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The Birken Tree

[ Roud 5069 ; G/D 4:802 ; Ballad Index FVS088 ; Bodleian Roud 5069 ; Mudcat 83292 ; trad.]

Norman Buchan and Peter Hall: The Scottish Folksinger Katherine Campbell: Songs from North-East Scotland John Ord: Bothy Songs and Ballads

Joyce and Cindy Fisher sang The Birken Tree, on the Fisher Family's 1966 Topic album Traditional & New Songs from Scotland. Norman Buchan noted on this song and on Aince Upon a Time:

These two tell you all you need to know about Scottish folksong. The clear narrative line in the first, the trysting place as always the birken tree (the birch); and the couthy kitchie background of the second, clear, direct and hard, and in both the swinging belt of the tune with the floating last notes. What more is to be said? Except that the last song was learned from Jeannie Robertson and added to by Ray Fisher and this perhaps symbolises their true response to the traditional; that the best way of respecting it is by developing it.

Jock Tamson's Bairns sang The Birken Tree in 1980 on their eponymous Temple album Jock Tamson's Bairns, which was reissued in 1996 as part of their Greentrax CD A' Jock Tamson's Bairns. They noted, quoting Robert Ford:

A simple country courtship is here preserved in a simple country song, which had Burns or Lady Nairne ever heard, together with its pleasing melody, might have been touched into a thing of real beauty and become famous.

The Tannahill Weavers sang The Birken Tree on their 1981 Plant Life album Tannahill Weavers IV.

Stravaig sang The Birken Tree in 1994 on their Greentrax CD Movin' On. They noted:

Jean [McMonies] and Moira [Greenwood] learnt this song from the singing of John Hunter from Kirkcaldy.

Old Blind Dogs sang The Birkin Tree on their 1995 album Legacy. Ian F. Benzie noted:

The Birkin Tree (The Birch Tree). Learned several years ago, this song has long been one of my favourites as it is so easy to sing.

Corrina Hewat sang The Birken Tree in 1999 on Bachué's Culburnie album A Certain Smile. They noted:

This Scots song has become on of our favourites as Johnny and Jeannie, the two starring roles, get together in the end! Even if it is only for one night, it's quality, not quantity that counts.

Ellen Mitchell sang The Birken Tree on Kevin Mitchell's and her 2001 Musical Tradition anthology Have a Drop Mair, and on her 2002 Tradition Bearers Album On Yonder Lea.

Rod Stradling noted in the first album's booklet:

Ellen: I learned this from Susan Ross who ran a folk club for many years in Glasgow. It is attributed to Robert Tannahill of Paisley, a town six miles south-west of Glasgow.

This song was published in Ford's Vagabond Songs and Ballads, 1899, and in Christie's Traditional Ballad Airs. James Duncan collected it from Margaret Gillespie, and Gavin Greig from William Farquha and from another singer in the early years of last century.

Lyrics

Jock Tamson's Bairns sing The Birken Tree

“O, Lass, gin ye wad think it right
To gang wi' me this very night,
We'll cuddle till the morning light,
By a’ the lave unseen, O;
And ye shall be my dearie,
My ain dearest dearie;
It's ye shall be my dearie
Gin ye meet me at e'en, O.”

“I daurna for my mammie ga'e,
She locks the door and keeps the key,
And e'en and morning charges me,
And aye aboot the men, O.
She says they're a’ deceivers.
Deceivers, deceivers;
She says they're a' deceivers,
We canna trust to ane, O.”

“O never mind your mammie's yell,
Nae doubt she met your dad hersel';
And should she flyte ye may her tell
She's aften dune the same, O.
Sae, lassie, gie's yer hand on't,
Your bonnie milk-white hand on't;
O lassie, gie's your hand on't,
And scorn to lie your lane, O.”

“O, lad, my hand I canna gie,
But aiblins I may steal the key,
And meet you at the birken tree
That grows down in the glen, O.
But dinna lippen, laddie,
1 canna promise, laddie,
O dinna lippen, laddie,
In case I canna win, O.”

Now, he's gane to the birken tree,
In hopes his true love there to see;
And wha cam' tripping oe'r the lea,
But just his bonnie Jean, O.
And she clink'd doon beside him,
Beside him, beside him,
And she clink'd doon beside him.
Upon the grass sae green, O.

“I’m overjoyed wi' rapture noo,”
Cried he, and pree'd her cherry mou',
And Jeannie ne'er had cause to rue
That nicht upon the green, O.
For she has got her Johnnie,
Her sweet and loving Johnnie,
For she has got her Johnnie,
And Johnnie's got his Jean, O.

Ellen Mitchell sings The Birken Tree

“Oh lass gin ye would think it right
Tae gang wi' me this very night
And cuddle 'til the mornin light
By a' the lave unseen O
And ye shall be my dearie,
My ain dearest dearie,
Oh ye shall be my dearie
Gin ye meet me at e'en O.”

“I dare not frae ma mammy gae,
She locks the door and keeps the key,
And e'en the mornin charges me,
And aye aboot the men O.
She says they're a' deceivers,
Deceivers, deceivers,
She says they're a' deceivers
Ye cannae trust tae ain O.”

“Oh dinnae mind yer mammy's yell
Nae doot she met yer dad hersel”
And gin she flyte as I heard tell
She's aft times done the same O.
So lassie gi'e us yer hand on it,
Your bonny milk white hand on it,
So lassie gi'e us yer hand on it,
And scorn tae lie alane O.”

“Oh lad ma hand I canna gie,
But aiblins I might steal the key
And meet ye at the birken tree
That grows down in the glen O.
But dinna lippen laddie
I canna promise, laddie,
Oh dinna lippen laddie
In case I canna win O”

Noo he's gaed tae the birken tree,
In hopes his true love for to see,
And who cam skippin' ower the lea,
But just his bonny Jean O.
And she's sat doon beside him,
Beside him, beside him,
Oh she's sat doon beside him
Upon the grass sae green O.

“I'm overcome wi' rapture noo,”
Cried he, and kissed her cherry moo,
And Jeannie ne'er had cause tae rue
That nicht upon the green oh.
For she has got her Johnnie,
Her ain dearest Johnnie,
Oh she has got her Johnnie,
And Johnnie got his Jean O.