Flowers of Edinburgh (1)

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X:1 T:Flower of Edinburgh [1] M:C| L:1/8 R:Country Dance Tune B:John Walsh – Caledonian Country Dances vol. II (c. 1737, No. 294, pp. 34-35) Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion K:G (3GFE|D3E G3A|BGBd {c}B2 AG|{G}F3E DEFG|AF dF E2 FE| DEFD G3A|(3BAG (3Bcd e3g|dBAG E2 GA|B2 GA G2:| |:d2|gfg>a g/a/b ag|fef>g (f/g/a) gf|edef gfed|B2 e2 e3 g/4f/4e/| dBAG d2 cB|edef g3 (g/4a/4b/)|cBAG E2 GA|B2G2G2:|]



FLOWERS OF EDINBURGH [1] (Blata Duin-Eudain). AKA – "Flooers o' Edinburgh." AKA and see "Cois Lasadh," "Cois Leasa" (Beside a Rath), "Earl of Hopetown's Reel," "Flowers of Donnybrook," "My love's bonny when she smiles on me," "My Love was Once a Bonny Lad," "Old Virginia Reel (3)," "Quadrille canadien (Boulay) 4ème partie," "Reel du Père Noël," "Rossaveel/Rossaviel," "To the Battle Men of Erin," "Old Virginia." Scottish (originally), Shetland, Canadian, American; Scots Measure, Country Dance Tune or Reel: English, Reel, Country or Morris Dance Tune (4/4, cut or 2/2 time); Irish, Reel or Hornpipe. Originally from Scotland, Lowlands region. USA; New England, southwestern Pa., Missouri, New York, Arizona. Canada; Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton. G Major (most versions): Morris version in D Major (Mallinson). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Bacon, Kerr): AAB (Bain, Mitchell): AABB (most versions): AA'BB (Phillips): AA'BB' (Beisswenger & McCann). Gow and others credit composition of the melody to James Oswald (Gow). Its earliest appearance of "Flowers of Edinburgh" in print is in publisher John Walsh's Caledonian Country Dances, vol. 2 (London, c. 1737), although the first word was singular ('Flower', not 'Flowers'). Not long after, composer and cellist James Oswald's included the melody in his c. 1742 collection of Curious Collection of Scots Tunes (vol. II, sometimes dated 1744), which appeared in London and contained the "Flowers" tune as a "crude" song entitled "My love's bonny when she smiles on me." He printed the melody again in 1750 with the words "My love was once a bonny lad." Oswald himself republished it in 1751 in his volume Caledonian Pocket Companion (1760) under the title "The Flower of Edinburgh." Flowers of Edinburgh is a Scottish country dance, for which the namesake tune is played, often followed by "The Lass o' Patie's Mill," "The East Neuk of Fife" and "Bottom of the Punch Bowl" (Martin, 2002).

As regards the title, the convention "Flower of..." usually referenced a woman, although in the case of "Edinburgh" the plural form was appended at some point and stuck. The plural title appears in Herd's Scots Songs (without music) and in The Scots Musical Museum (1787, No. 13). Nathaniel Gow notes parenthetically in his Complete Repository Part 4 (1817) that the 'flowers' of Edinburgh did not refer to comely females but in fact referenced the magistrates of the town. Some say the 'flowers' were female, although the females in question were prostitutes. It has also been suggested that the title refers to the stench of the old, overcrowded urban Edinburgh-a city fondly referred to as "Auld Reekie", which does not bespeak of a putrid, reeking smell, but rather comes from the Norwegian word røyk, meaning smoke. Thus 'Auld Reekie' refers to the pall of smoke that once hovered over the city, having been constantly spewed forth by its hearths. Finally, the 'flowers of Edinburgh' has been taken to refer to the contents of chamber pots which were, in the days before modern sewage systems, once disposed of by being thrown into the city streets (with or without the shouted warning "Gardez l'eau!" or "Mind yourself!"). Paul de Grae finds this latter interpretation in modern times incorporated by novelist Ian Rankin in one of his Inspector Rebus crime novels. Rebus, an Edinburgh detective, is being addressed by a "hard man" whose warning narrowly averted the Inspector's stepping in canine excrement. It will help to know human waste is called keech or keach in Ulster and Scotland (similar to the French caca, Italian cacca, Finnish and Icelandic kakku, and German kaka):

"Know what 'flowers of Edinburgh' are?"
"A rock band?"
"Keech. They used to chuck all their keech out of the windows and onto the street. There was so much of it lying around, the locals called it the flowers of Edinburgh. I read that in a book."

The renowned County Donegal fiddler, John Doherty (1895–1980) had his own idiosyncratic take on the title. In the notes for the album "The Floating Bow," Alun Evans writes of Doherty:

I can only say that I never found him to be other than exhilarating company. Yet he was hard to pin down on detail, for in his mind fact and fantasy were so tightly interwoven as to be indivisible - at least he led you to believe so. He would tell how James Scott Skinner had composed the tune 'The Flowers of Edinburgh' after a Miss Flowers with whom he was besotted at the time. John must have known that this didn't ring true but a story was a story, perhaps an example of the 'true Celtic madness' which is said to be 'not psychotic but merely a poetic confusion of the real and the imagined.'

Doherty modeled his his playing of the tune after Skinner's 1910 recording, finds Conor Caldwell [1].

English morris versions are from the Bampton area of England's Cotswolds and the North-West (England) tradition (where it is used as the tune for a polka step). Cecil Sharp collected the slower Cotswalds version from Harry Taylor, mainstay of the Longborgough and Lower Siwell Morris sides in Gloucestershire. Editor Seattle remarks of William Vickers' Northumbrian country dance version that it is "A fine setting with some distinctive 18th century touches." The tune is contained in the 19th century Joseph Kershaw and the 1823–1826 Joshua Gibbons music manuscript books. Kershaw was a fiddle player who lived in the remote area of Slackcote, Saddleworth, North West England, who compiled his manuscript from 1820 onwards, according to Jamie Knowles. Gibbons was a papermaker and a musician from Tealby in the Lincolnshire Wolds.

In America the melody has also been used for country dances for over two hundred and twenty years. It was included by Greenland, New Hampshire, dancer Clement Weeks in his MS dance collection of 1783, and by Giles Gibbs (East Windsor, Ellington Parish, Connecticut) in his 1777 fife manuscript (Van Cleef & Keller, 1980). In the latter MS it is also called "Darling Swain." Another early American version appears in the music manuscript copybook of Henry Livingston, Jr. Livingston purchased the estate of Locust Grove, Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1771 at the age of 23. In 1775 he was a Major in the 3rd New York Regiment, which participated in Montgomery's invasion of Canada in a failed attempt to wrest Québec from British control. An important land-owner in the Hudson Valley, and a member of the powerful Livingston family, Henry was also a surveyor and real estate speculator, an illustrator and map-maker, and a Justice of the Peace for Dutchess County. He was also a poet and musician, and presumably a dancer, as he was elected a Manager for the New York Assembly's dancing season of 1774–1775, along with his 3rd cousin, John Jay, later U.S. Chief Justice of Governor of New York. As "Old Virginia Reel (3)" it was printed by George P. Knauff in Virginia Reels, volume II (Baltimore, 1839). Musicologist Chris Goertzen has identified "Flowers of Edinburgh" as one of several most frequently published melodies in the extensive catalogue of Boston Music publisher Elias Howe, beginning with Howe's School for the Violin (1843), The Musician's Companion (c. 1841), Ryan's Mammoth Colletion (1883), and Original Violin Schoo: Without a Master (1894) [2]. Most are identical, but the one in Ryan's Mammoth Collection, while the same tune, is stylistically different and indicates editor William Bradbury Ryan (a fiddler, bandleader and Howe employee) used a source other than Howe's stable of transcriptions for this particular tune.

Much later it was cited as having commonly been played for country dances in Orange County, New York, in the 1930's (Lettie Osborn, New York Folklore Quarterly), and was in the repertoire of Arizona dance fiddler Kenner C. Kartchner in the early twentieth century. This famous Scottish reel is as well known to Pennsylvania fiddlers as it is to country players everywhere in the area of British folk music tradition, says Bayard (1944), and is one tune to which a single title has been transmitted intact through the generations of folk process. The title also appears in a list of traditional Ozark Mountain fiddle tunes compiled by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph, published in 1954. Howard Marshall writes that Art Galbraith (d. 1992) of Springfield, Missouri, "had the most famous version in his area which was handed down through his family from at least 1840. Art's version is distinctive for its retention of the old 'extra beat' that has been lost in other versions." Galbraith believed the tune had come down through his family from his great-grandfather, Andrew Galbraith, who had been a dancing master in east Tennessee and a veteran of the War of 1812 (this version has extra beats and a divergent second strain). Drew Beisswenger (2008) believes the reel may have been introduced to the Southern states through the settlement schools, but notes that, while it is not unknown to Southern musicians it never achieved a great deal of popularity there.

In Ireland "Flowers of Edinburgh" is most common rendered as a hornpipe. The Irish "Cois Leasa" (Beside a Rath) is a version of this tune (or vice-versa), maintains O'Neill (Dance Music of Ireland, 1907), who perhaps found it in Haverty's 100 Irish Airs, 2nd series, 1859, where "The Flowers of Edinburgh" is given in parenthesis as an alternate title for the "Rath" tune. Bayard (1981) agrees with O'Neill, though Sullivan (Bunting Collection) and Alfred Moffat do not, and the connection is not addressed in the Fleischmann index (Sources of Irish Traditional Music, 1998). Collector George Petrie noted his Arranmore-collected Irish tune "Rossaveel" is "the old form of 'Flowers of Edinburgh.'" Finally, a version is played under the title of "The Flower of Donneybrook" in Ireland. "Flowers of Edinburgh" also appears in the mid-19th century music manuscript collection of Canon James Goodman of County Cork [1] (p. 68).

A French-Canadian version, fairly faithful to the main branch of the tune, was recorded by fiddler Arthur Joseph Boulay in Montreal in November, 1923, as "Quadrille canadien (Boulay) 4ème partie," and again in Montreal in December, 1938, by fiddler Albert Allard under the title "Reel du Père Noël."

Early sound recordings include a waxing by Charles D'Almaine (1905), John Witzmann (1920), A.J. Boulay (1923) and Ohio fiddler John Baltzell (1928). Melodeon players also made early recordings: Pete Wyper (1907 & 1912), W.F. Cameron (1910), James Brown (1912), Jack Williams (1914 & 1918), and George 'Pamby' Dick (1918).


Additional notes
Source for notated version : - Fennigs All Stars (New York) [Brody]; John Kubina, (near) Davistown, Pennsylvania, September 3, 1943 (learned from traditional players in Pittsburgh) [Bayard]; Gilpin, Yaugher, Hall, Wright, Shape (all southwestern Pa. fiddlers whose versions were collected in the 1940's) [Bayard]; Arnold Woodley (Bampton, England) via Roy Dommett [Bacon]; Art Stamper (Mo.) [Phillips]; piper Willie Clancy (1918–1973, Miltown Malbay, west Clare) [Mitchell]; Elliot Wright (b. 1935, North River, Queens County, Prince Edward Island) [Perlman]; fiddler Dawson Girdwood (Perth, Ottawa Valley, Ontario) [Begin]; Borders fiddler Tom Hughes [Martin]; Charlie Pashia (1909–1994, Old Mines, Missouri) [Beisswenger & McCann].

Printed sources : - Bacon (Handbook of Morris Dances), 1974; pp. 46, 57, 81. Bain (50 Fiddle Solos), 1989; p. 33. Bayard (Hill Country Tunes), 1944; No. 54. Bayard (Dance to the Fiddle), 1981; No. 340A–E, pp. 326-327. Bégin (Fiddle Music in the Ottawa Valley: Dawson Girdwood), 1985; No. 46, p. 55. Beisswenger & McCann (Ozarks Fiddle Music), 2008; p. 108 (as "Flowers of Edinboro"). Blackman (A Selection of the most favorite Hornpipes for the Violin), c. 1810-22; No. 23. Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; p. 109. Burchenal (Rinnce na h-Éireann), p. 24. Carlin (The Gow Collection), 1986; No. 256. Colclough (Tutor for the Irish Union Pipes), c. 1830; p. 16. Cole (1000 Fiddle Tunes), 1940; p. 21. Elliot and Kay (Calliope), 1788; p. 28. Gow (Complete Repository, Part 4), 1817; p. 16. Hardie (Caledonian Companion), 1992; p. 32 (includes variations by Bill Hardie). Harding's Original Collection, No. 177. Hogg (Jacobite Relics of Scotland, vol. 2), 1821; no. 65, p. 129. Henderson (Flowers of Scottish Melody), 1935 (includes sets of variations). Howe (School for the Violin), 1842; p. 34. Howe (Diamond School for the Violin), 1861; p. 44. Howe (Musician's Omnibus, No. 1), 1862; p. 44. Hunter (The Fiddle Music of Scotland), 1988; No. 310. Jarman (Old Time Fiddlin' Tunes); No. or p. 6. JEFDSS, I, 82, second half of 'Birds-a-Building' equals the second half of No. 54. Jigs and Reels, vol. 2, 1908; p. 12. Johnson (Scots Musical Museum, vol. 1), 1853; No. 13. S. Johnson (Kitchen Musician No. 4: Fine Tunes), 1983 (revised 1991, 2001); p. 10. S. Johnson (Kitchen Musician No. 8: 28 Country Dances), 1988; p. 5. The Joseph Kershaw Manuscript, 1993; No. 55. Kerr (Merry Melodies, vol. 1), c. 1880; No. 1, p. 23. Köhler's Violin Repository, vol. 1, 1881-1885; p. 81. J. Kenyon Lees (Balmoral Reel Book), Glasgow, 1910; p. 27. Lerwick (Kilted Fiddler), 1985; p. 19. Levey (Dance Music of Ireland, 1st Collection), 1858; No. 4, p. 2. Mallinson (Mally's Cotswold Morris Book, vol. 2), 1988; No. 30, p. 16. Mallinson (100 Enduring), 1995; No. 19, p. 8. Martin (Traditional Scottish Fiddling), 2002; pp. 38 & 107. McGibbon (Collection of Scots Tunes, vol. 2), c. 1746; p. 59. Miller & Perron (New England Fiddler's Repertoire), 1983; No. 122. Milne (Middleton’s Selection of Strathspeys, Reels &c. for the Violin), 1870; p. 36. Mitchell (Dance Music of Willie Clancy), 1993; No. 88, p. 79. Neal (Espérance Morris Book, vol. 2), 1912; no. 13, p. 29 (untitled). O'Neill (O'Neill's Irish Music), 1915; No. 350, p. 171. O'Neill (Krassen), 1976; p. 208. O'Neill (Dance Music of Ireland: 1001 Gems), 1907; No. 920, p. 157. O'Neill (Music of Ireland: 1850 Melodies), 1903; No. 1746, p. 325. Oswald (Caledonian Pocket Companion, vol. 3), 1760, p. 19. Perlman (The Fiddle Music of Prince Edward Island) 1996; p. 61. Stanford/Petrie (Complete Collection), 1905; No. 372, p. 94 (as "Rossaveel"). Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 1), 1994; p. 90. Reavy (The Collected Compositions of Ed Reavy), No. 86. Reiner (Anthology of Fiddle Styles), 1979; p. 52. Robbins (Collection of 200 Jigs, Reels, and Country Dances), 1933; No. 28, p. 9 and No. 152, p. 49 (as "Flowers of Donnybrook"). Ryan's Mammoth Collection, 1883; p. 45. Saar (Fifty Country Dances), 1932; No. 29. Seattle/Vickers (Great Northern Tune Book, part 2), 1987; No. 384. Sharp and Macilwaine (Morris Dance Tunes, Set 5), pp. 2, 3 (same version printed in other Sharp folk dance books). Sharp (Country Dance Tunes), 1909; p. 6. Smith (Scottish Minstrel, vol. 3), c. 1821; p. 25. Stewart-Robertson (The Athole Collection), 1884; p. 146. Sumner (Lincolnshire Collections, vol. 1: The Joshua Gibbons Manuscript), 1997; pg. 88. Sweet (Fifer's Delight), 1964/1981; p. 59. Thompson (Compleat Collection of 200 Favourite Country Dances, vol. 1), 1757; No. 18. Tolman (Nelson Music Collection), 1969; p. 12. Wade (Mally's North West Morris Book), 1988; p. 22. John Walsh (Caledonian Country Dances, vol. 2), c. 1737; No. 294, pp. 34-35. White's Unique Collection, 1896; No. 71, p. 13. Williamson (English, Welsh, Scotch and Irish Fiddle Tunes), 1976; p. 53.

Recorded sources : - Breakwater 1002, Rufus Guinchard – "Newfoundland Fiddler." Compass Records 7 4407 2, Ciaran Tourish – "Down the Line" (2005). Edison 52313 (78 RPM), John Baltzell (Mt. Vernon, Ohio), 1928 {appears as "Flowers at Edingurgh"} [Baltzell was taught to play the fiddle by minstrel Dan Emmett]. Front Hall 01, Fennigs All Stars – "The Hammered Dulcimer." Gennett 7033 (78 RPM), Pariseau's Orchestra (1929). Glencoe 001, Cape Breton Symphony – "Fiddle." Kicking Mule 209, Ken Perlman – "Melodic Clawhammer Banjo." New World Records 80239, Phil, Paul, and Sterl Van Arsdale - "Brave Boys: New England Traditions in Folk Music" (Various artists. The Van Arsdales were recorded in 1976). North Star NS0038, "The Village Green: Dance Music of Old Sturbridge Village." Olympic 6151, The Scottish Festival Orchestra – "Scottish Traditional Fiddle Music" (1978). Philo 1008, "Kenny Hall." Rounder Records 0133, Art Galbraith - "Dixie Blossoms" (1981). Sonet 764, Dave Swarbrick and Friends – "The Ceiledh Album." Springthyme Records SPRCD1005, Tom Hughes – "Fiddle Music from the Scottish Borders." Starr 16214a (78 RPM), Albert Allard (1938, as "Reel du Père Noël"). Twin 233/Zonophone-Twin 233, W.F. Cameron (1910). Voyager VRCD 344, Howard Marshall & John Williams – "Fiddling Missouri" (1999. Learned from the playing of Missouri fiddler Art Galbraith). Wild Goose WGS 320, Old Swan Band – "Swan-Upmanship" (2004).

See also listing at :
Alan Snyder's Cape Breton Fiddle Recording Index [2]
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [3]
Alan Ng's Irishtune.info [4]



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  1. Conor Caldwell, "'Did you hear about the poor aul travelling fiddler': The Life and Music of John Doherty", Doctoral Thesis, QUB, January 2013, p. 143.
  2. Chris Goertzen, "Billy in the Lowground: History of an American Instrumental Folk Tune", Phd. diss., Univ. of Illinois/Urbana, 1983, p. 110.