonic of D Aeolian and uses that mode’s Am chord to move to
  • L3 and segué into A minor‘s  relative majorC major.
  • The G major chord common to both C and D then transitions the song back to 
    L4‘s  D major, and finishes on the Dominant 7th chord (F#7) of that key’s relative minor (B minor

As you can see, there is a relationship key-wise between each line, but it certainly rings the changes! A folkie told me once, “Ye cannae hiv aa they chords in wan verse!”

However, surprisingly enough, the melody over the chords sounds perfectly smooth and natural – I’m quite proud of that!

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The day of judgement …

The stress pattern is nice and regular, as is the rhyme scheme.

However, I’d probably have to deduct a few points for the irregularities in the metre.

My feeling is that the key changes, although unorthodox for the folk idiom, are pretty smooth, and the melody helps tie them together so that the overall sound is the traditional one I was looking to create.

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Even though I say it myself, the story is a good one. It draws on traditional elements, but also has some historical and emotional depth, with both happiness and subsequent misfortune,  before resolving in a happy ending.

The “dance” motif is memorable and, effectively, a hookline and is present throughout except in the stanza where the soldier gets his scars (where it would be inappropriate in any case).drinks.gif

I think I get away with it, don’t you? Of course you do!!!

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Next time, we’ll look at a very old song indeed tril.gif
(that made a surprise comeback!)

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Bob Leslie – Scottish – Traditional – Songwriter

 

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