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The Lothian Hairst (Harvest)

[ Roud 2165 ; G/D 3:404 ; Ballad Index Ord264 ; trad.]

Rob Watt sang The Lothian Hairst on the 1968 Topic album of songs and ballads from the Lowland East of Scotland, Back o' Benachie. Peter Hall commented in the album's sleeve notes:

Before the days on mechanisation, workers would travel round the country, hiring themselves out as harvesters, moving on to another farm as each job was finished. Aberdeenshire workers are known to have gone as far afield as East Anglia.

There is some confusion as to whether it is a man or a woman who is the hero of the tale. The air appears with Bogieside.

Ian Manuel sang The Lothian Hairst on his 1977 Topic album of Scots traditional songs, The Dales of Caledonia.

Battlefield Band sang The Lothian Hairst in 1978 on their album Volume II: Wae's Me for Prince Charlie.

Danny Spooner, accompanied by Mick Farrell, sang The Lothian Hairst in 1978 on their album Limbo. He noted:

We got this from Ewan MacColl's book Classic Scots Ballads. It tells of the harvest contractors, and is one of many ‘Bothy Ballads’ of the north-east of Scotland. The mixed group of harvesters work very hard, for long hours, but they would still enjoy their leisure time if they could avoid the watchful eye of the Foreman. One imagines he was not so concerned with the moral welfare of his charges as their possible lack of enthusiasm for work after a night of carousing.

Jock Duncan sang Lothian Hairst on his 1996 Springthyme CD Ye Shine Whar Ye Stan!. Peter Shepheard commented in the album's booklet:

In the days before the machine reaper, the harvest was brought in on many of the larger farms by hired harvest gangs. The Lothian Hairst (GD 404, Ord p.264) celebrates the scything squads of the early 1800s who travelled south by boat from Aberdeen to Leith to cut the corn on the large farms of the Lothians before travelling north again by boat to bring in the Aberdeenshire harvest a month or six weeks later. In the previous song, Rhynie, the harvest is cut with the shearing hook or sickle but, by the early 1800s, the scythe in its Scottish form was in widespread use.

Jock: “It is scything—‘I follaed at the point’ as it says in the song—at the point of the scythe, cutting about six feet wide, wi the lassies gathering and binding the corn behind.”

Jock has always remembered parts of the Lothian Hairst and he got the full text from his cousin, long retired Dr. Duncan Murray, who used to sing the song as a loon and who took part in John Strachan’s broadcasts from Crichie during and before the war.

Jimmy Hutchison sang The Lothian Hairst at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2009. This recording was included in the following year on the festival anthology There's Bound to Be a Row (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 6).

Geordie Murison sang The Lothian Hairst in 2017 on his Tradition Bearers CD The Term Time Is Comin Roon. The album's notes commented:

A story which recalls how, in the 19th century, squads of harvesters would travel by ship from Aberdeen to Leith to help with the earlier harvest of the Lothians. This was when the harvest was cut by hand using a scythe, i.e. “I followed Logan on the pint (point of the scythe) sae well he laid it doon”. The scyther was followed by the gatherers and then the bandsters who tied the sheaves and stooked them. It also describes the efforts made to keep male and female workers separate in the bothies.

Claire Hastings sang The Lothian Hairst on her 2019 CD Those Who Roam. She noted:

This song celebrates the scything squads of the 19th century that travelled south by boat from Aberdeen to Leith. They would cut the corn on the large farms of the Lothians before following the ripening crop north to bring in the Aberdeenshire harvest a month or so later. It also describes the efforts made to keep male and female workers separate in the bothies.

Lyrics

Danny Spooner sings The Lothian Hairst Geordie Murison sings The Lothian Hairst

On August twelfth frae Aberdeen
We sailed in the Prince,
And safe arrived on Shawfield's shore,
The harvest tae commence.

August twelfth fae Aiberdeen
We sailed upon the Prince,
Landed safe on Clifford's fields,
The hairstin tae commence.

For six lang weeks the country roon
Frae toon tae toon we went,
And took richt weel wi' the Lothian chiels
And were aye richt weel content.

Six lang wiks the country roon,
Fae toon tae toon we went,
We teen richt weel tae the Lothian fare
And wis richt weel content.

Oor gaffer, Willie Mathieson,
Frae the sweet Deeside he came;
The foreman was frae that same place,
And Logan was his name.

Oor gaffer, Willie Mathieson,
Fae sweet Deeside he came;
Oor foreman cam frae that same airt,
An Logan wis es name.

Well, we followed Logan on the point,
Sae weel he layed it doon,
And sae nimble he was what he lead
Owre mony's thristle croon.

I followed Logan on the pint,
Sae weel he layed it doon,
Ably he led oor squad
Ower monys a thrissle toon.

But my mate and me had little chance
For Logan's watchful eye,
My mate and me had little chance
For Logan was sae sly.

My mate and I we got nae chance
For Logan's watchful eye,
And wi the lads we got nae sport
For Logan wis sae fly.

He cleared the bothy every nicht
Before he went tae sleep,
And never one of them did leave
Sae well his rules did keep.

He cleared the bothy ivery nicht
Afore we gid tae sleep,
Niver did he een bit leave
Sae strict his rules did keep.

Fin he gets back tae Aiberdeen
He'll weel deserve a spree
For the herdin o us a sae weel
Fae the Lothian lads win free.

Noo the corn is cut
An we are on the pier,
Fareweel ye Lothian feather beds
An a the Lothian cheer.

But farewell MacKenzie, Reid and Rose
And the rest o' the merry crew,
There's Chalmers, Shepherd, Logan, Jock
And the Royal Stewarts too.

Farewell MacKenzie, Reid an Rose,
And a the jovial crew,
Oor chaumer shepherd Lothian Jock,
And the Royal Stewart too.

O a the lads that's in oor squad,
Tae tak them een bi een,
Commend me tae the Deeside lads,
Twis them that led the van.

And as for me, a Hielan' chiel,
I would find nae better cheer
Than a Lothian lass and a weel-made bed
And a nicht's as lang's a year.

I, masel a Deeside lass,
Wid sic nae better cheer
Than a Deeside lad in a Lothian bed
And a nicht as langs a year.

But come fill our glasses tae the brim
Before the boat does start;
And may we safely reach the shore
And all in friendship part.