An atmospheric Border Scots ballad in the auld tradition: how 'the Piper of Loos' saved the 7th Battalion of the King's Own Scottish Borderers in October 1915.
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November 24, 2003
The week before Armistice Day (November 11) 1999 a story was published in the Southern Reporter, researched by Bill Bruce, which neatly and emotively retold how Piper D L Laidlaw VC reversed the fortunes of a Border battalion fighting in the trenches of the Great War. I wrote the song in a moderate Border Scots dialect, which is easily understood, and played it locally. The lyrics were published by the newspaper. Like most of my songs, the inspiration was immediate and it took around 90 minutes to complete and a further hour to record. This is the second take. The pipes, ambient noise and gunfire effects are added on a Roland JV-50 keyboard and the rest is a one-take recording, playing a Lowden O-10 guitar in drop D tuning and singing. The recording is on a Roland VS-880.
In Scotland we were brothers three
Worked oor land upon the Border
And i' the summer o' fifteen
We joined the ranks in order
Farewell we bid oor mither dear
God help yez a', said father
We left oor hills and mountains clear
For the trench-lines o' Artois
Wis by Sir Douglas Haig's command
That the seventh Bord'rers
Were to cross owr no-man's land
And so we did as ordered
Lowsin' first the smoke an' gas
An hoor before the dawin'
From the trenches we did pass
When oor guns had quit their roarin'
First there rose ma brither John
Ye wad ne'er hae kent him
Gas-mask, kilt and helmet on
Tae his deith they sent him
Neist there rose ma brither Hugh
Nae flinchin' though afflictit
The green mist closed his eyes o' blue
And I alane lay frichtit
Then through the gunfire and the cries
The gaspin' and the prayin'
I heard the dronin' skirl and rise
One piper bravely playin'
An we who lay in bluid and clay
Rose on our feet tae hear it
An those who near were we'ed away
Felt deith and didna fear it
Piper Laidlaw played his lane
"Blue Bonnets" at the break of day
Wi' gas and smoke each blaw was pain
Until they shot his pipes away
Afore days end we gained the ground
Yet dearly wis it won
Where three had wauken in the morn
That night wauk only one
Six hundred of the Seventh fell
Three hundred an' few more
Of that battalion lived to tell
How Laidlaw piped them o'er
So Piper Laidlaw, was it ye
That sent the Seventh hame
Bravest but fewest of all they
That frae the Border came?
Frae Scotland we cam brothers three
In France yet twa must stay
And Laidlaw's last lament shall be
Blue Bonnets, Blue Bonnets
Lie cauld in the clay