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Jimmy MacBeath: Hey Barra Gadgie (1953)

MacBeath, vocal. Recorded at Alan Lomax's flat, London. November 14, 1953. From "Whaur the Pig Gaed On the Spree: Scottish Recordings by Alan Lomax, 1951-1957," released on LP by Twos & Fews / Drag City and digitally by Global Jukebox, November 8, 2011.

Jimmy MacBeath sings a song in Cant, the language of the Scottish Travellers. MacBeath (1894--1972) was born in a North-east fishing community — that of 'bonny Portsoy'. Like Stewart, he left home early to wander, finding farming work that, while strenuous and often brutal (he was once beaten with a cart chain for not properly controlling his horses), bequeathed him the bothy ballads and cornkisters for which he would become known. After service in the Great War — with the Gordons in Flanders, and later with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Ireland — he returned to find that he could make more money with considerably fewer struggles by singing on the road, at the fairs, and in the pubs. MacBeath made his living tramping for years, rooming in 'model lodging houses' (or, more to the point, flophouses), before Alan Lomax and Hamish Henderson recorded him in Turriff in 1951, where he visited regularly to sing at the 'Turra Fair'. The British folk revival made a bona fide star of Jimmy, starting with the People's Festival Ceilidh in 1951. He appeared at countless ceilidhs, festivals, as well as on BBC radio and TV, until his passing in 1972, a few days after Hogmanay.

In the Summer of 1951, Alan Lomax made his first trip to Scotland on the recommendations of folksinger Ewan MacColl and poet, song-collector and Scots nationalist Hamish Henderson. Through the Scottish Lowlands, Lomax and Henderson recorded children's games, pipe tunes, laborers, Robert Burns compositions and dozens of ballads from farm laborers, fishwives, and the Scottish Traveling folk. Alan wasn't just impressed by the variety of the country's traditional music; he was astounded by the depth of Scots' knowledge and appreciation of it.

"Whaur the Pig Gaed On the Spree" commemorates the 60th anniversary of Lomax's first Scottish recordings and acknowledges their profound effect on the Scotland's folk revival with one of its most gifted heirs at the wheel: Drag City recording artist Alasdair Roberts. Curated by Roberts and produced in collaboration with the Drag City imprint Twos & Fews, the record is a startlingly diverse portrait of Lowland traditional music and song — from gentle to rumbustious, hilarious to heartbreaking — featuring brand new remastering from the original tapes and many previously unreleased performances.