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Fyre and Sword – Music and Poetry

Fyre and Sword – Music and Poetry


Linda Adams (vocal), Richard Evans (Scottish small pipes)

It is no coincidence that the Reivers gave the word bereave to the English language. The personal strength of the woman in the midst of crisis makes this a very moving song. There are many theories surrounding the historical context of this song. Scott maintained that it concerned “the execution of Cockburn of Henderland, a Border freebooter, hanged over the gate of his own tower by James V in the course of the memorable expedition of 1529 which was fatal to Johnnie Armstrong, Adam Scott of Tushielaw and many other marauders”. Sadly William Cockburne was not hanged “over the gate” but was tried and beheaded in Edinburgh.

However, we’ll allow Marjorie Cockburne her grief and supreme nobility in this hauntingly beautiful ballad. Linda originally learnt it from the singing of Gordeanna McCulloch over twenty-five years ago and it has remained in her repertoire ever since. A version was collected in Oklahoma, USA, published in “Ballads and Folk Songs of the South West” which appeared on an LP complete with remarkably similar melody. In the note to the song it says “an Oklahoma frontier wife and a Scots Border widow are, in many ways, sisters of circumstance”. (N.B. “poined” means to seize or make forfeit)

  “The Lament of a Border Widow” Border Ballad
My Love he built me a bonny bower I took his body on my back,
And clad it a’ wi’ lilye flour; And whiles I gaed, and whiles I sate;
A brawer bower ye ne’er did see I digg’d a grave and laid him in,
Than my true love he built for me. And happ’d him with the sod sae green.
There came a man by middle day, But think na ye my heart was sair
He spied his sport and went away, When I laid the moul on his yellow hair?
And brought the king, that very night, O think na ye my heart was wae
Who brake my bower and slew my knight. When I turn’d about, away to gae?
He slew my knight to me sae dear, Nae living man I’ll love again
He slew my knight and poin’d his gear; Since that my lovely knight is slain;
My servants all for life did flee Wi ae lock of his yellow hair
And left me in extremitie. I’ll chain my heart for evermair.
I sew’d his sheet, making my mane,
I watched the corpse myself alane,
I watched his body night and day;
No living creature came that way.

Lock The Door, Lariston, a ballad by James Hogg the “Ettrick Shepherd”.

James Hogg Memorial, Yarrow

This song by James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, historically it is a bit of a jumble, but the Border family names and place names help to conjure up the right images for the album.  James Hogg (1770-1835), the “Ettrick Shepherd” was born in Ettrick Forest. His poetical gift was discovered by Scott. He went to Edinburgh in 1810 and made his reputation from his poem “The Queen’s Wake”. He spent his later years at the farm of Altrive in Yarrow combining agriculture and literary work.

Lock the door, Lariston, lion of Liddesdale,- the poem is written in the style of a Border ballad, its evocative “jingle of names” and the varied pace of the lines, celebrates the stirring events of Border history and suggests the thunder of horses hooves and the clash of arms in battle.

“I’ve Mangerton, Gornberry, Raeburn, and Netherby, Old Sim of Whitram and all his array: Come all Northumberland, Teesdale and Cumberland, Here at the Breaken Tower end shall the fray.” From; Songs by the Ettrick Shepherd.

(Tunes: Border Spirit (Pigg)/ Jackie Latin (Trad)) John Wright (vocal), Steve Lawrence (electric and acoustic bouzoukis), Rick Kemp (bass) Richard Evans (Northumbrian small pipes), Richard Adams (drums), Paul Adams (bodhrans), Kenny Speirs (harmony and backing vocals)


The events of 1596 and the rescue of Kinmont Willie Armstrong represent a daring swashbuckling adventure. The fact that Kinmont led one of the most notorious bands of cut-throats ever to roam the Debateable Land seems to be irrelevant and in the tradition of the Border ballads we are to view him as a hero. His notoriety and activities were such that the Warden of the West March’s deputy, Salkeld, captured Kinmont as he returned from a Truce Day at the Dayholm of Kershope. Kinmont was taken to Carlisle. According to Border Law it should not have happened on a Truce Day and Walter Scott of Buccleuch (keeper of Liddendale on whose land the arrest had been made) protested to the Warden, Lord Scrope. When Scrope refused to return Kinmont, Buccleuch became concerned that Scrope was anxious to hang Kinmont on the gallows at Harraby and so assembled a motley bunch of Elliots, Scotts, Armstrongs and Grahams to effect a rescue. Oral tradition has meant that the numbers vary from 40 to 200. The weather was atrocious which made crossing the River Eden very dangerous, but it did mean that the castle watch had taken shelter. Buccleuch left a group to cover the retreat and led the raiding party himself. Popular opinion has it that they must have had support from the inside because they entered the castle quickly. Thus with the aid of a sturdy Reiver, Red Rowan, Kinmont made his escape. The Armstrongs feature in a number of ballads, “Jock 0 The Side”, “Johnny Armstrong”, etc which reflects their significance in the Reivers story.  Click for Kinmont Willy story

(Trad) (Child 186)
Ross Kennedy (vocal, acoustic guitar), Steve Lawrence (electric bouzouki), Richard Evans (Scottish small pipes), Graeme Elliott (electric guitar), Rick Kemp (bass) Paul Adams (bodhrans), Richard Adams (drums)

The Dowie Dens o’ Yarrow (Click for painting by Sir Joseph Noel Patton)

Arguably one of the finest of the Border Ballads. In simple terms the theme is Romeo & Juliet. This fits conveniently with the reiving theme of two families in dispute. It also deals with the theme of the girl courting beneath her station in life. Whatever, the young man is clearly regarded as unsuitable by the girls family. As with many of the songs with no clear historical connection attempts have been made to give the song a real-life background. A version of the song collected from one William Walsh, a Peebleshire cottar and poet has as its opening line, “At Dryhope lived a lady fair”. This has led to the theory that the lady was the daughter of Scott of Dryhope, a notorious Reiver. Whether or not it has an historical basis becomes less significant against the overwhelming tragedy of the song. Janet’s test, given to her by Sandra Kerr has a place name “Thurrow” which we have not been able to locate. The test was collected in the Borders and so it has probably been altered by the oral process from Yarrow. The text has several ritual, magical and folklore allusions: the dream, the long yellow hair being wrapped three times around the body, etc. Janet’s stunning delivery of the song serves to illustrate why these songs are often called the “Big Ballads”.

The story of this ballad has a familiar ring as a tragedy. It is quite probably based in some way on a true story but historical records of such things are frequently bitty. However there are a few clues, as Child records. Contemporary records for the presbytry of Selkirk record violent feuds between the Scotts of Tushielaw and the Scotts of Thirlestane. In 1616 a Walter Scott of Tushielaw eloped with Grizel Scott of Thirlestane without her fathers permission, and a few years later the trial of Simeon Scott of Bonytoun and three others is recorded as taking place at Melrose for the ‘horrible slaughter’ of one Walter Scott. Since this all happened close to where the ballad is set, it seems likely that there may be a connection.

Click to read how the story inspired Dowie Dens of Yarrow, painting by Sir Joseph Noel Paton

(Trad) (Child 186) Janet Russell (vocal, acoustic guitar), Rick Kemp (bass)

Little Jock Elliot, The Hero of a Lost Border ballad. 

“My name is little Jock Elliot, And wha daur meddle wi’ me?” is the only certain surviving fragment of the lost ballad of “Little Jock Elliot”. The historical Jock Elliot was John Elliot of the Park who, in 1566, fought a celebrated duel with James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell and Lord of Liddesdale.

Feelings were running high in Liddesdale due to the high-handed Earl’s arrest and imprisonment in the Hermitage of an assortment of Elliots and Armstrongs of the dale. Bothwell chanced upon “John Elvat of the Park” near the Hermitage and attempted to arrested him, but Jock had other ideas…

He slid from the saddle and ran, but the Earl shot him with a pistol in the back. Bothwell dismounted to make an end of Jock, but lost his footing and fell into a ditch. Jock, though wounded, summoned the strength to draw his sword and in the ensuing fight thrust the Earl through the hand and wounded him in the in the head and body; but Bothwell repaid these with a couple of thrusts that would laid Jock low had it not been for his trusty jack of plates.

Bothwell’s servants carried him to the castle where they found the prisoners at large and in control of the place. Bothwell had to let them go before he could gain entrance to his own castle.

Jock’s fate is uncertain, one account says that he died of his wounds but in 1583 a complaint was made that “John Elwet of the Park” with 100 others had raided Redesdale. Was this the same Little Jock Elliot, still “riding” seventeen years after the report of his death?

Peace on the Border 
After the riding we dispersed Cloak and dagger, crime on crime,
We drifted home in twos and threes Anarchy in the borderlands
Through cold and rain we spat and cursed The King’s men came with a Valentine
This ancient war of families To break the power of the border clans
Armies past and then returned,
They killed and raped they stole and burnt Some were hung some sent away
So from the cradle we have learnt to Ireland and the low countries
To be as hard as stone Great was the price they had to pay
And learned to stand alone. God bless their memory
And God bless you and me
They are gone now the killing and disorder
They’re just ghosts now the brigand and maurauder
And we give thanks for peace on the border.

The Pipes

The pipes used on this recording were made by Richard Evans from Carlisle (Southwaite, Carlisle CA4 CEP). At one time the Scottish small pipe and Northumbrian small pipe were the same instrument until near the end of the 18th Century when the Northumbrians stopped the end of the chanter which gives the Northumbrian small pipes their distinctive staccato style of playing. The Scottish small pipes have undergone a renaissance over the last few years and are now played all over Britain, and many European pipers have also discovered their versatility in terms of volume and tune. Much research and discussion is carried out by the Lowland & Border Piping Society and for those who wish to explore the repertoire further there are two excellent books published by Dragonfly Music, The Border Bagpipe Book and Nine Notes That Shook The World.

Kath Tickell plays Northumbrian Pipes

Winter’s Night – Team Spirit by Kathryn and Peter Tickell

Wonderful joyous energetic fun.  What a way to get joy and energy injected into our soul, music is the drug and bliss is the high.


 Royal Albert Hall

Rothbury / Hills Holey Ha’Penny

Ross Ainslie play Scottish Border Pipes

Sean Folsom plays Scottish Border Pipe with mouth-blown and bellows-blown:

The Bagpipe Society

Double and Triple Pipes (3 notes at the same time)

In British churches there are many depictions of pipers playing bagpipes with two chanters, one for each hand. No instruments survive, but various makers have made working Double Bagpipes, including Julian Goodacre, John Tose and Jim Parr.

Each double pipe sounds very different: some use closed fingering and have cylindrically-bored chanters, others open fingering and conical bores. What unites them is that the two chanters allow the piper to play simple harmonies, or to play different rhythmic ‘loops’ with each hand. Julian Goodacre’s Cornish Double Bagpipes are inspired by a carving dated from the early 1500’s in Altarnun Church, Bodmin Moor, Cornwall. They have a deep and sonorous tone. The two chanters are fingered independently: one plays the upper half of the octave, the other the lower half. Both chanters can play the tonic note and thus, using covered fingering, one can create a constant drone whilst playing the melody. They are pitched in low D.

Julian also makes English Doublepipes based on measurements taken from the James Talbot manuscripts of the 1690s. A similar chanter appears in a German picture from 1636 and there is a detailed account of two sets being played in 1729 by James Bell of Carlisle. These English Double Bagpipes have a single chanter that contains two bores. The finger holes are arranged so that one can produce simple harmonies and counter melodies. The pipes usually have a single drone. They are fairly quiet with a gorgeous tone. Double bagpipes have a very long history and are still played in many countries, particularly north Africa and those bordering the Aegean Sea.

Border Pipes Wikipedia


Although essentially an English v. Scottish battle from 1388, it was fought in the Borders and the main protagonists came from prominent Border families, Douglas and Percy. It has a place in our collection because it was very much Border “inspired” and takes account of the fact that the Border was between countries not always at peace with each other. The Earls of March and Douglas, leading landowners in the Borders urged the Scottish king to renew the Anglo-Scottish War to take advantage of political uncertainty in England. A truce had been drawn up in 1 370 for fourteen years and its expiry saw skirmishing along the Border, much of it instigated by March and Douglas. The English retaliated, another truce was drawn up, but with political instability at both the Scottish and English courts attention increasingly focused on James, second Earl of Douglas and Henry Percy, first Earl of Northumberland. There were raids into Cumberland and Northumberland and eventually the lines were drawn for the Battle of Otterburn. This song is essentially an English version of “Chevy Chase” (Child 162)

Graham Pirt (vocal), Steve Lawrence (baritone guitar, electric bouzouki), Stewart Hardy (fiddle), /an Kellet (keyboards), Graeme Elliott (electric guitar), Rick Kemp (bass), Richard Adams (drums).

The Ballad of Jamie Telfer in the Fair Dodhead,

Jamie Telfer in the fair Dodhead is a ballad of Hot-Trod. It tells of how Jamie’s farmstead in Ettrick is plundered by the Captain of Bewcastle and his raiders: “There’s naething left i’ the Fair Dodhead, But only wife and children three”.

Jamie seeks help from his landlord, Scott Buccleuch, but is rebuffed with — “Gae seek your succour frae Martin Elliot, For succour ye’s get nane frae me; Gae seek your succour where ye paid black-mail, For, man, ye never paid money to me.”

At the Reiver Martin Elliot’s stronghold of Prickenhaugh he has more luck and the Elliots ride with Jamie to recover his stock. In a vicious skirmish the Captain of Bewcastle and his riders are bloodily worsted and the Elliots ride on into England and lift the Captain’ cattle. Jamie returns to the Dodhead – “And instead of his ain ten milk-kye, Jamie Telfer’s gotten thirty and three”.

The Lads of Wamphray, A Border Ballad; Historical Basis.

The Border Ballad we know as “The Lads of Wamphray” has a basis of historical fact and concerns events that led to the culmination of the long running Maxwell-Johnstone feud at the Battle of Dryfe Sands. This savage and bloody encounter took place at Lockerbie on the 6th December 1593.

The Ballad begins with the tale of a foray ridden by Willie Johnstone of Kirkhill and his uncle the “Galliard”, who mistakes a blind horse for “Sim Crichton’s winsome dun”. He “thought his horse had been fleet, But they did outstrip him quite out o’sight”. Despite his pleadings, “they hanged him hie upon a tree”.

In a bid to avenge his uncle, Willie Johnstone raids Nithsdale again and drives off the Crighton’s cattle. They pursue the Reivers who turn, and in the vicious skirmish that ensues, the Johnsones defeat the Crichtons with the loss of several men.

Willie boasts that “for every finger of the Galliard’s hand, I vow this day I’ve killed a man”. But Willie had done more than that he had reopened the Johnstone-Maxwell feud by injuring their Crichton allies. Note: Wamphrey is an Annandale Parish below Moffat in Dumfriesshire.

The Bridal of Triermain; A Poem By Sir Walter Scott (1813)

The jagged tower of masonry, dramatically sited on its prominent mound west of Gilsland is all that remains of the famous castle of the hero of Sir Walter Scott’s poem of 1813. Triermain Castle was built by Rowland de Vaux in the 1340’s and was a stronghold of considerable importance in the defence of the Border.

In Scott’s day the remains were more substantial; it was not until 1832 that the ruins collapsed and the stone was carted away to be used in farm buildings. “The Bridal of Triermain” is a romantic poem of love and magic set in Arthurian times that tells of the quest of the knight errant Sir Rowland de Vaux.

The Lord of Triermain sets out to rescue the maid Gyneth, daughter of King Arthur, from a spell cast on her by the magician Merlin. There is much of Scott’s love of the romance of the Borders in the poem; “Sir Roland de Vaux he hath laid him to sleep,- His blood it was fevered, his breathing was deep.- He had been pricking against the Scot, -The foray was long, and the Skirmish was hot;- His dinted helm and his buckler’s plight- Bore token of a stubborn fight.” The tomb of Sir Rowland de Vaux at nearby Lanercost Priory displays his arms (a bend checky) on the tomb chest though only the last vestiges of the effigy survive.

The Musicians

Steve Lawrence: Musical Director. A multi instrumentalist who is a former member of the Scottish band, Iron Horse. He does production work for Lochshore/KRL Records and has his own group Whirlygig. He records for Lochshore/KRL Records.
Steve plays: Acoustic and Electric Bouzoukis, Baritone Guitar, Northumbrian Small Pipes and Percussion

Graeme Elliott: Electric Guitar
Richard Evans: Northumbrian and Scottish Small Pipes
Stewart Hardy: Fiddle
Ian Kellet: Keyboards
Rick Kemp: Bass Guitar
Archie McAllister: Fiddle
Kenny Speirs: Harmony and Backing Vocals
Richard Adams: Drums and Percussion.
Paul Adams: Bodhran and Additional Percussion

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