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The Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre

[ Roud 2137 ; G/D 7:1303 ; Ballad Index DTMoGB ; trad.]

Jimmy McBeath sang The Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre to Alan Lomax and Hamish Henderson in Turiff, Scotland, on 17 July 1951. This recording was included on the anthology Songs of Animals and Other Marvels (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 10, Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970), on the 1994 Saydisc anthology Songs of the Travelling People, and on McBeath's 2002 Rounder anthology Tramps and Hawkers. An August 1959 recording of him, made at a ceilidh in Linburn Village, was included on the anthologies Bothy Ballads (Scottish Tradition 1; Tangent 1971; Greentrax 1993) and The Carrying Stream (Scottish Tradition 20; Greentrax 2005).

This excellent comic song has a long and rather complicated history. Stenhouse refers to a “humorous but vulgar ballad” of about 1700 about a young lady of rank who fell in love with one of her father’s tenants and married him. This is presumably the song of which a fragment is preserved in Herd’s Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs (1769, vol. 2:201). The first verse runs:

The mucking of Geordie’s byre
And shooling the grupe sae clean
Has gard me weit my cheek
And greet with baith my een.

In August 1793 Robert Burns wrote to George Thomson: “Another favourite air of mine is The Muckin’ o’ Geordie’s Byre. When sung slow with expression, I have wished that it had better poetry—that I have endeavoured to supply.” The result was hardly one of his more felicitous efforts. There can be little doubt that the old “vulgar ballad” contains better poetry than Burns’ sentimental ditty.

The version Jimmy McBeath sings here, which is widely regarded in the North East as ‘his’ version, is comparatively modern; it was made popular between the wars by the professional entertainer Willie Kemp, who sang it up and down the country at “bothy nicht” concerts, and recorded it on a Beltona 78 record. A slightly different version was put into currency by another popular ‘stage’ bothy singer, George Morris of Old Meldrum. Both these performers laid claim to the title held by Jimmy himself of “King of the Comkisters”. Their versions are probably descendants of an earlier song, maybe stemming from a relative of Herd’s fragment.

The recording was made at a ceilidh in aid of War-Blinded in Linbum Village, August 1959.

Bob Davenport sang The Mucking of Geordie's Byre in 1971 on the Trailer album Bob Davenport and the Marsden Rattlers.

Ian Manuel sang The Muckin'o' Geordie's Byre on his 1972 Topic album of bothy songs and baallads, The Frosty Ploughshare. A.L. Lloyd noted:

An old song of this title and tenor, but with a different tune, has been on the go since the eighteenth century. It was far from new when it appeared in Herd’s Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs in 1769. Later, Burns and others tried to polish up its rough words without success. It got a new lease of life when it was re-made by stage singers of bothy songs, first by George Morris, later (in the 1930s) by Willie Kemp, whose Beltona 78rpm recording was influential. Jimmy McBeath helped the song on its way. His version, like Ian Manuel’s, is basically Willie Kemp’s re-make with a few modifications (some perhaps arising through mishearing the words on the old record).

Jean Redpath sang Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre on her 1977 album Song of the Seals. She noted:

I learned this from the singing of Ella Ward (now McEvoy) in Edinburgh many years ago and I have never heard it sung by anyone else. I believe Hamish Henderson was her source. There is a short version of the text (only two verses) printed in Herd’s Scottish Songs (1869. Vol. 2) and of course, it has only the title in common with the much better known bothy ballad of the same name.

Joe Aitken from Kirriemuir in Angus sang The Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre on the 1999 Sleepytown anthology The Bothy Songs and Ballads of North East Scotland Vol. 1.

Jock Duncan sang The Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre on hi2 2001 Sleepytown album Tae the Green Woods Gaen.

Geordie Murison sang the Muckin o' Geordie's Byre at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2003 or May 2004. This recording was included in 2005 the festival's anthology Here's a Health to the Company (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 1).

Gordon Easton sang Muckin o Geordie's Byre at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2007. This recording was included in the same year on his Autumn Harvest CD The Last of the Clydesdales, and in the following year on the festival's anthology Nick-Knack on the Waa (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 4). Peter Shepheard noted:

A cornkister by the great George Morris. He and his brother in law Willie Kemp vied to outdo each other in writing the comic cornkisters and this is one of Gordon’s favourites.

The tune of The Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre was played by Charlie Bremner on The Caledonian Companion (Topic, 1975), The Bushwackers Band on their Dance Album (1980), The Foundry Bar Band on Rolling Home (Springthyme, 1988), and Frank Edgley on Anglo International! (2005).


Jimmy McBeath sings The Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre

At a relic aul’ croft upon the hill,
Roon the neuk fae Sprottie’s mill,
Tryin a’ his life tae jine the kill
Lived Geordie MacIntyre.
He had a wife as sweir’s himsel
An a daughter as black’s Auld Nick himsel.
There wis some fun—haud awa the smell— At the muckin o Geordie’s byre.

Chorus (after each verse):
For the graip was tint, the besom was deen,
The barra widna row its leen,
An siccan a soss it never was seen
At the muckin o Geordie’s byre.

For the daughter had to strae and neep
The auld wife started to swipe the greep
When Geordie fell sklite on a rotten neep
At the muckin o Geordie’s byre.
Ben the greep cam Geordie’s soo
She stood up ahint the coo
The coo kickit oot an o whit a stew
At the muckin o Geordie’s byre.

For the aul’ wife she was booin doon— The soo was kickit on the croon
It shoved her heid in the wifie’s goon
Then ben through Geordie’s byre.
The daughter cam thro the barn door
An seein her mother let oot a roar.
To the midden she ran an fell ower the boar
At the muckin o Geordie’s byre.

For the boar he lap the midden dyke
An ower the riggs wi Geordie’s tyke.
They baith ran intil a bumbee’s byke
At the muckin o Geordie’s byre.
The cocks an hens began to craw
When Biddy astride the soo they saw
The postie’s shelty ran awa
At the muckin o Geordie’s byre.

O a hunder years are passed an mair
Whaur Sprottie’s wis, the hill is bare;
The croft’s awa, sae ye’ll see nae mair
At the muckin o Geordie’s byre.
His folks a’ deid an awa lang syne
In case his memory we should tyne.
Whistle this tune tae keep ye in min
At the muckin o Geordie’s byre.


See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre.