I’ve posted this tune for its novelty value more than anything. It’s from the Northumbrian minstrelsy and is really in B Phrygian, not G major (so yes that is a C natural). However, it is meant to be played over a smallpipes drone of G and D, so that it forms Gmaj7 and G6/9sus4 harmonies, giving the tune a dream-like quality. I think it goes best as a middle tune in a set as a sort of "interlude", and resolves nicely into a true G major tune like "The Lass And The Money Is All My Own".
I think Brechan is a Scottish/Northumbrian word for Bracken - as in the type of fern. This seems likely because the hills in the area around Branton are covered with Bracken, which I’ve just read is actually carcinogenic - it actually imitates the effects of radiation poisoning, and sometimes produces cyanide compounds. Take note all ramblers, in case you accidentally consume a lot of it.
Border pipes jig
It seems I was mistaken in thinking that this tune was meant to be in a weird mode. Apparently this is a very old border pipes jig, and would have been in Bmin with C#s. The border pipes have the same scale as the highland pipes, i.e. pitches close to an A mixolydian scale. The tune appears in the William Vickers m/s where it is entitled "Brekken At Branton", and transcribed with only 1#. Below is a "corrected" abc transcription of that setting:
g|:f2B BcB|e2A ABA|f2B BcB|d3 g3|
f2B BcB|e2A ABA|Bcd ecA|d3 g3:|
|:fdB fdB|ecA ecA|fdB fdB|d3 g3|
fdB fdB|ecA ecA|Bcd ecA|d3 g3:|
After the Vickers 1# transcription appeared, it was taken at face value and simply copied out for later manuscripts and tunebooks, including the minstrelsy by Bruce & Stokoe which was published in the 19th century. It was from this source that many musicians have got the tune, and this is why Kathryn Tickell’s version has Cnats. The same setting appears on a recording called "The Wind In The Reeds" by the Cut And Dry Band, the only difference being that the tempo is slightly quicker and the tune is played against an A drone instead of a G.
To be honest, I still like Kathryn Tickell’s version with the G drone. Regardless of how the original tune was meant to be, it is now firmly established in the tradition as a B phrygian tune, simply because that is how is has been recorded and written down. I’m glad of that, because it was the tune’s weird sound that attracted me to it in the first place. Played just as a simple B minor jig on anything other than the border pipes, I think it’d probably be rather bland.
There is only one other known appearance of this tune, and that is in the 1798 manuscripts of Joshua Jackson (b.1763) from North Yorkshire. Jackson’s version has an extra middle part in D, and goes by the title "Green Bracken". I learnt that setting from a recording of Noel Jackson’s band and have transcribed it into abc below - I hope he doesn’t mind:
|:g|fef BcB|efe A2g|fef BcB|d3 f2g|
fef BcB|efe A2A|Bcd ecA|~d3 d2:|
|:g|fga afd|cde ecA|fga afd|f3 a2g|
fga afd|cde ecA|Bcd ecA|~d3 d2:|
|:g|fdB fdB|ecA ecA|fdB fdB|d3 f2g|
fdB fdB|ecA ecA|Bcd ecA|~d3 d2:|
‘Brechan’ and Fiddleheads - - - mmm, mmm, good!
Yes, it gets a bit nasty with age, aside from old and ropey - dangerously so, that slightly bitter cyanide seasoning. If you catch them when very, very young, they should easily snap clean as proof, when they’ve just shot up and created those lovely rolls called fiddle heads. You can fix them up just like asparagus, and don’t let the snotty drool put you off, and they are lovely, butter and ramsons, wild garlic, and a little seasoning, maybe wild thyme, all present in the lovely realms of Northumbia and Cumbria.
However, it isn’t a staple in our diet, aside from them only being available during a certain time of the season. It tends to be camp food, with nettles and other such delicacies. But maybe those trace poisons have something to do with some of the twists in my nature. This would be a nice tune in a set played after a lovely plate full of this and wild trout - poached of course, and I’m not talking about steam…
Re: The Green Brechans O’ Branton
This tune appears as "Ragg" in John Johnson’s Choice Collection Vol. 1, London, circa 1750. It is notated with two sharps, but plays much better with one flat. It then occurs not much later (circa 1770) in Vickers as "The Ragg" (tune #199), this time with very minor variations and with one sharp instead of two sharps. I have posted this version above as it is in the MS, but with Matt Seattle’s edit to one flat.
Re: The Green Brechans O’ Branton
Incidentally, the definition of Ragg in the USA, and therefore presumably from archaic English, is "made of or designating a sturdy yarn made up of multiple light and dark, esp. cream and gray, strands producing a flecked pattern", which fits rather well with so many people of the 18th C being weavers.