Mill Oh (The)

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MILL OH, THE. AKA - "The Mill," "Mill Mill O (The)," "Mill Oh the Mill (The)." AKA and see "Cuba March (The)," "Soldier's Return (The)," "Blue Eyed Stranger (1) (The)." Scottish, English. England, Northumberland. D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB: AAB (O'Farrell). "The Mill Oh" or "The Mill Mill O" was a popular tune common to collections printed in the 18th and early 19th centuries, printed by Allen Ramsay, but likely predating him. The air to the song is that to which Robert Burns in 1793 set "The Sodger's (Soldier's) Return" ("The Poor and Honest Soldier"). See also the closely related "Deadly Wars (The)" and "Poor Soldier (2)." Burns' poem is a reworking of a folk theme, popular since Homer's Ulysses, of lovers parted by war -- when the man returns he is not recognized but finds his love has been true, reveals himself and is happily reunited. It begins:

Millmannoch is the mill of the "Soldier's Return" by Burns, written whilst at Ellisland Farm. Discharged soldiers of the Royal North British Fusiliers made their way back home from the depot at Dumfries via this old road to the Ayr depot and Burns wished to feature this regiment in his ballad (Wikipedia [1]).

When wild war's deadly blast was blawn,
And gentle peace returning,
Wi' mony a sweet babe fatherless,
And mony a widow mourning;
I left the lines and tented field,
Where lang I'd been a lodger,
My humble knapsack a' my wealth,
A poor but honest sodger.

Burns also reworked the original song, a mildly bawdy ode, as "Mill, Mill O" for Merry Muses of Caledonia:

As I came down yon water side
And by yon Shillin Hill, O,
There I spied a bonny lass,
A lass that I loed right weel, O.

The mill, mill-O, and the kill, kill-O
An' the coggin' o' Peggy's wheel, O.
The sack an' the sieve, a' she did leave,
An' danced the millers reel, O.

I spier'd at her, gin she cou'd play,
Birt the lassie had nae skill, O;
An' yet she was nae a' to blame,
She pat it in my will, O.

Then she fell o'er, an' sae did I,
An' danc'd the millars reel, O,
Whene'er that bonny lassie comes again,
She shall hae her ma't ground weel, O.

The mill, mill-O, and the kill, kill-O
An' the coggin' o' Peggy's wheel, O.
The sack an' the sieve, a' she did leave,
An' danced the millers reel, O.

Bayard (1981) believes that "Quaker's Wife (The)/Merrily Danced the Quaker" grew out of this tune, or else both tunes stem from an ancient original, primarily because of the "unmistakable" similarity of the 'B' parts, and the "noticeable" resemblance of the 'A' parts. The title appears in Henry Robson's list of popular Northumbrian song and dance tunes ("The Northern Minstrel's Budget"), which he published c. 1800. Glen reported it was first printed by William Thompson in his 1725 Orpheus Caledonius (No. 20); it also appeared in Thompson's 1733 edition (vol. 1, p. 40).

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Bremner (Thirty Scots Songs), 1770; p. 30. Crosby (The Caledonian Musical Repository), 1811, p. 48. Johnson (Scots Musical Museum, vol. 3), 1787-1803, No. 242. S. Johnson (Kitchen Musician No. 10: Airs & Melodies of Scotland's Past), 1992 (revised 2001); p. 13. McGibbon (Collection of Scots Tunes, book III), 1768, p. 76. McGlashan (A Collection of Scots Reels), vol. 2, 1781, p. 4. O'Farrell (Pocket Companion, vol. II), c. 1806; p. 157 (set as a "duett"). Oswald (Caledonian Pocket Companion Book 3), 1760; pp. 2-3.

Recorded sources: Jerry O'Sullivan - "O'Sullivan meets O'Farrell" (2005). Philo 1189, Jean Redpath - " The Songs of Robert Burns, vols. 5 & 6" (1996).

See also listing at:
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [2]
Hear the air played on recorder and see Robert Louis Stevenson's handwritten manuscript version on youtube.com [3]




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