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 traditional instrumental music with annotations, formerly known as
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Flowers of Edinburgh.jpg
The Flowers of Edinburh

Played by : Alistair Gillies
Source : Soundcloud
Image : "Flower of..." usually referenced a woman

The FLowers of Edinburgh

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].

...more at: The Flowers of Edinburh - full Score(s) and Annotations

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:|]

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Although we are not trained musicologists and make no pretense to the profession, we have tried to apply such professional rigors to this Semantic Abc Web as we have internalized through our own formal and informal education.
This demands the gathering of as much information as possible about folk pieces to attempt to trace tune families, determine origins, influences and patterns of aural/oral transmittal, and to study individual and regional styles of performance.
Many musicians, like ourselves, are simply curious about titles, origins, sources and anecdotes regarding the music they play. Who, for example, can resist the urge to know where the title Blowzabella came from or what it means, or speculating on the motivations for naming a perfectly respectable tune Bloody Oul' Hag, is it Tay Ye Want?
Knowing the history of the melody we play, or at least to have a sense of its historical and social context, makes the tune 'present' in the here and now, and enhances our rendering of it.
Andrew Kuntz & Valerio Pelliccioni

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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.