Michael Brander’s Scottish & Border Battles & Ballads

scottish2Lahri Bond penned this review.

Scottish & Border Battles & Ballads is a mouthful, even for a Scot, and the concept is a little vague if you are impulse-buying this book. These are not ballads about the Scottish borders and battles but rather ballads specifically about battles fought in Scotland and its borders. The distinction is worth noting, for you will find none of the magical Border ballads about Tam Lin, Thomas the Rhymer or Michael Scott the wizard contained within.

What you will find is a very well-researched and expertly collected selection of ballads that chronicle the time between the Battle of Largs (1263) and the famous Battle of Culloden (1746). Chapters are skillfully arranged in order of historical setting, grouping well known and rarer ballads together, in some cases for the first time. Each chapter begins with a brief introduction to Scottish military and political history before introducing the lyrics, in many cases the musical notation, and sometimes even maps related to the events.

Detailed chapters are devoted to such colorful historic figures as William Dunbar, Johnnie Armstrong, Parcy Reed, Kinmont Willie and of course Bonnie Prince Charlie. Locations of great fame such as Otterburn, Bannockburn, Killicrankie and Falkirk are also celebrated. Since most of these ballads came down through Scotland’s rich oral tradition, the author provides lyrical and musical variants when important, as well as footnotes on lesser known Scottish terms or words written in the English/Scottish/Gaelic dialect known as broad Scots.

For those with even a passing interest in this part of Scotland’s political history, this is an excellent beginner’s volume, for in true Scottish tradition, the glories of the past are best told, not in dry academic terms, but by singing them proudly and lustily.

 (Clarkson N. Potter, 1975)

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