> Folk Music > Songs > Charlie, O Charlie

Charlie, O Charlie / Pitgair

[ Roud 2584 ; G/D 3:401 ; Ballad Index Ord216 ; Mudcat 48920 ; trad.]

Katherine Campbell: Songs From North-East Scotland Ewan MacColl: The Singing Island John Ord: Bothy Songs and Ballads

Ewan MacColl included Charlie, O Charlie in 1960 in his collection of English and Scots folksongs, The Singing Island, and sang it in 1962 on his Folkways album Popular Scottish Songs. He noted:

There are few bothy songs which speak with the farmer’s voice, and when they do, they often tend to be rather dull. This is not the case with this song, however. The thread of tender irony which runs through it helps to make the farmer’s portrait a realistic one. I learned this song from the singing of John Mearns of Fyvie.

Isla St Clair sang O Charlie, O Charlie on her 1972 Tangent album Isla St Clair Sings Traditional Scottish Songs. She also sang it as Chairlie o’ Chairlie (Pitgair) on her BBC Radio 2 series Tatties & Herrin’, transmitted in 1995 and issued in 1997 on her Greentrax CD Tatties & Herrin’: The Land.

Archie Fisher sang O Charlie, O Charlie in 1976 on his Topic album Will Ye Gang, Love. Arthur Argo noted:

In his important collection Folk-Song of the North-East (1907-11, reprinted 1963), the eminent folklorist Gavin Greig described this “comparatively recent” song as being “unsurpassed in local pastorals for simplicity and natural truth… The air belongs to a type very common in this part of the country. We consider it one of the most beautiful of our traditional melodies, the cadences being particularly fine.” The setting is Banffshire and the song is generally attributed to a local man named Shaw, a parish officer of Alvah, who had a reputation as a poet and character. The pace Archie takes here is slightly faster and more staccato than is normal in the tradition.

Ossian sang Chairlie, oh Chairlie in 1984 on their album Borders. They noted:

In this song from John Ord’s Bothy Songs and Ballads a farmer asks his neighbour to supervise the harvest work in his absence, and bring his own men along to help bring in the crop.

The ‘hungry brosers’ of the last verse refer to the farm labourer’s stape diet of ‘brose’: oatmeal porridge made with hot milk or boiling ale with a glass of whisky added as seasoning. The poor quality of the worker’s fare was the subject of many a bothy song.

Geordie Murison sang Chairlie o’ Pitgair in 2017 on his Tradition Bearers CD The Term Time Is Comin Roon. His album’s liner notes commented:

In this song the farmer is delegating authority to Charlie to look after his farm and workers due to his imminent departure. He left very strict instructions for his individual workers including a no smoking policy in the parlour. Interestingly some of the workers’ names can be found in the 1861 census. Pitgair lies south east of Banff.

Iona Fyfe sang Pitgair on her 2018 CD Away From My Window. She noted:

Known as Charlie o’ Charlie, I first heard this song when I was very young, and have heard it at singarounds and competitions since. A Banffshire bothy ballad, the farm Pitgair is found in the parish of Gamrie. The characters referred to in the song can be identified. It was said to have been written by a man named Shaw, who lived at Alvah and had a reputation of being a ‘rhymer’. Shaw wrote other songs which featured in Gavin Greig’s Folk-Song in Buchan and writes himself into the Pitgair. “Tae the lowsin’ ye’ll pit Shaw, ye’ll pit Sandieson to ca.” Andrew Kindness, referred to as “Andra”, died at Pitgair in 1900. The song dates back to at least 1969, when farming in the North East was at the edge of improvement and mechanisation.

Pitgair can be found in John Ord’s Bothy Songs and Ballads, Greig-Duncan 3:401, Roud 2584

This video shows Iona Fyfe singing Pitgair at Edinburgh Folk Club on 13 September 2017:


Ossian sing Chairlie, oh Chairlie

Chorus (after each verse):
Chairlie, oh Chairlie, come owre frae Pitgair.
And i’ll gle ye oot a’ your orders,
For l maun awa’ o’er yon high Hieland hills,
For a while to leave the bonny Buchan borders.

“The breid was thick, the brose was thin
The broth they were like bree:
I chased the barley round the plate,
And a’ I got were three.”

Oh, Chairlie, oh Chairlie, tak’ notice what I say,
And keep every man to his station.
For I maun awa’ o’er yon high hieland hills
For to view a’ the pairts o’ the nation.

to the loosin’ ye’ll put Shaw, ye’ll put Sandison to ca’,
To the colin ye’ll put auld Andrew Kindness.
Ye’ll gar auld Colliehill aye to feed the threshin’ mill,
And ye’ll see that he does it wi’ great fineness.

To the gaitherin’ o’ the hay ye’ll put little Isa Gray,
And wi’ her ye’ll put her cousin Peggy;
And in ablow the bands, it’s there ye’ll put your hands,
And ye’ll se that they dae it right tidy.

And you Jeannie Todd, ye’ll put on the muckle pot,
And ye’ll mak’ milk porridge a-plenty.
For yon hungry brosers that’s comin’ frae Pitgair,
They’re keepit aye sae bare and sae scanty.

Iona Fyfe sings Pitgair

Chorus (after every other verse):
Charlie, o Charlie, come owre frae Pitgair,
An’ I’ll gie ye out a’ my orders.
For I’m gaun awa’ tae yon high hielan’ hills,
A while to leave the bonny Buchan borders.

O Charlie, o Charlie, tak’ notice what I say,
And pit every man to his station,
For I’m gaun awa’ tae yon high hielan’ hills,
For ti view the parts o’ the nation.

Tae the lowsin’ ye’ll pit Shaw, ye’ll pit Sandieson to ca’,
Ti the colin ye’ll pit aul Andra Kindness.
And aul Colliehill, he’ll feed the mill,
Aye, an see tha he dee’t wi’ great fineness.

Ye’ll pit Eppie tae the mill, aye, and Janet tae the cole,
The ither twa men for tae carry,
And as for George and Jeck ye’ll pit them tae the rake,
Aye, and see that they do not tarry.

Tae the gaitherin’ o’ the hay, ye’ll pit little Isa Gray,
Wi’ her ye’ll pit her cousin o Peggy.
And it’s in below the bands it’s there ye’ll pit your hands,
Aye, and see that they dae it richt tidy.

It’s you, Willy Burr, ye’ll carry on the stir,
Ye’ll keep a’ my merry maids a-hoein’.
And ye’ll tak’ care o’ Jeck, or he’ll play you a trick
And will set a’ my merry maids a-mowin’.

And it’s you, Annie Scott, y’ll pit on the muckle pot,
And mak’ unto them porridge o’ plenty.
For yon hungry brosiers that’s comin’ fraw Pitgair
They live baith bare and scantly.

Ye’ll tak’ little Annie Mack fae the colin’ o’ the quack
Tae help ye the dinner for tar carry,
And at the hour o’ one ye’ll mak’ then a’ tae staun’
At the mull for a moment tae tarry.

O Charlie, o Charlie, foo early ye’ll rise,
Tae see a’ my merry men yokin’.
Any you, Miss Pope, ye’ll sit in the parlour neuk
And will keep all my merry men frae smokin’.