Posted by: Blue Lou Logan | October 8, 2012

Songs of Logan #1: Logan Braes


There is a playlist on my iPod called “Imaginary Logan.”  It is the soundtrack to the unwritten Logan novel/movie, following him from Leith, Scotland (see old post “Logan, an introduction“) and the Jacobite march to Preston (see “Logan, Pt. 2:  The Jacobite Rising of 1715“) to his sailing to the Caribbean and pirate adventures.  Over half of the tracks are original compositions; a couple years back I had a flurry of inspiration and wrote half an hour of imaginary score in a few days using GarageBand.  I will likely come back to this in another post if I can figure out how to upload MP3’s.  For now I want to focus on the other part of the playlist:  ‘traditional’ Celtic tunes and shanties.  What follows is Logan’s Top 5+1, the songs that he would have known, or at least the songs I love that inspire me and my character.  I’m including links to my favorite versions, either for purchase or, when possible, for listening online.  I was going to post all the songs in a single post, but that was turning into a massive blog and was thus taking too long.  So, we’ll start with just one.

Logan Water

The first song is about a place called Logan.  Logan Water is a river in southwest Scotland that flows into the Nethan and thence into the Clyde.  The tune is an ‘air,’ a slow, melodic kind of music that is a common type in the Celtic repertoire but hardly exclusive to it.  According to contemplator.com, a very extensive site that compiles traditional songs from the British Isles and America (and some shanties), the tune “Logan Water” first appeared in print in 1709 but is quite probably much older than that.  Typical of most old tunes, it has been set to different lyrics over time, including, like pretty much every tune in Scotland, by Robert Burns, who, typically, added a political slant to the tale of woe.  His 1793 version has become known as “Logan Braes” (‘brae’ means hill or hillside in Scots), which is the version most people know, including myself.  Beyond simply having “Logan” in the title, it is the kind of sad, Scottish song that characterizes Logan and contains a theme central to the remainder of this list:  Man is gone–in this case to war–and woman is heartbroken.  My story is more pathos then swashbuckle.  He is “Blue” Lou, after all.  This is the poem, borrowed from Robert Burns Country (robertburns.org); I have added in brackets translations of some of the Scots language:

O Logan, sweetly didst thou glide,
That day I was my Willie’s bride,
And years sin syne hae [have long since] o’er us run,
Like Logan to the simmer [summer] sun:
But now thy flowery banks appear
Like drumlie [muddy] Winter, dark and drear,
While my dear lad maun [must] face his faes [foes],
Far, far frae [from] me and Logan braes.

Again the merry month of May
Has made our hills and valleys gay;
The birds rejoice in leafy bowers,
The bees hum round the breathing flowers;
Blythe Morning lifts his rosy eye,
And Evening’s tears are tears o’ joy:
My soul, delightless a’ [all] surveys,
While Willie’s far frae Logan braes.

Within yon [yonder] milk-white hawthorn bush,
Amang [among] her nestlings sits the thrush:
Her faithfu’ mate will share her toil,
Or wi’ his song her cares beguile;
But I wi’ my sweet nurslings here,
Nae [no] mate to help, nae mate to cheer,
Pass widow’d nights and joyless days,
While Willie’s far frae Logan braes.

O wae [woe] be to you, Men o’ State,
That brethren rouse to deadly hate!
As ye make mony a fond heart mourn,
Sae [So] may it on your heads return!
How can your flinty hearts enjoy
The widow’s tear, the orphan’s cry?
But soon may peace bring happy days,
And Willie hame [home] to Logan braes!

As a standard among Scottish songs, it has been recorded by many artists.  These are my favorites:

  • Jim Malcolm:  “Logan Braes,” from Acquaintance.  Jim is a friend of mine (thanks to Zanne) and one of the best folk artists in Scotland today.  In addition to being a fabulous singer-songwriter, he is one of the foremost modern interpreters of Robert Burns.  The album Acquaintance is entirely Jim singing Burns songs and is highly recommended.  This is a gentle version of “Logan Braes” set to Jim’s voice and guitar and some light instrumental backing.  I’d buy it directly from Jim, but it is also available on iTunes.
  • John Cunningham:  “Logan Water,” from Fair Warning.  The late Johnny Cunningham will be familiar to any fan of Scottish music as one of the founders of Silly Wizard, not only one of the premier groups of the Scottish folk revival but one of the best band names of all time.  He was only thirteen when he joined Silly Wizard!  On one of his few solo albums, Cunningham does the old, instrumental tune, strictly overdubbing himself on fiddle.  It is the melody from this version that I learned for use in composing the Logan score.  The album and the tune are available on iTunes.
  • Jean Redpath:  “Logan Braes,” from The Songs of Robert Burns, Volumes 1 & 2.  I first heard Jean Redpath as one of the regular guests on Garrison’s Keillor‘s “A Prairie Home Companion” way back in the 80’s.  She was born in Edinburgh and raised in Leven, Fife, Scotland.  Now 75, she was there with Dylan and the rest in the early 60’s Greenwich Village folk scene.  In 1976, she set out to record every Robert Burns song–a projected 22 volumes–but stopped after seven albums and 323 songs when her arranger, Serge Hovey, passed away.  Their setting of “Logan Braes” is very, very dark, more classical than folk, with a low, dismal piano leading the accompaniment.  All but the seventh volume of Redpath’s Burns project is available on iTunes.

Coming up next:  Logan history in song!

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