Bard has been a long time coming for me. I’ve always been a fan of concept albums and have now made one of my own. Each track on this album has some historical background, whether it be a story of heroism or betrayal, warfare or prosperity. Some of them are particularly nasty and I have done my research so that I can accurately reflect these dark misdeeds in the music. I have not gone into excessive detail, myself, in this booklet, but if you truly want to know more, there is a plethora of information out there for you.
Thank you to everyone who has helped make my debut album possible and to everyone who didn’t, na na na na poo poo, I did it anyway.
Donald McGillivray/The Crooked Foot
Donald McGillivray is a traditional Scottish song about a Scottish everyman named Donald who gets involved with the socio-political strife in Scotland at the time, heard in the lyrics referring to King James and the Whigs.
The Crooked Foot is a tune by Dr. John Turner and refers to the name of a specific type of plough used in the outer isles of Scotland. Some islands were too steep for the animals to plough, so a tool called a crooked foot would be attached to the farmer’s leg, allowing them to work the fields themselves.
March of the King of Laois, Loch Torridon, Brenda Stubbort’s
March of the King of Laois is one of my favourite tunes and also happens to be a favourite of someone who has helped my personal talents develop/flourish as well as always pushing me to be better, so I’d be remiss to not include it on my debut. This tune was written (to my knowledge) about Ruairí Óg Ó Mórdha, a principle organizer of the Irish Rebellion in 1641.
Loch Torridon is another one of my favourites. It is quite a groovy little march. The alternate title for this tune is The Battle of Aughrim which was a decisive battle in the Jacobite influence over Ireland. It was one of the bloodiest battles ever fought in the history of the British Isles, and it was both a physical and psychological defeat for the Irish.
I haven’t come across any historical significance for Brenda Stubbort’s but it is a fantastic tune that works in just about any set.
Scots Wha Hae
I personally see this song as Scotland’s national anthem. The melody (the tune Hey Tuttie Tatie) was hummed by Robert the Bruce’s forces at the Battle of Bannockburn as well as played in the 1400s for Joan of Arc when she entered Orleans. The lyrics were applied to this tune by the great Robert Burns, simulating a speech that Bruce would have given to his troops at Bannockburn. I have been studying under Dr. John for many, many years now and I asked him to do a duet with me on this tune as he has helped foster my love of violin and Scotland as a whole.
The Barfight Set
This set is composed of two tunes, Clean Pea Strae and Fisher’s Hornpipe. I personally do not know of any historical significance for either of these tunes; I merely wanted this set to add some fun levity as this album contains many dark themes and histories throughout. I call it the Barfight Set as this is the type of music that is always in fun fight scenes in movies.
The first tune in this set is called Highland Laddie. This is quite an old tune but the history that I associate with it is more recent. Famous piper, Bill Millin, played this in the freezing waters while taking fire during D-Day. I slowed it down to be more in remembrance and reverence for the heroism of not only him but for all of the Allied forces.
The second tune, The Haughs of Cromdale, I play here as both a strathspey and a reel. A strathspey is a tune subgenre that comes from the valley of the river Spey and is very much associated with Scottish culture as a whole. The Haughs of Cromdale, in particular, has association with a piper involved in the siege of Dargai named George Findlater, who was shot several times during the siege and continued to play this tune in order to inspire his fellow troops.
This set is comprised of three tunes that I, myself, composed. The first is called The Great Heathen Army and its rather bleak sound is to represent the Christians in 865 staring down both a figurative and literal armada of heathen longships with only their swords and their God to protect them.
The Raven Age of England is the name of the jig, which is the second tune. This refers to the Northmen occupation of what would become England, with “raven” a reference to the Scandinavian god Odin. He had two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, that would follow him and whisper secrets, their names translated to Thought and Memory, respectively.
The third tune is called the Berserker, which is a legendary story relating to the latter part of the Scandinavian occupation of the island. The English army mounted an offence against the Norsemen, surprising them and forcing them to retreat over Stamford Bridge. The Norsemen left behind one Berserker. (Berserkers were an elite fighting force of men that would essentially become blood drunk and fought in an inescapable trance, seemingly unable to be harmed. Berserker roughly means “bear shirt” which refers to popular description of them wearing bear pelts into battle.) Anyway, this Berserker was left behind to delay the entire English army so the Norsemen would have time to regroup. And he did. I’ve heard differing accounts of how many men he killed that day on the bridge. Some as “low” as 40, some as high as 100. As the story goes, the English were not able to best this heathen in direct combat so they took a boat underneath the bridge and stabbed upwards with pikes, killing the Berserker.
Atgeir (Danheim Cover)
I was introduced to Danheim’s music a few years ago and I immediately fell in love with it. He introduced me to the entire genre of what I call neo-pagan music. I definitely recommend checking his music out as all of it is fantastic. Historically, though, an atgeir was a Scandinavian pole-arm weapon used for splitting mail.
The first tune in this set is called Johnny Cope and it is quite well-known. General Jonathan Cope was in charge of English forces at the Battle of Prestonpans. Famously, he and his troops camped their forces with their backs to an impenetrable marsh. Scotsmen being Scotsmen, found a way through and surprised Cope’s forces in the dead of night, causing Cope to retreat. In actuality, Cope tried multiple times to rally his troops to fight but, alas, history is written by the victor; therefore, it is written that Cope ran away.
Come Ye A’ Frae France was a Jacobite fight song referring to Bonnie Prince Charlie and his forces who were lying in wait in France before their ill-fated attempt to restore the crown to the house of Stewart.
The Black Dinner
This is a rather nasty piece of history and is one of the reasons I included a jolly set earlier in the album. The Black Dinner is a piobearachd, which is a very specific sect of bagpipe music. The urlar (opening line) was written by Dr. John Turner, with all of the variations and arrangements by me. The history behind this is that the Earl Douglas died and passed his inheritance on to his 16-year-old son. The deceased Earl’s brother, James Douglas the Gross, invited his two nephews, one of which was the inheritor of The Gross’ brother’s title, for dinner at his castle. While eating a seemingly innocuous dinner, a severed black bull’s head, a symbol of death, was placed upon the table. The doors were barred and, at that moment, the boys knew that they would die at the end of the night. I wrote each variation of the tune to be a different emotion experienced by the boys as they knowingly ate their last meals. As dinner ended, the boys were forced out into the courtyard, given a fake trial, condemnation, and executed.
The Siege of Paris
This is another set of my own tunes emulating Nordic music in the Scottish style. The first tune is called Blood Eagle, which was an execution method that has a long history of debate surrounding its authenticity. This was the part that I alluded to in the foreward where I didn’t want to describe in total detail, so I shall just say that the name ‘blood eagle’ is more than a little apt. It was described in the Sagas as a ritualistic execution method and there has been a long debate about whether this was actually practiced or was mythical. My own opinion on the subject is there have been equally disgusting methods of execution over the years (the Judas Cradle comes to mind) so I don’t see why this one wouldn’t have happened.
The second tune is a war march called At the Gates of Helheim. This refers to the time of Ragnarok where Odin and all of the warriors in Valhalla march upon the endless legions of the dead and monsters that lie in wait behind the gates, meeting them in battle on a field known as the Vígríðr. These forces of evil are ferried by a ship called the Naglfar, which is made of the fingernails of the dead.
The reel is called The Siege of Paris. This describes the event in 845 when a flotilla of longships under the command of a warrior named Ragnar (possibly but not confirmed to be the legendary Ragnar Lodbrok) travelled upriver and held the entire city of Paris for ransom, which was successful. This ransom was considered the first of the Danegeld (essentially Viking tax) in France.