Poems and Songs of Toil - CD notes


  • Ochtertyre
  • Fieldworker: Margaret Bennett
  • Transcribed: Margaret Bennett
  • Sponsors: Heritage Lottery Fund and The Gannochy Trust
  • Publication: CD - Songs and Poems End of the Shift Song
  • Date: Monday, 30 November 2015


Grace Notes Scotland

Poems and Songs of Toil - CD Notes

Song collection of the end of the shift

These recordings are part of an Oral History project documenting the lives industrial workers in Perthshire and Fife. The project is a collaboration of Grace Notes Scotland, a charity dedicated to handing on traditions to new generations. Funded by Heritage Lottery and the Gannochy Trust, ‘The End of the Shift’ team recorded over 70 people, aged 15 to 103.


Poems and Songs of Toil

1. ‘Tunnel Tiger Boys’ by John F. O’Donnell

2. ‘Comp’ by Wullie Hershaw

3. ‘Section Twal’ by Charles Berry

4. ‘The Miner’s Son’ by Jim Douglas

5. ‘Don’t go Doon the Pit, Son’ by Margaret Bennett

6. The 1926 Strike – parleamentary speech, Tom Hubbard, MP

7. ‘I’ll Gang Roon wi the Hat’ by Robert MacLeod

8. ‘The Iron Moulder’ by Margaret Bennett

9. ‘The Red and the Green’ by Ian MacGregor

10. ‘The Travellers Trade’ by Ian MacGregor


NOTES, full TEXTS and relevant extracts transcribed from recorded fieldwork interviews.

The sections in italics are directly quoted from fieldwork recording made during the project, The End of the Shift.

Track 1


The Tunnel Tiger Boys’ composed and sung by John F. O’Donnell, Crieff (2014)

Recorded at LOFI Studios in Glasgow, with Joe Armstrong (Uillean pipes and vocals), Luc McNally (guitar and vocals) and Joe McAtamney (vocals). Copyrighted © John F. O’Donnell, 2015.

Recorded as part of ‘The End of the Shift’ Oral history fieldwork interview, 2015.

John O’Donnell: My father was among the men from Donegal and Mayo came to Scotland to work on the Hydro dams in the 1950s. It was dangerous work, full of dust and noise. The men who worked on the Lednock tunnel broke the world record for tunnelling and though it was a cause for celebration at the time, a lot of them developed lung diseases that shortened their lives.


‘The Tunnel Tiger Boys’




They came from Arranmore and all o’er Donegal

From lovely Achill Island and all around Mayo

They made their way to Scotland to build the Hydro dams

Oh, we always will remember them, the Tunnel tiger boys.


These men they worked at the Lednock Dam when the world record broke

They dug for seven days solid right through the Scottish rock

Five hundred and fifty-seven feet down the tunnel dark and low

And when they made the break-through, boys, the beer it sure did flow.


So when you’re in the Scottish hills and see the mighty dams

Think of the men who built them and tunneled underground

Take a moment now pray to remember those who died

For we always should remember them, the tunnel tiger boys.


Track 2


Comp’ by Wullie Herhshaw, Lochgelly, 2015

Recorded by Margaret Bennett as part of ‘The End of the Shift’ oral history fieldwork interview, 2015. Copyrighted © Wullie Herhshaw, 2015.


Wullie Herhshaw: This poem is about my maternal Grandfather who was a coal miner and worked in Glencraig Pit and High Valleyfield pit and his nickname was Comp, I don’t know where that came from but the story was in the family was that it was a kind of a jokey name, he was named after Sir Compton Mackenzie, because of his stately manner, and there’s also a bit in it about my other Grandfather, on my dad’s side, Auld Wull, who came from Kelty, and worked in the Lindsay pit.




Aince I had twaa grandfaithers

nou I hae gotten nane,

Auld Wull I screived o no lang syne

nou by and by I cam tae mourn anither ane.


Auld Wull and Comp were like the day and nicht,

ane was dour, ane douce.

Though baith had worked their life below the ground,

Auld Wull had taen the coal black tae his nature,

While Comp blinked bonny in the sun.


Baith were straucht and true

in the way maist miners hae,

thon quiet and kenspeckle dignity

(but Comp forby was gentle tae ).


He taught me dominoes and cairds

and mair asides. Nou, aye allowing

for the fause sentiment that follows deith,

the plants he settled wi his haunds

are ayeways grouwin.


I ken fine that in some timeless airt,

Lang efter closing time has cam,

We’ll lift anither hand o banes,

me wi ma pint and him wi his rum -


for there is a licht that never gans oot,

there is a licht that never gans . . .


Track 3


Section Twel’ ‘Section Twel’ by Charles Berry, Kirkcaldy, contributed by his daughter Sheena

Walker. Recorded by Margaret Bennett as part of ‘The End of the Shift’ oral history fieldwork interview, 2015. Copyrighted © Charles Berry, 2015.


Sheena: My dad was born in 1927 – his name was Charles Berry. He was born in Dysart, quite close to Kirkcaldy. When he first went down the pit, his first job was to turn the bogies when they came down … He was just thirteen!’ He worked in the ‘Frances’ and the ‘Michael’ pits when he was younger and then Bowhill, which is Dundonald, quite close to Cardenden, as an older man. And when he was older, he would reminisce and start to speak to you about things… I remember him telling me that it was a dangerous place to work and that he’d been down the mine and he said to me one day, “Do you know? People would be sitting having their piece and ehm, the next minute a stone would fall from the ceiling, and they would be killed.” He called this poem ‘Section Twel’. I don’t know which pit ‘Section Twel’ was in.


‘Section Twel’


Big Alfie’s doon the East Side, an Frankie’s ben the West.

Auld Rab an’ Jeek’s jist ow’r the Dook – thae twa aye get it best!

But me an’ Billy Boosey, we work up ‘Section Twel’ –

Whaur the nearer ye climb tae Heav’n, the closer ye gan tae Hell!

Up there, thur’s bluid oan every girder, an’ sweat in every clamp.

An’ the air’s as foul as murder – ye c’n see it wi’ yer lamp!

An’ thur’s great big rats – like pussycats, wad mak ye run pell-mell!

It’s a Hell o’ a place tae hunker doon an hae yer piece – up Twel!

Twel has a stygian blackness thit’s peculiarly its ain –

It’s a livin, elemental thing thit spears ye tae the bane.

An it maks ye think, when the Glennie blinks – an yer sittin there yrsel,

Thit if thur’s ony ghosts aboot the pit – thae’ll be up Section Twel!

Ye crawl yer wey thru Condies, wi yer backbane double-bent,

While thi damp seeks oot yer nostrils wi diabolical intent –

An the roof is always shiftin back an forrit - ye can tell

Fae the girders squeezed like cheesecake – aw thi wey up Section Twel!

A man died sairly there – wan nicht, an quit his mortal life,

Made orphans o’ his bairns, an a widdy o’ his wife,

When a monster stane – jist made fur pain, chose him when it fell –

Man, ye never ken when yer number’s up, when ye work up Section Twel.

Aye, the pittance thit thae pey ye – an that’s gien ye wi a grudge!

Jist isnae worth the taste o’ daith, nor the misery o’ drudge.

But the thocht o’ wee anes left at hame – an a lovin wife, as well!

Wad move yer hert tae bite yer lip – an gan up Section Twel.

So, it’s Alfie doon the East Side, an Frankie ben the West –

An Auld Rab an Jeek jist ower the Dook – an a holiday fur the rest!

But me an Billy Boosey – we hear the tollin o’ thi bell!

When we lift oor graith, an wander up the brae – tae Section Twel.

Track 4


The Miner’s Sonby Jim Douglas, Kelty (now in Bridge of Earn). Recorded by Margaret Bennett as part of ‘The End of the Shift’ oral history fieldwork interview, 2015. Copyrighted © Jim Douglas, 2015.


Jim Douglas: Well, my father was a miner so I’m a miner’s son. And my grandfather was a miner, and my mother picked the stones in the pit-head, on the moving belts. She was a pit-heid lassie. So it’s in the blood.



‘The Miner’s Son’


Don’t go doon the pit, Dad

Don’t go doon the pit.

Ye ken yir often coughin

And dyin aw day tae spit.

Yir lookin just fair wabbit,

You’ve dug enough fir coal,

They cage ye like a rabbit

Then work ye like a mole.


It’s time ye wir retired, Dad,

There’s white hairs in yir heid.

Yir pals are wi their pigeons –

The pals that arenae deid.

You’ve done near fifty years, Dad,

It’s time they let ye oot.

I’ve kept yir reel fae rustin

And the Gairney’s fu o troot.


You’ve pneumoconiosis, Dad,

My, that taks a bit o sayin,

Ah ken it maks ye short o breath

Bit it’s better some than nane.

Is there a mention o yer pension yit?

You’ve sent them mair X-rays,

Enough tae paper half the pit,

That’s what the Doctor says.

I’ll sin be left the schule, Dad,

Then ah kin tak yir place.

Yir een are kind o wet, Dad,

It fairly spiles yir face.


I’d raither be a jiner

But the startin pey’s nae guid,

And Mother says it’s your fault

She had sae many kids.

Ye’d a funny education, Dad,

Ye said it wisnae free,

Ye got it at the tossin schule,

Wherever that may be.

Wance ye won a fiver, Dad,

I’ve often heard ye boast.

We dinna hear sae often tho,

Of aw the times ye loast.

Ye used tae play the cornet tae

Wi the Colliery Brass Band

And marched wi them on Gala days,

Ye didnae half look grand.


Bit noo ye havenae got the puff

Tae play wi them again,

But ah will learn the cornet, Dad

Tae carry oan the name.

There’s plenty work at hame, Dad,

Yir whippet’s jist hud pups.

We can sell a pair o them

Tae buy Maw her new cups.

Ah’ll help tae dig the gairden

Noo you’re a wee bit lame.

Yir aye that gled tae see the snaw

So the gairdens look the same.


Oor Billy needs a haircut,

It’s hinin ower his een.

Tam tore his troosers oan the fence,

They’re fastened wi a peen.

Ma bike is needin sorted,

The wan wi the three speed gears.

There’s plenty work at hame, Dad,

Tae keep ye goin fir years.


It’s awfy dark doon there, Dad,

Yir day must be like nicht.

Ye said yir bones wir sair, Dad,

Are ye shair ye’ll be all richt?

Dae ye hiv tae work in water?

Why are the roofs sae low?

Ah widnae send a dug doon there,

Why should ma Faither go?


Kin ye see aboot ye there, Dad?

You’ve only that wee lamp.

Ye say there’s rats the size o cats,

Ah hope there’s nae black damp.

See and mind and eat yir piece,

There’s butter, jam and cheese.

Ye must be gled tae tak a brek

Fae workin oan yir knees.

You’ve come up fae the pit, Dad,

Ah’ve waited here fir oors.

Ah slept a wee while in the field

Among the bonnie flooers.

Come oot fae the cage, Dad,

It’s time ye haud yir tea.

They shouldnae hiv tae carry ye, Dad!

“Dae ye hear me, Dad? It’s me.”


Track 5


Don’t go Doon the Pit, Sonby Margaret Bennett. 2014. The fieldwork recording was made in La Veta, Colorado during the Memorial Concert for the Ludlow Mining Disaster, 2014. Organised by Spanish Peaks Celtic Festival, ands sung by Margaret Bennett, Ed Miller, Alison Bell, Jeanie Manson and Mairtin de Couglain. Recorded by Margaret Bennett as part of ‘The End of the Shift’ oral history project, 2015. Copyrighted © Margaret Bennett, 2014.



This song was inspired by Jim Douglas’s memories of growing up in a Fife mining community and by the wives and daughters of miners, including Marion Kelly, Mary Murphy, Janet Blane, Sheena Berry and Anne Hay. They recalled what life was like for the women in these communities and knew the anxiety of the mothers, wives and sisters, who watched and waited, and prayed for safety, and who lived with the fear that their sons would be injured or killed in the coal-mine. These same women worked incredibly hard, not only making meals and packing piece-boxes for the men-folk, but also fetching and boiling water to fill the zinc bath so the men could wash, and daily trying to wash and dry the ‘pit claes’ that were caked with coal dust. As Willie Clarke said, “The miners were slaves, but their wives were the slaves of slaves.”



This is part of the conversation with Jim Douglas, recorded for the project ‘The End of the Shift’:


MB: When you were a boy, your Dad was going out to work and he was going out to the mines?

JD: He wis, yes, but I don’t remember that because just A wis born in 1933 and it must have been about 1936 he had the typical miners’ accident where the roof came down. That was the thing they all feared. You know they had the pit props and every now and again the roof would collapse and a lot of miners were injured that way. So my father had the typical miner’s accident that the roof came down and he broke his leg in six places and he was in stookie for about two years. It wouldn’t set very well, six places. So I jist remember it vaguely and ma mother said that he would sit at the fireplace, lift up a poker and bend it, just wi nerves. And he was buried under it, as far as I remember it, for maybe a couple eh hours. A rescue team tried to come in but it was still falling, bits still falling so they couldnae come in right away. And of course my father was thinkin his time was up us, he could go any time, you know.


This part is from this conversation with Janet Blane, whose father, uncles and brother were all



MB: And how about washing, keeping clean?

Janet: My Mum had a zinc bath and she used to put it in front of the fire in the kitchen and keep pouring hot water from the kettle in it and make it warm. And Sandy got in first, and he got bathed and my Mum had screens round with a blanket on it to gie you privacy … and my big brother got in last. … By that time there were showers at some o the pits, where there were no baths or showers the men would have to bath at home. So everybody had a tin bath in those days…


‘Don’t go Doon the Pit, Son’



Don’t go doon the pit, son

Ye’ll aye be howkin coal

Don’t go doon the pit, son

The pit aye taks its toll.


Yer faither’s doon the pit, son

And his three brithers too

They’re auld afore their time, son

They’ll no be here for you.


Yer Granda stertit young, son,

He’d scarcely left the schule

Pickin stanes at twal year auld

By fourteen howkin coal


Yer brither he gaed doon the pit,

Ma hert it nearly broke

His bonnie face aye black wi coal

An dust aye gars him choke.


Yer Da will soon be hame, son

Tak ben the wee tin bath,

Noo rin an meet yer Da, son

He loves tae hear ye laugh.


The kettle’s on the bile, noo

They’re comin through the door,

There’s coal-dust on the bairnie’s cheek

His Daddy’s hame once more.


Track 6


The 1926 Strike – Parliamentary speech, Tom Hubbard, MP, 1957, read by his grandson, Tom

Hubbard, 2014 and recorded in Ochtertyre during a fieldwork interview. Recorded by Margaret Bennett as part of ‘The End of the Shift’ oral history fieldwork interview, 2015.



Tom Hubbard, Jr: Both my grandfathers were miners, although my paternal grandfather after whom I was named became a Member of Parliament, he’d been down the pits in his younger days and had been active in the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers). He was involved in the strike and lockout of 1926 which was very tough for him and the community – at that time, he’d have been 28, married and with a young family. During a debate on welfare in 1957, he made this speech in the House of Commons to remind his fellow-parliamentarians what it was like.



Speech, 19 November 1957 (Hansard)


'In 1926, in common with all miners, I was locked out. My employers refused to continue my employment on the conditions that had been negotiated between miners and mine owners. I was disqualified, along with everybody else, from drawing unemployment benefit. Having a wife and two children, I qualified for public assistance.'


We were compelled to live on 11 shillings a week. That would have been bad enough had it been paid in cash, but the amount was given in the form of a voucher. It gave us the experience of concessions, tokens and coupons. When my wife went out to buy groceries, the grocer had to go to other shops and purchase her meat and bread for her. We got no change from those vouchers, which had to be spent in one shop. We could not go from one shop to another to purchase what we wanted. That horrible experience we had for seven months.

TOM HUBBARD, MP (Lab.) for Kirkcaldy Burghs, 19 November 1957



Tom Hubbard, Jr., 2014: I remember my other grandfather coming in from the pit in the Fifties and Sixtires. If I was staying with them while my parents were at work, my gran would tell me to go through to the bedroom while my grandad was having his bath. Just when she was expecting him to come in from his shift, she would fill this metal tub with hot water and stick it in front of the fire, so I had to clear out while he was getting all the coal-dust off him and when I got the signal to come back into the living-room he was in his best suit, white shirt and tie, reading his paper.




Track 7


I’ll Gang Roon wi the Hat’ by Cowdenbeath miner Robert MacLeod and contributed to the project by 95 year-old Arthur Nevay, Glencraig, who collected over a hundred of MacLeod’s compositions.


This recording was made at an informal singing session by a group of students from the Royal

Conservatoire of Scotland in Glagow. They were interested in the project and wanted to learn songs from industrial workers. The singers are: Josie Duncan, Bernadette Kellerman, Madeleine Stewart, Eric Linklater, Iona Fyfe, Morgan Gillette & Kirsty, Yaffa Quan-Weinreich. Recorded by Margaret Bennett as part of ‘The End of the Shift’ oral history fieldwork interview, 2015. Recordings copyrighted © Margaret Bennett, 2015.


Robert MacLeod is well remembered by his granchildren who still live in the area. His granddaughter June was recorded for the project: “ Grandi was badly injured in the pit and couldn’t work, so he made songs to raise money for the soup kitchens during the 1926 Strike.”

‘I’ll Gang Roon wi the Hat’


A gang o chaps, including me, had naethin else tae do,

We thocht upon a caper tae raise a bob or two,

So we held a general meetin in a close, ye understand,

And came tae the conclusion we wad start a German Band.



I’ll gang roon wi the hat, my boys,

I’ll gang roon wi the hat,

I’ll tak care o the chink, chink, chink,

I’m awfu guid at that,

I’ll gang roon wi the bouncey bounce,

As lively as a cat,

I’ll be the heid cashier o the band,

So I’ll gang roon wi the hat.


This German Band turned oot a frost, we couldna mak oor meat,

Although we made an awfu noise in every blessed street,

The hale o us were hungry, and fu o discontent,

So I proposed that every chap should pawn his instrument.




We made oor first appearance in a quiet-looking street,

But we had tae keep oor eyes upon the bobbies on the beat,

We sang a dizzen sangs an mair, surrounded by a crowd o weans,

But though we did oor level best, got sweet naethin for oor pains.1




1. As the syllables may be awkward to sing, this line could be rendered as ‘But though we did oor level best, got naethin for oor pains.


Track 8



‘The Iron Moulder Song’

There wis a moulder, an iron moulder,

Whose fame spread far an wide, ayont the Forth an Clyde

There wis none bolder, wi iron solder

Or brass or bronze or even tin.

He used the auld tools, his best an braw tools,

His wee troon tried and true, his trusty strickle too

He used the swan’s neck, tae keep the sand in check,

Forby the wee deuk’s neb an aw!

Because thae auld tools are the best o tools

Tried and tested tools, they’re no made for fools

He’ll mak ye spare parts, mend yer broken hearts,

He can weld the crack o dawn!

He taks the sleeker, his braw flange sleeker

An draws it roon the mould, for that’s whit he wis told,

He gets his tricky, his best wee tricky,

A double-sided ane an aw

He fits the gaggers, he never staggers

He gets the hingers too, och, this is aw brand new!

The green sand’s aw set, this is the best yet,

Just wait an see whit he can do!

Because thae auld tools are the best o tools

No jist wans for fools, that aw break the rules

He’ll mak ye spare parts, mend yer broken hearts,

He can weld the crack o dawn!

He lifts the ladle, his great big ladle,

Wi steady hans and feet, tae watch him work’s a treat!

Then pours the metal, he’s in fine fettle!

Nae better moulder tae be seen!

Because his auld tools are the best o tools

Tried and tested tools, they’re no made for fools

He’ll mak ye spare parts, mend yer broken hearts,

He can weld the crack o dawn!

Interview with Ronnie Fleming, Cardenden, 2014:


Margaret: Tell us a bit about the tools, Ronnie:

RonnieMoulders’ tools werenae o use tae anybody else, an they were often home-made, or maist o them… The main tool was a wee trowel, but we caw that a ‘troon’.You had tae have several sizes for different jobs – but there was only one maker o foundry tools that I remember – it was T. Monk. An they made the best o quality, wi a wee monk stamped on them, an that first troon would dae you aw your life. An you had a finishin troon, which had started off as a normal troon, an it would be worn down tae a nice size for doin finishin work. An then there was cleaners, which were long-bladed tools, like a knife, maybe 9 inches long, an turned up at right angles an flattened – that would scoop bits o the sand out, for the moulds were aw sand. Then you had clubs – a club had a cleaner blade an the foot was mair substantial: it had edges on it, an you used that for when the mould was finished. You used tae dust it with plumbago, from a bag, which was more or less graphite – graphite an lead. An then you had tae have sleekers, so when you sleeked it, you’d dust it an take your tools over it an it would come up a nice sheen. But if you overdone it, you would draw the dampness from the sand tae the surface which you didnae want, in fact some places they just brushed it on, an they never bothered sleekin it.There was a range o tools for that – you had swans necks an deuk’s nebs an fillets. They were usually made o brass, an the fillets were aw different sizes dependin on the curvature o the mould. An then

flange sleekers. An you had a joint-sleeker, that was the first one you used – a simple mould was in two halves, so when you separated the mouldin boxes an took the pattern oot, often the edges could be broken round about, so they had tae patched up. An you had a right-angled joint-sleeker, so that you took that along. Actually if you’d seen a finished mould, especially if Bert Lindsay at Melville-Brodie’s had worked on it, he was the champion at finishin moulds! They were aw like silver, sittin there, an your flange sleeker went roond the edge an that left an even edge, the same bridth aw round the mould. An then we had a tricky, that’s like a double-sided sleeker, an there was the wee tricky.

The foundry used tae use flour for markin things, an it was the sweepins fae the flour-mill we used tae get, an this was an attraction for the mice an rats. Often a job was left open, tae let air aboot it, because if you closed it, condensation could occur in the mould, an molten metal an dampness or water didnae mix. So we’d see wee footprints aroun aboot the mould – mice or bigger, even rats. So once, when we were makin the big sole-plates for the paper-makin machinery, we had a wee encounter wi a moose! If you’d cast it, an there was a moose or a rat inside it, if that landed up on a bit that was machined, it’d leave a big hole, never mind aboot the poor moose or rat. So we decided tae dismantle this mould, tae

see if we could find it, an we were taken oot the cores, which form the internal part o the mould, takin them oot one by one. An everybody was roond the mould wi sticks tae clobber this culprit! But the last core was lifted oot, an still no moose, an here it was, hingin on tae the underside o this core! An so we put it doon, an it ran away – we didnae get it!

You need tae have a steady hand tae be a moulder, an steady feet, because you had tae watch where you were standin in the foundry, because the floor could be very uneven. But I still have a wee foundry in my garage, an what I dae there is fun! Like, last week I was makin an engine part for a First World War aeroplane – this being the hundredth anniversary, the museum was doin one up, so I made a 4-arm spider-clamp – that’s the bit for holding the cylinder head. I’m daein up my 1936 Rudge motorbike – I make reproduction parts for old motor bikes, because you cannae buy them, but I can dae that in my wee foundry, an I still have some tools oot there.

This is a verse composed by a foundry worker, who came from Falkirk:


When cleanin my tools the other day,

Back through the years I took my way,

Wi bits o iron, steel an brass

That the average man would kick an pass

But tae me, they’re aw my kith an kin,

The foundry sand has worn them thin.


There are alternative spellings of the word. The Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue cites ‘truan’ and ‘trooan’ as alternatives, while the on-line Scots Dictionary gives ‘trouen’

Track 9


The Red and the Green’ by Ian MacGregor. Ian taught this song during a ‘Songs of Toil and Leirsure’ workshop in Glasgow. There were several students among the 30 folk who attended, including Joe Armstrong whose uncle runs LOFI Studios in Glasgow. At the end of the day, Joe invited Ian and others to record the song in the studio. Thanks to LOFI and to Joe Armstrong for recording Ian with Eric Linklater (piano and vocals), Josie Duncan and Margaret Bennett (vocals), Bernadette Kellerman and Madeleine Stewart (violins) and Luc McNally.


Recorded by Margaret Bennett as part of ‘The End of the Shift’ oral history fieldwork interview, 2015. Copyrighted © Ian MacGregor, 2015.



Ian MacGregor: I remember when Blairgowrie would come alive in summer, when hundreds of seasonal workers picked berries for the local canning factory which closed in 1979. We never thought it would ever change, but it’s all gone now.



‘The Red and the Green’


O when I was just a laddie, wanderin fields o’ red and green

My only worry then was where to play.

I would run and hide tae skive the pickin, never realisin

That I’d live tae see the berries end one day.


For generations my folk owned and worked the land that grows the cane,

Fae ‘Cuttin oot’ tae ‘Clippin’, ‘Lacin’ tae,

Times were barry then, and lookin back, it nearly breaks my hert,

Tae think I’ll live tae see the berries end one day.



Never before has there been a way o’ life ended like Blair has seen,

So I’ll drink tae them all,

as wi sadness, recall wanderin fields o’ the red and the green.


In summertime the travelers came tae Blair tae change their way o’ life,

Fae livin in a style o poverty,

Trailin dreel tae dreel wi pail and luggie, endin wi the weigh-in,

Never seein that it all could end one day.


They’d come fae every corner o’ a land where hardship tends tae reign,

Camp at Cleeves or oot at Essendy,

Walk intae the toon tae dae their shoppin, drinkin, sometimes fightin,

Never thinkin that it all could end one day.



Never before has there been a way o’ life ended like Blair has seen,

So I’ll drink tae them all,

as wi sadness, recall wanderin fields o’ the red and the green.




And so I’ll tell tae you wha’s here the way I’ve heard this has tae die,

It’s progress tae the future, so they say,

But I just cannae understand it when such progress ends a culture,

And we’ll all live to see the berries end one day.



Never before has there been a way o’ life ended like Blair has seen,

So I’ll drink tae them all,

as wi sadness, recall wanderin fields o’ the red and the green.




But I’ll bless the hand that led me tae the berryfields o Blair.





Here is part of the interview made with Ian, July 5, 2015. Ian begins by explainng the last line of

the song, “But I’ll bless the hand that led me tae the berryfields o Blair,” which is a quotation from a much earlier song composed by his grandmother, Belle Stewart.




Ian: My Gran |wrote ‘The Berryfields of Blair’ in 1928. I have it handwritten, you know.

MB: It’s wonderful that all those situations of work – the mill, the flax, the tatties - they all had a social side.

IM: Very much so, they’re all connected.

MB: And a feeling of connectedness. You’d all sit down and have your tea together, you’d sing together.

IM: It brought families together that came to it, like tattie-picking in October, the winter. Always, there would be singing. Like I said, my Granny and my Grandfather always had friends and relatives that would turn up, and they would come and spend a weekend there, and put their tents up, or their caravans - pull their caravan in. So there was always a ceilidh; always had music going on. And there was folk singers turning up non stop from England, you know – Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger. Such a range of wonderful people .... I aas a young lad, didn’t pay much attention to it but theys was there several times. There was always singing!

MB: And you had learned the pipes by that time.

IM: I had learned the pipes by then, and I was soon heading off with my Grandfather up by Loch Lochy.

MB: Who taught you to play the pipes?

IM: My Grandfather- taught me to play, just the canntaireachd , then I went to another lad called Bob Pitcaithly. I was in the Boy’s Brigade and he was the piper there, and he was a friend of my Grandfather’s. My Grandfather was always busy, he was always busy, so he never had a lot of time going , teaching pipes, and I said, “Listen, there’s a man at the BBs, Bob Pitcaithly, who says he can teach me the pipes.” “Bob’s a good man, he says, “Go there.” So he said to Bob – his son was a Queen’s piper, Andrew Pitcaithly, I never met him, but Bob taught me.


In Ian’s song, you can hear an example of the canntaireachd.


Track 10


The Travellers’ Trade’ by Ian MacGregor. The recording was made in the same session as Track 9.


Ian MacGregor: My grandfather, Alec Stewart, was a pearl-fisher, who taught me and my brother how take out a pearl and still conserve natural resources. Then prospectors moved in, driven by greed, and a law was passed to ban it and so ended our old way of life.


Recorded by Margaret Bennett as part of ‘The End of the Shift’ oral history fieldwork interview, 2015.Copyrighted © Ian MacGregor, 2015.


‘The Travellers’ Trade’



O’er hill glen and moor, you’ll witness life still poor

For the men who plunder the shell,

They’ll work till the day has darkened, then they’ll say

That this way o’ life just isnae goin well.


The reasons you’ll hear, are laws just arenae clear

As the search for the pearl ‘murders’ on.

And soon there will be nae fishin left for me,

And the skill acquired, will never see my son.



So alter your way, or soon we’ll see the day,

When this Travelers’ Trade won’t stay alive,

And hunt if ye can, wi thoughts for fellow man

And all forms o’ life, whose right is tae survive.



To know where to find some treasure, you should mind

That the mussel shouldnae die for yer gain.

The skill lies where to look, for ‘twist’ or maybe ‘crook’,

It’s the only way, so listen what I’m sayin.





This tale here’s nae lie, Spey River soon will die,

When the final shell’s been taken from her sand.

A traveller though I’ve been, it’s by far the worst I’ve seen,

As it’s no just here, it’s rife through other lands.




The song texts can be downloaded from www.gracenotescotland.orgAdditional songs may be downloaded with an educational pack.


Download Document