Tramps And Hawkers

19th Century
from the singing of Jimmy MacBeath

Oh come a’ ye tramps an hawkers an gaitherers o bla,
That tramps the country roon an roon, come listen ane and a’
I’ll tell tae you a rovin tale and sights that I have seen
Far up into the snowy North and South by Gretna Green

I have seen the high Ben Nevis a-towerin to the moon,
I’ve been by Crieff and Callander and roon by bonnie Doune,
And by the Nethy’s silvery tides an places ill tae ken
Far up into the snowy North lies Urquhart’s bonny glen

Aftimes I’ve lauched into myself when I’m trudging on the road,
Wi a bag o bla upon my back, my face as broon’s a toad,
Wi lumps o cakes an tattie scones an cheese an braxy ham,
Nae thinking whaur I’m comin fae nor whaur I’m gaun tae gang

I’m happy in the summertime beneath the bricht blue sky,
Nae thinking in the morning at nicht whaur I’ve tae lie.
Barns or byres or anywhere or oot among the hay,
And if the weather does permit I’m happy every day

Oh Loch Katrine and Loch Lomon’ have a’ been seen by me,
The Dee, the Don, the Deveron that hurries into the sea,
Dunrobin Castle, by the way, I nearly had forgot,
An aye the rickles o cairn marks the Hoose o John o Groat.

I’m often roon by Gallowa or doon aboot Stranraer,
Ma business leads me anywhere, sure I travel near an far.
I’ve got a rovin notion, there’s nothing what I loss,
An a’ my day’s my daily fare and what’ll pey ma doss.

I think I’ll go tae Paddy’s land, I’m makin up my min’
For Scotland’s greatly altered now, sure I canna raise the win’
But I will trust in Providence, if Providence will prove true
An I will sing of Erin’s Isle when I come back to you.

: often
Bla: blaw, travellers’ cant for oatmeal
Braxy ham: salted meat from a sheep that died of braxy, an intestinal disease
Cairn: landmark heap of stones
Doss: night’s lodging
Erin’s Isle: Ireland
Ill tae ken: of bad repute
John o Groat/Groats: furthest north building in Scotland
Lauched: laughed
Loss: lose, miss
Paddy’s Land: Ireland
Pey: pay
Rickles : loose heaps

In his notes to the record Come All Ye Tramps and Hawkers (Collector Records, JES 10), Hamish Henderson says that the song “ is reputed to have been composed by ‘Besom Jimmy’, a much travelled Angus-born hawker” of the 19th century.

This text is from The Scottish Folksinger edited by Norman Buchan and Peter Hall. They took it from the singing of Jimmy MacBeath who had come from a settled family at Portsoy and was not a traveller although he tramped the roads all his working life in search of farm work and places to sing and entertain. He literally sang for his supper at fairs and markets and while farm-workers were having their break. Jimmy died in 1972.

Hamish Henderson in Alias MacAlias says that he and American collector Alan Lomax discovered Jimmy when he was living in a model lodging-house in Elgin and brought him to Turriff for recording –“an appropriate venue for Jimmy had for many years been a kenspeckle figure at Porter Fair, the Turra feeing-market.”

Lomax described Jimmy as a “sporty little character, with the gravel voice and urbane assurance that would make him right at home on skid-row anywhere in the world: as sharp as a tack, dapper, tweed suit, quick blue eyes, as fast on his feet as a boxer.”

He had a vast repertoire and the first record entirely devoted to his singing was an EP Come a’ ye Tramps and Hawkers (Collector JES10) published in 1960. The title song had become his trade-mark and “was one of the most popular items in the repertoires of young Revival singers.”

When Jimmy was the first guest at the Glasgow Folk Club started in the 60s by Ewan McVicar and Drew Moyes, they could only afford to pay him £8. Ewan was embarrassed that Jimmy was so grateful – it was “more money than he’d ever received for singing in his life.”