Jul 1 2011

Gloomy Winter’s Noo Awa


This is the first blog post I have done here in two years, so it is slightly longer, or more irritating if you like…

Very occasionally, one comes upon a cascade of eerie co-incidence.  Theoretically, it will always happen due to the combination of probability and conformation bias, however it still feels decidedly odd.  Anyway, back in the days when I was about four stone lighter than I am now, I had seen the film “The Piano”.  While the film was slightly mediocre, I was immediately taken by the music.  Written by Michael Nyman, the track “The Heart Asks Pleasure First” felt like something that could stir the soul but at the same time sounded curiously familiar; I liked the piece of music so much that I went straight out to Biggars Music in Glasgow to obtain the sheet music then immediately set about butchering it on the piano.

If you are now wondering what on earth this has to do with co-incidence or indeed why you bothered reading thus far, all shall soon become clear (although you still won’t like the answer).  Last night, I had set about cleaning my rather neglected piano.  After delving into some Chopin and swearing at the porridge-like texture of my rendition, I decided to have a gander through a book of Scottish Folk sheet music I had bought months ago from the Oxfam bookshop.

Opening at a random page, I picked the first theme that I saw, which happened to be “Gloomy Winter’s Noo Awa”.  After a few bars it started to sound familiar.  Indeed, it was familiar: it turned out to be exactly the same theme used in Nyman’s “The Heart Asks Pleasure First”.  A few searches on Google assured me that I am indeed correct and that the words are due to Robert Tannahill, circa 1808 with the music likely being of earlier origin.  Being the first song in the book that I looked at and that the book contains at least a hundred songs, I thought it was, well, co-incidental.

Is your interest piqued yet?  No?  Oh, well, you best read on anyway – you have started now.

It turns out that Robert Tannahill was actually from Paisley and, if you look at the words to the song, you will find he speaks of Gleniffer Braes and Stanley – well known places in Paisley.  As it happens, I went to Gleniffer High School and when I was a child my parents would take us up Gleniffer Braes for a Sunday walk.  Ok, I may be stating the blindingly obvious but hitherto last night I did not know Robert Tannahill was from Paisley, nor the words he had penned.

By this point I know you may want to throw yourself off a bridge but there is one last ounce of life to ruthlessly squeeze out of this tale.  I wanted to hear a more traditional rendition so I threw it into YouTube only to find Dougie MacLean’s version, MacLean was also in the Tannahill Weavers around the same time as they recorded it on their album “Old Woman’s Dance” (1978), at least according to this blog entry.  Finally, reading from information found in the always reliable Wikipedia, Tannahill Weavers started out in – guess where – Paisley, c.f. Tannahill Weavers Wiki entry.

So aside from wanting to skelp Michael Nyman for using the theme as his own without credit to the original, it was an exceedingly nice surprise to find a piece I have cherished actually has its history firmly set in Scotland and for that matter, my home toon of Paisley.