Auld Swaara

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X: 1 T: Da Auld Swaara Jupie M: 4/4 L: 1/8 R: Air K: Gmaj |: D |\ M:6/4 G4 G3 D B,2 G,2|\ M:4/4 D2 GD (3B,2A,2B,2|G,3 B Bc/B/ AF|\ M:6/4 G4 G3 D B,2 G,2| M:4/4 (3D2G2D2 (3B,2A,2B,2|D2 G2 G3::A|GFED C2 EC|B,2 DB, A,3 B,| G,3 B B2 AF | GFED C2 EC | (3B,2D2B,2 A,3 B, | D2 G2 G3 :||: D | GFED G2 g2 | e2 dB defg | a3 A Bc/B/ AF |GFED G2 g2 | e2 dB (3d2g2d2 |1 B2 G2 G3 :|2 B G3 G3 ||



AULD SWAARA. AKA - "Aald Swarra," "Da Auld Swarra Jupie." Shetland, Air ("Lament"). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). ABB'. One of the reels used in the Walls District (according to Old-Lore Miscellany of Orkney, Shetland, Caithness and Sutherland, Vol. VI, Part 1, Jan., 1913, p. 7). The tune is a lament for fishermen who died in the many disasters during the Haff Fishing in the 19th century, when men set out in sixtereens, six-oared open fishing boats. "Superstition forbade any man to be mentioned by name," explain Aly Bain and Tom Anderson, and instead his clothes were lamented; as Purser (1992) says, "probably the only thing he could have been identified by anyway." Swaara refers to the thick handspun Shetland worsted woolen undergarment worn by fisherman of that time, but Pat Shuldham Shaw states that the meaning that he was always given for the word was bits of Old woolen rags, and that he also heard the expression used jocularly for tobacco, "rather as we might use the term 'Old rope'" [1]. Anderson states the melody was played in the North Isles of Shetland for many years, but thinks it might be a variant of a tune from outside the borders of the Islands. Tom Anderson recorded:

Dis een is a lament fir fishermen wha were lost at sea ida time o' da Haaf fishing. Naebody ida auld days laeked to caa a dead body be dere name. Dey wir aye spolen aboot as "her it belanged ta me," or "da bairn's faider." Ivery fisherman at dat time wore next til his skin a heavy knitted singlet caaed a jupie usually made oot o' 3 ply black wirsit. Dis wis referred to as da swaara, or dark jupie so da name really means da auld swaara jupie.

Anderson prints Peter Fraser's version, which is "somewhat similar" to John Stickle's published tune. Cooke (1986) says: "...The abrupt pitch changes suggest Norse origins and the name Swarra is Norse." Purser (1992) states: "Its uneven phrases and rough-hewn shape are dignified at the same time, and have echoes of the Norwegian style too." Shuldham-Shaw agrees, remarking, "This tune is undoubtedly Norse in origin...I have found that this type of tune makes far more impact on Norwegian listeners than British" [2]

Additional notes

Source for notated version: - from the playing of Peter Fraser of Finnigarth, Waas, Shetland [Anderson]; John Stickle (Shetland) [Purser, Shuldham-Shaw]. Anderson (1979) says: "I got dis tün fae da late Peter Fraser, wha telt me dat his grandfaider aye said da tün was composed in deep sorrow, and da story o' da jupie fae my faider."

Printed sources : - Anderson (Haand Me Doon Da Fiddle), 1979; No. 51. Johnston (Old-lore Miscellany of Orkney, Shetland, Caithness and Sutherland, vol. IX), 1935; p. 122. Purser (Scotland's Music), 1992; Ex. 5, p. 231. Pat Shuldham-Shaw (Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society), vol. 8, No. 3, Dec., 1962, p. 132.

Recorded sources: - Topic 12TS379, Aly Bain and Tom Anderson - "Shetland Folk Fiddling, Vol. 2" (1978).



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  1. Pat Shuldham-Shaw, "A Shetland Fiddler and His Repertoire: John Stickle, 1875-1957", Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, vol. 8, No. 3, Dec., 1962, p. 132.
  2. ibid