Jeannie Robertson (1908 - 1975)

Scottish singer singing songs from the gipsy/ traveller's tradition, which she was part of.

Liner notes to "Jeannie Robertson: The Queen Among the Heather. The Alan Lomax Collection". 

1. The Reel of Tullochgorum

A fragment of Skinner of Lonmay's "Reel of Tullochgorum" that Jeannie was wont to sing at frequent gatherings and ceilidhs at her house in Aberdeen. This was recorded at a song swap at Alan Lomax's London apartment. The other guests included Jean Ritchie, Margaret Barry and Isla Cameron.

2. When My Apron Hung Low

This song is known variously as "I Wish, I Wish" and "What a Voice" by which name it appeared on Jeannie's album for England's Topic label Jeannie Robertson: The Great Scots Traditional Ballad Singer (now reissued as Ossian OSS CD92). The second verse may seem today a rather euphemistic reference to the girl's pregnancy, but it was plain enough to the ballad audience. Many Anglo-American songs express similar sentiments. The last line of the third voice, 'And he tellt her a tale which he once told me" is similar to "They'll tell you some loving story,/ They'll tell to you some far-flung lie" in the American "Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies"; while the overall tone recalls the bitterness of "Careless Love".

3. She'd a Lot of Old Song


4. Son David

Francis James Child reckoned this ballad, also known as "Edward", (Child Ballad no 13) as "one of the noblest and most sterling specimens of the popular ballad". Before Jeannie sang it for Hamish Henderson and Peter Kennedy, it was thought to have died out in Scotland, although it survived elsewhere. Jeannie's version is close to one sung by her aunt, Margaret Stewart.

This tale of fratricidal jealousy may not be for the faint of heart today, but as Jeannie's explanation makes clear, it was readily appreciated by the ballad audience of Scotland, who were familiar with the blood feuds and rivalries within and between participants that often gave rise to such violence.

5. It's A True Song


6. The Battle of Harlaw

This song (Child Ballad no 163) commemorates the great battle of Harlaw, fought on July 24, 1411, a grim and decisive showdown between the forces of Highland and Lowland Scotland. It was here that Donald MacDonald, "Donald of the Isles", claiming the Earldom of Ross, invaded the Scottish Lowlands with 10,000 islanders and men of Ross. He was met at Harlaw, north of Aberdeen, by Lowland forces under the Earl of Mar, who carried the day and inflicted 900 casualties on Donald's army.

7. Wi' My Rovin' Eye

Occasionally, a wily young woman gets the better of her would-be lover in a song. This is a derivation of the ballad "The Trooper and the Maid" (Child no 29) that is especially widespread and popular among the traveling people.

8. Never Wed an Old Man

A favourite Scots theme - the old man who can't satisfy his young wife.

9. The Moon Shined on my Bed Last Night

As Jeannie notes below in her comments on "Andrew Lammie" (tracks 15 - 17), few sins are greater than to come between true lovers.

10. The Laird of the Dentidoonbye

This ballad is also known as "The Lady of the Dentidoonbye," from the last line in the song.

11. The Handsome Cabin Boy

English history books record several instances in the seventeenth and eighteenth century of young women passing as men and joining the army or navy, so this tale of maritime cross-dressing may not be as far fetched as it seems.

12. I Doubt she could have been a good girl!


13. She Was a Rum One


14. Lord Lovatt.


15. Introduction to Bonnie Annie and Andrew Lammie.


16. Bonnie Annie and Andrew Lammie.

Few songs are more vivid in their description of the characters and situations of the classic tragic Scots ballad than this one (Child no. 233). Perhaps the survival of actual physical evidence of the events depicted in it ensures it a special place in the canon. If other ballads were thought to be generally truthful - reflecting the world as the singers and their audience knew it - here was a song whose veracity was unquestioned. 

In his notes to the album "The Muckle Sangs: Classic Scots Ballads" (Tangent 119/D), Hamish Henderson has this to say about "Andrew Lammie" and its importance in Scotland:

The ballad of "Mill of Tifty's Annie" alias "Andrew Lammie" has been with us since the start of our collecting. Old Willie Mathieson had 50 verses written in his ledger books; Jean Elvin in Fyvie sang a fragment; John Strachan at Critchie, and Jeannie Robertson in Aberdeen both assured us it was a "true ballad" and Arthur Argo (great-grandson of Gavin Greig, and at that time a cub reporter on the Turriff Advertiser) convoyed us across country ("the lowland leas of Fyvie") to point out the actual whereabouts of the ruined mill itself, half hidden by foliage and luxuriant undergrowth. Annie's flat gravestone in Fyvie kirkyard, dated 1673, and surmounted by a nineteenth century monumental stone on which are carved the leaves of two intertwining trees, made her story both as real and unreal for us as the lives of any of the forgotten villagers whose gravestones surround hers. Fyvie Castle was nearby, with the stone figure of the trumpeter on one of the turrets, but Andrew was not alone there; other stone figures, as impersonal as gargoyles, kept him company on the other turrets. History and myth seemed to intertwine in that beautiful place.

17. Commentary on Bonnie Annie and Andrew Lammie.


18. The Queen Among the Heather.


Last updated on 03/02/2011