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'Hey Donal!' sung by Sir Harry Lauder (cylinder recording from 1908)


Music Hall Songs

An often overlooked element of Scots song is that of the Scottish music hall, which for many people was a great source of entertainment from the mid-19th into the early 20th centuries.

Scotland's most famous music hall performer of course was Portobello-born, Arbroath-raised Sir Harry Lauder (1870-1950). While often seen as a figure of fun, and sometimes derided as a representation of 'kitsch' Scottishness, Lauder was in fact an astute businessman and an accomplished musician and composer who wrote many of his performance pieces himself. They were even published in the USA in the 1900s, where Lauder toured over 20 times, and he was said to be the first Scottish performer to sell a million records.

Some of Lauder's compositions build on a fine tradition of Scots song, both comic and less so, with songs like 'Hey Donal!' (above) having a pedigree stretching back to the works of Robert Tannahill (1774-1810), and surviving in the vast repertoires of revered tradition bearers. Listen to farm servant Willie Mathieson of Ellon, recorded by Hamish Henderson for the School of Scottish Studies in 1952, on the Kist o Riches website.

Harry Lauder was the 'father' of 20th century variety entertainers such as the late Andy Stewart of White Heather Club fame; indeed the melody and character of 'Hey Donal!' is very close to Stewart's hit, 'Donald Where's Yer Troosers?!'

Further reading:
- Paul Maloney, Scotland and the Music Hall, 1850-1914 (Manchester University Press, 2003).
- Frank Bruce, Scottish Showbusiness: Music Hall, Variety and Pantomime (National Museums of Scotland, 2000).
- Gordon Irving, The Good Auld Days: The Story of Scotlands Entertainers from Music Hall to Television (Jupiter Books, London, 1977).

"Hey Donal!" sound file courtesy of the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project, University of California, Santa Barbara Library under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.