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The Rantin Laddie

[ Roud 103 ; Child 240 ; G/D 5:976 ; Ballad Index C240 ; DT RANTNLAD ; trad.]

The lady has “played at the cards and dice” with the rantin laddie; now she has a child and is scorned. She sends a letter to the rantin laddie who proves to be the Earl of Aboyne. He takes her home and all are happy. The “rant” is a dance step, now found chiefly in Northumberland and surrounding areas. [Traditional Ballad Index]

Willie Mathieson of Turriff, Aberdeenshire, sang The Bonny Rantin’ Laddie in 1951 to Alan Lomax. This recording was included in 2000 on the Rounder CD Classic Ballads of Britain and Ireland Volume 2 which is an extended re-issue of the Caedmon/Topic anthology The Child Ballads 2 (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 5; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968).

Ewan MacColl sang The Rantin Laddie in 1956 on his and A.L. Lloyd’s Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume I. This and 28 other ballads from this series were reissued in 2009 on MacColl’s Topic CD Ballads: Murder·Intrigue·Love·Discord. He also sang The Rantin’ Laddie in 1961 on his Folkways album The English and Scottish Popular Ballads: Vol. 1—Child Ballads. Kenneth Goldstein commented in the first album’s notes:

If there is the slightest historical basis for this ballad, research has not yet revealed it. The Earl of Aboyne, the hero and “rantin’ laddie” of the ballad, has not been identified as anyone of the lords of Aboyne who played a large part in Scottish history.

The ballad is rare in America, only one complete text (from West Virginia) having been reported; a fragmentary text, obviously sung as a lullaby, was collected in Maine.

MacColl’s version was learned from his father.

Jean Redpath sang Rantin’ Laddie in 1962 on her Elektra album Scottish Ballad Book. She noted:

The “Young Earl of Aboyne” depicted here cannot be identified as any of the Lords of Aboyne who played a large part in Scottish history. Rare as it is outside Scotland, the ballad has been found in only one complete text in America (West Virginia) and in one fragmentary text, with the story element practically gone, and sung apparently as a lullaby (Maine).

Mrs Ella Ward of Edinburgh was my source for this fresh, lilting variation on a common theme.

Gordon Tyrrall sang The Rantin’ Laddie in 1978 on his Hill & Dale album Farewell to Foggy Hills.

Maureen Jelks sang The Rantin’ Laddie in 2000 on her CD Eence Upon a Time. She commented:

From the singing of Marjorie Sinclair of the group Mirk, also to be found in Greig-Duncan vol. 5, song 976.


Ewan MacColl sings The Rantin Laddie

“Oft hae I played at the cards and dice
Wi’ my ain dear rantin laddie,
But noo I maun sit in my faither’s ha’
And sing ba to my bastard baby.

“If I’d been wise as I’ve been nice,
And done what my bonnie lad tauld me,
I’d ha been married a year or mair
And been wi’ my rantin laddie.

“My faither dear, he knows me not,
An’ my mither she ignores me;
My friends and relations a’ slight me
And the servants they quite hate me.

“Gin I had ane horse at my command
As oft times I’ve had mony,
I would ride it on to the gates o’ Aboyne
Wi’ a letter to my rantin laddie.”

“Is your love a laird or is he a lord
Or is he but a caddie,
That ye sae aft ca’ on his name,
Your ain dear raintin laddie?”

Then oot an spak’ a kitchie boy,
Says, “Though I’m but a caddie,
It’s I will run to the gates o’ Aboyne,
Wi’ a letter for your rantin laddie.”

When he was near the banks o’ Dee,
The birds they sang sae bonny,
And there he spied the Earl o’ Aboyne
That they ca’ the rantin laddie.

And when he looked the letter on,
But O, and he was sorry,
“They’ve been cruel and fell unkind
Tae my ain dear rantin lassie.”

“My faither dear, he knows me not,
An’ my mither she ignores me;
My friends and relations a’ slight me
And the servants they quite hate me.”

“Gae get to me five hundred men
And they’ll ride oot sae bonny,
And we’ll bring the bonnie lassie back to Aboyne,
My ain dear rantin lassie.”

When she was up ahint his back,
Wrapped in a hielan’ plaidie,
The birds in the trees sang sae sweet
As the bonnie bonnie rantin lassie.

And they rode on throgh Buchanshire
And Buchan it shone bonnie.
“Rejoice, rejoice, ye bonnie mays
And see that ye be na’ sorry.”

Gin ye lay your love on a lowland lad
Be sure that he’ll betray ye,
But lay your love on a hielan’ lad
He’ll do a’ he can to raise ye.