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The Shepherd’s Life/Song

[ Roud 5124 ; Ballad Index RcTSheSo ; Mudcat 130708 ; trad.]

Willie Scott [1897-1989] sang I’m a Shepherd in a 1953 recording that was included in 2002 on the Borders Tradition CD Borders Sangsters. He and Sandy Scott sang The Shepherd’s Life to Samuel B. Charters at King’s Seat of Auth, Kolty, Fifeshire, on 16 August 1960; this recording was included in the same year on the Folkways album The Borders. He also recorded in on 3 November 1967 in Bill Leader’s home in Camden Town, London. This recording was released in the following year as the title track of Scott’s Topic album The Shepherd’s Song, and it was also included in 1998 on the Topic anthology of working men and women in song, There Is a Man Upon the Farm (The Voice of the People Volume 20). Maurice Lindsay commented in the original album’s sleeve notes:

Willie learned this [c.1906] from his brother Tom. It is known to have been sung by John Irvine of Langholm, half a century ago. It is a catalogue song, recounting the various skills the shepherd practices throughout the season, his recurring wish at the end of each chorus being “But I wish the cauld East winds wuld never blaw”. The thirsty shepherd is advised to keep off strong drink after his labours:

Just thole your drouth a wee, till your ain low hills ye’ll see,
And the bonnie bubblin’ streams will quench it a’.

The song rocks itself up and down two little modal phrases.

Bob Davenport with The Rakes sang The Shepherd’s Life at a concert presented by the English Folk, Dance and Song Society at the Royal Festival Hall, London on 4 June 1965. This recording was included in the same year on the HMV EP The Folksound of Britain.

The High Level Ranters sang The Shepherd’s Life on their 1973 Trailer album A Mile to Ride.

Paul and Linda Adams sang Shepherd’s Life in 1976 on their Sweet Folk and Country album of songs of Cumbria and the Border, Country Hirings. They noted:

Paul first heard this song from Bob Davenport in 1965. It comes from the Border Shepherd, Willie Scott. Willie was born in Dumfrieshire, spent a lot of his childhood around Brampton in Cumberland. At the time of writing he is still singing despite being 79 years young and has spent most of his working life farming in the Border country. The poor hill country of Cumbria and the Border means that sheep farming is the only possible livelihood.

Kirsty Pott with her mother Alison McMorland sang The Shepherd’s Song on her 2015 CD The Seeds of Life.

Jack Rutter sang The Shepherd’s Song in 2019 on his CD Gold of Scar & Shale. He noted:

I got this from the book Herd Laddie o’ the Glen: Songs of a Border Shepherd about the great singer and shepherd Willie Scott. It’s lovely to be joined here by Alice Robinson of Hunting Hall Farm in Beal, Northumberland on Northumbrian pipes. By coincidence, at university my class were taken on a field trip to Alice’s family farm to be shown their exceptional example of agricultural best practice for wildlife management and conservation. Incidentally Hunting Hall in Beal, Northumberland also have beautiful holiday cottages and a very nicely kitted out shepherd’s hut to stay in there if you’re ever up that way.

Jim and Susie Malcolm sang The Shepherd’s Song, on their 2022 CD Auld Toon Shuffle. They noted:

The great Borders singer Willie Scott made this song his own and it’s a great description of a lifestyle and occupation that was and still is common throughout the whole of Scotland. I’ve deliberately avoided finding out what some of the words mean (stuff done to male sheep). It’s a quite unScottishly boastful account. As our long-suffering sound engineer Stuart Duncan said of the shepherd: “What can ye NAE DAE?”


Willie Scott sings The Shepherd’s Song

I’m a shepherd and I rise ere the sun is in the skies,
I can lamb the yowes wi ony o them aa;
An I like my flock to feed, an look fresh and fair indeed,
But I wish the cauld east winds would never blaw.

Chorus (after each verse):
I can smear my sheep and dip, I can udderlock and clip,
I can lamb the yowes wi ony o them aa;
I can parrock, I can twin, aye, an cheat them wi a skin,
But I wish the cauld east winds would never blaw.

When the winter time is here, for their lives I sometimes fear
Tae some sheltered nook my flock i’ll gently caa;
Or in the morning grey, I’ll turn them tae the brae,
Or seek them mang the tooring wreaths o snaw.

In the lambing time I wot, it was little sleep I got,
But when the summer’s sunny breezes blaw,
On yon bonnie hill I’ll lie and sleep my fill,
When the lambs are runnin roo aboot me braw.

I can cut and merk, and spean, or drive them to the train,
Though their dams be rinnin bleatin in a raw;
A can stand the meket through, and richt well A sell them too,
And my maister’s money safely bring it aa.

I can work in time o need, I can sow or hoe or weed;
I can swing the scythe wi ony o them aa;
I can cut the corn and bin, and richt braw stooks leave behin
That will stand the autumn winds when hooses faa.

And when I’ve done my wark, though the nicht be e’er saw dark,
At a swaggering step I’ll hie mysel awa
To the lassie, dearest yin, she’s the best aneath the sun—
An she’ll name the day we’ll be nae langer twa.

Now my neebor herds beware when ye gang to show or fair,
The fiery liquor never taste awa;
Just thole your drouth a wee, till your ain braw hills ye’ll see,
And the bonnie bubblin’ streams will quell it aa.


I copied the lyrics from Alison McMorland’s Willie Scott book Herd Laddie o’ the Glen.