‘Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
I’ve read, that things inanimate have mov’d,
And, as with living Souls, have been inform’d,
By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.’
Truer words were never written.
Yesterday was a fantastic day! Emily Smith has agreed the use of her definitive version of Robert Burns’, The Silver Tassie on the album, ‘Native Musicians: Songs for Scotland 2’! Why is this important, and how is her version of this song definitive?
It matters, first, because of the great lyrical beauty of this classic antiwar song, based upon Burns’ poem ‘My Bonnie Mary’.
The Silver Tassie
Go fetch to me a pint o wine,
And fill it in a silver tassie;
That I may drink, before I go,
A service to my bonnie lassie:
The boat rocks at the Pier o’ Leith,
Fu’ loud the wind blaws frae the Ferry,
The ship rides by the Berwick-law,
And I maun leave my bonnie Mary.
The trumpets sound, the banners fly,
The glittering spears are ranked ready,
The shouts o’ war are heard afar,
The battle closes deep and bloody.
It’s not the roar o’ sea or shore,
Wad make me langer wish to tarry;
Nor shouts o’ war that’s heard afar-
It’s leaving thee, my bonnie Mary!
In these few spare lines Burns captures the tragedy of families sundered by military campaigns of butchery and slaughter abroad in the service of empires. When Burns was writing he would have been thinking of the various campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars. Today what is different? Only the countries invaded and the weapons systems used. The countries? Think Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Ukraine, as examples; all of these wars, mostly illegal, all immoral, are driven by the imperial psychoses of the US and British governments — ‘our’ government, still. But in terms of death dealing, we’ve moved on now from muskets, swords and cannons to drones, white phosphorus, cluster bombs and tactical nuclear weapons.
There is a universalism to this poem, The Silver Tassie, that transcends time and place, and is forever.
The version of the song recorded in this YouTube video is from the Transatlantic Sessions programme, which began airing on BBC Four in 1992 and is still going strong today. The Scottish producers are Ally Bain, Douglas Eadie and Mike Alexander (the last two, respectively, produced and directed the series). What a brilliant, brilliant concept lies behind this series!
In production terms, the Transatlantic Sessions (which later spun off a related, Gaelic language Highland Sessions series, for BBC Alba) was created by assembling the best of the best of Scottish folk/trad musicians, and accommodating them for a spell in a stately home somewhere in Scotland. Then, well fed, well rested, relaxed and convivial, the artists rehearsed and rehearsed… and the result is that the songs as recorded are — definitive. ‘Sessions’ versions of Scottish songs simply can’t be improved upon. They are the final word.
Thank you Emily Smith and Whirlie Records — Ally Bain, Douglas Eadie, and Mike Alexander — for allowing the use of exactly this version of The Silver Tassie on the new compilation album, ‘Native Musicians: Songs for Scotland 2’