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The Scranky Black Farmer

[ Roud 2872 ; G/D 3:357 ; Ballad Index Ord213 ; trad.]

Norman Buchan and Peter Hall: The Scottish Folksinger Katherine Campbell: Songs From North-East Scotland Ewan MacColl: Folk Songs and Ballads of Scotland John Ord: Bothy Songs and Ballads

Ewan MacColl sang The Scranky Black Farmer in 1961 on his Folkways album Bothy Ballads of Scotland. He noted:

Until recently it was common for East-Anglian countrymen to spend part of the year working on the land and part working .on the sea as herring-fishermen. In N.E. Scotland, however, this was never the practice, the two communities always being sharply divided. Consequently it is unusual to find in the bothy singer’s repertoire a song in which the seaman’s attitude to farm-work is expressed.

From the singing of James Grant of Aberdour, Banffshire.

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

On a farm at Leithhall, near Rhynie, an ‘ill-fated crew’ of labourers have gathered for ploughing and the ‘hairst’ (harvest). Among them is a sailor who fancies giving up the sea. The work is hard, conditions are poor, the master is sour. When the term is over and the workers disperse, the sailor is glad to be making once more for the sea-port. A verse missing from Ian Manuel’s set runs:

The hairst in our country is both early an’ late
An’ a’ kinds o’ drudgery of course we do get;
Our usage is rough an’ our drink is but pale;
It’s the brown bree o’ molasses that we get for ale.

Says Gavin Greig: “The tune is a very fine old Dorian—one of the best I know.” Fair enough.

Arthur Watson sang The Scranky Black Farmer in 1976 on The Gaugers’ Topic album Beware of the Aberdonian. Duncan MacLennan noted:

On the coast of the West Highlands, the people have drawn a living from both sea and land, and the crofter-fisherman was common. Likewise, in East Anglia, the year was often divided between work on sea and land. In the North-East of Scotland, however, the fishing and farming communities were much more sharply divided. It is unusual, therefore, to find that in this bothy song the narrator appears to be of a seafaring background, possibly drafted in initially for the seasonal work of harvest. Whatever his background, however, his opinion of the farmer is little different from that expressed by most bothy singers.

Jock Duncan sang The Scranky Black Fermer in 2001 on his Sleepytown CD Tae the Green Woods Gaen. Ronnie Cairns noted:

In some parts it is not uncommon for the working year to be divided between the land and the sea. Not so in the north east of Scotland where fishers and farmers have always been, and even today, remain as separate communities.

This is an unusual bothy ballad therefore, in that the words are attributed to someone with a fisher’s background.

Even so, his opinion of the working conditions afforded to fee’d men and women is consistent with the sentiments of most other such bothy ballads!

Jock: The scranky (or greedy!) fermer hired a vast squad of men and weemen tae clear the harvest fields.

This ferm at Earlsfield is still in existence but no longer needs the fowk or their scythes. Nooadays there’s machinery for a’ that.

But there’s nae fun or human fellowship in a combine.

Shona Donaldson sang The Scranky Black Fermer in 2010 on her Deveron Projects album Short Nichts and Lang Kisses. She noted:

Although the tune and text are traditional I thought I would record my version of this fantastic bothy ballad. The Scranky Black Fermer was a man called Daniel Skinner who lived in Earlsfield, Kennethmont. I learnt the tune from Jock Duncan, a wonderful singer of traditional songs who originally comes from the North East but now resides in Pitlochry.

Geordie Murison sang Scranky Black Farmer in 2017 on his Tradition Bearers CD The Term Time Is Comin Roon.


Ewan MacColl sings The Scranky Black Farmer

At the tap o’ the Garioch in the lands of Leithhall,
A scranky black farmer in Earlsfield did dwall;
Wi’ him I engaged a servant to be,
Which makes me lament I went far frae the sea.

I engaged wi’ this farmer to drive cart and ploo;
Hard fortune convenit an ill-fated crew,
I ane of the number which causes me rue
That e’er I attempted the country to view.

It’s early in the mornin’ we rise to the yoke,
The storm and the tempest can ne’er make up stop.
While the wind it does beat and the rain it does pour,
And ay yon black farmer on us he does glowre.

But the time is expiring and the day it will come
To various countries we all must go home;
Bonnie Jeannie must travel, bonnie Bawbie also,
Back to the beyont o’ Montgomery must go.

So farewell, Rhynie, and adieu to you, Clatt,
For I hae been wi’ you baith early and late.
Baith early and late, baith empty and fou,
So farewell, Rhynie, I’ll bid you adieu.

So farewell, Bawbie, and adieu to you all
, Likewise to the farmer that lives at Leithhall;
For to serve this black farmer I’m sure it’s nae sport,
So I will be going to my bonnie seaport.

Jock Duncan sings The Scranky Black Fermer

At the tap o’ the Garioch, in the lands o’ Leithha’
A scranky black fermer in Earlsfield did dwall,
Wi’ him I engaged for a servant tae be,
I did lament I gaed faur fae the sea.

I engaged wi’ that fermer tae ca’ cairt an’ ploo,
Hard fortune convenit for an ill fated crew,
I ane o’ a number an’ it caused me tae rue
That ere I attempted the country tae view.

Up tae the Laich country my course I did steer,
Tae the parish o’ Kennethmont, you shortly shall hear,
Their customs and fashions tae me a’ seem’d new,
My rapid proceedings full sair I did rue.

At the heid o’ the Garioch, the hairst hands did appear,
Fae various places, some faur, an’ some near,
Fae the deep Howe o’ Alford and Keith and Strathspey,
Fae Towie, the Knock an’ roon Bogniebrae.

The hairst in oor country is baith early an’ late,
An’ a’ kin’ o’ drudgery of coorse we dae get,
Oor usage is roch an oor ale is bit pale,
It’s the broon bree o’ molasses that we get for ale.

It’s early in the mornin’ we arise tae the yoke,
Nae storm or tempest can ne’er mak us stop,
The win’ it dis howl, an’ the rain it dis pour,
An’ aye yon black fermer on us he dis glow’r.

Bit the hairst it is ended, an’ the day it his come,
Tae various places we a’ maun gae hame,
Bonnie Jeannie maun traivel, bonnie Bawbie as weel,
Tae the back o’ beyont Montgomery dis dwell.

Oh fareweel Rhynie, adieu tae ye a’,
Likewise tae yon fermer that lives at Leithha’,
For tae serve thon black fermer, I’m sure is nae sport,
So I will be gaun back tae my bonnie seaport.

Oh fareweel Rhynie, adieu tae ye Clatt,
I hae been wi’ ye baith early an’ late,
Baith early an’ late, baith teemed an’ baith fu’,
Oh fareweel Rhynie, I’ll bid ye adieu!