Duncan Gray (1)

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DUNCAN GRAY [1]. English, Scottish; Air, Reel or Slow March: New England, Polka. D Major (Kerr, Miller & Perron, Raven): C Major (Howe): G Major (Aird, Johnson, McGibbon, O'Farrell): A Major/A Minor (Gow). Standard tuning (fiddle). AAB (Howe, Miller & Perron): AABB (Kerr, Raven): AABBCCDD (Aird): AABBCCDDEEFFHHGG (O"Farrell): AABBCCDDEEFFGGHHIIJJ (Johnson, McGibbon). David Johnson (1983) thinks that the tune may have originally been an English march in trumpet style, but notes that by 1760 it had Scottish words set to it (describing, somewhat rudely, a country courtship). Alternatively, the antiquarian William Stenhouse (Illustrations, p. 148) reports a tradition that "this lively air was composed by Duncan Gray, a carter or carman in Glasgow, about the beginning of the [18th] century, and that the tune was taken down from his whistling it tow or three times to a musician in that city." Several sets of variations were written for the melody, notably cellist and composer James Oswald's (in his Caledonian Pocket Companion c. 1750) and William McGibbon's (Scots Tunes c. 1755), but Johnson thinks the ones that James Gillespie included in his manuscript collection of 1768 (not written by him) are superior.

Words to the tune were printed by David Herd in his Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs (1776), with a similar set included by Robert Burns in his Merry Muses of Caledonia (1800). The Merry Muses version goes:

Can ye play me Duncan Gray,
Ha, ha, the girdin' o't;
O'er the hills an' far awa,
Ha, ha, ha, the girdin' o't,
Duncan came oor Meg to woo,
Meg was nice an' wadna do,
But like an ither puff'd an' blew
At offer o' the girdin' o't.

Duncan, he cam here again,
Ha, ha, the girdin' o't,
A' was oot, an' Meg her lane,
Ha ha, ha, the girdin' o't;
He kiss'd her butt, he kiss'd her ben,
He bang'd a thing against her wame;
But, troth, I noo forget its name,
But, I trow, she gat the girdin' o't.

She took him tae the cellar then,
Ha, ha the girdin' o't,
To see gif he could do't again,
Ha, ha, ha, the girdin' o't;
He kidd'd her ance, he kiss'd her twice,
An' by the by he kiss'd her thrice
Till deil a mair the thing wad rise
To gie her the lang girdin' o't.

But Duncan took her to his wife,
Ha, ha, the girdin' o't,
To be the comfort o' his life,
Ha, ha, ha, the girdin' o't;
A' noo she scauls baith night an' day,
Except when Duncan's at the play,
An' that's as seldom as he may,
He's weary o' the girdin' o't.


Source for notated version: Gillespie MS, 1768, p. 56 [Johnson].

Printed sources: Aird (Selections of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, vol. II), 1785; No. 111, p. 41. Gow (Complete Repository, Part 4), 1817; pp. 18-19. Howe (1000 Jigs and Reels), c. 1867; p. 122. Johnson (Scottish Fiddle Music in the 18th Century), 1983; No. 35, p. 35. Kerr (Merry Melodies, vol. 3), c. 1880's; No. 379, p. 42. McGibbon (Scots Tunes, Book 1), c. 1746; p. 1. Miller & Perron (101 Polkas), 1978; No. 45. O'Farrell (Pocket Companion, vol. IV), c. 1810; pp. 94-95. Oswald (Caledonian Pocket Companion, Book 3), 1760; p. 8. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 150.

Recorded sources:




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