Caledonia’s Wail For Niel Gow strathspey

Also known as A Lament For The Loss Of Niel Gow, Caledonia Laments The Loss Of Niel Gow, A Favourite Minstrel, Caledonia Wails For Neil Gow, Caledonia Wails For Niel Gow, Caledonia Wails For Niel Gow, Her Favourite Minstrel, Caledonia’s Wail For Neil Gow, Caledonia’s Wail For Niel Gow Her Favourite Minstrel, Caledonia’s Wail For Niel Gow, Her Favourite Minstrel, Caledonia’s Wails For Neil Gow, Caledonia’s Wails For Niel Gow, Caoidh Na H-Alb Airson Neill Ghobha, Caoidh Na H’Alba’ Airson Nial Gobha.

There are 7 recordings of this tune.

Caledonia's Wail For Niel Gow has been added to 21 tunebooks.

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Two settings

X: 1
T: Caledonia's Wail For Niel Gow
R: strathspey
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Bmin
F/E/|D<B, B,>C D>E F>B|A<F F>E D<A, A,F/E/|D<B,B,>C D>E Ff/g/|fe/d/ e/>d/c/<d/ F<B BF/E/|
D<B, B,>C D>E F>B|A/<F/E/>F/ F>E (3DEF A,F/E/|D<B, B,>C D>E Ff/g/|fd e/>d/c/<d/ F<B B||
f/a/|b>c d<c b>a f<d|a<f d/e/f/>e/ dA Af/a/|b>c d<c b>a f/a/b/c'/|df e/d/c/d/ B/d/f/d/ Bd/e/|
fd de/>d/ ca ad/c/|B>c d/c/d/e/ fB BD/E/|FF FC/D/ EE ED/C/|B,/C/D/E/ FA, B,2 B,||
X: 2
T: Caledonia's Wail For Niel Gow
R: strathspey
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Bmin
F|D<B,TB,>C D>E{D/E/}FB|A>F{D/E/}F>E DA,A,F/E/|D<B,TB,>C D>E {D/E/}Fg|f>d (e/d/).c/.d/ B2 Bc/d/|
D<B,TB,>C D>E{D/E/}F>B|A<F{D/E/}F>E D>E/F/ A,F/E/|D<B,TB,>C D>E {D/E/}Fg|f>d (e/d/)c/d/ B2 B||
f/^a/|b>c'{b/c'/}d'>c' Tb>af>d|a<f{d/e/}f>e dAAf/^a/|b>c'{b/c'/}d'>c' b>a f/^a/b/c/'|d'f e/d/c/e/ .B/.d/.f/.d/ Bd/e/|
f.[fd'].[fd']e/>d/ c.[ca].[ca]d/>c/|[DB]>c Td/c/d/^e/ f[F^A]H[F^A] D/=E/|[.D.F][.D.F][.D.F] C/D/ [.C.E][.C.E]H[.C.E] (D/C/)|B,CD^E F>^A, B,2 B,||

Forty-seven comments

B-part, bars 1 & 3 - | b>c’ d’<c’ b>a f<d | - & - | b>c’ d’<c’ b>a f/a/b/c’/ |

3rd beat ~ rather than simply played b>a, played something more like this:

b/>a/ b/<a/ ~ or ~ b{a/b/}>a


~ a ssslooowww strathspey / lament…

“Caledonia’s Wail for Niel Gow, Her favourite Minstrel” ~ C: Captain Simon Fraser ~ 1874

X: 2
T: Caledonia’s Wail for Niel Gow, Her favourite Minstrel
T: Caoidh na h-Alb airson Neill Ghobha
B: “Captain Fraser’s The Airs and Melodies Peculiar to the Highlands of Scotland and the Isles”, 1874, page 60, #148
B: “The Skye Collection”, Keith Norman MacDonald, 1887, ‘Solos*’, page 183
C: Captain Simon Fraser
N: In his own Strain / Slow Strathspey Style (Fraser)
N: Slow (MacDonald)
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
R: Slow Strathspey
K: Bmin
|: F |\
D<B,TB,>C D>E({D/E/}F)B | A>F({D/E/}F)>E DA,A,(F/E/) |\
D<B,TB,>C D>E ({D/E/}F)g | f>d (e/d/).c/.d/ B2 (Bc/d/ |
D<B,TB,>C D>E({D/E/}F)>B | A<F({D/E/}F)>E D>E/F/ A,(F/E/) |\
D<B,TB,>C D>E ({D/E/}F)g | f>d (e/d/)c/d/ (B2 B) :|
f/^a/ |\
b>c’({b/c’/}d’)>c’ Tb>af>d | a<f({d/e/}f)>e dAA(f/^a/) |\
b>c’({b/c’/}d’)>c’ b>a f/^a/b/c/’ | d’f (e/d/)c/e/ .B/.d/.f/.d/ B(d/e/) |
f.[fd’].[fd’]e/>d/ c.[ca].[ca]d/>c/ | [DB]>c Td/c/d/^e/ f[F^A]H[F^A] D/=E/ |\
[.D.F][.D.F][.D.F] C/D/ [.C.E][.C.E]H[.C.E] (D/C/) | B,CD^E F>^A, (B,2 B,) ||

Note: I was having trouble finding our Fraser to confirm everything. Duh! It was arm’s lenght. While “The Skye Collection” is supposed to be a direct lift from that there are a few minor differences, but not as to notes. The notation given above is from Fraser but I’ve given both sources. There is a ‘repeat’ problem in both books that I suspect was a mistake in the Fraser printing that MacDonald repeated. The melodic sense in this is that the A-part would not repeat, mirroring the same bar count as the B-part. The structure is akin to those strathspeys/highland flings where the count total is 16, with a second ending for the B-part, usually the final two or four bars… In the James Hunter collection “The Fiddle Music of Scotland”, 1988, the parts are as suggested, without the A-part repeating, tune #15 in that book. Hunter gives the tempo at 1/4 = 46 bpm…

R: Air ~ in the style of a slow strathspey

I’ll check t o see how Skinner has it, if I can find our “Harp & Claymore”…

I got this from the Frasier collection, it’s a real monster to play - I didn’t want to post it because I was afraid Ceolachan would ‘call me out’ for just stealing music off a page and submitting it here on the mustard board.

Why did you leave out all the double-stops in the 2nd part? They’re the ‘cream filling’ of the tune and they are notated both in the Skye and Fraser collections.

And I’ve given them in the transcription taken from that collection…

f.[fd’].[fd’]e/>d/ c.[ca].[ca]d/>c/ | [DB]>c Td/c/d/^e/ f[F^A]H[F^A] D/=E/ |\
[.D.F][.D.F][.D.F] C/D/ [.C.E][.C.E]H[.C.E] (D/C/) | B,CD^E F>^A, (B,2 B,) ||

Not everybody plays them, especially winds. 😀

Besides, such things should be ‘free’, not prescribed, at least in my opinion… 😎

Hey b.maloney, you know I love yu. As long as you’d credited your source you’d have heard little from me except to add this take in the comments to your contribution… 😛

“The Harp and Claymore” - J. Scott Skinner

I didn’t find my monster hardbound edition, but I’ve dug out the smaller and more manageable briefcase sized edition, page 11, “Caledonia’s Wail for Niel Gow” ~ and, yet again, it repeats the ‘mistake’ of doubling the A part to 32 bars, but, after all, he does dedicate the book to Dr. Keith Norman MacDonald, compiler and editor of “The Skye Collection”…

There must be other recordings of this lament? 😏

Thanks Ceol… I don’t get much love around here.
@Weej the title *is* a bit on the naff side, I only found it when I put the abc’s for the fraser collection in abcexplorer and just played the horrifying midi files while I was reading, this one jumped out at me by it’s sound, not it’s title.

“A Lament for the loss of Niel Gow”

‘Naff Title’, yes, but obviously Fraser was enamoured with Gow, and I can understand that considering Niel Gow’s music and contributions. He was an early super-star, for his time, for Scotland, and, like with the passing of Burns, I’m sure that there was, as is tradition, some wailing… It was different times, and yes, in the modern world, the title qualifies as ‘naff’, but the air, I think, overcomes all that, and, in content, has something of the wail about it, a true and heartfelt lament… Frankly, I’d prefer ‘lament’ to ‘wail’. Somehow I can believe that Simon cried on hearing the news…

Aye, but “Caledonia” didnae wail. Just a few groupies.

I don’t know a Scottish musician who doesn’t know and play something of Gow. I suspect, though maybe not as much as for Burns, that the population back then did note the loss of this musician. And I’ve no doubt they did when James Scott Skinner and Jimmy Shand went too… I would not underestimate them…

So where did Caledonia hear of his death? On the telly?

From what I gather, he had a quiet burial in his local kirkyard.

He became better known through his offspring.

“I don’t know a Scottish musician who doesn’t know and play something of Gow”. I know dozens of them. You’d find them in any session in Scotland, and that goes for Skinner and Shand as well.

Posted by .

All very well, but at the time of Gow’s death, those sessions were kind of thin on the ground. As I said, Gow’s offspring did a lot to promote his music through publications. I doubt if there was a unanimous “Caledonian” wailing when he snuffed it. The title is about as pretentious as it gets. I think there is a bit of overestimation of Gow’s impact on “Caledonia” during his lifetime - and some mass mourning of his passing.

“ I know dozens of them.“ So do I. I also know a good few of the tunes he (or Nathaniel) plagiarised.

“He was an early super-star, for his time, for Scotland”

He was well kent as a musician for dances, etc. He didn’t play the big halls as a stage performer. He had a reputation as a fine fiddle player (and a man of wit), but “superstar” is pushing it.

[Niel Gow was a man who was highly respected in all levels of Society primarily as a musician but also as a straight
forward, honest man with a pawky sense of humour. A man who became larger than life after his death and at this
distance in time it is difficult to separate truth from fiction.]

This article is more on the ball than suggesting “Caledonia wailed” his death.

Fraser, Gow & Burns

I think most people who play tunes know a Gow tune and may not even realise it, be them Scottish, Irish, Australian, American etc…

As for Burns… I’m going to add a new discussion regarding Burns using Marshall melodies.

However well played his tunes are today, it doesn’t make Fraser’s tune title less pretentious.

It’s a bit sad if a title can dissuade you so easily from a melody. There are plenty of daft titles about on good melodies, but the judgement of ‘daft’ is a personal one. As to ‘Caledonia wailing’, what poet hasn’t used a similar allusion? It happens in literature back to and beyond and including the Bible. As to ‘superstar’, I don’t think of that in the modern sense of multi-media. ‘Superstar’ status has dropped on plenty of musicians and writers and figures long after they’d been returned to the clay.

But thanks for the link to the article, which doesn’t lessen the man in any way. It is well written and appreciated.

We all have barriers on our ability to imagine, or colour it, or muddy it, including that natural tendency to judge, and that can interfere with our ability to understand or appreciate any idea that is outside of our set ways, including letting the title for a melody affect our attitude towards it because of personal biases. So many people take an immediate dislike to a thing on shallow grounds, like the few I’ve known who dislike the tune “An Phis Fhliuch” because of that title, and associated other titles to that particular tune. We’re a queer species…

Personally I’m more interested in the music, and a title isn’t going to set me one way or the other about a melody… But, each to his own. And to add another cliche - it takes all sorts… 😏

Caledonia’s Mild Irritation at the Death of Gow

Weejie - I know you feel the title of this tune is pretentious, but it’s a product of its time, and it’s maybe unfair to judge them by today’s standards.

ceolachan - I have recordings of this by fiddlers Yla Steven, Judith Davidson, Alastair Hardie, Donald Montgomery and Ron Gonella, as well as two or three Cape Breton players. I think it’s a beautiful tune and I love listening to it.

In a sense I agree with you, long after the fact, he lived to be 80, seems to have had a full, rich and rewarding life, one to admire, including the music. For me it is something to celebrate rather than to wail about, but that’s me and that’s now. However, this little wail of Fraser’s has a heart in it I appreciate, and particularly now that someone we cared very much about, also a musician, has passed from us far too soon, and because of an awful cancer. And yes, inside, I can appreciate the whole idea of a good ‘wail’. There was an island off the west coast of Ireland where they practiced ‘primal screaming’, and there were the keeners at wakes, and yes, I think they had something. So, yes, I think there’s value in a good wail, and I also believe that a race, poetically speaking, can experience a loss that calls for something like this tune, one person expressing it for a metaphor, ‘Caledonia’… Bless him, however ‘camp’ and overstated this title might seem to be by some…

Me too Nigel. It touched a nerve, and it gave me something good literature has been known to possess for a very long time ~ some bit of catharsis…

Please send more on the other players of this. I did do an initial title search. I’d very much like to hear how others take it, with or without double stops. 😉

“ As to ‘superstar’, I don’t think of that in the modern sense of multi-media. ‘Superstar’ status has dropped on plenty of musicians and writers and figures long after they’d been returned to the clay.“

Was there a “superstar” status of old?
Gow was regarded much in the same way as, say,Tam Anderson was in his lifetime - neither were “superstars” and neither had the country in mourning when they passed away.

If Fraser had called his tune “lament for Neil Gow” it would have been less pretentious (and, Nigel, that style was common in Fraser’s day). I’m not sure if the word ‘minstrel’ is entirely fitting for Gow, either.
Yep, a good tune should be able to surmount a naff title, and perhaps the fact that I am put off by the title has a connection with the fact that I’m not too keen on the tune either. It doesn’t have the ring of other, more cracking tunes from that period - like those of Neil Gow, for example.

Nae fabled wizard’s wand, I trow,
Had e’er the magic airt o’ Gow,
When wi’ a wave he draws his bow
Across his wondrous fiddle!


Superstars and Superheros ~

Is “wizard’s wand” also pretentious? In some minds no doubt. In its own time? That Robert Burns has written a poem for Gow would be enough, but even without that, and all else, including the writing you’ve linked to Weejie, in my mind Niel Gow remains one of my ‘superstars’, ‘superheros’. His music, including his laments, have given my much pleasure, as did reading that little write-up on his life…

“Is “wizard’s wand” also pretentious?”

Burns knew how to use words. Fraser, though obviously having a way with music (not necessarily of a traditional nature, however), knew on which side his bread was buttered (though it caught up with him in the end). Much of his “music peculiar to the Highlands of Scotland and the Isles” was actually peculiar to his own hand - and poet he was not.
The words of Burns and Fraser are comparable to calcium and pressed curds.
I’m not getting at Gow. You may regard him as a superstar - I’d prefer to think of him as a good egg. However, I’m not too keen on the way Fraser doctored tunes (and words) - and no doubt passed off some of his own work as ‘ancient ditties’. Not too keen on the exploits of the geezer either - both in Ireland and the clearing of his own lands for baa-baas. I think of him as a not very good egg.
So his “Caledonia wailing” kind of grates those pressed curds.
I rather suspect that more “Caledonians” (and Irish) felt like wailing after some of his shenanigans than did after Gow died.

Other Verbose and Flowery Titles in Fraser

“The Fashion Which the Lasses Have”
“The Heiress’s Expostulations with Rob Roy”
“Any Privation But This”
“Place, True Love, Thine Arm Around Me”
“Well May I Behold My Faithful Brunette”
“What Pain I Have Endured Since Last Year”
“I Can’t Conceal That I Prefer You”
“Black Haired Nymph, Forsake Me Not”
“The Editor’s Thanks to Mr Nathaniel Gow”
“The Traveller Benighted In Snow”
“Small Is My Inclination to Sleep”

On Fraser, well, there’s a different fish, and maybe best used for bait. And I do know what you mean about the tunes, including this one, pushing the borders as it does, and clearly intentionally. But I still can connect to the loss in it, even if it has that naff melodrama about it. I play the tune, not the title for it, but even that doesn’t twist me too much, being familiar, as Nigel shows, with similar, and worse, considering some of the songs of the times. 😀

One person, one poem, one song, one tune ~ can touch the heart of an idea, of a culture, a nation ~ can express for many, or for a metaphor like ‘Caledonia’ ~ can represent collective celebration or mourning, and all emotions in between. And no, that doesn’t need to be 100% of a geographic population, as it can be metaphoric, representing an idea, as of culture. Many of Gow’s tunes do that for me, and Skinner’s, as does in some sense this thickly titled one here. But, hey, I’m in a sensitive state lately and melodrama seems to fit it at the moment.

And yes, we all know something of the invasions caused by woolly mammals, the baa-baas, and the over-spill into Ireland and beyond… I’m also, generally, no great fan of the aftermath of Neil Gow, the drawing room violinists like Fraser and Skinner, but that doesn’t deny my appreciating some of what they’ve given us, but not without criticism, not with blinders on or, as some seem to have, unquestioning worship… Don’t get met started there. 😉

‘pushing the borders’ ~ affected! 😀

‘met’? Nnnnh! ~ Don’t get ‘me’ started… 😛

Slight misunderstanding…

Apologies for not being clearer above, “Weejie”. I wasn’t saying I knew dozens of Gow tunes. I was saying I know dozens of musicians who don’t know any of them.

Posted by .

I understand the context of your earlier post now, Kenny. It just makes Fraser’s title look more pretentious.

‘Clarification!’ Though I can’t say it’s that clear, either way… Sometimes what we know hasn’t a name to it, either way, and maybe at times that’s for the best. I used to know a slew of rude titles for tunes, and lyrics, but they are little used nowadays. I too know a lot of musicians who don’t know any of the tunes ascribed to Gow ~ Irish, Canadian, Macedonian - - - 😀 And ‘modern’ Scottish session going young-uns, under 80 years of age… As to appreciation, well, Gow’s laments are amongst my favourites.

‘Pretentious’, well, something akin to that, but I’m not sure that’s quite sufficient? IT’s affected, and to use something later that the title itself, it’s O.T.T., in more ways than just the title. But sometimes, speaking for myself, I don’t mind giving something a try that is O.T.T. and melodramatic, or camp. Yeah, I had kind of thought that ages back, that it was ‘camp’… 😀

I’m not sure if it was ‘camp’ or perhaps more likely, there to gain favour. Fraser was very keen to get this stuff published and pushed the idea that he was da man - he belittled Patrick MacDonald in his book an apparently spoke disparagingly of Alexander Campbell. Leaving out words, to ensure the “establishment” wouldn’t take offence.

Chancer in more ways than one.

Or, as we sometimes refer to it in a very crude way ~ ‘brown nosing’… “Chancer!” seems a fair description…

Oh what fun! Thanks Weejie and Kenny and b.maloney and Nigel, as usual, much appreciated. I was needing a good chuckle this evening (after some serious dental surgery)… It hurts, but it’s worth it, better than any pain killer… 😀

Re: Caledonia’s Wail For Niel Gow

My favorite rendition of this continues to be that of the great but underrated Cape Breton fiddler Bill Lamey on “Full Circle”, where he has the fiddle tuned slightly down. His recording is where I first heard this tune. I never liked it as much in others’ hands, nor even in the original key. Oh well.

For what it’s worth, Lamey’s renditions of tunes nearly always rank among my favorites. Is that because he’s one of the first CB fiddlers I really heard in any detail? Possibly, but I do think it’s more than that.