THE LADS O’ THE FAIR

When Brian McNeill wrote The Lads O’ The Fair some thirty years ago, he had no idea that it was going to become one of the best loved and most sung songs in the Scottish traditional music revival’s repertoire.His original idea was simply to commemorate a piece of his home town’s social history, the Falkirk Tryst, the great meeting at which the cattle of the Highlands, herded from the north by the drove roads, would be sold to southern buyers.
The Tryst was one of the biggest social events in Scotland’s annual calendar. Much more than just a cattle market, it shaped much of Brian’s home town and it fascinated him to the point where he knew he had to write about it. The result was the launch of Brian McNeill as a songwriter


Picture by Richard Broadley
 

The song takes three characters; a weaver who wants to sell his cloth, a drover who’s looking forward to a good drink at the end of his work, and a ploughman who wants a new job, and it lets each of them tell of their expectations of the Tryst. It ends by saying that Falkirk, hard economic times or not, can still raise a glass to the culture of work and the people who created it.
Brian had always known that the song was popular in Falkirk, but he had no idea how deeply it had penetrated the local consciousness.
When Falkirk Council decided to make a leisure and community area out of the Policy Bing, one of the pit slag heaps to the south of the town, they decided the view over Falkirk from one particular spot was so good that they had to create a viewpoint. Richard Broadley, the Council's Environment Co-ordinator and himself born and bred in Falkirk - a real bairn
, had the idea of using lyrics from Brian’s song, since they said the very thing the viewpoint was meant to convey: Stand here and I’ll show ye - there’s the toon below ye. Subsequently, he and Hazel Baird of the Central Scotland Forest Trust, resolved to mark the spot with something other than a notice board and approached Brian, who was delighted to give permission for his lyrics to be used. The result is a beautiful semicircle of Caithness stone, inscribed with the lines from the song.
On Friday June 1st, in a lovely ceremony at Lionthorn Greenspace, Brian sang the song to open the viewpoint. He was joined by local musicians, Falkirk Schools Traditional Band Group, Falkirk’s Deputy Provost, John Patrick and representatives of the Town Council and other organisations involved in the huge project - Central Scotland Forest Trust, Falkirk Environmental Trust, Veolia Environmental Trust and pupils from Hallglen Primary and Comely Park Primary schools who planted hundreds of wild flowers on the site.
For three decades now, Brian McNeill has been acclaimed far and wide as one of Scotland’s greatest songwriters. To have his lyrics carved in stone as part of his home town’s history is, he feels, perhaps the greatest honour his work has ever been given.

 
     
   

 

 
  Falkirk Council Photographer Lisa Evans recorded the day and you can see her photographs here: