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Musical memories

Music plays an important part in the tradition of The Banffshire Coast, and many of the tunes and songs that we still fondly perform today were penned on the area’s quaysides and farm bothies. 

The herring lassies would spend long hours involved in back-breaking work: conditions were cold, wet and smelly, yet they remained cheerful and would sing to pass the working day. Historical records often make reference to the bustling quayside being alive with the sound of young quines singing self-penned songs about the fisher way of life. 

Religion was very important to fishing communities, and especially here in the North-east of Scotland. During the mid to late 1800s many coastal towns and villages – and especially families which were members of the Baptist church – became familiar with the hymns of American gospel singer and composer, Ira David Sankey. Scan the general notice pages of our local newspapers, and you will see that Sankey nights are still common in places with strong fishing traditions.

Inland, the bothy ballad reigned supreme. These were tunes composed by farm workers and often described their work, funny events that took place on the farm, the courting of kitchen maids and – more often than not – the harsh working regime imposed by farmers. They were called bothy ballads after the bothy where the farm hands would live and spend time at the end of the working day. Diddling – a very unusual form of mouth music which has to be heard to be believed – was also performed.

Some of our most famous ballads include ‘A Pair O’ Nicky Tams’ and ‘The Muckin’ O’ Geordie’s Byre’ and these, amongst others, are celebrated at bothy ballads musical events. The biggest event by far is the annual champion of champions which features winners from bothy ballads contests all over the North-east of Scotland. The top performers are brought together in a showdown a few miles from Banffshire in Elgin – the county capital of Moray.

It’s always worth checking out local notice boards and newspapers to look for traditional music events and ceilidhs, but one event not to be missed is Folk At The Salmon Bothy. The music club hosts regular events with local and internationally known performers, and also has an open mic night on the third Friday of the month.

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