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Twa Recruiting Sergeants

[ Roud 3356 ; G/D 1:77 ; Ballad Index GrD1077 ; DT TWARECRU ; Mudcat 28076 ; trad.]

Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection 101 Scottish Songs The Cruel Wars

Gavin Greig collected the Old Recruiting Soldier Song in 1908 from John Wight. This is the longest of four versions of The Recruiting Sergeants in volume 1 of the Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection.

John Strachan of Fyvie, Aberdeenshire, sang List, Bonny Laddie in a 1951 Peter Kennedy recording (BBC 21531) on the anthology A Soldier’s Life for Me (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 8; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970).

Jeannie Robertson sang The Twa Recruiting Sergeants in two recordings made by Hamish Henderson at the end of the 1950s on her 1960 Collector album Lord Donald and on her 1984 Lismor album Up the Dee and Doon the Don. Hamish Henderson commented in the first album’s sleeve notes:

A familiar figure of Scottish fairs and feeing markets in the old day was the recruiting sergeant, strutting around and looking for likely recruits among the greener-looking farm labourers. Once a lad had been cajoled—or duped—into accepting the King’s shilling, he was in the bag.

This song captures superbly the gallus swagger and coaxing blarney of the Highland sergeant, reminding his quarry of the miserable “slavery” job he can escape from, and flavouring the bait with a dash of martial glory.

Gavin Greig printed two fragments of The Twa Recruitin’ Sergeants in one of his articles in the Buchan Observer in 1911, but Jeannie’s version is the best and fullest to date.

The Ian Campbell Folk Group sang Twa Recruiting Sergeants in 1963 on their Transatlantic album This Is the Ian Campbell Folk Group, citing Jeannie Robertson as their source.

They also sang it on the 1963 Hullabaloo ABC Television programme broadcast on 26 October 1963.

Nigel Denver sang Twa Recruitin’ Sergeants in 1964 on his eponymous Decca album Nigel Denver.

The Exiles sang The Twa Recruiting Sergeants in 1966 on their Topic album Freedom, Come All Ye. They commented in their sleeve notes:

At first glance this seems rather a jingoistic piece, and indeed Gavin Greig in Folk-Song of the North-East prints a later version in which the chorus runs:

Queen Victoria commands us by land and sea.
It’s out over the hills and awa’ wi’ me.

Nevertheless, the recruiting sergeant, in the course of his exhortation, contrives to catalogue at length the burdens of hard work, bad conditions and greedy employers endured by the bothy workers of Scotland, whose song this is. Our version is from the singing of Jeannie Robertson of Aberdeen.

Martin Carter sang Twa Recruiting Sergeants in 1971 on his Traditional Sound album Someone New.

Isla St Clair sang Twa Recruiting Sergeants on the 1977 soundtrack album of her BBC Radio 2 series, Tatties & Herrin’: The Land.

Cilla Fisher and Artie Trezise sang Twa Recruitin’ Sergeants in 1978 on their album For Foul Day and Fair.

Woodbine Lizzie sang Twa Recruiting Sergeants in 1979 on their Fellside album Woodbine Lizzie By Numbers.

Tam Reid sang Twa Recruitin’ Sergeants 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.

The Gaugers sang List Bonnie Lassie in 1990 on their Springthyme cassette / later Sleepytoon CD The Fighting Scot.

Ray Fisher sang Twa Recruiting Sergeants, accompanied by Martin Carthy on guitar and by John Kirkpatrick on melodeon, in 1991 on her Saydisc CD Traditional Songs of Scotland. This track was also included in 2004 on the anthology of folk songs and fiddle music from North East Scotland, Where the Laverock Sings. Ray commented in her original album’s liner notes:

The farming communities of Scotland were a favourite haunt of the recruiting officers of the leading regiments, such as in this case the Black Watch. The technique they used was to remind the young farm hands of all the hardships and restrictions that a life on the land entailed. Enlisting in the regiment could also provide an escape route for those who had carelessly got their sweetheart “wi’ bairn”, as the song says in the final verse. What it fails to say is that those same young men could be blown to smithereens any day of the week if they decided to enlist! Taken from the singing of Jeannie Robertson.

Geordie Murison sang Twa Recruiting Sergeants, at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife, in May 2003 or May 2004. This recording was included in 2005 on the festival CD Here’s a Health to the Company (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 1). The album liner notes commented:

It was the singing of Jeannie Robertson in the folk clubs of the 1960s that brought this song to the wider public. Even before the 1745 Jacobite Uprising, the government were using the fighting qualities of the Highlanders in British regiments. Even so, they had to sometimes work hard to persuade the young lads to sign up and take the King’s shilling. The recruiting officer offered adventure and a tempting escape from poverty, the hardships of work on the land or from family responsibility. Versions of the song date back to at least the early 1700s.

Jim Malcolm sang Twa Recruiting Sergeants on his 2014 album The Corncrake. He noted:

The Black Watch has a long and proud history which is wonderfully displayed at its recently renovated museum at Balhousie Castle Perth. The work of the nineteenth century recruiting sergeants was to convince the poor young farm workers living in the farm bothies to turn their backs on the soil and join up to wear the red hackle and the famous dark kilt.

Allan Taylor sang Twa Recruiting Sergeants live at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, in a concert Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the TMSA. This was published in 2016 on the TMSA DVD 101 Scottish Songs: The Wee Red Book.

Fraser and Ian Bruce sang Twa Recruitin’ Sergeants on the 2017 CD Auld Hat New Heids.

This video shows Iona Fyfe singing Twa Recruiting Sergeants at the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year Final in February 2017:

Findlay Napier and Gillian Frame sang Twa Recruitin’ Sergeants on their 2020 album of songs from Norman Buchan’s late 1950s and early 1960s The Scotsman articles, The Ledger.


John Wight sings Old Recruiting Soldier Song

A recruiting soldier came frae the Black Watch to the markets,
And ever as some troops for it he did catch,
And aye as he listed some forty and twa,
Come out o’er the hills and far awa.

Chorus (after each verse):
I over the mountains and over the main,
Through Gibraltar, France, and Spain,
Queen Victoria commands us by land and by sea,
It’s out over the hills and awa wi’ me.

Now, ploughman lad, great is the danger you’re in,
Your horse may scare and your owsen may rin,
The farmer will judge for to buy your penny fee,
So list, bonnie laddie, and come wi’ me.

It’s awa wi’ your tawties, your meal and your kale,
Your ill-syed sowens and stinkin’ ale,
Your stinkin’ whey and bread fired raw,
So list, bonnie laddie, and come awa.

Now, my lad, if you chance to get a bairn,
We’ll soon rid your hand of that.
And you need not pay a farthing of the law,
So list, bonnie laddie, and come awa.

A reeky fire and a rinnin’-oot pan,
Three little weans and a wife for to ban,
Three beats o’ the drum will rid you o’ that a,
So list, bonnie laddie, and come awa.

Ray Fisher sings Twa Recruiting Sergeants

O twa recruiting sergeants cam’ fra the Black Watch
Thru’ mairkets and fairms, some recruits for tae catch.
But a’ that they ’listed was forty and twa’,
Sae list, bonnie laddie, and come awa’.

Chorus (after each verse):
For it’s over the mountains and over the main
Thru’ Giber-alter tae France and Spain.
Wi’ a feather tae yer bunnet and a kilt abune yer knee
Sae list, bonnie laddie, and come awa’ wi’ me.

O laddie, ye dinna ken the danger that ye’re in,
If yer horses wis tae take fright, and yer owsen wis tae rin.
That greedy auld fairmer wadna pay yer fee,
Sae list, bonnie laddie, and come awa’ wi’ me.

For it’s oot o’ the barn and intae the byre,
This auld fairmer thinks ye’ll never tire.
It’s a slavery o’ a life o’ low degree,
Sae list, bonnie laddie, and come awa’ wi’ me.

Wi’ yer tattie-pourin’s and yer meal and kail,
Yer soor sowen soorins and yer ill-brewed ale,
Wi’ yer buttermilk and whey, and yer breid fired raw,
Sae list, bonnie laddie, and come awa’.

Noo, laddie, if ye hae a sweetheart wi’ bairn,
Ye’ll easily get rid o’ yer ill-spun yarn.
Twa rattles o’ the drum, aye, and that’ll pey it a’,
Sae list, bonnie laddie, and come awa’.