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Rattlin Roarin Willie


Although Scottish in origin, Rattlin Roarin Willie became part of the Northumbrian repertoire very early and eventually acquired a local name, The Mitford Galloway. It is not only a good tune to play and hear, but has an intriguing and possibly unique structure. It is also one of the few older tunes which is attributed to a known composer. There are more Scottish than Northumbrian versions, but the four local versions presented here are all gems in their own way, and make up a significant part of the tune’s story.

Although mainly known nowadays as a Robert Burns song, Burns never claimed to have composed more than the final verse. Here is the tune and first verse as published in the Scots Musical Museum:

Rattlin, Roarin Willie (Scots Musical Museum)
Rattlin, Roarin Willie, The Scots Musical Museum, pub. James Johnson, 1771.


The chord symbols have been added, but they correspond exactly to the simple bass line in the source. As we shall see, this chord pattern is a constant. Here it is in Roman numerals for easy transposition to different keys:

||: IVIIbII
IVIIbII V I :||


Tunes built mainly on two shifting chords a whole tone apart are usually called ‘double tonic’ tunes. Although there is a vast number of these tunes, most of them can be analysed as being built on only two simple ratios of the two chords, 3:1 and 2:2. In practice these ratios have almost endless permutations and ramifications, and can be viewed as a ‘system’ of tune construction to which I give the name Harmonic Proportion™. Rattlin Roarin Willie is a clear example of a simple 3:1 ratio (but see below for some of the ramifications).

Before our first local example, here is the Note to the version of the tune given by Robert Riddell in his Scotch, Galwegian and Border Airs, 1794:
"This Air (of which a very fine set is here given,) is said to have been the composition of JOHN COWAN, a very noted performer on the Fiddle, at Newton Stewart in Galloway. He died (as I have been informed,) before the middle of the present Century, having obtained longevity in its plenitude - old PETER MACNAUGHTON Fiddler at Monniehive told me he was taught by JOHN COWAN about the year 1725, and he was then an old man.”


Riddell’s setting is highly ornamented, but in essence it is a close relative of Atkinson’s and Vickers’ versions. Both Riddell’s version and the song tune quoted are crucial in terms of informing our interpretation of the local fiddle versions, which are highly erratic in their use of accidentals.

The four local examples are from, in chronological order, the Atkinson, Dixon, Vickers and Bewick manuscripts. Atkinson and Vickers are fiddle settings, while Dixon and Bewick are pipe settings. First, the fiddle settings:

Ranting Roving Wille, Atkinson
Ranting Roving Wille, Henry Atkinson manuscript tune book, 1694/5.
click here to see full size image.


This is notable as the earliest version yet found. Atkinson’s notation is extremely erratic, and there are bars missing even when his own ‘paste-in’ (signalled by the hand) is taken into account. He is evidently struggling to record something he played himself rather than copying from any written source. Nevertheless, comparison with later versions makes it possible to discern his meaning, revealing a truly outstanding version. Here is my reading of it:

Ranting Roving Wille, edited from Atkinson
Ranting Roving Wille, edited from Henry Atkinson manuscript tune book, 1694/5.


The second word of the title may be ‘Roveing’ or ‘Roreing’. It is possible that Atkinson’s strain 2 ‘should’ be the last of his four, by analogy with the other known ‘D’ versions (Wright, Gillespie, Vickers, Riddell), but it is difficult to be certain about this, and we can assume that Atkinson played them in the order he wrote them.

Vickers’ version follows. Good in its own right, it is closely related to Atkinson’s even though it was written down three-quarters of a century later.

Ranton Roaring Willy (Vickers)
Ranton Roaring Willy, William Vickers' manuscript tune book, 1770.
click here to see full size image.


As with many Vickers settings, accidentals are erratic, so add C natural accidentals to bars 2 & 6 of all strains, but not to bar 8.

The main differences from Atkinson are the spelling of the rhythm, 9/8 rather than 9/4, and the less ornamented melody of strain 1. Apart from that, the broad outline of his three strains is very similar to Atkinson’s strains 1, 3 and 4.

Having discussed the underlying chord structure above, we now take a closer look at the melody, taking Atkinson and Vickers together, and trying to see the contour through the detail. In all strains of both versions, bars 1 and 2 are very different, but bar 3 is a repeat of bar 1. Bar 4 is new, but it repeats the material of bar 2 (built on the subtonic chord) a step higher, on the tonic chord. Bar 5 repeats bar 4, and bar 6 repeats bar 2. Of course, these are not precise repeats, particularly in the connections between bars, but the pattern is discernible throughout, though in some strains it is more obvious than others. Bars 7 and 8 are the ‘tag’ or closing phrase, and are consistent within each version.

The melodic structure can be tabulated like this:

M1M2M1M2
M2M2T1T2


M1 is the first melodic idea or contour, M2 the second, regardless of which chord they are based on, and T1 and T2 are the two halves of the tag or closing phrase. In strain 3 of Atkinson and strain 2 of Vickers M1 and M2 are the same, making the whole strain very insistent. In strain 4 of Atkinson and strain 3 of Vickers M1 and M2 are both descending arpeggios, M1 starting on the 5th of the relevant chord and M2 on its tonic.

You can superimpose the two tables, harmonic and melodic, together, but don’t forget to play the tune to experience the full effect. Other tunes use the same combined harmonic and melodic structure found in the first four bars of this one, but as far as I know this is the only tune to extend it into an 8-bar structure in this way.

It is mainly in Atkinson’s and Vickers’ versions that this two-layered pattern is seen. In pipe versions, and most other fiddle settings, only the harmonic layer is present.

Now the pipe settings. These are built to fit a smaller range than the fiddle versions. Separated by a century, they seem to have been independently arrived at rather than showing a continuity of development.

Rattling Roving Willie transcribed from William Dixon
Rattling Roving Willie transcribed from William Dixon manuscript tune book, 1733.


The most important aspects of William Dixon’s Rattling Roving Willie are that it is the earliest known arrangement of the tune specifically for bagpipes, and that it gets round a particular problem in a particular way: in the fiddle versions the dominant (V) chord is implied in the middle of the final bar by the presence of the (major) leading note. This would be low F# in Dixon’s written pitch of G, but on a simple 9-note chanter this note is not available. In later Highland pipe settings the low G natural, equivalent to F natural here, is used, but this merely ignores the problem. Dixon’s setting does the inspired thing by avoiding the low 7th note completely in his closing cadences, letting the A imply the dominant harmony (D major chord) that the instrument is not capable of stating fully. Curiously, this device is also used in Daniel Wright’s fiddle setting Rantin Bille, an unusually early Southern appearance which is similar to Atkinson.

Dixon’s version is a joy to play, both for its own sake and for the direct connection it gives us with the piping of the 1730s, but it must be admitted that it is not as structurally sophisticated as Atkinson’s and Vickers’. There is more recycling of the same material, and the strikingly effective melodic structure of the fiddle settings is only fully present in strain 1, which is also the most closely faithful to them in its derivation.

Now to Robert Bewick’s version.

The Mitford Galloway
The Mitford Galloway, Airs and dance tunes collected and constructed by the Melodies Committee of the Newcastle Antiquarian Society, 1857-1887.
click here to see full size image.


This is reproduced from the Ancient Melodies Committee manuscript, Bewick’s original manuscript being unavailable for reproduction at the moment. Its title is that of a song written to the tune by Thomas Whittle of Cambo in the early 18th century. Presumably the song caught on enough for its title to be given with this instrumental setting. The copyist here has carefully corrected Bewick’s 5th strain which is metrically incomplete in the original.

This is of great interest as a smallpipe version which is very likely to have come from John Peacock’s repertoire. Strain 4 uses the extra high notes of the relatively new keyed chanter, so that strain was presumably brand new at the time of writing. F naturals are demanded by the melody in many places, but they are inconsistently written in, with no low F naturals in Bewick’s original. For an ‘idealised’ version which fits the underlying chords, use F naturals in bars 2 and 6 of each strain, but not in bar 8 (F natural also in bars 1, 3 and 5 of strain 4). This interpretation is credible because 11-key chanters, with both F naturals, were in use by the time Bewick wrote his books.

As with Dixon’s version, Bewick’s is closely connected to the fiddle original in strain 1 only. The melodic pattern of the fiddle versions is not followed in the rest of the setting, which is made up largely of stock variation material with the exception of strain 4 which is melodically much more interesting. Finally, note that the version given in the Northumbrian Minstrelsy was cut down from this one, rather than this one being an expanded version of the one in Minstrelsy.

A possible conclusion from examining all these local versions is that although the tune continued to generate more material, something important in the earliest version was subsequently lost, particularly in the pipe settings. Both pipe versions have their merits and are obviously valid in their own right and as examples of the tradition, but in some ways, this tune is still unfinished business.

Although Scottish in origin, Rattlin Roarin Willie became part of the Northumbrian repertoire very early and eventually acquired a local name, The Mitford Galloway. It is not only a good tune to play and hear, but has an intriguing and possibly unique structure. It is also one of the few older tunes which is attributed to a known composer. There are more Scottish than Northumbrian versions, but the four local versions presented here are all gems in their own way, and make up a significant part of the tune’s story.

Although mainly known nowadays as a Robert Burns song, Burns never claimed to have composed more than the final verse. Here is the tune and first verse as published in the Scots Musical Museum:

Rattlin, Roarin Willie (Scots Musical Museum)
Rattlin, Roarin Willie, The Scots Musical Museum, pub. James Johnson, 1771.


The chord symbols have been added, but they correspond exactly to the simple bass line in the source. As we shall see, this chord pattern is a constant. Here it is in Roman numerals for easy transposition to different keys:

||: IVIIbII
IVIIbII V I :||


Tunes built mainly on two shifting chords a whole tone apart are usually called ‘double tonic’ tunes. Although there is a vast number of these tunes, most of them can be analysed as being built on only two simple ratios of the two chords, 3:1 and 2:2. In practice these ratios have almost endless permutations and ramifications, and can be viewed as a ‘system’ of tune construction to which I give the name Harmonic Proportion™. Rattlin Roarin Willie is a clear example of a simple 3:1 ratio (but see below for some of the ramifications).

Before our first local example, here is the Note to the version of the tune given by Robert Riddell in his Scotch, Galwegian and Border Airs, 1794:
"This Air (of which a very fine set is here given,) is said to have been the composition of JOHN COWAN, a very noted performer on the Fiddle, at Newton Stewart in Galloway. He died (as I have been informed,) before the middle of the present Century, having obtained longevity in its plenitude - old PETER MACNAUGHTON Fiddler at Monniehive told me he was taught by JOHN COWAN about the year 1725, and he was then an old man.”


Riddell’s setting is highly ornamented, but in essence it is a close relative of Atkinson’s and Vickers’ versions. Both Riddell’s version and the song tune quoted are crucial in terms of informing our interpretation of the local fiddle versions, which are highly erratic in their use of accidentals.

The four local examples are from, in chronological order, the Atkinson, Dixon, Vickers and Bewick manuscripts. Atkinson and Vickers are fiddle settings, while Dixon and Bewick are pipe settings. First, the fiddle settings:

Ranting Roving Wille, Atkinson
Ranting Roving Wille, Henry Atkinson manuscript tune book, 1694/5.
click here to see full size image.


This is notable as the earliest version yet found. Atkinson’s notation is extremely erratic, and there are bars missing even when his own ‘paste-in’ (signalled by the hand) is taken into account. He is evidently struggling to record something he played himself rather than copying from any written source. Nevertheless, comparison with later versions makes it possible to discern his meaning, revealing a truly outstanding version. Here is my reading of it:

Ranting Roving Wille, edited from Atkinson
Ranting Roving Wille, edited from Henry Atkinson manuscript tune book, 1694/5.


The second word of the title may be ‘Roveing’ or ‘Roreing’. It is possible that Atkinson’s strain 2 ‘should’ be the last of his four, by analogy with the other known ‘D’ versions (Wright, Gillespie, Vickers, Riddell), but it is difficult to be certain about this, and we can assume that Atkinson played them in the order he wrote them.

Vickers’ version follows. Good in its own right, it is closely related to Atkinson’s even though it was written down three-quarters of a century later.

Ranton Roaring Willy (Vickers)
Ranton Roaring Willy, William Vickers' manuscript tune book, 1770.
click here to see full size image.


As with many Vickers settings, accidentals are erratic, so add C natural accidentals to bars 2 & 6 of all strains, but not to bar 8.

The main differences from Atkinson are the spelling of the rhythm, 9/8 rather than 9/4, and the less ornamented melody of strain 1. Apart from that, the broad outline of his three strains is very similar to Atkinson’s strains 1, 3 and 4.

Having discussed the underlying chord structure above, we now take a closer look at the melody, taking Atkinson and Vickers together, and trying to see the contour through the detail. In all strains of both versions, bars 1 and 2 are very different, but bar 3 is a repeat of bar 1. Bar 4 is new, but it repeats the material of bar 2 (built on the subtonic chord) a step higher, on the tonic chord. Bar 5 repeats bar 4, and bar 6 repeats bar 2. Of course, these are not precise repeats, particularly in the connections between bars, but the pattern is discernible throughout, though in some strains it is more obvious than others. Bars 7 and 8 are the ‘tag’ or closing phrase, and are consistent within each version.

The melodic structure can be tabulated like this:

M1M2M1M2
M2M2T1T2


M1 is the first melodic idea or contour, M2 the second, regardless of which chord they are based on, and T1 and T2 are the two halves of the tag or closing phrase. In strain 3 of Atkinson and strain 2 of Vickers M1 and M2 are the same, making the whole strain very insistent. In strain 4 of Atkinson and strain 3 of Vickers M1 and M2 are both descending arpeggios, M1 starting on the 5th of the relevant chord and M2 on its tonic.

You can superimpose the two tables, harmonic and melodic, together, but don’t forget to play the tune to experience the full effect. Other tunes use the same combined harmonic and melodic structure found in the first four bars of this one, but as far as I know this is the only tune to extend it into an 8-bar structure in this way.

It is mainly in Atkinson’s and Vickers’ versions that this two-layered pattern is seen. In pipe versions, and most other fiddle settings, only the harmonic layer is present.

Now the pipe settings. These are built to fit a smaller range than the fiddle versions. Separated by a century, they seem to have been independently arrived at rather than showing a continuity of development.

Rattling Roving Willie transcribed from William Dixon
Rattling Roving Willie transcribed from William Dixon manuscript tune book, 1733.


The most important aspects of William Dixon’s Rattling Roving Willie are that it is the earliest known arrangement of the tune specifically for bagpipes, and that it gets round a particular problem in a particular way: in the fiddle versions the dominant (V) chord is implied in the middle of the final bar by the presence of the (major) leading note. This would be low F# in Dixon’s written pitch of G, but on a simple 9-note chanter this note is not available. In later Highland pipe settings the low G natural, equivalent to F natural here, is used, but this merely ignores the problem. Dixon’s setting does the inspired thing by avoiding the low 7th note completely in his closing cadences, letting the A imply the dominant harmony (D major chord) that the instrument is not capable of stating fully. Curiously, this device is also used in Daniel Wright’s fiddle setting Rantin Bille, an unusually early Southern appearance which is similar to Atkinson.

Dixon’s version is a joy to play, both for its own sake and for the direct connection it gives us with the piping of the 1730s, but it must be admitted that it is not as structurally sophisticated as Atkinson’s and Vickers’. There is more recycling of the same material, and the strikingly effective melodic structure of the fiddle settings is only fully present in strain 1, which is also the most closely faithful to them in its derivation.

Now to Robert Bewick’s version.

The Mitford Galloway
The Mitford Galloway, Airs and dance tunes collected and constructed by the Melodies Committee of the Newcastle Antiquarian Society, 1857-1887.
click here to see full size image.


This is reproduced from the Ancient Melodies Committee manuscript, Bewick’s original manuscript being unavailable for reproduction at the moment. Its title is that of a song written to the tune by Thomas Whittle of Cambo in the early 18th century. Presumably the song caught on enough for its title to be given with this instrumental setting. The copyist here has carefully corrected Bewick’s 5th strain which is metrically incomplete in the original.

This is of great interest as a smallpipe version which is very likely to have come from John Peacock’s repertoire. Strain 4 uses the extra high notes of the relatively new keyed chanter, so that strain was presumably brand new at the time of writing. F naturals are demanded by the melody in many places, but they are inconsistently written in, with no low F naturals in Bewick’s original. For an ‘idealised’ version which fits the underlying chords, use F naturals in bars 2 and 6 of each strain, but not in bar 8 (F natural also in bars 1, 3 and 5 of strain 4). This interpretation is credible because 11-key chanters, with both F naturals, were in use by the time Bewick wrote his books.

As with Dixon’s version, Bewick’s is closely connected to the fiddle original in strain 1 only. The melodic pattern of the fiddle versions is not followed in the rest of the setting, which is made up largely of stock variation material with the exception of strain 4 which is melodically much more interesting. Finally, note that the version given in the Northumbrian Minstrelsy was cut down from this one, rather than this one being an expanded version of the one in Minstrelsy.

A possible conclusion from examining all these local versions is that although the tune continued to generate more material, something important in the earliest version was subsequently lost, particularly in the pipe settings. Both pipe versions have their merits and are obviously valid in their own right and as examples of the tradition, but in some ways, this tune is still unfinished business.






USEFUL LINKS








TUNE HISTORIES IN DETAIL



Morpeth Rant
Morpeth Rant
Core Tunes - article 4

Introduction
Introduction
Core Tunes - Introduction

Rattlin Roarin Willie
Rattlin Roarin Willie
Core Tunes - article 1

Sir John Fenwick
Sir John Fenwick
Core tunes - article 2

Bobby Shaftoe
Bobby Shaftoe
Core Tunes - article 3


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