Burns Night

January 28, 2012 at 9:38 am (music, Rosie B, scotland, song)

I was out to celebrate Burns Night at the Captain’s Bar, where various performers were doing songs and poems.  Neil Thomson, who was hosting, did a relaxed rendition of Now Westlin’ Winds, (Song Composed in August)- a lovely evocation of late summer.  Here it is sung by Damian Nixon, using Dick Gaughan’s arrangement.

Now westlin winds and slaughtering guns
Bring autumn’s pleasant weather
The moorcock springs on whirring wings
Among the blooming heather
Now waving grain, wild o’er the plain
Delights the weary farmer
And the moon shines bright as I rove at night
To muse upon my charmer

The partridge loves the fruitful fells
The plover loves the mountain
The woodcock haunts the lonely dells
The soaring hern the fountain
Through lofty groves the cushat roves
The path of man to shun it
The hazel bush o’erhangs the thrush
The spreading thorn the linnet

Thus every kind their pleasure find
The savage and the tender
Some social join and leagues combine
Some solitary wander
Avaunt! Away! the cruel sway,
Tyrannic man’s dominion
The sportsman’s joy, the murdering cry
The fluttering, gory pinion…[more]


  1. Mick O said,

    Yeah very impressive. Nationalist romantiscism. Anyone claiming Celtic roots can dissassosiate from post colonial British guilt. Whereas English people can’t. Scottish, Welsh nationalism is just barely disguised anti English racism. We all live on the same island, speak the same language and have no major cultural issues. We all watch the same shit on the telly etc. Time to get over historical divisions and realise that working class people on this island are all in the same boat.

  2. Rosie said,

    Mick O – I don’t know what that has to do with this song, which is about the landscape in August. Also, written in English rather than Scots – Burns wrote in both.

  3. Robin Carmody said,

    While Mick’s post may be insensitively phrased, I can sympathise to the extent that I can only see Scottish independence weakening tolerant, leftist values in England, through removing a lot of the remaining constitutional barriers to extreme neoliberalism *and* empowering ethnic nationalism.

    But I also think that when Swansea fans sing “oh England is full of shit” – as they very audibly did during their recent win over Arsenal – they are much less likely to be subtly saying “oh England is full of Tories and plutocrats” than a lot of English leftists want to believe when they try to justify it, and much more likely to be subtly saying “oh England is full of blacks and Asians” than much of the English left want to believe. I certainly don’t think any leftists, anywhere in the world, should let Celts get away with a conservative, insular definition of their national culture which would be called fascist if held by English people. Cultural conservatism is *always* bad news for the left, every bit as much when it is held by the formerly oppressed as when it is held by the former oppressors.

    I didn’t always believe this, but having experienced for myself just how narrow and petty-minded some Celts can be (and also had my romanticism corrected by the more open-minded and outward-looking ones), I now think it is the only mature position to hold. If we can unashamedly and unambiguously reclaim the word “English” to refer to the music played by Mistajam, Charlie Sloth, Logan Sama &c every bit as much as it refers to Fairport Convention or early Genesis, that is our best shot at defeating the Tory idea of “England” and making a post-UK England more open and tolerant than a probably more social democratic, but also more homogeneous and less dynamic, post-UK Scotland.

  4. Robin Carmody said,

    I definitely think that the idea – central to a lot of SNP politics – that Scottish people somehow did not do their fair share of colonisation, and did not take a full part in the now-deprecated aspects of the British Empire, is an ill-founded romantic national myth.

    Where I can sympathise with Scotland politically now is in its maintenance of the things the Westminster government wrongly claim (really for ideological, spiteful reasons) cannot be afforded. But I think this is only possible when you have a smaller, more homogeneous population. England may never be able to be as orthodox-socialist – but it may be able to be a beacon to the left in all kinds of other, more modern ways. The key is to use the word “English” where once we would have instinctively said “British” – when referring to grime, hip-hop &c – because political futures are decided by who controls language, and we need to steal what the English-nationalist right think of as “their” own linguistic terms from them, for the sake of all we’ve achieved here in the last half-century.

    Sorry, this does seem to have gone somewhere else from where it started …

  5. Rosie said,

    It can’t be denied that Burns night can turn into a Scottish Natfest. The one I went to had the Scottish flags up and people wearing tartan, though when the host sang A Parcel of Rogues, about the Union, he was at pains to point out that the rogues were the Scottish aristocracy rather than the English. However that’s only part of it – it is celebrated with singing great songs and reading great poems, many of them apolitical, or, if you do A Man’s a Man , internationalist. Burns wrote all sorts of poems and songs in all sorts of moods, and to me the night is more patriotic than nationalistic – i.e enjoying what is good about your country, be it the food, the drink or the music and poetry. However, I didn’t stay to the end, so probably missed that hideous nationalist beat-the-English dirge, Oh Flower of Scotland.

    I definitely think that the idea – central to a lot of SNP politics – that Scottish people somehow did not do their fair share of colonisation, and did not take a full part in the now-deprecated aspects of the British Empire, is an ill-founded romantic national myth.

    One that I delight in exploding, by saying that in my New Zealand school about a third of the children were called things like MacDonald and McGregor. To a friend who thinks that victims of the Highland clearances must have had a special affinity to indigenous populations of plantation colonies (eg the Maori), I can point out that they were as land grabbing as any of them. Crudely put, the Scots bought into Britain when they could get something out of it – ie access to an empire as land and jobs, and now it no longer exists, they’re ready to dump it. I’m not in favour of an independent Scotland myself – it just seems too small and uninteresting, and I can’t be bothered with Holyrood politics – but I can see it coming, and for romantic gut and anti-English resentment reasons rather than calculation.

    The word “Celt” – I’m no Burns expert but I bet he wouldn’t have recognised it as referring to him and his lowland chums. It used to nauseate me when Edinburgh would try and sell itself in as a home of clans and other anachronisms, but these days it likes to wave its Enlightenment credentials and stick up statues of David Hume and Adam Smith rather than Rob Roy.

  6. Robin Carmody said,

    I also dislike the word “Celt” as a cultural/political term, largely because it presumes a universal Leftism in what are still often quite insular and isolated places, and a universal Rightism in what are often comparatively diverse and open-minded and tolerant places, which is very, very far from the truth. I only used it because it was more convenient than other terms and everyone knows what it (commonly) means, not because I believe in it as an ethnicity in itself, let alone a form of inherent superiority.

  7. Jim Denham said,

    Stewart Lee (in Glasgow) on identity, Scottish nationalism, William Wallace, etc:

  8. Jimmy said,

    Rosie. I have been attending Burns Celebrations for decades. The only crap I have heard is about the so called hard done to Jacobites. The Celts are a well known football team that have an iffinity with fascist Ireland. Both losers and should be confined to the dustbin. Burns was progressive.

    • Rosie said,

      Can’t stand the Jacobite crap, except they did have some fantastic songs.

  9. Rosie said,

    Some poll was done about favourite Burns poems, and it went:-
    1. Tam O’Shanter
    2. A Man’s a Man
    3. Address to a Haggis

    None of them nationalistic.

    @ Jim – Stewart Lee is right that Braveheart is about the worst film of all time. A friend and I use to do a piss-take of it. Dialogue:-

    1. Aye, aye.
    2. Aaargh aaaargh
    3. Aye, aye
    4. Aargh, aargh

    and so on.

  10. Mick O said,

    I apologise for my over reaction the other night. I have nothing against the work of Burns. Nationalism, however, is another matter and I do get wound up when the sort of sentiments that would quite rightly be condemned if expressed by the likes of the EDL are excused when coming from other communities. More articulate commenters than me have made some great points on this post so I’ll say no more on the subject.

    • Rosie said,

      Nice of you to apologise, Mick O. I don’t think Burns is the quickest, shortest route to Scottish nationalism and its faults.

      I do remember going to a Day for Scotland, which reminded me of the Nuremberg rallies. The organisers and speakers were all progressives who said this was not “hate the English” but a big chunk of the audience were having none of it. My English boyfriend was afraid to open his mouth. Our Scottish friends were embarrassed by the ant-Englishness of it all. (I was okay – I have a New Zealand accent.).

      • Robin Carmody said,

        The point you make above is relevant, Rosie – the SNP remind me somewhat of the Labour Party of the 1960s and 1970s, in that most of their leadership seem much more progressive than much of their rather conservative and insular support base.

  11. Jim Denham said,

    Bloody hell! Someone with good manners (who’s not Clive), comments on this blog!

  12. februarycallendar said,

    Interesting to re-read my comments above re. Swansea fans.

    I used to respect that team a lot, but they have gone right down in my estimation since they went into their current ownership. (It has nothing to do with my being a Palace fan and fearing we might end up going down but would have stayed up had we won there last Saturday …) But I would say that Swansea’s majority Leave vote – and indeed the majority Leave vote everywhere in Wales except Cardiff (the cosmopolitan city; same as most such cities in England), Vale of Glamorgan & Monmouthshire (the affluent areas which were never heavy-industrial; same as Harrogate & York) and Gwynedd & Ceredigion (the Welsh-speaking heartlands; more European-minded for what should be obvious reasons) – very, very strongly backs up what I suspected against what much of the English Left wanted to believe.

    For the record, I suspect that the Leave vote in Wales, which for many was the biggest surprise of the referendum, was “anti-establishment” – but in that case anti-“crachach” (the perceived bourgeois liberal Welsh-speaking intellectual elite, regarded as snobbish against and dismissive of the post-industrial non-Welsh-speaking working class), who filled a similar role as hate figures for, say, the 63% who voted Leave in Bevan & Foot’s old seat of Blaenau Gwent (highest child poverty in Wales, very few Welsh speakers, and over 99% white in 2011) that “the Westminster elite” or whatever did for Leave voters in Doncaster or Rotherham.

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