Clean Peas Straw

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CLEAN PEA(SE) STRAW/STRAE. AKA and see "Ducking the Carle," "Na 'm bithadh agum trudar Bodich," "Old Buttie was a Bonnie Lad," "Pea Straw," "Pease Strae/Pease Straw," "What'll all the lasses do?" (Shetland). English, Scottish, Shetland; Hornpipe or Reel. England, Northumberland. D Mixolydian. Standard tuning (fiddle). AAB. Glen (1891) finds the tune earliest in print in Robert Bremner's 1757 collection (p. 65). Pease strae, or pease straw, consists of dried stems and leaves. It has many uses in agricultural areas: it is a fodder for horses, if not sandy, but was also used as a rustic bedding, as illustrated in this brief excerpt from Sir Water Scots' novel The Antiquary:

Oldbuck thrust something into his hand—Ochiltree looked at it by the torchlight, and returned it—‘‘Na, na! I never tak gowd—besides, Monkbarns, ye wad maybe be rueing it the morn.’’ Then turning to the group of fishermen and peasants—‘‘Now, sirs, wha will gie me a supper and some clean pease-strae?’’

Indeed, not only was it bedding for people-in the Elizabethan era to be as 'snug as pigs in pease-straw' was to be very well off! Many other literary references to pease strae exist. Scots poet Robert Tannahill wrote a song to the tune, called "When John and I Were Married", which mentions pease strae in the last line of every verse:

When John and I were married,
righ Our hau'ding was but sma',
For my minnie, canker't carline,
Wou'd gi'e us nocht ava';
I wair't my fee wi' canny care,
As far as it would gae,
But weel I wat our bridal bed
Was clean pease-strae.

It is even referenced in a relic of the ancient cushion dance that survived into the 20th century in the children's rhyme:

The best bed of all,
the best bed in our house
is clean pease straw.
Pease straw is dirty,
will dirty all my gown;
never mind my bonny lass –
just lay the cushion down

The melody was entered into the music manuscripts of John Rook (1840, Waverton, Cumbria), and of John Bell [1] (1783–1864, Northumberland, ms. dated to c. 1812). 19th century researcher John Stokoe appended a note to the latter ms.:

Scottish Reel to which a rather indelicate song has been written. The tune is used in Northumberland for dancing the Cushion dance to; a dance similar to "Joan Sanderson" which was popular 300 years ago.

"Old Buttie was a Bonnie Lad" is a title from the Shetland Islands (Mainland Shetland), however, Peter Cooke (The Fiddle Tradition of the Shetland Isles, 1986) prints the following text to this dance tune suggesting another title ("What'll all the lasses do?"), collected in Shetland:

What'll all the lasses do when the lads gings awa,
Some will pee their peticots, and some will burst their gaa'.

See also note for "Pease Strae" for more.

Source for notated version: William Vickers' 1770 music manuscript collection (Northumberland) [Seattle].

Printed sources: Bremer (Scots Reels), 1757; p. 65. Hall & Stafford (Charlton Memorial Tune Book), 1974; p. 21. Honeyman (Strathspey, Reel and Hornpipe Tutor), 1898; p. 12. Kennedy (Fiddler's Tune-Book: Reels & Rants, Flings & Fancies), 1977; No. 22, p. 7. Kerr (Merry Melodies, vol. 1), c. 1880; Set 14, No. 6, p. 10. MacDonald (The Skye Collection), 1887; pg. 72. Mooney (A Collection of the Choicest Scots Tunes for the Lowland or Border Bagpipes); p. 25. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 184. Seattle/Vickers (Great Northern Tune Book, part 2), 1987; No. 203. Wilson (A Companion to the Ballroom), 1816; p. 44.

Recorded sources: Imperial 1701 (78 RPM), Daniel Wyper (1926). Music for Pleasure MFP 50373, "Fiddle Me Jig" (c. 1978).

See also listing at:
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [2].




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