> Folk > Songs > The Yellow on the Broom

The Yellow on the Broom

[ Roud 22006 ; Mudcat 1521 ; Adam McNaughtan]

Adam McNaughtan sang his song The Yellow on the Broom in 1983 on his album Words, Words, Words (reissued in 1988 on Greentrax). He also sang it live at St Andrew's in the Square, Glasgow, during Celtic Connections 2017. A recording of this concert was released in the same year on the TMSA DVD 101 Scottish Songs: The Wee Red Book 2. He commented on his album:

Betsy Whyte's book about her childhood, Yellow on the Broom, inspired me to write this song with the same title. Betsy's mother, accustomed to travelling all the year round, married a man who wintered in town. She disliked the life among scaldies (hostile townsfolk) who would sconce (mock) her children, and she longed each spring to see the bloom on the broom, the sign that it was time for the ganaboot folk to be on the road. Now read the book!

(The tune is The Female Drummer as sung by Harry Cox.)

Cilla Fisher and Artie Trezise sang Yellow on the Broom on their 1986 album Reaching Out.

Sheena Wellington sang Yellow on the Broom in 1990 on her Dunkeld album Clearsong. She commented:

Adam McNaughtan wrote these stirring words, set to the traditional tune The Female Drummer, after reading Betsy Whyte's autobiography Yellow on the Broom. Betsy was proudly of the travelling people, a gifted story-teller and a warm, wonderful lady. She died suddenly at the Auchtermuchty Folk Festival in August 1988, and I had the honour of being asked by the B.B.C.'s ‘Travelling Folk’ programme to sing the song in their tribute to her.

Jean Redpath sang Yellow on the Broom in 2000 on her Greentrax CD Summer of My Dreams. She noted:

Adam McNaughtan wrote this song, and it has quickly taken its place in the oral tradition. It is set to the tune The Female Drummer as sung by Harry Cox. Adam's inspiration was a book of the same title written by one of the travellers, the late Betsy Whyte. In The Yellow on the Broom Betsy writes of her own childhood and of the feelings of her mother who, accustomed to travelling all year, married a man who wintered in town. The hostility of the townsfolk towards the travellers and the unkindness of the other children at school towards her own made her long to see the broom start to flower in the spring—a sign that it was time to be back on the road.

Gordon Easton sang Yellow on the Broom, “a song by Adam McNaughtan based on the life of Scots traveller Betsy Whyte” at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in between 2004 and 2007. This recording was included in 2007 on his Autumn Harvest CD The Last of the Clydesdales.

Claire Hastings and Robyn Stapleton sang Yellow on the Broom on the TMSA Young Trad Tour 2015. They noted:

Yellow on the Broom is the autobiography of Perthshire traveller, Betsy Whyte. Songwriter Adam McNaughtan was inspired by her book, and wrote this beautiful song, which has since become a much-loved favourite throughout Scotland and beyond. It describes the hardships of the travelling community and the joy of being free to live and work out amongst nature.

Lyrics

Adam McNaughtan sings Yellow on the Broom

I ken ye dinnae like it, lass, tae winter here in toon
For the scaldies ay miscry us and they try to bring us doon
And it’s hard to raise three bairns in a single flea-box room
But I’ll tak’ ye on the road again when yellow’s on the broom

Chorus (repeats the last line of each verse):
When the yellow's on the broom, when the yellow’s on the broom
I’ll tak’ ye on the road again when yellow's on the broom

The scaldies ca’ us tinker dirt and sconce oor bairns in school
But wha cares what a scaldy thinks, for a scaldy’s but a fool
They never hear the yorlin’s sang, nor see the flax in bloom
For they’re ay cooped up in hooses when the yellow’s on the broom

Nae sale for pegs nor baskets noo, so just to stay alive
I’ve had to work at scaldy jobs frae nine o’clock till five
But we ca’ nae man our maister for we own the world room
And I’ll bid fareweel to Brechin when the yellow’s on the broom

I’m weary for the springtime when we tak’ the road yince mair
Tae the plantin’, and the pearlin’ and the berryfields at Blair
Wehen we meet up wi’ our kinfolk frae a’ the country roon'
And the ganaboot folk tak’ the road when yellow’s on the broom

Jean Redpath sings Yellow on the Broom

I ken ye dinnae like it, lass, tae winter here in toon
For the scaldies ay miscry us and they try to bring us doon
And it’s hard to raise three bairns in a single flea-box room
But I’ll tak’ ye on the road again when yellow’s on the broom

Chorus (repeats the last line of each verse):
When the yellow's on the broom, when the yellow’s on the broom
I’ll tak’ ye on the road again when yellow's on the broom

The scaldies ca’ us tinker dirt and sconce oor bairns in school
But wha cares what a scaldy thinks, for a scaldy’s but a fool
They never hear the yorlin’s sang, nor see the flax in bloom
For they’re ay cooped up in hooses when the yellow’s on the broom

Nae sale for pegs nor baskets noo, so just to stay alive
I’ve had to work at scaldy jobs fae nine o’clock till five
But we ca’ nae man our maister for we own the world roon’
And I’ll bid fareweel to Brechin when yellow’s on the broom

I’m weary for the springtime when we tak’ the road aince mair
Tae the plantin’, and the pearlin’ and the berryfields o’ Blair
When we meet up wi’ our kinfolk fae a’ the country roon'
And the ganaboot folk tak’ the road when the yellow’s on the broom