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The Deil’s Awa Wi’ th’ Exciseman

[ Roud 16787 ; DT DEVFIDDL ; Robert Burns]

Ewan MacColl sang The Deil’s Awa Wi’ th’ Exciseman in 1959 on his Folkways album Songs of Robert Burns. The liner notes commented:

In the last years of his life, while living in the town of Dumfries, Burns was an exciseman, government officer who inspects and rates articles liable to taxation. An old tune gave Burns the idea for this wildly farcical assault on tax collectors. It is said that Burns sang it at a dinner of fellow officers.

Jean Redpath sang The De’il’s Awa Wi’ th’ Exciseman in 1976 on her album The Songs of Robert Burns Volume 1. Serge and Esther Hovey noted:

The lyrics reflect Burns’s own experience with the job of Exciseman. The original lyrics were penned on a piece of excise paper, ruled on the back with red lines. He wrote to Lady Elizabeth Cunningham:

People may talk as they please of the ignominy of the Excise, but what will support my family and keep me independent of the world is to me a very important matter; and I had much rather that my Profession borrowed credit from me, than I borrowed credit from my Profession. Another advantage I have in this business is, the knowledge it gives me of the various shades of Human Character; and consequently assisting me in my trade as a Poet.

–-23 December 1789

The Tannahill Weavers sang The Deil’s Awa’ Wi’ th’ Exciseman on their 1978 album The Old Woman’s Dance.

Janet Russell and Christine Kydd sang The Deil’s Awa Wi’ th’ Exciseman in 1987 on their Greentrax album Janet Russell & Christine Kydd. This track was included in 1989 on the Greentrax anthology Music & Song of Scotland. They also sang this song in 1996 on the Linn anthology The Complete Songs of Robert Burns Volume 2.

Ceolbeg sang The Deil’s Awa Wi the Exciseman on their 1990 album Not the Bunny Hop.

Gil Bowman sang The De’il’s Awa’ Wi’ th’ Exciseman in 1994 on her Greentrax album of love songs of Robert Burns, Toasting the Lassies. She also sang it in her duo macAlias with Karine Polwart in 2000 on their Greentrax album Highwired. They noted:

The De’il’s Awa is Burns’ acknowledgement, as a tax collector himself, that it’s not the most popular job in town!

Hector Gilchrist and Liz Thompson sang The Deil’s Awa Wi the Exciseman in 1996 on their WildGoose album of songs of Robert Burns, The Lea Rig. Hector Gilchrist noted:

Written by the poet during a spell of boredom whilst engaged in observing a smuggler’s vessel stranded off the Solway Coast. It is said that the tardiness of one of his fellow officers in returning with re-enforcements was the inspiration for the words. There is some doubt as to the source of the tune, but it may be the Hempdresser, a tune of English origin first published in 1756. The song is followed by two fiddle tunes, Hexham Races and Athol Highlanders.

Robin Laing sang The Deil’s Awa’ Wi’ th’ Exciseman in 1997 on his Greentrax album The Angels’ Share. He noted:

Of course Robert Burns was himself an Exciseman. Just as well he wrote things like this, or he may not have become our national bard!

The verse is from his poem Scotch Drink

Jim Malcolm sang The Deil’s Awa Wi’ the Exciseman on his 2007 album of songs of Robert Burns, Acquaintance, and in 2010 on his Robert Burns DVD Bard Hair Day. He noted:

I had the most fun recording this track, which I struggled with until the penny dropped that it’s all about the fiddle. There it is in the first line, after all. Cue Pete Clark, whose fiddling has always been diabolical (-ly good). I love the image of these two equally loathsome characters—the Devil and the Taxman—jigging into the sunset to the mirth and celebration of some muddy Ayrshire village folk. Listen out for my horror laugh; I’ve been practising for years in hope of frightening the weans.

Ed Miller sang The De’il’s Awa’ Wi’ th’ Exciseman on his 2010 album of songs written or collected by Robert Burns, Lyrics of Gold. Hector Gilchrist noted:

Almost certainly an original work by Burns, who, ironically, worked as an exciseman in his latter years. No one is less popular than a tax-collector and revenuer; so the concept of one being carried off by the devil would be highly popular. Some believe this may have been written by Burns as he waited for reinforcements before boarding a suspected smuggling ship in the Solway Firth; but that’s probably an imaginative myth.

Twelfth Day sang The Deil’s Awa’ on their 2010 album Northern Quarter.


Jim Malcolm sings The Deil’s Awa Wi’ the Exciseman

The deil cam fiddlin thro’ the town
And danced awa wi’ th’ Exciseman;
And ilka wife cries, “Auld Mahoun,
I wish you luck o’ the prize, man.”

Chorus (after each verse):
The deil’s awa, the deil’s awa,
The deil’s awa wi’ th’ Exciseman,
He’s danced awa, he’s danced awa,
He’s danced awa wi’ th’ Exciseman.

We’ll mak our maut and we’ll brew our drink,
We’ll laugh, sing and rejoice, man;
And mony braw thanks to the muckle black deil,
That danc’d awa wi’ th’ Exciseman.

There’s threesome reels, there’s foursome reels,
There’s hornpipes and strathspeys, man,
But ay the best dance e’er cam to the land,
Was, The Deil’s Awa Wi’ th’ Exciseman.