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
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,
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.