Scottish Work Songs
Work songs were commonplace in Scotland for hundreds of years and, whatever the activity, there would be a song to accompany it and match the speed at which it was being undertaken. These songs also served a social purpose, as they enabled people to relate specific thoughts about their communities and the subjects that were important to them. Songs sung together also generated a bond between the participants, giving a sense of attachment and of sharing experiences while toiling together.
There are two main categories of work songs – those that were sung while work was being done and those about work that were sung in people’s leisure time. Songs in the first category include those that were sung while waulking, milking cows, rowing, spinning wool, and churning butter. The second category of work songs includes bothy ballads, songs about whaling, fishing, mining, and railway and mill work.
Bothy ballads originated in the farming areas of the north east of Scotland, at a time when unmarried farm laborers lived in outbuildings known as bothies. Conditions in the bothies could be grim and the cattle and horses often had better accommodation than they did. In the evenings the laborers would sing to entertain themselves. As well as old songs, they would compose songs about their experiences on the farms. Often the songs would be critical of the farmer, although a few were praised, and these social commentaries of country life came to be known as bothy ballads. One such example is ‘The Barnyards o Delgaty’ in which the composer pokes fun at the farm on which he works and the other farm workers. It is sung here by George Inglis Fraser from Aberdeenshire. The Delgaty being sung about is our very own Delgaty Castle, the Clay Hay Center in Turriff, Scotland.