Tuesday, July 23, 2019

If you watched the opening ceremony of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games you might have seen and heard the wonderful soprano Pumeza Matshikiza from the townships of South Africa sing the heart rending Hamish Henderson song from 1960, Freedom Come Ye All.

Henderson was born in Blairgowrie but double orphaned and raised in a home before going to Cambridge University. He ran an escape route for German Jews up to 1939 before serving in British Intelligence in Europe and Palestine.

While Pumeza made a beautiful job of the song, it can only really be appreciated when sung by a native Scots singer. There is no better rendition than that given by Dick Gaughin.  

This is a very hard hitting work, which in the manner of Sassoon and Owen in the Great War, questions the morality of sending young Scots around the world to fight in pointless conflicts and the motives and behaviour of Governments and "Big Business". It echoes the humanity seen in Burns writings.  The tune is a reworking of the First War pipe march "The Bloody Fields of Flanders". The use of Scots language is faultless.

The early lines reference to " Roch the win" is a nod towards Harold MacMillan's remarkable "Winds of Change" speech about Africa.

McLean in Springburn is a reference to John McLean, the Red Clydesider and teacher who campaigned against capitalism, was imprisoned in Peterhead for sedition and died later from his treatment there.

Note too the line near the end, "An a black laud frae yont Nyanga" is a reference to Nelson Mandela and his struggle for freedom. Nyanga is one of the oldest black townships in Cape Town and in Xhosa means "moon". This completes the circle as Pumesa Matshikesa is also Xhosa.

There are two fatal mistakes non-Scots often make in singing Scots songs. The first is to try to fake a Scots accent and the second is to try to rewrite the words in English. Neither is necessary. The second is aesthetically disastrous. The first is impossible - there is no such thing as "a Scots accent", any more than there is such a thing as "an English accent"; there are several hundred "Scots accents" and trying to imitate what you might imagine to be a generic one is going to end up with you sounding like Scotty from Star Trek.
Just sing the Scots words in your own accent. Pumesa managed that fine balance very well.

The lyric and translation is given here too:

 

Roch the win i the clear day's dawin
Blaws the clouds heilster-gowdie owre the bay
But thair's mair nor a roch win blawin
Thro the Great Glen o the warl the day
It's a thocht that wad gar our rottans
Aa thae rogues that gang gallus fresh an gay
Tak the road an seek ither loanins
Wi thair ill-ploys tae sport an play
 
Nae mair will our bonnie callants
Merch tae war whan our braggarts crousely craw
Nor wee weans frae pitheid an clachan
Murn the ships sailin doun the Broomielaw
Broken faimilies in launs we've hairriet
Will curse 'Scotlan the Brave' nae mair, nae mair
Black an white ane-til-ither mairriet
Mak the vile barracks o thair maisters bare
 
Sae come aa ye at hame wi freedom
Never heed whit the houdies croak for Doom
In yer hous aa the bairns o Aidam
Will fin breid, barley-bree an paintit room
Whan MacLean meets wi's friens in Springburn
Aa thae roses an geeans will turn tae blume
An a black laud frae yont Nyanga
Dings the fell gallows o the burghers doun.
 
Whan MacLean meets wi's friens in Springburn
Aa thae roses an geeans will turn tae blume
An a black laud frae yont Nyanga
Dings the fell gallows o the burghers doun.
 
English:
It's a rough wind in the clear day's dawning
Blows the clouds head-over-heels across the bay
But there's more than a rough wind blowing
Through the Great Glen of the world today
It's a thought that would choke our rats,
All those rogues who strut and swagger,
Take the road and seek other pastures
To carry out their wicked schemes
 
No more will our fine young men
March to war at the behest of jingoists and imperialists
Nor will young children from mining communities and rural hamlets
Mourn the ships sailing off down the River Clyde
Broken families in lands we've helped to oppress
Will never again have reason to curse the sound of advancing Scots
Black and white, united in friendship and marriage,
Will make the slums of the employers bare
 
So come all ye who love freedom
Pay no attention to the prophets of doom
In your house all the children of Adam
Will be welcomed with food, drink and clean bright accommodation
When MacLean returns to his people
All the roses and cherry trees will blossom
And the black guy from Nyanga
Will break the capitalist stranglehold on everyone's life.