View site in Scots
Flickr YouTube

Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

The Gowden Locks of Anna by MacAlias


Robert Burns the Songwriter

Burns is primarily regarded as Scotland's national poet, but there is strong evidence that he considered himself as much a songwriter as anything else.

The work of Dr Fred Freeman in recording over 360 songs by Burns is testament to this. Between 1995 and 2002, twelve volumes were released on CD by Linn Records as the monumental collection The Complete Songs of Robert Burns, featuring performances by some of the leading singers and players in the modern Scottish folk revival.

In considering Burns as a major songwriter, Dr Fred Freeman writes, in the introductory essay to his Burns collection:

"At a time when song had even a lower status than it does now, he considered it high art; the ideal medium for much of his creative output. He wished himself numbered among the great Scottish song-writers - "men of genius", he called them - who had come before. "Composing a Scotch song", he averred, was not a "trifling business" [...] Burns fussed over the words of his songs with the painstaking subtlety of a man obsessed with fusing English and Scots language, of unconventionally mixed register and variety, into veritable tone poems. 

[...] For Burns, composition (and editing) became, primarily, a matter of what he termed "ballad simplicity". With this in mind he developed, paradoxically, perhaps, elaborate theories regarding the appropriate music and language for a given song; the length and expression of syllables in a musical phrase; the natural rhythmic and tonal irregularity of the Scots musical idiom (which, he felt, few musicians grasped); the closeness of song to the tradition of dance, song and piping - the instrumental music he was so busily re-jigging and ingeniously simplifying for his songs."

Burns' keen sense of rhythm is demonstrated in songs like The Tailor Fell Thro the Bed, Brose and Butter, and My Wife's a Wanton Wee Thing. 

Listen to The Gowden Locks of Anna performed by the duo MacAlias, (Gill Bowman and Karine Polwart), from the album Highwired, CDTRAX199, 2000, used with kind permission from Greentrax Recordings:

The Gowden Locks of Anna by MacAlias