Wednesday, May 09, 2007

FAREWELL to Nova Scotia, Already!

You get TWELVE versions of "Farewell to Nova Scotia." That's a long goodbye!
The singer mentions three brothers are already dead but, it's off to war, singing... "Farewell to Nova Scotia, you sea-bound coast! Let your mountains dark and dreary be!"
And it leaves you wondering...
When was Nova Scotia at war? Did they have a Lox vs Salmon battle with Israel? Did they cross the sea to fight, uh, Old Scotia?
As usual with many folk songs on this continent, the origins are actually to be found in the United Kingdom. The original poem, "The Soldier's Adieu" dates from 1808, and was written by Scotland's Robert Tannahill. In part:

I grieve to leave my comrades dear,
I mourn to leave my native shore,
To leave my aged parents here,
And the bonnie lass whom I adore....

The trumpet calls to War's alarms,
The rattling drum forbids my stay;
Ah! Nancy, bless thy soldier's arms,
For ere morn I will be far away.

Adieu! dear Scotland's sea-beat coast!
Ye misty vales and mountains blue!
When on the heaving ocean tost,
I'll cast a wishful look to you.

Apparently when Canada took part in World War I, this old folk song was re-written by some Scottish immigrants now going off to join the Allies in Europe. Or, with the fishing industry quite dangerous, Nova Scotia fishermen simply adapted the song as a heroic ballad that applied to anyone shoving off on a leaky boat.
In 1933 folklorist Dr. Helen Creighton collected it, and placed it in an anthology, but as "The Nova Scotia Song" it languished until the folk boom of the late 50's. By the 60's, when war protesters tended to flea to Canada rather than fight, Catherine McKinnon's version became a standard. (Aye, women's liberation...she sings in the first person and war's now an equal opportunity!) It's been recorded dozens of times since, elevating the dutiful Canadian sailor to legendary status.
Your download has the Irish Rovers, Stomping Tom, the Wicked Tinkers and other gobs, salts and worthies, but some unexpected versions, like the lilting dirge from the grand Rita McNeil, and an alarming version by a ghostly 13 year-old girl who sounds like she didn't survive the Wreck of the Hesperus.

As far as war songs go, this is one of the few that balances patriotism with fear, and a willingness to fight with a sense of dread. While the opening line mentions birds are singing on every tree, the singer realizes "there's no rest for me." He leaves behind the ominous site of mountains, and "grieves to leave" parents, friends and a lover. The odds of living aren't that great: "I had three brothers, and they're at rest. Their arms are folded on their chests." But this "poor simple sailor" has no choice but to be brave and wonder if it's all worth it; "Will you ever heave a sigh and a wish for me?"
The music is based on "Good Night and Joy Be With Ye" which appeared in the old book "Gow's Repository of the Dance Music of Scotland." That might explain why the tune doesn't quite match the grim lyrics. Most singers create a lively, optimistic jig of a hazardous mission.
Nova Scotia is a great tourist town and anyone visiting is not going to be saying "Farewell" without having heard somebody singing this song in a pub, tavern, or on the Bay of Fundy.

UPDATE: this one died due to lack of interest. So...what more futile an idea could there be than re-up? Especially with Rapidshare? Up again, July 2008. If it dies, that'll be it. Farewell!
12 Times! FAREWELL TO NOVA SCOTIA, RE-UPPED to a better and more patient service


Anonymous said...

It's a song every Nova Scotian learns to love. It's as dear as any national anthem. I found it interesting reading into the background on your site.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou! I needed these (really).