This is four verses (1, 3, 4 and 6) of a six-verse poem, written by one Robert Surtees in 1807 to a pre-existing tune. Surtees sent it to James Hogg for publication, presenting it as a folk survival of a ballad composed by the Jacobite Lord Derwentwater on the eve of his execution in 1716. It started life as a forgery, in other words. However, it did enter the tradition later on – although people are generally even more selective that I was about which verses they sing – and the tune is now generally known by the name of the song.
Execution by beheading is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but beyond that I don’t have much sympathy for Lord D and his family; being Catholic is one thing, but declaring for Charles I and James III in the space of 70 years just seems like asking for trouble. In any case, his father’s ancient seat had only been Chez Radclyffe for ninety-odd years (his great-great-grandfather had married the Dilston heiress in 1621 and died in 1622) – and a stranger never did call the place his, as it was left to rot shortly after the execution. (Derwentwater couldn’t have known this, of course, but Surtees could.) Still, nice tune.
Plus! for the first time!! instrumental backing!!! Through the magic of multi-tracking, I accompany myself here on a Bontempi reed organ with a noisy fan and six dead keys. (The keys are important because they narrow the range of the instrument, which meant that I couldn’t play the whole tune in the key I wanted; I had to play it in G and pitch-shift the recording into D. If you listen carefully to the beginning of the track, you can hear the fan being pitch-shifted.) The accompaniment is mostly a drone, but I begin by picking out the tune. I wanted to give the impression of playing it quite badly, although it’s quite an artificial impression – in reality I’m much more likely to get the wrong notes and grind to a halt than just to play the right notes slowly. Towards the end you can hear the tune again, this time on whistle (not pitch-shifted). And right at the end you can hear… well, you find out.