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Now Westlin Winds (Song Composed in August)

[ Roud 6936 ; DT WSTLNWND ; Mudcat 10476 ; Robert Burns]

Len Graham sang Western Winds, an Irish version of Robert Burns’ song Now Westlin Winds, or Song Composed in August, on his 1977 Topic album Wind and Water: Traditional Songs, Ballads and Lilts. He noted:

Robert Burns the Scottish poet was and is very popular in Ulster. We find several of his songs in the repertoires of traditional singers—Go Fetch to Me a Pint o’ Wine with the late Sandy McConnell, Co. Fermanagh, Highland Mary with his son Cathal, also Sarah Makem, Co. Armagh, Willie McPeake, Co. Derry and many others. I was delighted to come up with a version of Burns’ Now Westlin Winds in Co. Antrim from Tommy Kelly, Newtown Crommelin.

This song has the ‘twin sports’ of guns and girls and Seán Ó Baoill in his book The Irish Song Tradition (Gilbert Dalton 1976) says with regard to this category of song—“The twin arts of hunting and love-making go together in the mind of the country poet.” I would say from the tone of this song and also Burns’ reputation, that the latter was closer to his heart!

Dick Gaughan sang Robert Burns’ song Now Westlin Winds, in 1981 on his Topic LP Handful of Earth. This YouTube video shows him in a 1983 BBC Spectrum documentary:

Gaughan noted on his now defunct website:

I learned this, and many others songs including Bonnie Woodha, from Geordie Hamilton, an ex-miner from Kirkintilloch who worked with the Post Office in Edinburgh. He used to frequent the Forrest Hill Bar (always known as Sandy Bell’s) and was responsible for encouraging and assisting many a young singer. But it was very difficult learning a complete song from him as he had a habit of starting one, singing a verse or two, then saying, “You don’t really want to hear that” and launching into something else. The wonderful Ulster singer, Len Graham, sings this to a similar tune. Due to its closeness to the south-west of Scotland, Burns’ songs and poetry are very popular in Ulster. The guitar was again tuned DADGAD, capo at the 2nd fret.

Jean Redpath sang Song, Composed in August in 1981 on her Philo/Greentrax album The Songs of Robert Burns Volume 3 Serge and Esther Hovey noted:

Both of Burns’s editors (Johnson and Thomson) published this song to a tune not intended by the poet. Burns’s final choice of melody, Port Gordon, is in Caledonian Pocket Companion (c.1756), a favorite tunebook available to Burns. The Gaelic word “port” means “a tune played upon an instrument” and was most often heard on the Highland harp or clarsach.

“Peggy dear” was Peggy Thomson of Kirkoswald, a coastal town where Burns spent his seventeenth summer “to learn Mensuration, Surveying, Dialling, &c… I went on with a high hand in my Geometry; till the sun entered Virgo, a month which is always a carnival in my bosom, a charming Fillette who lived next door to the school overset my Trigonomertry [sic], and set me off in a tangent from the sphere of my studies. I struggled on with my Sines and Co-sines for a few days more; but stepping out to the garden one charming noon, to take the sun’s altitude, I met with my Angel.”

– from a letter to Dr. Moore, 2 August 1787

The Voice Squad sang Ode to Autumn on their 1987 album Many’s the Foolish Youth. Seán Corcoran noted:

This is one of the many songs from the prolific pen of the great Robbie Burns (1759-96) to pass into the folk tradition. Under the title of Westlin’ Winds it is sung widely throughout Ulster. However, Phil [Callery] learned this from the singing of Luke Cheevers of Dublin.

Beggar’s Velvet sang Westlin Winds in 1990 on their album Lady of Autumn.

Ray Fisher (with Martin Carthy playing guitar) recorded Now Westlin Winds during the sessions for her album Traditional Songs of Scotland (1991). It wasn’t used for this album though, but was included in the same year on the Hokey Pokey charity album All Through the Year: A Calendar in Music & Song.

The Old Blind Dogs sang Song for Autumn on their 1992 CD New Tricks. Iain Clavey noted:

A Robert Burns song taken from the excellent version sung by Dick Gaughan.

Ian Bruce sang Now Westlin Winds and Slaught’ring Guns in 1996 on volume 2 of the Linn Records anthology, The Complete Songs of Robert Burns.

Damien Barber and Mike Wilson learned Now Westlin Winds from Dick Gaughan’s album and recorded it in 2009 for their CD of cover songs, Under the Influence.

Erica Smith sang Now Westlin Winds in 2001 on her eponymous first CD, Erica Smith.

Jim Malcolm sang Now Westlin Winds on his 2007 album of songs of Robert Burns, Acquaintance, and in 2010 on his Robert Burns DVD Bard Hair Day. He noted:

I love this song—in fact it’s my favourite. But it’s many others’ favourite, too, which makes recording it a bit daunting. Especially since Dick Gaughan nailed it unwrenchably to the wall on Handful of Earth. Looking for an angle, I found myself dallying down the ornithological footpath. Hours spent dangling a microphone over swollen rivers and crawling through gorse bushes have produced a ‘tweet’ for twitchers. So Bill Odie, eat your heart out and wrap yir lugs round this.

Jon Boden sang Now Westling Winds as the 1 August 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He noted in the blog:

Ian Giles, singer from Magpie Lane and stalwart of the Oxford folk scene for many years, introduced me to this song and his is, for my money, the alpha version, particularly at 2am in the Half Moon. Happy days.

Karine Polwart, accompanied by Kim Edgar on piano, sang Now Westlin Winds in 2011 on her DVD Here’s Where Tomorrow Starts. And this video shows Karine Polwart and Kirsty Grace, again accompanied by Kim Edgar, singing this song at the Royal Opening of Scottish Parliament on 1 July 2011 (starting at 20 minutes in the video):

Rosie Hodgson sang Westlin Winds on her 2016 CD Rise Aurora. She noted:

This is one of my all-time favourite songs, because it describes perfectly all the things I love about where I live. I learnt it from my well-worn copy of Lady of Autumn by Beggar’s Velvet.

Band of Burns sang Now Westlin Winds in January 2017 at Union Chapel in London. A concert recording was released in the following year on their CD Live at the Union Chapel.

Robyn Stapleton sang Westlin’ Winds on her 2017 CD Songs of Robert Burns. She noted:

Spanning the themes of nature, love and humanity, this song protests man’s domination over the environment and marvels at the beauty and peace that can be found in nature.

Piers Cawley got Composed in August (Now Westlin’ Winds) from Beggar’s Velvet, and sang it in 2020 on his download album Isolation Sessions #1. He noted:

Beggar’s Velvet were Dave Webber, Anni Fentiman, Cathy Barclay and Charley Yarwood and they made a glorious sound. If you haven’t heard their album, Lady of Autumn, then I really can’t recommend it highly enough (and it’s even available on CD). Dave is one of the great songwriters of the English folk scene and the album is chock full of his genius. If you catch me in a singaround, there’s a good chance I can sing you almost every song from it. Composed in August (aka Now Westlin’ Winds) is the one that ended up on this album for a couple of reasons, the first being that it is the most gorgeous love lyric. Burns was no slouch when it came to love lyrics, but this is the one for me and it’s set to such a beautiful tune.

Kirsty Merryn sang Westlin’ Winds in 2021 on her and Ben Walker’s EP Life and the Land. They noted:

This beautiful song, based on a Robert Burns poem, is a celebration of the bird life of Scotland and of the gentleman’s pursuit of hunting. We updated the poem to recognise the disconnect that many of us have now between nature and our comfortable day to day lives, and of our boundless consumerism which has put it at such great peril.

Alasdair Roberts and Völvur sang Song Composed in August on their 2021 Drag City album The Old Fabled River.


Dick Gaughan sings Now Westlin Winds

Now westlin winds and slaughtering guns
Bring autumn’s pleasant weather
The moorcock springs on whirring wings
Among the blooming heather
Now waving grain, wild o’er the plain
Delights the weary farmer
And the moon shines bright as I rove at night
To muse upon my charmer

The partridge loves the fruitful fells
The plover loves the mountain
The woodcock haunts the lonely dells
The soaring hern the fountain
Through lofty groves the cushat roves
The path of man to shun it
The hazel bush o’erhangs the thrush
The spreading thorn the linnet

Thus every kind their pleasure find
The savage and the tender
Some social join and leagues combine
Some solitary wander
Avaunt! Away! the cruel sway,
Tyrannic man’s dominion
The sportsman’s joy, the murdering cry
The fluttering, gory pinion

But Peggy dear the evening’s clear
Thick flies the skimming swallow
The sky is blue, the fields in view
All fading green and yellow
Come let us stray our gladsome way
And view the charms of nature
The rustling corn, the fruited thorn
And every happy creature

We’ll gently walk and sweetly talk
Till the silent moon shines clearly
I’ll grasp thy waist and, fondly pressed,
Swear how I love thee dearly
Not vernal showers to budding flowers
Not autumn to the farmer
So dear can be as thou to me
My fair, my lovely charmer