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The Forfar Sodger

[ Roud 2857 ; G/D 1:69 ; Ballad Index FVS163 ; trad.]

Jimmy McBeath from Banffshire sang The Forfar Sodger to Alan Lomax and Hamish Henderson in the early 1950s. This recording was included on the anthology A Soldier’s Life for Me (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 8; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970), and in 2002 on the Rounder anthology Two Gentlemen of the Road.

Rob Watt sang The Forfar Sodger on the 1968 Topic anthology of songs and ballads from the Lowland East of Scotland, Back o’ Benachie. His verses are printed in Norman Buchan and Peter Hall’s book The Scottish Folksinger. Peter Hall noted:

The reputed author of this song is David Shaw, the weaver poet, born near Forfar in 1786. However, many traditional songs such as the Irish Kerry Recruit and the English Turbiton Town cover the same ground, and Shaw may well have adapted existing material. The late arrival of the song on the traditional scene can be adduced from the lack of a settled musical tradition. Variants of The Deil’s Awa Wi’ the Exciseman, Merrily Danced the Quakers Wife, Robin Tamson’s Smiddy and Johnny Lad (old tune) are used as well as the present air from the Souter’s Feast family.

The Clutha sang The Forfar Sodger on their 1971 Argo album Scotia!. Don Martin commented in the liner notes:

This song was a product of the imagination of David Shaw (1786-1856), the Forfar weaver poet who was also responsible for The Wark o’ the Weavers. In Folk-Song of the North-East Gavin Greig printed Shaw’s original text alongside a version collected from oral tradition, which had been curtailed and improved in the process of passing from mouth to mouth. A version very similar to this ‘improved’ text is still to be found in the repertoires of traditional singers today. The version used by The Clutha is from contemporary oral tradition.

Ray Fisher sang The Forfar Sodger in 1972 on her Trailer album The Bonny Birdy.

The Battlefield Band sang The Forfar Sodger in 1976 on their first album, Scottish Folk.

Mirk sang The Forfar Sodger in 1977 or earler in a session of Jean Redpath’s BBC television series Ballad Folk.

Aileen Carr sang The Forfar Sodger on the 1995 Greentrax CD of songs from the Greig-Duncan Collection as performed at the Edinburgh International Festival, Folk Songs of North East Scotland, and in 2000 on her Greentrax album Green Yarrow.

Alistair Hulett sang The Forfar Sodger in 1996 on his and Dave Swarbrick’s album Saturday Johnny & Jimmy the Rat.

Jim Malcolm sang Forfar Sodger in 1999 on Old Blind Dogs’ CD The World’s Room. Susan Malcolm noted:

A popular Angus ballad generally sung unaccompanied, the Forfar Sodger tells of rural life hard enough to encourage a youngster into Wellington’s British Army—his “scum of the earth” who halted Napoleon’s progress in Iberia and matched his Imperial veterans at Waterloo. Injured in Spain, the gallant Forfarian endures the long treck home to live the respectable life of a pensional soldier. Legend has it that the same character went on to invent the world-famous Forfar Bridie as an ideal lunch for soldier and ploughman alike.

Jim Malcolm also sang Forfar Sodger in a Glenfarg City Hall, Scotland, concert on 22-23 November 2003. This recording was included in 2004 on his album Live in Glenfarg. He noted:

I’ve always loved this song, which I first heard sung hy Eileen Carr. Old Blind Dogs did a version on The World’s Room. but it quickly fell off the back of the set. Too happy an ending.

The Gaugers sang The Forfar Sodger on the 2004 anthology of folk songs and fiddle music from North East Scotland, Where the Laverock Sings.


Rob Watt sings The Forfar Sodger

In Forfar I wis born an’ bred,
Bit faith I div think shame, sir,
Tae tell the weary life I led
Afore I left ma hame, sir.

Chorus (after each verse):
Hurrah! hurrah! Ma twittie fal air al aye doh

Ma faither wis a weaver poor
Wha ever filled a spool, sir,
There never wis beef cam’ tae the door
But jist a pun’ at Yule, sir.

Fin I wis sax I gaed tae skweel
Because it wis the fashion,
And ilkae Sunday tae the kirk
Tae save me o’ a thrashin’.

They learnt me tae read an’ write
And ’coont the rule o’ three, sir,
But a nobler thoucht cam’ intae ma heid
An’ a sodger I wid be, sir.

So I gaed doon tae Forfar toon,
’Twas in the Forfar contry;
And I listet there wi’ Sergeant Broon
For forty poun’s o’ bounty.

They gied me claes tae hap ma back
An’ mittens tae my han’s, sir,
An’ swore I was the brawest chiel
In a’ the Hielan clans, sir.

We spent the maist o’ a’ oor time
Jist marchin’ up an’ doon, sir,
Wi’ a feathered bonnet on ma heid
And poothered tae the croon, sir.

Bit fegs they gart me change ma tune
An’ sent me off tae Spain, sir,
Whaur forty regiments in a row
Cam’ marchin’ ower the plains, sir.

For three long days and nichts we fought
I thought t’wid niver end, sir,
Syne a bullet cam’ fusslin thro’ ma leg,
So I up and fired again, sir.

The doctor cam an’ dresst ma wounds
An’ swore I would be lame, sir,
But I got a haud o’ twa oxter staffs
And I cam’ hirplin’ hame, sir.

Noo a’ the troubles I’ve been thro’
I scarcely need tae mention,
For noo I’m back in Forfarshire
And livin’ aff my pension.