Johnny Faa

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JOHNNIE FAA. AKA and see "Lady Cassilis' Lilt," "Lady Callilles Lilt." Scottish, Slow Air (4/4 time). G Mixolydian (Johnson, Oswald, Purser): A Major (Gow). Standard tuning (fiddle). ABB (Johnson, Purser): AABB (Gow, Oswald). The name Faa, a variant of Faw, was the name of the leading gypsy family of old Scotland. Unfortunately for the Faa's, gypsys were periodically declared persona non grata in that country and were formally expelled several times, including in 1609 and again in 1611. Though this meant they usually removed themselves to the hinterlands, Willa Faa and three others were hanged in that latter year for the crime of having been found abiding in the realm. Things did not get better soon, for in 1624 Captain Johnnie Faa and seven others were hanged for the same infraction. A popular ballad (collected as well in England, Ireland and America), "Johnnie Faa" variants usually tell the story of the elopement of the gypsy with one Lady Cassilis.

The populariser of the melody, an Italian named Francesco Barsanti, married a Scotswoman and absorbed much of the musical tradition of his wife's country. Even though the piece had been previously published in the Skene Mandora Book of c. 1620 (as "Lady Cassilles Lilt"), Johnson (1983) believes it unlikely Barsanti knew about that source; rather, as Glen (Early Scottish Melodies) suggests, he probably notated the tune from folk tradition or perhaps learned it from his wife. Emmerson (1971) notes William Glen (d. 1824) used the tune as the vehicle for his song "Waes me for Prince Charlie" (which parenthetically was requested by Queen Victoria in 1842 as one of the songs to be included in a recital she attended by singer John Wilson, a celebrated interpreter of the time of Scots songs). Purser (1992) gives that the refrain of the tune was borrowed and made famous by Byron--'Nae mare I'll gang a-rovin, a-rovin in the nicht.'

Source for notated version: Francesco Barsanti (c. 1690-1772) from his Old Scot Tunes (1742, p. 6) [Johnson].

Printed sources: Gow (Complete Repository, Part 4), 1817; p. 11. Johnson (Scottish Fiddle Music in the 18th Century), 1983; No. 16, p. 41. Oswald (Caledonian Pocket Companion, Book 7), 1760; p. 23. Purser (Scotland's Music), 1992; Example 17, p. 124.

Recorded sources:

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