X:1 T:The Boatman  T:Fear a'bhàta M:3/4 L:1/8 Q:140 S:Fraser Collection (1816) Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:Bb F>G | B2g2f>g | G2 Bz B>_A | G2F2B>F | G2 Bz d>e | f2g2f>e | d2 gz f>e | d2B2c>B | B2 Bz :| |: d>c | B2 B>c d>F | G2 Bz g>f | f2 f>g f>c | d2 fz d>e | f2 g2 f>e | d2 gz f>e | d2B2c>B | B2 Bz :||
BOATMAN , THE. (Fear a' bhàta). Scottish, Slow Air (3/4 time). B Flat Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. The Scots Gaelic song, which has been set to a variety of tunes, is of a girl who asks everybody where he has gone. "This air sings delightfully and expressively in Gaelic. The parties to the words were seemingly persons above the ordinary rank. Whether the lady alludes to the cabin of his vessel or boat, or to some apartment of her lover's residence, called the green chamber, she mentions her delight at being there, where the best society met, to be entertained with Spanish wine form the hand of her lover" (Fraser). A song by this name appears in Allan Ramsay's ballad opera The Gentle Shepherd (1725), not performed until 1729. C.f. a version of the tune noted before 1760 by Patrick Macdonald in Argyleshire (untitled, No. 133 in his book). Broadwood et al (1931) say there is "a bad version" of the tune in Songs of the North.
Francis Collinson, in his Traditional and National Music of Scotland, says that "Among a sea going island people like those of the Hebrides, the iorram (pronounced-irram) or rowing songs must have been one of the most frequently heard songs." Many of the tunes are written in 3/4 or a slow 6/8 time. Stan Reeves remarks "Collinson was puzzled by this as rowing has an in and out movement. But he had obviously never rowed with long oars on the Minch. The 1st beat is very pronounced and corresponds with lifting the oars out and swinging them forward as you straighten your arms and lean forward. 2 and 3 are the pulling stroke. Imagining this when you are playing will give you the right tempo and a very primitive rhythmic chanted feel, rather than the twee parlour interpretations. Try it with 'Fear a Bhata!' or the 'Skye Boat Song (The)'. These are just two of the many airs used as waltzes in the Western isles which clearly predate the introduction of the waltz."
- Broadwood et al, Journal of the Folk-Song Society, vol. 8, No. 35, Dec. 1931, p. 296.