Members' Jottings

Members of BPBC were asked to choose their favourite works of the Bard and in an informal way, say why they feel these are special to them.

First up is Dougie Abercrombie who says:

Song-"Parcel o' Rogues": it is so powerful, it resonates truth, and displays the Burns patriot passion in an event within living memory of his times. Evokes strong feelings from the history it encapsulates within 3 verses. Hopefully it makes folk think. It is without question the piece of Burns radical work which has very direct connotation and connection to the events of now,or rather the 3rd of May! Burns kept alive much of our sense of identity and culture-what other song do we know features this event? None that I know.
 Song-"My Nanie's Awa" -often sung by Jim Ewan and by Alec Abercrombie (club members). Lament for the loss of "Clarinda" - Mrs Nancy McLehose. Jim Ewan, past secretary, miner and then railwayman, went down the "Lady Helen Pit" at Dundonald in September 1939 the same day as my Dad-Thomas Barclay Abercrombie.

Lady Helen Colliery

Burns captures the sadness of his loss in comparison to the joys of nature and declares his only happiness will come with the decaying gray of autumn and the dark dreariness of winter.

 Lady Helen Colliery 1925    

Song-"The De'ils awa' wi' the Exciseman"-composed while Burns, the Dumfries Exciseman, was skulking about on the banks of the river Solway at Sarkfoot, awaiting an opportune moment to make an assault on a suspect smuggling vessel-the brig "Rosamund" from Plymouth. I am an Excise Officer,the last in Dundee, with a Commission written in similar terms to his-mine in 1975, his dated 14th July 1788("Bastille Day" as it later became). I share some coincidences-I also worked at Irvine. Many's the night did I skulk on the banks of the River Forth or Tay for a suspect smuggling vessel. "Searching auld wives' barrels" I could also maybe put my hands up for. May become a target for the politically correct in times to come. Will our grand-bairns be forbidden to recite it unless a word is changed?
Poem- "John Barleycorn" performed at Dalwhinnie-home of the "Gentle Spirit" from the highest still in the Highlands, by Davie Penman. It relates closely to my days in Scotland's distilleries as an Exciseman and reminds me of a splendid toast which I recite in good company-"Auld Scotland for all thy faults I love thy stills! " What would we do without the water of life? Where would our country be without it? The prosperity of Windygates and Leven (and Markinch, Auchtertool, Auchtermuchty, Burntisland etc. before it) depended on whisky: as does our freedom (would we be economically viable as an independent nation without it?)-"tak aff yer dram! " 
Poem "Tam Samson's Elegy"-often performed inimatably by our past President Wilf Allsop. Find a more witty, couthy entertaining piece about an ordinary worthy then find a better performer! Characters such as this are still all around us, there to be seen and admired and rejoiced in as Burns does with a relish here.



Club member David J MacDonald contributes:

Killiecrankie Pass
The Pass at Killiecrankie

Song "Killiecrankie"
One of my Favourite Songs is of a Jacobite Nature, having a keen interest in that historical period in our Scottish history. Burns gives the Killiecrankie  story from a lowland soldiers point of view. It commemorates the Scots victorious Battle fought on July 27th 1689. The charismatic leader was John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee his force of only 2000-2500 defeated the goverment troops of about 4000.
It was the ferocity of the highland charge from the barefoot highlanders that broke the thin red line of General Mackays troops. Unfortunately at  the height of victory, Claverhouse was struck by a musket ball from one of the few volleys that Mackays' forces managed to fire. Carried in a highland plaid by his faithfull highlanders he died on the battlefield or in Blair castle that evening and was laid to rest in St. Brides in Old Blair . Having written this in 1789, did Burns get his inspiration after passing through and staying the night at Blair Atholl?


J.R.D Chalmers gives us the following:

Tam on horse being chased by witches

Poem "Tam O Shanter"
I first became interested in Burns at the age of 18 years, by coincidence much the same time as I tried alcoholic liquor. Perhaps the fact that we were taught “To a Mouse” at school that became the first Burns poem that I learned & recited. The next one was “Tam 0’ Shanter and of course it just went on and on from there. I lost the original book of Burns poems that I started with and have tried without success to rediscover a copy of the same. The fact that I introduce four lines into “Tam 0’ Shanter” that you do not normally hear is due to the aforementioned book, it may be that they were left out of later editions because it was decided that they were not from the pen of Burns? As I have been reciting them now for over 50 years, if people want me to recite the poem I’m afraid that they are always included.

The landlord’s laugh was ready chorus
The crickets joined the chirping cry
The kittling chased her tail for joy

The storm without might rair and rustle
Tam did Na mind the storm a whistle.

Five scymitars wi’ murder crusted
Seven gallows pins Three Hangmen's whittles.
A raw o’ weel sealed doctor's bottles

It may seem strange to hear that the 2004 Bowhill Peoples Burns Club supper was the first time I had ever stood up and recited to like minded people.The majority of my working life was spent in England & Wales and though I did recite from time to time in company and even got some applause, I’m sure it was due to the length of time that I was reciting, and not in any way because they understood what I was havering on at!

When I was researching into why Burns wrote in Tam 0’ Shanter the line "and at the Lord’s house, even on Sunday" it was suggested that the inn that Burns had taken as his Tavern in the poem was run by one Jean Kennedy and her sister Anne, in Kirkoswald. The locals referred to the sisters as the Leddies (ladies) but when Burns wrote and at the Leddies house even on Sunday he decide it did not scan right and altered it to the Lords house. (This is often wrongly thought by readers/listeners to mean the Church. - Ed)


Alistair Deas contributes:

Alistair Ye Jacobites

Ye Jacobites By Name,   Killiecrankie,   McPherson's Farewell
My interests include local history, currently chairman of the Way We Were group that meet in Dysart, music and photography, I have been a member of BPBC for a good few years and have a healthy interest in Burns.   Favourite songs are the more guid belters Killiecrankie, Ye Jacobites, McPherson's Farewell (McPherson's story can be read here - Ed) etc. My favourite Burns' readings are his letters and epigrams/epitaphs. for example:

Epitaph For A Wag In Mauchline

Lament him, Mauchline husbands a',
He aften did assist ye;
For had ye staid hale weeks awa',
Your wives they ne'er had miss'd ye!

Ye Mauchline bairns, as on ye pass
To school in bands thegither,
O tread ye lightly on his grass -
Perhaps he was your father!

Tam O Shanter and Holy Willie's Prayer I find his most humorous works.   I have also been involved with going round schools and judging competitions with other club members.


Frank Sandeman offers the following:

I have been interested in the work of Robert Burns since schooldays but I took no action until I was invited to my first Burns Supper at the age of 50 some fourteen years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of an evening in the company of welcoming talented people, speaking and performing songs and poems written by Burns, so I applied for membership of Bowhill Peoples Burns Club.

One of my favourite poems is "Epistle to a Young Friend". The poem is more "sermon" than "sang" and is full of good advice which Burns learned from his own experience but, unfortunately he chose to ignore much of it. The words are as relevant today as they were when written in May 1786 to a young Andrew Aitken who became a successful merchant and held the office of British Consul in Riga.

Another favourite poem of mine is "Holy Willie's Prayer".

A bitter dispute arose between the Mauchline Kirk session and lawyer Gavin Hamilton due to Sabbath breaking behaviour. Kirk elder William Fisher, (Holy Willie) played the part of informer against Hamilton and other errant parishioners for Rev. Auld the local minister. In the poem Burns took part in the dispute with caustic flaming satire as he hated Fisher, whom he saw as a sanctimonious, drunken, lying hypocrite. In truth, Burns directed his satirical writings against religious hypocrisy, rather than religion itself. Burns did not misrepresent Fisher who was later discovered to have taken money from church offerings.


Jack Graham suggests why you should join the club:

I have been a member of the Club for a few years - about five. I never knew of its existence until I was invited along one night by another member. I didn't know what to expect or do - but I just sat back and enjoyed the songs and poems of the other members. A great night. However after a few weeks it was my time to do a turn. It was just a small poem, and I didn't do it too well - I have progressed from there and can now do longer poems - not too well!  However I persevere and one day I may be able to join my lines together and get to a higher standard. What I am saying is that you don't have to be an expert in any way to enjoy a night out at the club. Many of the guys have a very high standard, then there are others who have yet to try their first poem - so really you can join in at your own level. The club runs three social evenings a year, has a huge Christmas raffle and a Burns Supper where tickets for a seat are fought over. It's only once a month during the season, and if you enjoy a night out and a bit of fun - then like me - give it a try for five years!

Although I can't recite it myself, I think my favourite poem is "The Twa Dugs". When it is being "performed" the ongoing tale between the two dogs can well be imagined as a true relection of life as they saw it at the time.
It also brings out the best in our members as they try to act out the dogs parts.
My favourite song is "My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose"



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