The song is a description of the adventures of a whirligig maker or wood turner in the pursuit of a runaway galloway or pony, and the ingenious way in which the names of the different localities are interwoven with the story reveal a marvelous command of the rhyming faculty.
Rantin' Roarin' Willie
Played by: Danny Mc Nab Source: Soundcloud Image: Glen Collection of printed music: Songs of Scotland prior to Burns.
Old and New Edinburgh, vol. 2 (p. 55) gives that Burns’ poem was inspired by a member of the Crochallan Fencibles, a convivial society in Edinburgh that met at Dawney Douglas’s tavern, to which Burns was introduced in 1787. The member’s name was Wiliam Dunbar, W.S., and he was the “Colonel” of the club and a predominant wit. A different tale has it that Rattlin' Willie was a wandering fiddler famous as both a musician and as a brawler in the Jedburgh (Jeddart) area, whose "sword-hand was dreaded as much as his bowing arm was admired". He fell out with another fiddler named Robin Rool (Robin of Rule Water) after an argument over their respective musical abilities and in the fight that ensued Robin was killed. His death was avenged at the hands of two of the Elliots, who in turn slew Willie. Scott alludes to Rattlin' Roarin' Willie (described as “the jovial harper”) in his The Lay of the Last Minstrel, noting that he was a real person. Other accounts say that Willie, still a ‘rantin’, roarin’ lad, lived in the 17th century and did business in the Hawick and Langholm districts, until, having had the misfortune to murder a brother in trade who passed by the name of 'Sweet Milk', he was executed at Jedburgh. Neil (1991) quotes the following verse:
The Lasses of Ousenam Water Are rugging and riving their hair, And a' for the sake O' Willie— They'll hear his sangs nae mair, Nae mair to his merry fiddle Dance Teviot's maidens free; My curses on their cunning That gar'd sweet Willie dee!
Although we are not trained musicologists and make no pretense to the profession, we have tried to apply such professional rigors to this Semantic Abc Web as we have internalized through our own formal and informal education.
This demands the gathering of as much information as possible about folk pieces to attempt to trace tune families, determine origins, influences and patterns of aural/oral transmittal, and to study individual and regional styles of performance.
Many musicians, like ourselves, are simply curious about titles, origins, sources and anecdotes regarding the music they play. Who, for example, can resist the urge to know where the title Blowzabella came from or what it means, or speculating on the motivations for naming a perfectly respectable tune Bloody Oul' Hag, is it Tay Ye Want?
Knowing the history of the melody we play, or at least to have a sense of its historical and social context, makes the tune 'present' in the here and now, and enhances our rendering of it.
Andrew Kuntz & Valerio Pelliccioni
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This page was last edited on 8 January 2023, at 10:35.