> Folk Music > Songs > Sleepytoon


[ Roud 3775 ; G/D 3:356 ; Ballad Index RcSlepTn ; DT SLPYTOON ; Mudcat 89267 ; William Clark, c.1854]

John Mearns of Aberdeen sang Sleepytoun in a 1951 recording on the ca.1955 anthology The Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music - Volume VI: Scotland, and in another recording on his ca. 1964 Scottish Records EP Folk-Songs of the North-East. The latter album’s sleeve notes commented:

Four of the songs in this record—The Guise o’ Tough, Drumdelgie, The Barnyards o’ Delgaty and Sleepytoun—are typical Aberdeenshire ‘Bothy Ballads’. These were the songs made up by the farm-servants and sung by them in the bothies—their living quarters—or around the fire in the farm kitchen. Two features are characteristic. The words all concern the farm servant’s lot—the bargain he struck with his employer; the conditions under which he works; his horses; his plough—and they give a vivid picture of farm life fifty years ago. Again the words were nearly always set to simple tunes with rhythms which could be easily adapted to fit the rhythms of many everyday farm jobs. This was important for the songs not only helped to pass the long winter evenings in the bothy but also lightened the day’s work.

Norman Kennedy sang Sleepytoon in 1965 on the Topic anthology New Voices From Scotland. Arthur Argo and Peter Hall noted:

A former worker at the farm of Sleepytoon told the collector, the Rev. James B. Duncan, that he had worked with the author of this song, William ‘Poet’ Clark. Clark, who came from Alford, and was reputedly awfu’ leernt, write this satire against the hard-hearted farmer about 1854 while in his early twenties. The melody, one of the most common in North-east Scotland, is used for The Toon o’ Kelso on the second site of this record and is a close relative of that normally used for The Battle o’ Harlaw.

Ian Campbell sang Sleepytoon in 1969 on his album Ian Campbell and the Ian Campbell Folk Group with Dave Swarbrick. He noted:

About half of the traditional songs ever collected in Scotland were found in the Buchan district of Aberdeenshire, where this song comes from. The tune and some of the words given here are from the singing of Norman Kennedy, the Aberdeen folksinger; the rest of the words are from the collection of Gavin Greig.

Ian Manuel sang Sleepytoon in 1972 on his Topic album of bothy songs and ballads, The Frosty Ploughshare. A.L. Lloyd noted:

From the neighbourhood of Alford, bang in the middle of Aberdeenshire. It must be understood that unmarried farm hands were fee’d (hired) for six-months’ terms. They were then free to go to the fairs to hire with another master if they chose. In this song, the ploughman finds his new master’s promises aren’t worth the air they’re uttered on. The Rev. J.B. Duncan found a version thirty verses long, in which the farmer’s tyrannies are set out in detail, but the song is usually whittled down to about a third of that length, as here.

Dick Gaughan sang Sleepy Toon at Forrest Hill Bar (Sandy Bell’s) or Pan Audio Studios in Edinburgh for the 1977 album Sandy Bell’s Ceilidh; it was later reissued by Greentrax on cassette and CD.

Alan Roberts and Dougie MacLean sang Sleepy Toon in 1978 on their Plant Life album Caledonia.

Charlie Allan sang Sleepytoon in 1980 on his album It’s Lonely in the Bothy.

Tam Reid sang Sleepytoon in a 1988 recording made at Towie Barclay Castle that was first released on a cassette and in 2003 on his anthology Behind the Bothy Door, Volume 2.

Jim Reid sang Sleepytoun in 2005 on his Greentrax album Yont the Tay.

Iona Fyfe sang Sleepytoon in 2016 on the Iona Fyfe Band’s EP East. She noted:

The Bothy tells the story of a farm hand being hired at a hiring fee and agreeing to the farmers ‘reasonable’ offer and then discovering that the conditions of the work contract were less than adequate. A fine Bothy Ballad from Aberdeenshire. Found in John Ord’s Bothy Songs and Ballads and [in the] Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection Volume 3. Sleepytoon was originally named Christ’s Church until the 1870’s when it became known as Sleepytoon. It can still be found between Rhynie, Kennethmont, Insch and Alford.

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

Sleepytoon (originally called Christ’s Kirk) lies north of Alford in the parish of Kenethmont. Adam Mitchell farmed Sleepytoon from the 1840s until 1858. The song describes an incident where the men refused to eat the scrapings of the wet meal sacks and threatened to strike.

Ellie Beaton of Rothienorman, Aberdeenshire, sang Sleepytoon in 2019 on Malinky’s 20th anniversary album Handsel. They noted:

Written around 1854 by William ‘Poet’ Clark from Alford, this bothy ballad tells the story of the workers on the farm ‘Sleepytown’, as the official maps have it, and how they dealt with their harsh working conditions. Geordie Munson notes that Adam Mitchell farmed Sleepytoon from the 1840s until 1858. The remains of the farm can still be seen today and lie roughly 2 miles west of Insch in Aberdeenshire, a very local song to Ellie from nearby Rothienorman.


Norman Kennedy sings Sleepytoon

It happened at last Whitsuntide
I tired o’ ma place;
So I gaed up tae Insch tae fee,
Ma fortune for tae chase.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
And sing airy irrity addy
And sing airy irrity an

I met wi’ Adam Mitchell
And tae fee we did presume.
He’s a fairmer up Kinethmont way
At a place ca’d Sleepytoon.

“If ye and I agree,” said he,
“I promise ye fair play,
For I never gar ma servants work
mair nor ten ’oors a day.”

“Ye’ll work well when the day is fine,
In rain ye shall work none.
A regular diet ye shall hae
And wages when they’re won.”

“If a’ be true ye tell tae me
I think the place might suit.”
Says I, “I’ll gang wi’ you
although ye are an ugly brute.”

So I agreed tae fee wi’ him
An’ thocht masel well kent
Until I got tae Sleepytoon
And there I did repent.

The order was tae yoke at five
And work while we could see,
“Oh no! you’re not in order Sir,
Defied ye maun be.”

“Will ye defy what I command,
Ye scoundrel that ye are?
Ten ’oors a day did we agree
Deny it if ye daur.”

Next order was tae bed at nine
And never leave the toon,
And ilka time we left it
We’d be fined half a croon.

But we took little heed o’ that
And oftimes took the pass,
Sometimes tae buy tobacco
And sometimes tae court a lass.

The ither lads were often fined
But never lost the hairt,
And I maself was fined a croon
For riding in the cairt.

And noo the term is nearly done
And soon we shall be free,
And wi’ that wary fairmer
I never more will fee.

And noo the term is over
And oor wages we hae won,
So we’ll awa’ tae Rhynie mere
And hae oorselves some fun.

Maybe we’ll see old Adam,
Suppin’ at his brose.
I’ll gie him a len’ o’ ma hankie
For tae dicht his snotty nose.