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Are Ye Sleepin’ Maggie?

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Ewan MacColl sang The American Stranger on his and Isla Cameron’s 1958 Riverside album English and Scottish Love Songs and on their 1960 Topic album Still I Love Him. A.L. Lloyd noted:

This version of an old song called Sleepy Maggie was made by Robert Tannahill (1774-1810), the Paisley bard. Apprenticed to the cotton weaving trade at the age of nine, Tannahill is said to have spent more time cobbling verses than watching his loom. Country singers in south-west Scotland rank him as one of the most gifted song-writers in that great army of working-class bards who followed in the wake of Robert Burns.

Jeannie Robertson sang O Are Ye Sleepin’, Maggie? on her album The Cuckoo’s Nest and Other Scottish Folk Songs (Prestige 1963; Transatlantic 1967).

The Tannahill Weavers sang Are Ye Sleepin’, Maggie? as the title track of their 1976 Plant Life album Are Ye Sleeping Maggie. They also sang it in 1992 on their Green Linnet album The Mermaid’s Song, where they noted:

Back in the days before digitalisation, when recording was real musicians’ work (and we remember it well; one stoked, one regulated the steam pressure, one at the sound controls and the rest in the recording room), we started our very first album with a clap of thunder and this song.

Many miles of tape have passed through the time coder since, and sound engineers no longer require hard hats and protective footwear. Nine albums later, this being the tenth, much has changed. For example, ye olde plastic long playing record album has nearly, like the dinosaur and the dodo, disappeared from the planet. Happily, some things remain full of life. This Robert Tannahill song is one of them. Whether you caught this one the first time round or not, we hope you enyoy our reworking of this fine song. It is, in fact, the song with everything: the starless night, the hooting owls, thunder, lightning, the lot. Straight out of Transylvania, which as every Scot will tell you, is just outside Paisley, the birthplace of this song.

Our hero, sack of grain on back, is looking for a 24 hour windmill when he decides he would rather visit his true love. This is when he becomes afraid. Not of the thunder, lightning, hooting owls or eerie shadows in the forest, however, but of his true love’s father. He’s afraid of waking him, thus relegating the visit to one of the formal variety.

The tune we have tagged on to the end of the song is The Noose and the Ghillie by P. Gautier.

Ian Manuel sang Are Ye Sleepin’, Maggie? on his 1977 Topic album of Scots traditional songs, The Dales of Caledonia. A.L. Lloyd noted:

The song was written by Robert Tannahill and published in the first series of Lyric Gems of Scotland, c.1856. Tannahill knew a song, Sleepy Maggie, with a fine tune but humdrum words. He resolved to make a new lyric for it and he really went to town (or rather to Gothic nocturnal countryside) with the literary language of the opening verses. Originally his song ended with the lover still out in the wild weather, but at a boozy evenin’ one of his friends said “Oh, why don’t you let the poor devil in?” So at the next evening session Tannahill produced the last, and most satisfactory, verse.

Ray Fisher sang Are Ye Sleepin’, Maggie? in 1982 on her Folk-Legacy album Willie’s Lady. She commented in the accompanying booklet:

A song from the Tannahill collection. Marvellous build-up of atmosphere with powerful emotive words which combine with a wonderful tune to produce the finest of our Scottish ‘night-visiting’ songs. I heard Jeannie Robertson sing it a few times, but I didn’t learn it directly from her. I confess that I had to consult a book with a glossary to get a full understanding of the text.

Dutch singer Leoni Jansen sang Are Ye Sleepin Maggie in 2006 on her CD Heart Strings & Loose Ends. This track was also included in 2010 on her compilation CD The Third Road.

Hector Gilchrist sang Are Ye Sleepin Maggie? in 2007 on his WildGoose CD Ingleneuk. He noted:

A lively arrangement by Vicki [Swan] and Jonny [Dyer], of the poem by Paisley born poet [Robert Tannahill], based on a tune set by the Tannahill Weavers. I believe I may have slept through a few lectures at the Old Paisley Tech. in the late 50s!

Kirsty Law sang Are Ye Sleepin’ Maggie? on her 2014 album Shift. She noted:

From the pen of Robert Tannahill of Paisley, this song has some brilliantly evocative Scots language that is a pleasure to sing. It’s told through the eyes of a young man, going to visit his girlfriend in the night through the horrendous weather, and trying not to wake her father.

The Furrow Collective sang Are Ye Sleeping, Maggie? in 2023 on their Hudson album We Know by the Moon. Alasdair Roberts noted

This song is by the Paisley poet and songwriter Robert Tannahill (1774-1810). It’s one I’ve known from a very early age, largely thanks to a recording of it by the Tannahill Weavers (for whom my father Alan and mother Annegret booked concerts in Germany in the seventies) on their 1976 LP of the same title [Are Ye Sleeping Maggie]. Our version, however, perhaps owes more in mood to one sung by the late Glaswegian singer Ray Fisher (1940-2011); it features on her 1982 LP Willie’s Lady.


The Tannahill Weavers sing Are Ye Sleepin’, Maggie?

Mirk an’ dreary is the nicht,
there’s no’ a staum in a’ the carry.
Lichtnin’s gleam athwart the lift;
the cauld winds drive wi’ winter’s fury.

Chorus (after each verse):
Oh, are ye sleepin’ Maggie?
Oh and are ye steepin’ Maggie?
Let me in for loud the linn
Is howlin’ ower the warlock craigie.

Fearfu’ soughs the boortree bank,
The rifted wood roars wild and dreary.
Loud the iron yett does clank,
The cry of hoolits mak’s me eerie.

Abune my breath I daumae speak
For fear I rouse your waukrife daddy.
Cauld’s the blast upon my cheek;
Arise, arise, my bonnie lady.

She’s op’d the door, she’s let him in,
She’s cuist aside his dreepin’ plaidie.
What care I for rain or wind?
For Maggie noo I’m here aside ye.

Ray Fisher sings Are Ye Sleepin’, Maggie?

O, mirk and rainy is the nicht,
There’s no’ a star in a’ the cairey.
Lightning gleams across the sky
And winds they blow wi’ winters fury.

Chorus (after each verse):
O, are ye sleeping, Maggie?
O, are ye sleeping, Maggie?
Let me in, for loud the linn
Is roarin’ ower the warlock’s craigie.

Fearfu’ saughs the boortree bank,
The rifted wood roars wild and dreary.
Loud the iron yett does clank,
And cries o’ howlets mak’ me eerie.

Abune ma breath, I daurnae speak,
For fear I rouse your wakeful daddy.
Cauld’s the blast upon my cheek,
O rise, o rise my bonnie lassie.

Well, she’s ope’d the door; she’s let him in.
He’s cuist aside his dreepin’ plaidie.
Ye can blaw your worst, ye winds and rain,
Since, Maggie, noo I’m here aside ye.

O, noo that you’re waukened, Maggie,
O, noo that you’re waukened, Maggie,
What care I for howlet’s cry,
For roarin’ linn or warlock’s craigie?