Posted by: Blue Lou Logan | October 10, 2012

Songs of Logan #2: Tibbie Fowler o’ the Glen


Here is a song that, at least by some accounts, was inspired by my Logan ancestors themselves.  It is still about a woman but not about a woman pining.  Tibbie, rather, is a woman beset by suitors, but they–and by extension all the Scottish men of the time–are more interested in her dowry than her.  Here’s the full text, courtesy of the BBC; I have again given translations of a few Scots terms with guidance from www.scots-online.org and recmusic.org.

Tibbie Fowler o' the glen,
There's o'er mony [many] wooin' at her,
Tibbie Fowler o' the glen,
There's o'er mony wooin' at her.

(Chorus) Wooin' at her, pu'in [pulling] at her,
Courtin' at her, canna [cannot] get her:
Filthy elf, it's for her pelf [money],
That a' the lads are wooin' at her.

Ten cam east, and ten cam west,
Ten came rowin' o'er the water;
Twa came down the lang [long] dyke side,
There's twa and thirty [32] wooin' at her.

There's seven but, and seven ben [7 outside the house and 7 in the parlour],
Seven in the pantry wi' her;
Twenty head about the door,
There's ane and forty [41] wooin' at her.

She's got pendles in her lugs [jewels in her ears],
Cockle-shells wad set her better;
High-heel'd shoon [shoes] and siller tags [silver straps],
And a' the lads are wooin at her.

Be a lassie e'er sae black [ugly],
An she hae the name o' siller,
Set her upo' Tintock-tap,
The wind will blaw a man till her.

Be a lassie e'er sae fair,
An she want the pennie siller;
A lie may fell her in the air,
Before a man be even till her.

Dimpleknowe Cottage, Scottish Borders

It is very possible that Tibbie was real, but there is more folklore than fact.  An introduction to the story behind the song can be found at mysongbook.de.  There is no agreement on the “glen” and a good deal of question on who finally wooed her.  In Book of Scottish Story, cited at electricscotland.com, John Mackay Wilson spins the most romantic tale, placing the glen near Berwick-upon-Tweed and below Edrington Castle.  Tibby, daughter of old Ned Fowler, was left at the death of her parents with five hundred pounds and thus surrounded by a pack of desperate gold diggers.  Her chosen was none of the formal suitors but one William Gordon, a young seamen she encountered on Leith Links.  When he says he must sail on a year-long voyage, Tibbie revealed her inheritance to keep him home.  So Willie went into the coasting trade and obtained a beautiful brig he named after his beloved.  However, the ship went missing, driving Tibbie and her children into poverty.  They returned eventually to the old family cottage only to find Willie, who had escaped from the enemy after eighteen months and gained riches and honours.  They took up the cottage, and everyone lived happily ever after.

The more common story places Tibbie’s story into the long, complex relationship between the Logans and Leith, Scotland.  This is written about at length in History of Leith, online at electricscotland.com.  As I have discussed before, in 1606, the “godless, drunkin, and deboshit” Sir Robert Logan of Restalrig died, but two years later his body was exhumed, put on trial, and convicted for participation in the Gowrie Conspiracy against King James VI and I.  His properties were confiscated, and the Logan name was forever besmirched, even after the sentence against his family was reversed in 1616.  Among those those to suffer was one of Sir Robert’s sons, George.  Enter the heiress Isobel Fowler, said to be the inspiration for the fictional Tibbie.  It is established fact that George married Isobel, but the details are left to the interpretation of local legend.  The father from whom Isobel gained her inheritance appears to be Ludovic Fowler, but some say the “glen” where Tibbie was raised was Burncastle, while others point to an old thatched house at Lochend near Restalrig.  In the 1891 Scottish Notes and Queries, George–here a grandson not a son of Sir Robert–sought his fortune in the wars of Europe but was still shamed at home.  He was, in spite of the objections of her father, the successful wooer of the “well tochered” Isobel…or, here, “Isabella.”  It is Leith tradition that Isobel’s riches allowed the couple to live comfortably in a well-known mansion.  The house in question (pictured above), however, was in another area of Leith, Sheriff Brae, which had long belonged to another line of Logans.  Storytellers even point to initials carved into the building’s stones, left even when most of the building was torn down and replaced by St. Thomas’ Church and Manse in 1840 (now 9 Mill Lane).  Yet these initials are more likely those of John Logan and Mary Caire, who had rebuilt the mansion back in 1636.

There is even less agreement on who originally wrote the song, tho’ today’s version is credited to–or was at least collected by–the inevitable Burns.  I, for one, love a song with a deep back story, and this one is positively convoluted, Logan connection or not.  It is also a very, very catchy song.

  • Andy M. Stewart, from Donegal RainAndy M. Stewart was the frontman of Silly Wizard until 1988, after which he has had a successful solo career and penned such classics as “The Queen of Argyl” and “Valley of Srathmore.”  Stewart recorded this version of “Tibbie” for his first solo album.  He is playful, almost sly with the lyrics.  Backed by a full band with bass and drums, this is what I like to call concert Celtic, as opposed to pub Celtic.  It is available from  iTunes.
  • Jock Tamson’s Bairns, from A’ Jock Tamson’s Bairns.  “Jock Tamson’s Bairns” is a Scottish saying that means, basically, “we are all, deep down, the same.”  It is also the name of a Scottish band.  Their “Tibbie” was originally on a 1978 album but can now be found on a band compilation, an import by CD but available on iTunes.  I first found it on YouTube here.  This is pub Celtic–upbeat, strictly acoustic–and their take on the song is positively bouncing and joyful.
  • Old Blind Dogs, from LegacyOld Blind Dogs has been around for over twenty years.  Jim Malcolm was with them for quite some time, but their recording of “Tibbie” was from before Jim, in 1995.  Typical of the Dogs, the arrangement is artful, “Tibbie” being interwoven with a dance tune from Breton.  It is available on iTunes.

Coming up next:  Logan’s second favorite shanty!

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