The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond
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"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.
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.
O braw Charlie Stewart, dear true, true heart,
Wha could refuse thee protection,
Like the weeping birk on the wild hillside,
How gracefu he looked in dejection
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
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.
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.
- 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.
- "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.
- "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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