The Freedom Come-All-Ye

by Hamish Henderson, (1919-2002)
Tune: The Bloody Fields of Flanders

Roch the wind in the clear day's dawin
Blaws the cloods heelster gowdie ow'r the bay
But there's mair nor a roch wind blawin
Through the great glen o the warld the day.
It's a thocht that will gar oor rottans
A' they rogues that gang gallus, fresh and gay
Tak the road and seek ither loanins
For their ill ploys, tae sport and play

Nae mair will the bonnie callants
Mairch tae war when oor braggarts crousely craw,
Nor wee weans frae pit-heid and clachan
Mourn the ships sailin doon the Broomielaw.
Broken faimlies in lands we've herriet
Will curse Scotland the Brave nae mair, nae mair;
Black and white, ane til ither mairriet
Mak the vile barracks o their maisters bare

So come all ye at hame wi Freedom,
Never heed whit the hoodies croak for doom
In your hoose a' the bairns o Adam
Can find breid, barley-bree and painted room
When MacLean meets wi's freens in Springburn
A' the roses and geans will turn tae bloom,
And a black boy frae yont Nyanga
Dings the fell gallows o the burghers doon.

: whisky
Braggarts: boastful people
Broomielaw: dockside in central Glasgow
Burghers: towns-people
Callants: young men
Clachan: Highland village
Craw: crow, boast
Crousely: boldly, arrogantly
Dings: strikes
Fell: deadly, cruel
Gallus: cheeky, bold
Gar: make
Geans: wild cherry trees
Heelster-gowdie: head over heels
Herriet: harried, plundered
Hoodies: carrion crows with grey headfeathers like hoods,
found on battlefields
Loanins: pastures, common greens
MacLean: John Maclean, socialist leader and martyr of the
1930s (“Maclean” with lower case ‘l’ is usual )
Pit-heid: pit head, coal-mine
Ploys: schemes, tricks
Roch: rough, wild
Rottans: rats, contemptuous term for people
Springburn: working-class area of Glasgow
Yont: beyond

Gordeanna McCulloch taught this song at Sangschule and told us that since the pipe tune to which it is sung, “The Bloody Fields O Flanders”, is a retreat, it should be taken at a brisk pace. She pointed out the importance for many Scots of Henderson’s vision of a Scotland free of corruption, no longer an oppressor in other countries, and the home of freedom for everyone.

The song’s first appearance in print is probably in a sixpenny booklet of anti-Polaris songs from 1961, where it is labelled “For the Glasgow peace marchers, May 1960.”

Gordeanna also told us of an idea beginning to circulate that the lines “And a black boy frae yont Nyanga / Dings the fell gallows o the burghers doon” are about Mandela, although she herself was not sure of this.

Ewan McVicar in The Eskimo Republic – Scots Political Song In Action 1951-1999 says that he asked Hamish Henderson about the line shortly before his death and that Hamish could not at that time recall any specific person or event that had occasioned it. McVicar goes on to say that while there were political riots in Cape Town in 1960 at the same time as the more famous Sharpeville riots, Mandela himself could not have been there. “Mandela’s home area is hundreds of miles away on the other side of South Africa from Cape Town, where maps record no place named Nyanga, he worked in Johannesburg, and in 1960 he was not permitted to travel in his own country.”

Adam McNaughtan wrote about this song in Chapman 42 of winter 1985 as the greatest work to come out of the anti-Polaris campaign –and the most sung of Henderson’s songs in folk-clubs, in spite of the fact that the language is furthest from the everyday speech of the singers and audiences. He describes the language as “a tight-packed literary Scots with folksong phrases embedded in it: ‘heelster-gowdie’ from ‘McGinty’s Meal-and Ale’; the rottans that McFarlane flegged frae the toon; the most appropriate ‘Afore I wad work I wad rather sport and play’; the ‘crouse crawin’ from ‘Willie MacIntosh’; the repeated ‘Nae mair’ recalling the ‘No more’ of Jeannie Robertson’s ‘MacCrimmon’s Lament’; the ‘pentit room’ of ‘King Fareweel’.”

However McNaughtan thinks that those who suggest it for a national anthem are making a mistake about the song or about the nature of national anthems which need “to please all sections of a population” and avoid comment on current politics. Henderson on the other hand is looking to a socialist Utopia which will sweep away the “war-mongering capitalist ‘rottans’” and the “long tradition of using people as cannon- and gallows-fodder in Scotland and in the Third World where the last line prophesies the Revolt will begin.”