Songwriting Basics Section II – Analysis 37: Tho We Lang Syne Landit Oan Fair Isle

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

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Over the seas we’ll fly …

This song is based on family history.

I had long wondered why there were Leslies (a clan based in two mainland Scotland centres: Aberdeenshire and Fife) in Orkney.

My father was from Stromness, on Orkney’s Mainland, and his father was from the more northerly island of Stronsay.

Family legend had it that the Leslies had settled there from Fair Isle around 300 years before.

About 10 years ago, I finally got down to researching the line of descent, and managed to trace us back to a Robert Leslie, resident in Stronsay in 1702, who was born in Fair Isle.

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History time … hist.gif

I discovered that local legend on Fair Isle has it that three family groups – the Irvines, Wilsons, and Leslies – were reputed to have arrived as Covenanter refugees after their defeat at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge, or Bothwell Brig, which took place on 22 June 1679.

It was fought between government troops and militant Presbyterian Covenanters at the bridge over the River Clyde in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire.

The Covenanters – so-called after their signing of a Covenant to defend their Church – had been persecuted by the episcopalian ( “Church with Bishops” – an extension of the Anglican Church) authorities, under the authority of Charles II.

Dispossession, torture, and execution were the order of the day. The Covenanters were, obliged to hold their meetings in open-air “conventicles” – often broken up by the forces of  John Graham of Claverhouse, later 1st Viscount Dundee, on their grey horses (they were the forerunners of the regiment The Royal Scots Greys).

There was some initial success against troops led by Claverhouse, who were defeated at Drumclog, near Glasgow.

The king’s son, James Scott, Duke of Monmouth was then entrusted with crushing the rebellion, which he did.

The Covenanters fled after Bothwell Brig. Some made it to the east coast where they took ship and headed north looking for refuge.

Unfortunately, government garrisons, stationed all the way north, as far as Orkney, made it necessary for them to continue on to remote Fair Isle.

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Layin’ low, till the heat dies down … hide.gif

It must have been hard for them, as the arrival of so many would have strained the limited resources of the island.

Thus it was that, when Parliament passed the Toleration Act 1689, which guaranteed religious toleration to Protestant nonconformist groups, the former refugees began to migrate, in dribs and drabs, to Shetland and Orkney.

Two main groups of Leslies left for Orkney, one going to Westray, and the other to Stronsay – my ancestors.

Thus, I had the story of the song.

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By way of an experiment, I determined to write it as a slipjig – an uptempo piece in 9/8 (RAH-tah-tah RAH-tah-tah RAH-tah-tah). You can judge for yourself how successful the experiment was!

The song is written in Lallans – Lowland Scots. The title translates as “Though We Long Since Landed on Fair Isle.” The track is from my 2017 album Land and Sea.

The Covenanter history has been appropriated, to some extent, by the extremist Orange Lodge. I hasten to say that I have no affiliation with that group, and my opinion of them is probably best not stated on a public site. 

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Lend an ear and an eye …

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Tho We Lang Syne Landit Oan Fair Isle

© 2017 Bob Leslie

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The Metre beater … beat.gif

Each line has 4 stresses arranged in the following metres:

Ll 1-4

  • 1iamb (dah-DUM), 14th paeon (dah-dah-dah-DUM),
    1iamb (dah-DUM), 14th paeon (dah-dah-dah-DUM)
  • “| The King |forswore his oath |and drave |us tae the fields |”

L5 – 1trochee (DUM-dah), 2 iamb14th paeon

  • “| Claverhoos- | –e’s men, | aa moun– | -ted on their greys|”

L6 – 1iamb14th paeon, 1iamb14th paeon

  • “| Wid ride | us doun at pray’r, | their swords | sae fiercely raised |”

L 7 – 1anapest (dah-dah-DUM), 14th paeon1iamb14th paeon

  • “| Ah still hear | the cries o’ bairns, | an see | the fawin blades |”

L8 – 1anapest3iamb

  • “|Tho we lang | syne land– | -it oan | Fair Isle |”

With some minor variations in L7, this pattern holds throughout the song.

It’s a relatively complex pattern – partially down to the 9/8 time signature, but very regular.

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Let the rhyming be unbroken …

sithit

The end-rhyme pattern is absolutely regular at

A  A  B  B  C  C  C  D

“fields” “wield”
“aa” “law”
“greys” “raised” “blades” “Isle”

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Moody mode to major leap …

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The first half of the verse is in D Dorian

  • D  E  F  G  A  B  C

 

The second half moves to the closely related (only 1 note different) F major (with a passing chord of G7sus4) via the common chord of D minor.

  • F  G  A  Bb  C  D  E  

before moving back, in the last bar, to D Dorian via a common Am7 chord.

The melody  has plenty of variety, covering a minor 10th from low A to high C.

The 2nd half of the verse ups the dynamics and the pitch by jumping up to the  and then, in the latter part of the line, jumping again to the C before running back down again.

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Reaching a verdict … judgy

As a song, I’m pretty happy about it.

It follows my own recommendations for regularity of rhyme and rhythm, and the melody is varied and interesting, with only a passing variation between closely-related keys.

I also think the story is a pretty interesting, human-interest and historical one.

My quibbles are to do with the production.

If I were to record it again, I’d cut back on the reverb – which, with hindsight and time, I now judge excessive. 

I’d also cut back on the volume of recording, to give the song, and the instruments, more “air.”

So, a mixed, but largely-favourable verdict!

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Next time, we’ll look at another old classic!

 

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Bob Leslie – Scottish – Traditional – Songwriter

 

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