Willie O’Douglas Dale

Another of the tunes which Karl Sinfield at Sing Yonder asked me to revive was Willie O’Douglas Dale (Child Ballad 101, Roud Index 65). This song features Dame Oliphant who, having fallen in love with the ‘wrong’ man and getting pregnant, isn’t standing by to wait for trouble. Willie wants her to go with him, so she gives him money, jumps over the castle walls (still very pregnant!), has a baby in the woods and elopes to Scotland with him. The ballad obviously fell out of use since it was first written. It was from a time when obedience was required in royal women (still is?) – certainly no hanky panky before an arranged marriage to a preferred suitor - and if they did, there was supposed to be some comeuppance, especially for a man of lesser status. So, hats off to Dame Oliphant for doing it her way! But with no reprisals, a successful elopement to Scotland and no one dying, in folk ballad terms it’s an abject failure! And the lack of a reprimand was probably very against certain Victorian sensibilities.

When Karl asked me to create something for modern day singing from this song (or more likely, to avoid having to miss out songs in the Sing Yonder sequence!) it was a challenge to begin with. For this version, more accessible lyrics were needed as the originals in Child are heavy on dialect. The Sing Yonder page word limit meant that elements not essential to the tale had to go. For the tune, Bronson’s suggestions didn’t fit well so it was necessary to compose a new one to make it ‘singable’.  The tune took a while as I tend to need to live with a song for a while; the lyrics develop a rhythm in my head and it’s from this that the tune develops. With unaccompanied singing, you can easily change rhythm during a song and I’d decided on the penultimate line having a slightly different pace to break up any rhythmic monotony. Parts of the melody changed several times the more I sang it (thank goodness for Voice Notes on phones to record changes immediately) until finally, I arrived at the version here!

You can read more about the song on the Sing Yonder substack at https://singyonder.substack.com/p/roud-65-willie-o-douglas-dale

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