Annotation:My Lady's Goon Has Gairs Upon It

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X:1 T:My Lady's Gown has Gairs Upon't M:C L:1/8 R:Strathspey B:British Minstrel (1843, p. 108) Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:F C|F>FF>A G>FD>G|F>FA>c d>cA>f|F>FF>A G>FD>B|A>c f<d c>A G:| |:B|A>Ac>F d>cc>A|A>Ac>F EG/G/ G>B|A>Ac>F d>cc>A|A>c f>d c>A G:||

MY LADY'S GOON HAS GAIRS ON'T. Scottish, Strathspey. C Major (Cole): F Major (Howe). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB. Goon=gown. A goonie is a nightie. Gairs can mean pleats, as in pleated sleeves, which were sometimes accented with a different material or color than the dress, and also means 'strawberries'. However, gair was also used to indicate grassy strains, which gives the title a ribald meaning[1]. For this reason, James Johnson was reluctant to include Robert Burns' 1788 reworking of the old song[2] in his Scots Musical Museum until much later, finally publishing it near the end of the series of volumes in 1803. The Glasgow-published British Minstrel, and Musical and Literary Miscellany (1843) printed this tune along with another song called "Howlet and the Weazel (The)", and opined:

They both attained no very honourable notoriety from their old blackguard names, and the blackguard songs united with them. Dare we hope that the improved taste, and more perfect and pure education which prevails in our age, will be able to banish from all memories the rubbish which has almost incurably contaminated the popular mind, and which blurs the exquisite beauty of our old lyrical remains.

Johnson's finally allowed a version of the song into the Scots Musical Museum (1803, No. 554), albeit under the title "My Lord a-Hunting," the words reworked by poet Robert Burns from a song old at the time to the extent that Johnson must have been assured that the connection with the bawdy original was sufficiently obscured[3]. The version in the Museum goes:

My lady's gown, there's gairs upon 't,
And gowden flowers sae rare upon 't;
But Jenny's jimps and jirkinet,
My lork thinks meikle mair upon 't.

My lord a-hunting he is gane,
But hounds or hawks wi' him are nane;
By Colin's cottage lies his game,
If Colin's Jenny be at hame.

According to Stenhouse[4], the words were set to a strathspey composed by James Greg (alias Gregg or Greig) (1718-1817), a teacher of dancing in Ayrshire (see also his "Greig's Pipes." His obituary reads:

At Ayr, at a very advanced age, Mr. James Gregg, who for many years was well known in Ayrshire, Galloway, and Dumfriesshire as an eminent teacher of dancing. He was a many of happy temper, and of considerable originality of genius. He was remarkably skilled in musick. and performed with great taste and execution on the violin; and besides "Gregg's Pipes" and "Strathspeys" which bear his name, he composed many other excellent pieces, which his modestly prevented him from acknowledging, though he contributed to many musical publications. He had a taste for Painting, Mechanics, and Natural History, made and improved telescopes, had no inconsiderable knowledge of Mathematicks, and was frequently employed as a measurer of land, until his advanced years rendered him incapable of bearing the fatigue. He taught dancing until, by old age, he could scarcely see his own pupils, or hears the tones of his own violin.[5]

The Irish "Murphy's Reel (3)" has some melodic similarities in the first several bars.

Additional notes

Printed sources : - Hamilton (The British Minstrel, and Musical and Literary Miscellany, vol. 2), 1843; p. 108. Cole (1000 Fiddle Tunes), 1940; p. 123. Howe (1000 Jigs and Reels), c. 1867; p. 149. Johnson (Scots Musical Museum, vol. 6), 1803; No. 183, p. 145. Manson (Hamilton's Universal Tune Book), 1844; p. 13. Ryan's Mammoth Collection, 1883; p. 162.

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  1. The 17th century Guthrie Manuscript has an even more explicit title: "My ladies cunt has hairs upond," with the music being close enough to be cognate with later versions of the melody.
  2. Burns' song has been called "a polite parody" of the obscene original.
  3. Evelyn Stell, MA thesis. "Sources of Scottish Instrumental Music 1603-1707", vol. 1, 1999, pp. 281-282.
  4. Stenhouse, Notes to the Museum, 1839.
  5. The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronical, vol. 87, pt. 2 (July-Dec. 1817), p. 636. [1]