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The Lea-Rig

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Chorda (Rod Paterson, Norman Chalmers, John Croall and Adam Jack) sang The Lea Rig at Forrest Hill Bar (Sandy Bell’s) or Pan Audio Studios in Edinburgh for the 1977 album Sandy Bell’s Ceilidh. It was later reissued by Greentrax on cassette and CD.

Jean Redpath sang The Lea-Rig in 1985 on her Philo/Greentrax album The Songs of Robert Burns Volumes 5. Serge and Esther Hovey noted:

This Scots classic song is found with variants of melodies and verses in many ancient sources. Burns quoted the “old words” in his interleaved annotations of Scots Musical Museum:

I’ll rowe thee o’er the lea-rig
My ain kind dearie, O
I’ll rowe thee o’er the lea-rig.
My ain kind dearie, O

Altho’ the night were ne’er sae wat,
And I were ne’er sae weary, O
I’ll rowe thee o’er the lea-rig.
My ain kind dearie, O

A bawdy version is found in The Merry Muses of Caledonia beginning with:

I’ll lay thee o’er the lee-rig,
Lovely Mary, deary, O;

The melody is found in many tune books including Burns’s favourite, Caledonian Pocket Companion (c. 1756, viii. 20). This was the first song that Burns sent to editor George Thomson for his publication Scotish Airs. Since the original tune has neither a fourth nor a seventh in the scale. Burns added this message (26 April 1793):

Another hint you will forgive—whatever Mr Pleyel does, let him not alter one iota of the original Scots Air; I mean in the Song Department. Our friend Clarke, than whom, you know, there is not a better judge of the subject, complains that in the air Lee-rig the accent is to be altered. But, let our National Music preserve its native features. They are, I own, frequently wild, & unreduceable to the modern rules; but on that very eccentricity, perhaps, depends a great part of their effect.

Andy M. Stewart sang The Lea-Rig on his 1989 album Songs of Robert Burns. The liner notes commented:

Burns, in sending this song to George Thomson, which he had founded upon an olden composition with the same title, wrote:

On reading over The Lea-Rig, I immediately set trying my hand upon it,and after all, I could make nothing more of it than the following…

(From The People’s Edition of the Poetical Works of Robert Burns)

This 1991 video shows Andy M. Stewart singing The Lea-Rig:

Davy Steele sang The Lea-Rig in 1990 on his CD Summerlee.

Rod Paterson sang The Lea-Rigg in 1995 on Volume 1 of the Linn Records anthology The Complete Songs of Robert Burns.

Wendy Weatherby sang The Learig on her 1999 album A Breath on the Cold Glass. She noted:

A beautifully romantic ballad by Robert Burns, written in 1792 and still melting hearts.

Ellen Mitchell sang The Lea-Rig to Rod Stradling in 2000 or 2001. This recording was included in 2001 on her and Kevin Mitchell’s Musical Traditions anthology Have a Drop Mair. Ellen Mitchell and Rod Stradling noted:

Ellen: Quite simply another Burns song which I don’t sing very well, but love anyway!

However, the words of this song have been attributed to Lady Carolina Nairne (1766-1845), though it was printed in James Johnson’s The Scots Musical Museum of 1787 and it was being published as a broadside by both Johnston of Falkirk and Miller of Dunbar by 1800. A different source, Whitelaw’s Book of Scottish Song (1845) states “two verses written by Robert Fergusson, rest added by William Reid” and this is confirmed in Chambers’ Songs of Scotland Prior to Burns—also implying a pre-1759 provenance? Who can know, at this remove?

As far as Roud knows, the only justification for its inclusion in his Index of Folk Songs is David Herd’s collection of the song from an un-named singer from the oral tradition in the early 19th century.

Jim Malcolm sang The Lea-Rig on his 2002 album Home. He noted:

A favourite Burns song of mine. As well as having a beautiful melody and lyric, it celebrates the time of day that I love to be out—not to go making babies like the Bard, but to be at the river when the trout are most willing to bite at a well-tied fly. However the midnight hour is not for the faint-hearted. You have to be prepared for the company of nocturnal creatures (bats, werewolves), and for your imagination to construct creepy figures in the gloomy shadows.

The Cast sang The Lea-Rig in 2007 on their Greentrax CD Greengold.

Karine Polwart sang The Lea-Rig in 2007 on her CD Fairest Floo’er.

Ian Bruce sang The Lea-Rig in 2010 on his Lochshore album Rhythm & Burns.

Fiona Ross sang My Ain Kind Dearie, O in 2017 on her Tradition Bearers album with Tony McManus, Clyde’s Water. She noted:

Burns re-worked an earlier version of The Lea-Rig to produce this beautiful love song. It intertwines a wistful melancholy with a sense of the joy their tryst brings to the lovers who, braving the elements, seek each other out under cover of darkness.

Kris Drever sang The Lea Rig on his 2019 mini-album Hill and Shore.


Karine Polwart sings The Lea-Rig

When o’er the hill the eastern star
Tells buchtin time is near, my jo,
And owsen frae the furrow’d field
Return sae dowf and weary O;
Down by the burn, where birken buds
Wi’ dew are hangin clear, my jo,
I’ll meet thee on the lea-rig,
My ain kind Dearie O.

At midnight hour, in mirkest glen,
I’d rove, and ne’er be eerie, O,
If thro’ that glen I gaed to thee,
My ain kind Dearie O;
Altho’ the night were ne’er sae wild,
And I were ne’er sae weary O,
I’ll meet thee on the lea-rig,
My ain kind Dearie O.

The hunter lo’es the morning sun;
To rouse the mountain deer, my jo;
At noon the fisher seeks the glen
Adown the burn to steer, my jo:
Gie me the hour o’ gloamin’ grey,
It maks my heart sae cheery O,
To meet thee on the lea-rig,
My ain kind Dearie O.

Fiona Ross sings My Ain Kind Dearie, O

When o’er the hill, the Eastern star
Tells buchtin-time is near my jo
And owsen frae the furrowed field
Return sae dowf and weary o
Doon by the burn whaur scented birks
Wi dew are hangin clear my jo
I’ll meet thee on the lea-rig
My ain kind dearie, o

In mirkest glen at midnicht hour
I’d rove and ne’er be eerie o
If thro that glen I gaed tae thee
My ain kind dearie, o
Altho the nicht were ne’er sae wild
And I were ne’er sae weary o
I’d meet thee on the lea-rig
My ain kind dearie, o

The hunter luves the mornin sun
Tae rowse the mountain deer my jo
At noon the fisher seeks the glen
Alang the burn tae steer my jo
Gie me the hour o gloamin grey
It maks ma heart sae cheerie o
Tae meet thee on the lea-rig
My ain kind dearie, o