The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond
"The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond", or simply "Loch Lomond" for short, is a well-known traditional Scottish song (Roud No. 9598) first published in 1841 in Vocal Melodies of Scotland. The song prominently features Loch Lomond, the largest Scottish loch, located between the counties of Dunbartonshire and Stirlingshire.
Loch Lomond was performed live by the Benny Goodman band at The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert performance on January 16, 1938, featuring Martha Tilton on vocals. The song has been recorded by many performers over the years, including the rock band AC/DC, jazz singer Maxine Sullivan (for whom it was a career-defining hit), the Mudmen, and Scottish-Canadian punk band The Real McKenzies. Both Runrig and Quadriga Consort used to perform Loch Lomond as their concert's final song.
In Scotland itself, a live version of the track released on Runrig's 1988 live album Once in a Lifetime has become the definitive and most well known version of the song, and it is very rare to attend a celebratory event in Scotland such as a wedding reception, engagement or birthday party, or Hogmanay celebration, and not have it played as the final song of the evening.
By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes,
Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond,
Where me and my true love were ever wont to gae
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond.
O ye'll tak' the high road, and I'll tak' the low road,
And I'll be in Scotland a'fore ye,
But me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond.
'Twas there that we parted, in yon shady glen,
On the steep, steep side o' Ben Lomond,
Where in purple hue, the hieland hills we view,
And the moon coming out in the gloaming.
The wee birdies sing and the wildflowers spring,
And in sunshine the waters are sleeping.
But the broken heart it kens nae second spring again,
Though the waeful may cease frae their grieving.
The original composer is unknown, as is definitive information on any traditional lyrics. The lyrics most commonly known are not the original, which was based on a Jacobite lament written after the Battle of Culloden. The second verse goes as: "As weel may I weep, O yet dreams in my sleep, / we stood bride and bridegroom together, / but his arms and his breath were as cold as the earth / and his heart's blood ran red in the heather."
There are many theories about the meaning of the song, most of which are connected to the Jacobite Uprising of 1745. One interpretation based on the lyrics is that the song is sung by the lover of a captured Jacobite rebel set to be executed in London following a show trial. The heads of the executed rebels were then set upon pikes and exhibited in all of the towns between London and Edinburgh in a procession along the "high road" (the most important road), while the relatives of the rebels walked back along the "low road" (the ordinary road travelled by peasants and commoners).
Another interpretation of the "Low Road" is that it refers to the traditional underground route taken by the "fairies" or "little people" who were reputed to transport the soul of a dead Scot who died in a foreign land—in this case, England—back to his homeland to rest in peace.
Another similar interpretation also attributes it to a Jacobite Highlander captured after the 1745 rising. The Hanoverian British victors were known to play cruel games on the captured Jacobites, and would supposedly find a pair of either brothers or friends and tell them one could live and the other would be executed, and it was up to the pair to decide. Thus the interpretation here is that the song is sung by the brother or friend who chose or was chosen to die. He is therefore telling his friend that they will both go back to Scotland, but he will go on the "low road", his body being paraded along the main road controlled by the Duke of Cumberland's forces, whereas his friend will have to head for the hilltops, taking longer to get back. Another supporting feature of this is that he states he will never meet his love again in the temporal world, on Loch Lomond. Some believe that this version is written entirely to a lover who lived near the loch.
A related interpretation holds that a professional soldier and a volunteer were captured by the English in one of the small wars between the countries in the couple of hundred years prior to 1746. Volunteers could accept parole, a release contingent on the volunteer's refusal to rejoin the fighting, but regulars could not and so could face execution. The volunteer would take the high road that linked London and Edinburgh while the soul of the executed regular would return along the "low road" and would get back to Scotland first.
About 1876, the Scottish poet and folklorist Andrew Lang wrote a poem based on the song titled "The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond". The title sometimes has the date "1746" appended—the year of the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie's rebellion and the hanging of some of his captured supporters. Lang's poem begins:
There's an ending o' the dance, and fair Morag's safe in France,
And the Clans they hae paid the lawing,
And the wuddy has her ain, and we twa are left alane,
Free o' Carlisle gaol in the dawing.
Wuddy means hangman's rope, according to Lang's own notes on the poem; dawing is dawn. The poem continues with the song's well-known chorus, then explains why the narrator and his true love will never meet again:
For my love's heart brake in twa, when she kenned the Cause's fa',
And she sleeps where there's never nane shall waken
The poem's narrator vows to take violent revenge on the English:
While there's heather on the hill shall my vengeance ne'er be still,
While a bush hides the glint o' a gun, lad;
Wi' the men o' Sergeant Môr shall I work to pay the score,
Till I wither on the wuddy in the sun, lad!
Arrangements and recordings
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- In 1921, the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, a keen collector and arranger of English folk music, arranged "Loch Lomond" as a part song for an unaccompanied four-part male voice choir with baritone solo
- Jazz singer Maxine Sullivan had a hit with a swing adaptation of "Loch Lomond" in 1937
- At his 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, Benny Goodman swung this song with Martha Tilton singing. The audience demanded an encore so heartily that, none being ready, Goodman announced that Tilton would be back later with another song. At the 1978 anniversary concert Tilton had a guest appearance, singing the song in an (improvised) duet with Goodman
- In 1955, Noël Coward performed and recorded a mildly bawdy variation of the song at Las Vegas.
- In 1957, Bill Haley & His Comets recorded a popular rock and roll version retitled "Rock Lomond"
- In the early 1960s, The Ramrods (instrumental group) an American instrumental rock group, recorded a rocked-up version called "Loch Lomond Rock"
- Noted concert band composer Frank Ticheli composed a song called "Loch Lomond", based on the original, in 2002
- The song is featured in the 1946 film The Green Years, based on the novel of the same title by Scots author A. J. Cronin
- Bing Crosby included the song in a medley on his album 101 Gang Songs (1961)
- In The Brady Bunch season 2 episode 16 "The Drummer Boy", it is sung by Peter (Christopher Knight), Jan (Eve Plumb) and Cindy (Susan Olsen) Brady
- "Loch Lomond" was featured on the American television program The Lawrence Welk Show in 1972, in which it was sung by Jack Imel, Bobby Burgess, Mary Lou Metzger and Cissy King
- The Australian hard rock group AC/DC, whose members have Scottish origins and roots, released an instrumental version of the song titled "Fling Thing" on the B-side of the "Jailbreak" single in 1976. They also performed it live as "Bonny", in which the band plays the music while the crowd sings the verse
- "Rhythm of My Heart" is a rock song written by Marc Jordan and John Capek for Rod Stewart's 1991 album Vagabond Heart. The melody is an adaptation of "Loch Lomond". The meter, stanzas and lyrics are also based on the poem, a nod to Stewart's own Scottish heritage
- The progressive rock band Marillion played the song with their former singer Fish in the 1980s, as part of a medley called "Margaret" which also featured another traditional song, "Marie's Wedding" (usually played as an encore at Scottish shows). A live version can be found on B'Sides Themselves, recorded at Edinburgh Playhouse in December 1983
- The melody is used at the beginning of the song "El Hijo del Blues" from the 1994 self-titled album by Spanish folk metal group Mägo de Oz
- The 2000 film "The Last of the Blonde Bombshells" features an upbeat version as sung in a 1940s dance hall. In the "present day" of the early 2000s, the song contrasts a male character (Ian Holm) traveling by car on a highway, with his female counterpart (Judi Dench) who has taken the "low road" of an overnight sleeping car, getting there hours before him.
- Scottish folk-rock band Runrig have made the song their unofficial anthem, closing their concerts with a rendition for over 25 years. They also had a top ten hit with a re-recorded version in 2007, released for BBC Children in Need, hitting number nine in the whole of the United Kingdom and number one in Scotland
- The Kelly Family member Paul Kelly used to play this song during his solo years in the 1990s and 2000s. He also played this song on the Kelly Family comeback in 2017, and the song was featured on the live album We Got Love Live released on October 20, 2017
- Another Kelly Family member, Adam Kelly, released this song twice in his personal music projects: first, on the Adam O'Henry live album ...To Reach Your Heart, with his father Henry and cousin Matthew Robert in 1999. Then, in 2005, on the studio album Irish Recordings with his wife Jessica, Adam released this song renamed "Banks of Loch Lomond"
- Canadian punk band Real McKenzies recorded their own version of "Loch Lomond" on their 1995 debut album The Real McKenzies in their own Scottish-influenced Celtic punk styling
- The lyrics are parodied by Tenacious D at the end of their song "Wonderboy"
- The lead singer of American group The Fray has also been known to do the chorus at gigs in Edinburgh while supporting The Feeling, and most recently their gig in Glasgow in October 2007. The reason for this appears to be[original research?] that his grandfather is Scottish
- The song was featured as the main theme song in Czech TV movie Hrbitov pro cizince where it was repeatedly performed by Czech actress Valérie Zawadská
- Dan Zanes' album Catch That Train features a version of the song in which he splits the vocal credits with Natalie Merchant
- The film the Last King of Scotland features the song sung by the Nyzonga Singers
- Serbian band Orthodox Celts recorded a version which featured Serbian actress Ana Sofrenović, released on their album The Celts Strike Again
- The song is featured in the track "A Very British Tribute" on the Royal Celebration album by the band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and the Band of the Coldstream Guards
- The series Smallville used the tune for a non-existent folk song called "The Birks of Saint Kilda" played by a clock as a clue for finding a relic that activated a piece of alien technology
- The science fiction television programme Farscape used the song in part of the score
- The Celtic rock band Off Kilter included a version on their 2005 album Kick It!
- David Knopfler played the tune as an intro to his Scottish-inspired song "When GrandPappa sailed" in 1984 on his album "Cut the Wire"
- Mark Knopfler played the tune as an intro to his Scottish-inspired song "What It Is" in 2001, then in the middle of the song in 2002 and 2005
- Canadian rock band the Mudmen covered the song on their album The High Road released in 2009
- Golden Bough covered the song on their 2009 album Celtic Love Songs
- The tune is used in a song sung by the Scottish terrier Jock in the Disney film Lady and the Tramp
- The song is sung by Mr. Scheck (Paul Sorvino) in Hey Arnold!: The Movie
- The tune is used by German football club 1. FC Köln in their anthem "Mer stonn zo dir FC Kölle". The song, written by Die Höhner, is in Ripurian dialect
- The German folk metal band Suidakra used "Loch Lomond"'s melody in their 2005 song "Dead Man's Reel"
- The song is sung by Monty (Edward Norton) and his father in Spike Lee's film The 25th Hour
- The song is referenced in HBO's Boardwalk Empire; Eli's friend sings "and I'll be in Scotland before ye"
- The song is played by the University of Notre Dame Marching Band's baritone horn section before every home game
- The band Emily's Army covered the song, which is featured on their album Don't Be A Dick
- The Scottish music duo, Two Men In Skirts featuring Gaitley and Jim Stevenson-Mathews covered the song on their album The Music of Scotland released in 2009
- The song is sung in the BBC TV series Cranford by the character played by Julia Sawalha
- There is a popular choral/a cappella version arranged by Jonathan Quick
- Violin player Nicola Benedetti performed an instrumental version of the song during the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014
- Singer Peter Hollens performed an a cappella version of Loch Lomond in 2016
- Several versions were recorded as the theme tune of the Scottish soap opera Take the High Road, which takes its title from the song
- The melody is heard in the 1936 film Lloyd's of London
"Red Is the Rose"
The Irish variant of the song is called "Red Is the Rose" and is sung with the same melody but different (although similarly themed) lyrics. It was popularized by Irish folk musician Tommy Makem. Even though many people mistakenly believe that Makem wrote "Red is the Rose", it is a traditional Irish folk song.
The chorus of "Red Is the Rose" is:
Red is the rose that in yonder garden grows
And fair is the lily of the valley
Clear are the waters that flow from the Boyne
But my love is fairer than any
This version was also reworked by the Scottish Musician Alastair McDonald, who set it by Loch Lomond, too. This chorus was:
Red is the rose, that on mony a briar grows
And white blooms the lily sae bonny
And clear is the watter that flows down Lomonds braes
But my lass is fairer than ony
Come over the hill, my bonnie Irish lass
Come over the hill to your darling
You chose a rose love and I have made a vow
Thet she'll be my true love forever
Red is the Rose by yonder garden grows
And fair is the lily of the valley
Clear is the water that flows from the Boyne
But my love is fairer than any.
T'was down by Killarney's green woods that we strayed
And the moon and the stars they were shining
The moon shone its rays on her locks of golden hair
And she swore she'd be my love forever.
It's not for the parting that my sister pains
It's not for the grief of my mother
It is all for the loss of my bonnie Irish lass
That my heart is breaking forever.
- Vocal Melodies of Scotland
- James J. Fuld, The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular and Folk, p. 336.
- "the song". Explore Loch Lomond.
- Fraser, Amy Stewart (1977). In Memory Long. Routledge. p. 54. ISBN 978-0-7100-8586-3. Retrieved 10 October 2008.
- "Songs&Poems - Loch Lomond". lochlomond.net.
- "The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond" see also; from The Poetical Works of Andrew Lang, ed. Mrs. Lang, 4 vols. (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1923): I, 55-56
- Andrew Lang (1844-1912) -- The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond
- Poems of Andrew Lang: THE BONNIE BANKS O' LOCH LOMOND
- Lang & Philipp 2000, p. 235.
- Am Baile - The Songs and Hymns of the Scottish Highlands. Part II Song 5
- RPO - Andrew Lang : The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond Archived 2009-01-29 at the Wayback Machine.
- Kennedy, Michael (1996). A Catalogue of the Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Oxford University Press. p. 85. ISBN 0-19-816584-6.
- welknotes.com (18 November 2006). ""America, The Melting Pot" (Thanksgiving) Show-Listing - November-18-2006". Welknotes.com. Retrieved 3 August 2013.
- "Official Singles Chart Top 100 18 November 2007 - 24 November 2007". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
- "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100 18 November 2007 - 24 November 2007". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
- Loch Lomond Jonathan Quick GoSong.net
- Moira Kerr, CD-Album 'Loch Lomond'
- "Red is the Rose". Jennifer Tyson. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
- Raymond Crooke (2009-01-12). "690. Red is the Rose (Traditional Irish)". YouTube. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
- Lang, Andrew; Philipp, Peter-Eric (2000). Complete Poems of Andrew Lang: The Essential Library. 2. Essential Library (xLibris). p. 235. ISBN 978-0-7388-2837-4.[self-published source]
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