Rantin' Rovin' Robin - Songs of Robert Burns

by Castlebay

Released 2009
Castlebay, Inc.
Released 2009
Castlebay, Inc.
Elegant vocals with folk-baroque accompaniments and a touch of humour. Prize-wining Celtic harp, fiddle, guitars and flutes. Scroll down for complete album notes, lyrics and glossary
ROBERT BURNS (January 25 1759- July 21 1796) The Man, The Myth & The Music
by Castlebay- Julia Lane & Fred Gosbee

Robert Burns, Scotland’s National Poet, lived in a turbulent and vibrant era. For all of his brief life, he was an extraordinary man; not only a man of his time but for the ages. The son of a painfully poor Scottish Lowland farmer, he worked physically hard most of his life. Generally painted as a romantic rake, he was also a passionate advocate for the common person and his works reflect his revolutionary views. He lived freely, testing limits and questioning authority. Amazingly, he was never prosecuted for his behavior and in fact became celebrated by a broad spectrum of society. Working in the Scots vernacular as well as in English, farm workers and aristocrats alike responded to his forthright and romantic writings which extolled the virtues of honesty, chivalry, hard work and joyous living while deploring exploitation and duplicity.In spite of all his blunders, he did try to live by his word. A great deal is known about his inner life as most of his myriad letters are preserved in addition to his many public writings. He also contributed heavily to Johnson’s 'Scots Musical Museum', probably the most important collection of 18th century Scottish song. Burns gathered songs from the people around him, often revising or “mending” them, and included much of his original work. As a result the Museum embodies a living tradition combining innovation and musical anthropology.

On this recording, Castlebay intends to portray the many facets of the life of Burns, not only through the selection of the songs, but in their arrangements. Rather than pretending historic authenticity of performance, we look to convey the spirit in which we believe they were created. The ensemble (lever harp, fiddle, baroque flute, whistle, guitar, cello) is typical of an 18th century convivial musical gathering.


1) RANTIN’ ROVIN’ ROBIN Tune- Dainty Davie

An autobiographical song in the form of a prophecy by the palm-reading midwife who attended Burns’ birth written by a 27 year old man well pleased with himself . The “Monarch’s hindmost year” refers to the year before the death of KIng George.The “blast o’ Januar wind” was a gale which did, in fact, blow down the chimney wall of the house William Burness, his father, had built. Young Robert and his mother were removed to a neighbor’s house while repairs were made.

There was a lad was born in Kyle,
But whatn'a day, o' whatn'a style
I doot it's hardly worth the while
Tae be sae nice wi' Robin

For Robin was a rovin' boy,
A rantin' rovin' rantin' rovin',
Robin was a rovin' boy,
A rantin' rovin' Robin.

Oor Monarch's hindmost year but ane,
Was five and twenty days begun'
'Twas then a blast o' Januar' win'
Blew hansel in on Robin.

The gossip keekit in his loof,
Quo' scho,"Wha' lives shall see the proof,
This waly boy will be nae cuif;
I think we'll ca' him Robin".

He'll hae misfortunes great and sma'
But aye a heart abune them a'
He'll be a credit tae us a';
We'll a' be prood o' Robin.

But sure as three times three mak' nine,
I see by ilka score and line,
This chap will dearly like oor kin'
So leeze me on thee, Robin.

"Guid faith," quo' scho, "I doubt you Sir,
Ye’ll gar the lasses lie aspar;
But twenty fauts ye may hae waur-
So blessins on thee, Robin."

Kyle-old district of Ayrshire
whatna- whatever, no matter
doot- doubt
ane- one
hansel- good luck gift
keekit- peeked or glanced
loof- palm of the hand
scho- she
wha’- whoever
waly- healthy
cuif- fool
abune- above
prood- proud
ilka- every
oor kin’- our kind; humanity
leeze me on thee- here’s to you
gar- make
aspar- with legs apart
fauts- faults
hae waur- have worse

A classic ode in appreciation of women, this is one of Burns’ many songs that appears in several versions each for different audiences. A blue version appears in the Merry Muses of Caledonia, a collection that will probably not be found in most public libraries. He generally is ecumenical in his expressions of his fondness for female company of all kinds. Biographer Alan Cunningham said " Burns calls this inimitable song a fragment, and says it speaks the genuine language of his heart. The incense in the concluding verse is the richest any poet ever offered at the shrine of beauty.” As with many of his works, Burns based his song on one he heard in his daily ramblings, possibly the following

The down bed, the feather bed,
The bed amang the rashes, O !
Yet a' the beds are nae sae saft
As the bosoms o' the lasses, O."

His last verse may have been influenced by "Cupid's Whirly- gig," published in 1607
"Oh! who would abuse your sex who truly knows ye? O women, were we not bom of you ? Should we not, then, honour you ?... And since we were made before you, should we not love and admire you as the last, and, therefore, perfect work of nature ? Man was made when nature was but an apprentice; but woman, when she was a skilful mistress of her art; therefore, cursed is he that doth not admire those paragons, those models of heaven, angels on earth, goddesses in shape!"

Green grow the rashes, O;
Green grow the rashes, O;
The sweetest hours that e'er I spend,
Are spent amang the lasses, O.

There's nought but care on ev'ry han',
In ev'ry hour that passes, O:
What signifies the life o' man,
If ‘t was nae for the lasses, O?

Green grow, &c.

The war'ly race may riches chase,
An' riches still may fly them, O;
An' tho' at last they catch them fast,
Their hearts can ne'er enjoy them, O.
Green grow, &c.

But gie me a cannie hour at e'en,
My arms about my dearie, O;
An' war'ly cares, an' war'ly men,
May a' gae tapsalteerie, O!
Green grow, &c.

For you sae douce, ye sneer at this;
Ye're nought but senseless asses, O:
The wisest man the warl' e'er saw,
He dearly lov'd the lasses, O.
Green grow, &c.

Auld Nature swears, the lovely dears
Her noblest work she classes, O:
Her prentice han' she try'd on man,
An' then she made the lasses, O.
Green grow, &c.

rashes- reeds
warly- worldly
gie- give
cannie- comfortable
tapsalteerie- upside down
douce- delicate

Tune: East Neuk o' Fife

In his notes for Johnson’s Musical Museum, the author states “I composed this song pretty early in life, and sent it to a young girl, a very particular acquaintance of mine, who was at that time under a cloud.” Alan Cunningham tells us “The heroine of this humorous ditty was the mother of ‘Sonsie, smirking, dear-bought Bess,’ ” Although Elizabeth Paton, a servant to Burns’ parents, was indeed the mother of his first child (also called Elizabeth) there is speculation that the song may have actually been written for Jean Armour who was also made pregnant by Burns out of wedlock. Burns never married Paton, contrary to the wishes of his mother, but he did provide a trust fund for little Elizabeth who was raised by her. He eventually married Jean Armour.

O wha my babie-clouts will buy?
O wha will tent me when I cry?
Wha will kiss me where I lie?
The rantin' dog, the daddie o't.

O wha will own he did the faut?
O wha will buy the groanin maut?
O wha will tell me how to ca't?
The rantin' dog, the daddie o't.

When I mount the creepie-chair,
Wha will sit beside me there?
Gie me Rob, I'll seek nae mair,
The rantin' dog, the daddie o't.

Wha will crack to me my lane?
Wha will mak me fidgin' fain?
Wha will kiss me o'er again?
The rantin' dog, the daddie o't.

Wha- who
clouts- diapers
tent- heed
rantin’ -raucous, carefree
faut- fault
Groanin’ maut- whisky for the midwife
How to ca’t- what to name it
creepie chair- stool of repentance in church
nae mair- no longer
Crack- chat
my lane- my loneliness
fidgin’ fain- eagerly ready

Tune: Miss Admiral Gordon's Strathspey.
His notes say "This air is by Marshal; the song composed out of compliment to Mrs. Burns. N.B. - It was during the honeymoon." While Burns was preparing a home at the Ellisland farm in June 1788, Jean stayed with his mother at Mossgiel. Their relationship had been tumultuous before their marriage: she had already delivered two sets of his twins. Although they had agreed to marriage in writing, her father nullified the union. Burns then became embroiled in several other romantic affairs which distracted him from his commitment to Jean. They were finally officially married in April 1788. This did not end his wandering, however, and upon taking in the child borne by another amour, Ann Parks, Jean was heard to say “Oor Rabbie should hae had twa wives”. When he died on July 21, 1796, Jean was unable to attend the poet’s funeral as she was lying in with their ninth child.

Of a' the airts the wind can blaw,
I dearly like the west,
For there the bonie lassie lives,
The lassie I lo'e best:
There's wild-woods grow, and rivers row,
And mony a hill between:
But day and night my fancys' flight
Is ever wi' my Jean.

I see her in the dewy flowers,
I see her sweet and fair:
I hear her in the tunefu' birds,
I hear her charm the air:
There's not a bonie flower that springs,
By fountain, shaw, or green;
There's not a bonie bird that sings,
But minds me o' my Jean.

airts -directions
row- roll
mony- many

Burns was known to be an enthusiastic fiddler and collector of tunes. The popular melodies of the time often inspired him to poetry, with their evocative titles and rhythms. These selections from the contemporary repertoire reflect an emancipated attitude towards relations between men and women which Burns enthusiastically espoused. The Moudiwart is the Scots word for a burrowing garden mole (with obvious connotations) and the Stool of Repentance was a chair at the front of the church where sinners were put on display.

This lyric was recast cast at least three times before Burns sent them to be published, and in the process were adapted to fit different airs, the original tune being Ballandallach's Reel aka Camdelmore, from Cumming's collection of strathspeys. The lyric for this runs thus:

Ye flowery banks o' bonnie Doon,
How can ye blume sae fair!
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae fu' o' care!

He subsequently wrote to his editor George Thomson referring to the version of 1792, saying - "There is an air, The Caledonian Hunt's Delight, to which I wrote a song that you will find in Johnson - Ye Banks and Braes o' Bonnie Doon. This air, I think, might find a place among your hundred, as Lear says of his knights.” This melody has been attributed to a Mr. Millar of Edinburgh while Thompson says it has been claimed by both Ireland and the Isle of Man.

The subject of the song is said to be inspired by the misfortunes of a Miss Kennedy, the daughter a gentleman of fortune in Carrick, who was deserted by her lover to whom she had borne a child out of wedlock. Although she instituted a court action against him she died of a broken heart before receiving satisfaction.

Ye banks and braes o' bonie Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae weary fu' o' care!
Thou'll break my heart, thou warbling bird,
That wantons thro' the flowering thorn:
Thou minds me o' departed joys,
Departed never to return.

Aft hae I rov'd by Bonie Doon,
To see the rose and woodbine twine:
And fondly sae did I o' mine;
Wi' lightsome heart I pu'd a rose,
Fu' sweet upon its thorny tree!
And my fause Luver staw my rose,
But ah! he left the thorn wi' me.

brae- small hill
wantons- skips about
pu’d -picked
fu’ -full
fause- false
Luver- lover
staw- stole


Written to celebrate a convivial meeting at Laggan, the Dunscore, Dumfriesshire farm of William Nichols, an Edinburgh High school teacher. Nichols, Burns and Allan Masterton, another local schoolmaster gathered to enjoy the results of an experiment in fermentation during the autumn vacation in 1789.
The reel, “The Mason’s Apron” was originally played by an 18th century fiddler who would leap upon the table after Masonic meetings wearing his ceremonial apron and play madly. Burns was a Mason, and loved a good party, so the tune seemed appropriate. It is, even today, a popular party piece among fiddlers.

Oh Willie brewed a peck o’ malt
An’ Rob and’ Allan cam tae see
Three blyther lads that leelang nicht
Ye wadna fin’ in Christendie

We are na’ fou, we’re no that fou
But just a drappie in oor e’e
The cock may craw, the day may daw
But aye we’ll taste the barley bree

Here are we met three merry boys
Three merry boys I trow are we
And mony a nicht we’ve merry been
And mony mair we hope tae be

It is the moon; I ken her horn
That’s blinkin’ in the lift sae hie
She shines sae bricht tae wile us hame
But, by my sooth, she’ll wait a wee

Wha first shall rise an’ gang awa’
A cuckold coward loon is he
Wha last beside his chair shall fa’
He is the king amang us three

fou- drunk
leelang- whole entire
Christendie-all Christian lands
Just a drappie in oor e’e- only slightly
craw- crow
daw- dawn
barley bree- ale
trow- swear, believe
mony- many
nicht- night
mair- more
ken her horn- see her crescent
blinkin’ in the lift- shining in the sky
sae bricht- so bright
tae wile us hame- to lure us home
by my sooth- truthfully
a wee- a bit
gang awa’- go away
cuckold- wimpy or hen-pecked
loon- fellow

Tune- The Hemp Dresser
Burdened with the growing responsibilities that came with being a husband and father coupled with his lack of success at farming, Burns felt the need for more reliable employment and became an exciseman for the Dumfries area in 1788. An Exciseman was a collector of excise taxes on certain home commodities and licences for certain trades. They were generally not well liked by the population, but Burns seemed to transcend this attitude. He took part in a number of dramatic sting operations involving the numerous smugglers that plied the Solway Firth between England and Scotland. Allegedly, this song was penned after a long night waiting in a bog for the appearance of some such. The Devil in the Kitchen is a dance tune from the period.

The Deil cam fiddlin thro' the town,
And danc'd awa wi' th' Exciseman!
And ilka auld wife cries: -'Auld Mahoun,
I wish ye luck o' the prize, man!

The Deil's awa, the Deil's awa,
The Deil's awa wi' th' Exciseman!
He's danc'd awa, he's danc'd awa,
He's danc'd awa wi' th' Exciseman!

We’ll mak oor maut, we’ll brew oor drink
We'll laugh, sing, and rejoice, man,
And monie braw thanks to the meikle black Deil,
That danc'd awa wi' th' Exciseman!

There's threesome reels, there's foursome reels,
There's hornpipes and strathspeys, man,
But the ae best dance ere cam to the land
Was The Deil's Awa wi' th' Exciseman!'

De’ il- devil
awa’ - away
ilka- every
auld- old
maut- malt
monie braw- many great
meikle- brawny
threesome reels,foursome reels,
hornpipes and strathspeys- various Scottish country dances

Tune: Failte na Miosg (The Musket Salute)
While waiting for publication of his poems in 1789, Burns was encouraged to tour the country for inspiration for future creations. His journey to the southern Borders was less than fruitful, but his exploration of the “highlands” ( the Trossachs and Perthshire just north of Glasgow and Edinburgh) yielded more works. It may be that he felt moved by visiting the country of his forebears, as his father’s family came from the north.

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-d...

Newsletter and concert summary

Join the email list!

About the Newsletter...

We send out the newsletter 6-12 times a year. You will get a bit of news about our adventures, pre-release info about our recordings and a summary of upcoming concerts. You can opt out of our mailing list any time.

Concerts in Brief

  • Mar 12
    The Ridge,  Exeter
  • Mar 15
    Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church,  Baltimore
  • Mar 16
    Lakewood Manor,  Richmond
  • Mar 18
    Well-Spring Retirement Community,  Greensboro
  • Mar 19
    Country Club of Salisbury,  Salisbury