Although Walter Scott’s song collections are famously known as ‘Border Ballads’, Scott gathered ballads from elsewhere, including North-East Scotland, a region particularly rich in song traditions.
One of Scott’s sources was Anna Gordon from Aberdeen (known after her marriage as Mrs Brown of Falkland).
Gordon was the daughter of a professor at the University of Aberdeen who lived in what is now Humanity Manse (the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies). According to her father, she had a ‘tenacious memory, which retained all the songs she had heard the nurses & old women sing’ during a stay with an aunt near Braemar, in Aberdeenshire.
Robert Eden Scott, Anna Gordon’s nephew, wrote down the songs as she sang them, producing a manuscript of the music and lyrics for the many ballads she had memorised. Although Scott and Gordon never met, her manuscripts – including one in her own hand – found their way to Scott through friends and acquaintances.
Nine of Anna Gordon’s ballads appeared in Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, where they were accompanied by notes and introductions by Scott.
Performed by Rachel Sumner
Rachel Sumner is a folk singer and songwriter based in Boston, Massachusetts. She first performed this adaptation of 'Willie’s Lady' in 2015, when invited to sing in a concert to launch the novel Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia by Fiona Ritichie. The song has since become a staple in her shows. Her cover takes her favorite lyrics from the ballad and arrangement ideas from various versions and combines them to create an urgently paced bluegrass feel.
Sung by Ewan MacColl
‘Thomas Rhymer’ (Child #37), by Ewan MacColl, available on Bandcamp, is taken from The English & Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume 1. It is a slightly different version from that which Anna Gordon contributed to Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.