> June Tabor > Songs > When I Was Noo But Sweet Sixteen

When I Was Noo But Sweet Sixteen / The Bothy Lads

[ Roud 5138 ; Ballad Index RcWIWNBS ; Mudcat 88570 ; trad.]

Jeannie Robertson sang When I Was Noo But Sweet Sixteen, in a recording made at her home in 1955, on her 1957 Riverside album Songs of a Scots Tinker Lady. Another recording made by Bill Leader in 1959 was released in the same year on her eponymous Topic album Jeannie Robertson, and was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology Who’s That at My Bed Window? (The Voice of the People Volume 10). Hamish Henderson commented in both vinyl album’s sleeve notes:

This song of the forsaken maiden is less tragic than most of the same type. The reproach levelled at the wanton and deceiving ploughboy lads is not without affection. The song is best known on Speyside, and, indeed, is often called Peggy on the Banks o’ the Spey.

Ray Fisher sang When I Was Noo But Sweet Sixteen on the 1964 Decca album Edinburgh Folk Festival Vol. 2.

Jeannie Robertson’s nephew Stanley Robertson sang When I Wis New But Sweet Sixteen at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2005. This recording was included a year later on the festival anthology For Friendship and for Harmony Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 2).

Cilla Fisher and Artie Trezise sang this song as The Bothy Lads in 1976 on their album For Foul Day and Fair. They commented:

The Bothy Lads we learned from a great enthusiast amd performer of bothy songs, Charles Murray of Forfar, who has lived in bothies and farms for most of his life. We added the second verse from the Plooboy Laddies.

June Tabor learned When I Was Noo But Sweet Sixteen from the singing of Jeannie Robertson and recorded it in 2011 for her second album with the Oysterband, Ragged Kingdom.

Claire Hastings sang The Bothy Lads in 2016 on her first CD, Between River and Railway. She commented:

From the North East of Scotland, this song tells the story of a young woman that has been wronged by a farm worker (a ‘bothy lad’). I learned it from the singing of Cilla Fisher and Artie Trezise.

This video shows Claire Hastings at her album launch in Glasgow in May 2016:

Ye Vagabonds sang The Bothy Lads as the B-side of their 2021 single I’m a Rover. They noted:

We first heard this from our good friends Luke Mercier and Anthony Mannion in Walsh’s one night, and they introduced us to the singing of Cilla Fisher and Artie Trezise, from whom we learned this song.


June Tabor sings When I Was Noo But Sweet Sixteen

When I was noo but sweet sixteen
With beauty just a-blooming o,
It’s little, little did I think
At nineteen I’de be greeting o.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
For the ploughboy lads they’re gey braw lads
But they’re false and they’re deceiving o:
For they’ll take your all and they’ll gang awa
And leave their lasses grieving o.

O I was fond of company
And gave the ploughboys freedom o
To kiss and clap me in the dark
When all my friends were sleeping o.

But if I had kent that I now ken
And taken my mother’s bidding o
I wouldn’t be sitting by our fireside
Crying hushabye by bairnie o.

It’s hushaba for I’m your ma
But the Lord knows who’s your daddy o.
So it’s girls take care and you beware
Of the ploughboys in the gloaming o.

Cilla Fisher sings The Bothy Lads

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Fir they’re awfae lads, the bothy lads,
If they get fit they’re seekin’
They’ll pack a kist and they’ll gang an’ enlist
An’ leave their lassies greetin’.

When I wis noo but sweet sixteen,
Wi’ beauty just a-bloomin’,
Little, little did I think
At nineteen I’d be greetin’.

Fir the plooboy lads are gey braw lads,
But they’re false and deceiving,
For they’ll tak’ a’ an’ they’ll gang awa’;
An’ leave their lassies greetin’.

If I had ken’ what I noo ken
An’ ta’en my mither’s biddin’,
I wouldnae be sittin’ by oor fireside
Cryin’, “Hush-a-na, ma bairnie.”

Hush-a-ba, fir I’m yer ma,
The Lord knows wha’s yer daddie,
I’ll tak guid care an’ I’ll be aware
O’ the young lads in the gloamin’.