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The Rigs of Rye

[ Roud 985 ; Laws O11 ; G/D 5:1054 ; Ballad Index LO11 ; Mudcat 168484 ; trad.]

Bothy Songs and Ballads Folk Songs and Ballads of Scotland

This beautiful Scottish love song has long been popular with thirty-five versions in the Greig-Duncan collection. The earliest record of the song may be a chapbook with the title Ridges of Rye printed in Glasgow by J. & M. Robertson in 1799.

Archie Fisher sang The Rigs o' Rye on the Fisher Family's 1966 Topic album Traditional & New Songs from Scotland. Norman Buchan noted on the album sleeve:

A love song from the great singing area of Scotland, the North-East. In the 1920s Superintendent Ord published his Bothy Ballads. Despite his puritan excisions it remains one of the best collections of such songs. Like Greig before him, but without his scholarship, he collected them from the ploomen and kitchie deems of Aberdeenshire. Perhaps because of the larger size of the farms in the Buchan area, the right number of workers were available for a ceilidh in the bothies and the songs remained here long after they tended to die out elsewhere. This song—and others like it—with its narrative line, its pretended betrayal, and its specific references (Brechin and Montrose) is worth contrasting to the rather abstract love-songs of Burns and undoubtedly guides us as to the kind of material from which his songs were created.

Sara Grey and Ed Trickett sang Rigs of Rye in 1970 on their eponymous Folk-Legacy album Sara Grey with Ed Trickett. Sara Paton noted:

Sara learned this lovely Scottish song from Archie Fisher who recorded it on The Fisher Family. A Glasgow organist named J.B. Allan collected the song from an ex-Aberdeenshire plowman and it was then published in John Ord's Bothy Songs and Ballads (1930). G. Malcolm Laws, listing Two Rigs of Rye as O11 in his American Balladry from English Broadsides, refers to versions from England, Michigan, and Maine—the last (found in BFSSNE, see below) sounding quite different with its Americanised language and unhappy ending.

“Rig” is a form of “ridge”, meaning a raised strip of land between the furrows of plowed field. Brechin and Montrose are two neighbouring towns in northeast Scotland.

The song has also been recorded by Gordeanna McCulloch on The Clutha. Printed references include Sing Out, XXII No. 6, Bulletin of the Folk-Song Society of the Northeast, No. 1, 1930 (as Sweet July), and Folk Songs and Ballads of Scotland, edited by Ewan MacColl.

Barbara Dickson was recorded singing The Rigs o' Rye live in some folk club, possibly The Elbow Room, Cuckold, or the Brig, Leeds, in between 1969-73. This recording was included in 2013 on her album B4 Seventy-Four: The Folkclub Tapes. A June 1968 recording from Braes in the parish of Portee, Isle of Skye, can be heard on Tobar an Dualchais. She also sang The Rigs o' Rye on the 2019 Fylde Guitars tribute anthology Strings That Nimble Leap.

This video shown Barbara Dickson singing The Rigs o' Rye at Sandy Bell's in Edinburgh in 2007, accompanied by Troy Donockley on guitar:

The Clutha sang The Rigs o' Rye in 1974 on their Topic album Scots Ballads, Songs & Dance Tunes. Don Martin commented in the liner notes:

From John Ord’s Bothy Songs and Ballads. Noted down by J.B. Allan, a Glasgow organist, from the singing of an ex-Aberdeenshire ploughman. The simple romantic sentiments of country songs of this type should not be confused with the contrived luxuriance of products of the kailyaird school.

Dick Gaughan sang Rigs o' Rye in 1977 on his Trailer album Kist o' Gold.

Jane Turriff sang Rigs o' Rye at West Church Hall, Kinross Festival in 1979. This recording by Allan Palmer was included in 1996 on her Springthyme CD Singin Is Ma Life and in 2000 on the EFDSS anthology Everybody Swings. The original album's booklet noted:

Thirty-five versions of Hamish Henderson's favourite Jane Turriff song appear in the Greig-Duncan collection, including this fine verse:

This couple they are married noo,
And they have bairnies one or two,
And live in Brittany the winter through,
And in Montrose in summer.

Jane: “Oh it's a great song, it's a great song. It's ma grandma's song I learned aff o ma Ma.”

Robin Dransfield sang The Rigs o' Rye in 1980 on his Topic album Tidewave. A live recording from the Medway Folk Centre, 14 November 1972 was included as bonus track on the album's CD reissue.

A recording of Fred Jordan singing The Rigs of Rye made by Dave Bryant in 1978 or 1979 was included on his Veteran anthology A Shropshire Lad. Mike Yates noted:

It is not surprising that Fred should have picked up this fine Scottish song, which he probably first heard in a folk club or festival. At one time it must have been extremely well-known throughout Scotland, with Gavin Greig collecting at least 35 sets. John Ord, who included the song in his 1930 collection of Bothy Songs and Ballads, was clearly unaware of Greig's work when he wrote, “This fine old country song appears to have been missed by all the well-known collectors.” A chapbook version, dated 1806 and titled The Ridges of Rye, is housed in the Glasgow University Library.

Norman Kennedy sang The Rigs o Rye at live concerts in Aberdeen in 1996. This recording by Tom Spiers was included in 2002 on Kennedy's Tradition Bearers album Live in Scotland.

June Tabor sang The Rigs of Rye on her 2007 Topic CD Apples. She commented in her sleeve notes:

Like the broken token ballad (e.g. The Plains of Waterloo), the classic Scottish love song The Rigs of Rye, in which a girl's resolve and loyalty are put to the test, shows at least a belief in the power of true love, whatever the reality might have been.

The Australian family group The Fagans learned The Rigs of Rye from the singing of Robin Dransfield when they lived in England in 1981. They recorded it in 2009 for their CD Milk and Honey Land.

Jim Taylor sang Rigs o' Rye live at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2009. This recording was included in 2010 on the festival CD There's Bound to Be a Row (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Vol. 6). The album's booklet tersely noted:

This beautiful love song has long been popular, with thirty-five versions in the Greig-Duncan collection.

Andy Turner learned The Rigs of Rye from Dick Gaughan's album and from the words in Ord's book Bothy Songs and Ballads. He sang it on 27 July 2012 as the week 49 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

This video shows Shelagh McDonald singing Rigs o' Rye at A' the Airts, Sanquhar, Dumfries & Galloway, on 29 March 2013:

George Duff sang The Rigs o' Rye in 2016 on his CD The Collier Laddie.

Dougie Mackenzie sang The Rigs o' Rye on his 2019 Greentrax album Along the Way. He noted:

A young lad is testing his lass to be sure of her love. This much-loved song can be found in the Greig-Duncan collection Vol 5.

Iona Fyfe taught Rigs o' Rye on 5 May 2020 in her Traditional Ballad Workshop #2 on her Patreon page.

Lyrics

Sara Grey sings The Rigs of Rye

'Twas in the month of sweet July,
Before the sun had pierced the sky,
I sat between two rigs of rye,
And I heard two lovers talking.

This lad said, “Lassie, I must away;
I have no longer time to stay.
But I've a word or two to say,
If you've got time to tarry.

“Your father of you he tak's great care,
Your mother combs doon your yellow hair;
Your sisters say that you'll get nae share
If you gang wi' me, a stranger.”

“Let my father fret and my mother frown;
My sisters' words I do disown.
Though they were deid and below the ground,
I would gang with you, a stranger.”

“Oh, lassie, lassie, your fortune's sma',
And, though it may be nane at a',
I'm no' a match for you at a'.
Go lay your love on some other.”

This lassie's courage began to fail,
Her rosy cheeks they grew wan and pale,
And the tears cam' trickling doon like hail
Or a heavy shower in summer.

He's ta'en his handkerchief, linen fine,
He s dried her tears, and he s kissed her syne,
Saying, “Lassie, lassie you will he mine;
I said it all to try thee.”

This lad being courage hold,
A lad scarcely nineteen years old,
He's ranged the hills and the valleys o'er,
And he s ta en his lassie with him.

This couple they are married noo,
And they have bairnies one and two,
And they live in Brechin the winter through,
And in Montrose in summer.

Jane Turriff sings The Rigs of Rye

It wis in between twa rigs o rye,
When I heard two lovers talkin;
“I hear my love you are going away,
An no longer here you mean to stay.”

“I will give to you, five hundered pounds
If you'll marry me a poor stranger;
Let mammy weep, let daddy frown,
Let sister's words fall to the ground;
But I will lay down five hundered pounds,
If you'll marry me a poor stranger.”

For it wis in between twa rigs o rye
When I heard two lovers talkin;
“I hear my love you are going away,
No longer here you mean to stay;
But I will lay down five hundred pounds
If you'll marry me a poor stranger.”

The tears came fallin from her eye,
Like a heavy shower in summer bloom;
But he held his hankie rollin fine
And he kissed her cheeks and dimples fine.

“I hear my love you are going away,
No longer here you mean to stay,
But I will lay down five hundered pounds,
If you'll marry me, a poor stranger.”

Fred Jordan sings The Rigs of Rye June Tabor sings The Rigs of Rye

'Twas in the month of sweet July
Before the sun had pierced the sky
'Twas down among the rigs o' rye
I heard two lovers talking.

'Twas in the month of sweet July,
Before the sun had pierced the sky;
Down between two rigs of rye
I heard two lovers talking.

Said the laddie, “Lassie I must away
I have no longer time to stay
But I've a word or two to say
If you'd with me tarry,

Said he, “Lassie, I must away,
Along with you I cannot stay,
But I've a word or two to say
If you've the time to listen.”

“Oh, your father of you, oh, he takes great care
Your mother combs down your golden hair
Well your sister says that you'll get no share
If you go with me, a stranger.”

“Of your father he takes great care,
Your mother combs your yellow hair;
But your sisters say you'll get no share
If you follow me, a stranger.”

“Let my father fret and my mother frown
My sister’s words I do disown
Though they were dead and beneath the ground
I’d go with you, a stranger.”

“My father may fret and my mother may frown,
My sisters too I do disown;
If they were all dead and below the ground
I would follow you, a stranger.”

“But, lassie, lassie, your fortune's small
And maybe will have none at all
And you're no match for me at all
Go lay your love on another.”

“Oh lassie, lassie, your portion's small,
Perhaps it may be none at all.
You're not a match for me at all
So go and wed with some other.”

This lassie's courage began to fail
Her rosy cheeks they grew wan and pale
And tears came trickling down like hail
Or a heavy shower in the summer,

The lassie's courage began to fail,
Her rosy cheeks grew wan and pale;
And the tears come trickling down like hail,
Or a heavy shower in the summer.

But he's taken his handkerchief linen fine
He's wiped her teardrops from her eyen
“Oh, Lassie, lassie you will be mine
I only meant to try you.”

This lad he being of courage fine,
He's dried her tears and he's kissed her eyes,
Saying, “Weep no more lass, you shall be mine,
I said it all to try you.”

This couple now, they married are
And they have bairnies one and two
And they live in Brechin the winter through
And in Montrose in the summer.

This couple they are married now,
And they have bairnies one and two;
And they live in Brechin the winter through,
Aye, and in Montrose in summer.