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Steeleye Span: Montrose

Steeleye Span: Montrose (Festival K7422)

Montrose / Hunting the Wren
Steeleye Span

Chrysalis/Festival K7422 (single, Australia, 1978)

[Hart / Prior / Kemp / Carthy / Kirkpatrick]

On March 7, 1978, Steeleye delivered at the Bournemouth Winter Gardens what just may be their finest ever live performance. The evening concert was recorded for what was to become the Live at Last album. A highlight of that magical night was the 15 minute epic Montrose, a ballad about James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, which Tim Hart describes as the most complicated arrangement ever undertaken by the band.

Upon Australian release of Live at Last in late 1978, Festival Records was given exclusive permission to edit this mammoth track down to an acceptable single length to promote the forthcoming live album. This eight hours editing work with a final length of [3:56] was released as Australian-only single with the B-side Hunting the Wren and reissued in 1981 on the rare Australian-only LP Recollections and in 1999 on the CD A Rare Collection 1972-1996.

Lyrics

Long (LP) version

When James the King ruled by sceptered crown
With bishops and pen from London town
And the sword could ne'er bring Scotland down,
Where the cold north wind breathes through the dawn,
At Ol' Montrose on a winter's morn,
The Fourth Earl's only son was born.
And he grew strong and he grew stern,
Of books and knowledge he would learn
And so to Glasgow he must turn.

For truth and valour he was named,
For bowmanship he was acclaimed,
And the silver arrow he did gain.
First through France then to London town
This noble youth did proudly ride
With his good bow strapped in behind.

Then his King's favour he has sought
But slander brought it all to naught
To Scotland he's fled back from court.
But new King Charles, so ill advised
By Hamilton and Laud likewise,
Scotland they betrayed by lies.
With papacy and bad intent,
A new prayer book to Scotland sent
To control the Kirk was his intent.

The mob has raged around St.Giles against the King's churchmen,
But Montrose spoke above them all, the people's love to win.
So Jamie joined the Covenant, for war they did prepare
And he rode north to Huntly's house but found no welcome there.
So the gay red Gordon ribbons they chased around the land
Until at Inverurie Lord Huntly signed his hand.
So Montrose rode to Aberdeen where the Covenant held sway
To speak the King at Berwick, a truce was signed that day.
But the grim Geneva ministers put Montrose in a cell
And there he fought to serve Scotland and serve his King as well.
Meanwhile down south in England the Civil War began,
So Montrose rode to London town to parley with the King.
For a thousand men he pleaded to save his fair Scotland,
But he went home a general without a single man.

The giant Macdonald Alasdair with sixteen hundred men
From Ireland sailed to join Montrose and plunder Campell's glen.
Montrose's small united force of Gaelic men did lure
Against seven thousand Covenant on the field of Tippermuir.

Chorus:
I'll serve thee in such noble ways
Was never heard before
I'll crown and deck thee with all bays
And love thee more and more

With stones and bows, the screaming clans put Covenant to flight
That Sabbath day at Tippermuir was such a bloody sight,
Then marching north to Aberdeen where treasure could be found
The soldiers fought for bounty there while James fought for the crown

Chorus

His army now three thousand strong, he was resolved to go
To meet the Campbell in his lair through all the winter snow
King Campbell sailed from his castle strong as Montrose' pipes drew near
No refuge from the Lord on earth, no pity for Campbells here

Chorus

With Campbell lands all wasted, Montrose was forced to guess
To fight Argyll or Lord Seaforth on the road to Inverness.
It came to pass that Campbell's might was smashed on Loch Eil's shore
And the terror of Clan Diarmaid behold their glens no more

Chorus

At Auldearn, Alford, and Kilsyth, the Royal standard shone,
As Alexander he did reign and he did reign alone.
Then Montrose entered Glasgow with Scotland at his feet,
But the power could not be broken of the minister elite.

Chorus

Soon the year of miracles, like the slowly setting sun,
Was melting now before his eyes, all he could do was done.
At Philiphaugh and Carbisdale warm fortune did turn cold,
MacLeod the devil's advocates sold James for oats and gold.

Chorus

The judges passed their cruel sentence, traitors laughed and jeered.
He stood unmoved in stately calm and spoke quite unafeared,
Nail my head on yonder tower, give every town a limb
And God who made shall gather them, I go from you to Him.
As he turned from out the Hall, clouds left the sky,
To battle he has never walked more proudly than to die.

They set him high upon a cart, the hangman rode below,
There stood the Whig and West Country lords in balcony and bower
They brought him to the water gate, he looked so great and high,
So noble was his manly frame, so clear his steadfast eye.

The rabble rout forbore to shout and each man held his breath,
For well they knew a hero's soul was face to face with death,
For loving Scotland and his King he went to death that morn,
A shudder ran across the sky, the work of death was done.

2× Chorus

Short (Australian single) version

Chorus:
I'll serve thee in such noble ways
Was never heard before
I'll crown and deck thee with all bays
And love thee more and more

With Campbell lands all wasted, Montrose was forced to guess
To fight Argyll or Lord Seaforth on the road to Inverness.
It came to pass that Campbell's might was smashed on Loch Eil's shore
And the terror of Clan Diarmaid behold their glens no more

Chorus

With stones and bows, the screaming clans put Covenant to flight
That Sabbath day at Tippermuir was such a bloody sight,
Then marching north to Aberdeen where treasure could be found
The soldiers fought for bounty there while James fought for the crown

Chorus

His army now three thousand strong, he was resolved to go
To meet the Campbell in his lair through all the winter snow
King Campbell sailed from his castle strong as Montrose' pipes drew near
No refuge from the Lord on earth, no pity for Campbells here

3× Chorus

Notes

Alexander the Great
The “As Alexander he did reign” line was written by Montrose himself (“I'll never love Thee more”)
And God who made …
The line in the poem from which this was copied (The Execution of Montrose, in the poetry book The Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers, by William Edmonstoune Aytoun) reads “And God who made shall gather them”. Maddy sings “that”, but it doesn't make sense and it's wrong besides.
Argyll
Marquis of Argyll
Chorus
The chorus (“I'll serve thee …”) and the “Alexander” line were written by Montrose himself (“I'll never love Thee more”), though he wrote “all with bays” whereas Maddy Prior swapped two words to “with all bays” in her rendering.
Covenant
Presbytertian agreement which proclaimed Scottish independence from England
James the King
James the 6th of Scotland
Laud
William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, whose new prayer book caused a riot at St. Giles church in Edinburgh
MacLeod
The laird Neil MacLeod of Assynt betrayed Montrose to his Covenant enemies, after the wounded and lost Montrose had gone to MacLeod for help and protection after his defeat at Carbisdale. MacLeod's payment was promised in gold and oatmeal (very important in Scotland), but he is said never to have gotten all the gold and half the oats were said to be sour. He is much hated because of this vile deed.
Montrose
James Graham (1612 - 1650), 5th Earl and 1st Marquis of Montrose
No refuge on earth
This is a quote from a Covenant minister: “And so we see there is no refuge on earth against the Lord.”
Silver Arrow
The Silver Arrow was a prize for archery given at Montrose's university, St. Andrews (he attended St. Salvator's College there). Argyll himself had won it seven years before Montrose did, when he too was a student there.

Battles

Tippermuir, September 1, 1644
Montrose (3000) defeats Covenant army (7000)
Aberdeen, September 13, 1644
Montrose (1500) defeats Burleigh (2500)
Inverlochy, February 2, 1645
Montrose (1700) defeats Campbell (3000) on Loch Eil's shore, Montrose losses 4, Campbell lost 1700+
Auldearn, May 1, 1645
Alford, July 2, 1645
Kilsyth, August 15, 1645
Philiphaugh, September 13, 1645
Montrose (500) defeated by David Leslie (4000), Montrose exiled in France
Carbisdale, April 27, 1650
Montrose defeated by David Leslie
May 21, 1650
Montrose hanged for treason in Edinburgh

Further reading

Acknowledgements and Links

Thanks to Dave Tomlinson, Tim McDaniel, Julie Douglas, and Patricia Morrison for text and information!

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: Montrose (Steeleye Span).