Kelso Pipers Tales

Writing in 1825, James Haig in his ‘History of Kelso’ tells us “that it was the custom for a drum and bagpipe to parade the town at five o’clock in the morning and at 10 o’clock at night to signify the propriety of their returning to rest; but this practice has long since ceased. In a foot note he adds, “the custom of having regular pipers in each of the Border towns, is of long standing, and it is only within a few years back that such an officer was considered an unnecessary appendage. Kelso continues to adhere to the old practice, and a piper is still kept by the town, who, however, only officiates on public occasions, and at St James Fair.”

The last piper of Kelso was Thomas Anderson and is noted by Archibald Campbell in 1812 (Additional notes on the Scots Musical Museum page 379) where he says “Thomas Anderson by trade a skinner in Kelso, whose father and grandfather were esteemed good performers on what is called the Border or Bellows Bagpipe. They lived about the close of the 17th Century. One of these Andersons is immortalised by Burns in the song “John Anderson my Jo”. The connection isn’t apparent until one reads the older bawdy inspiration to Burns famous song, the words of which are contained in the “Merry Muses of Caledonia”.

In 1880, Rutherford writing in his “Guide to Kelso” pp34,35 tells us the following anecdotes. “In front of the town hall in the ultra loyal days of George III and IV, the gentry of the district and principal inhabitants used ‘al fresco’, to drink the Kings health, the wine provided for which they were in no way slack in passing to the outside crowd of onlookers. At this event, annually, the town piper John Anderson, played his pipes at one of the open windows of the town hall. But a piper any more than a prophet has no honour in his own country. A petition dated 1786, was raised by the dillettante of the town and sent into the Baillie sarcastically requesting that a barrel organ be sent around the town in the morning and evening in place of the pipes, each subscriber to the petition obliging himself to pay from 2s 6d towards purchase of the organ.” “John Anderson was a leather breeches maker to trade and with the death of his brother Tom Anderson the town pipership of the town became defunct.”

From: Account of the Town of Kelso, James Haig, Edinburgh 1825 pp105 - Guide to Kelso, Rutherford, Edinburgh 1880 pp 34,35 - Additional notes to the Scots Musical Museum, William Stenhouse.

William Stenhouse in his notes on the song ‘John Anderson my Jo’ says “John Anderson, if we may rely on an uniform and constant tradition, was, of old, the town piper of Kelso, and an amourous wag in his day.”

John Anderson my Jo from Robert Burns ‘Merry Muses of Caledonia’.

1. John Anderson, my jo, John, I wonder what ye mean, To lie sae lang i’ the mornin, and sit sae late at e’en? Ye’ll bleer a; your een, John, and why do ye so? Come sooner tae yer bed at e’en, John Anderson, my jo.

2.John Anderson, my jo, John, when first that ye began, Ye had as good a tail-tree, as ony ither man; But now its waxen wan, John, and wrinkles to and fro; I’ve twa gae ups for ae gae doon, John Anderson, my jo.

3. I’m backit like a salmon, I’m breastit like a swan, My wame it is a’ down-cod, my middle ye may span: Frae my tap-knot to my tae, John, I’m like the new fa’n snaw; And it’s a’ for your convenience, John Anderson, my jo.

4. O it is a fine thing, to keep out o'er the dyke
But it is a mickle finer thing, to see your hurdies fyke
To see your hurdies fyke, John, and hit the rising blow
Its then I like your chanter pipe, John Anderson, my jo.

5. When ye came on before, John, see that ye do your best
When ye begin to haud me, see that ye grip me fast
See that ye grip me fast, John, until that I cry, Oh
Your back shall crack or I do that, John Anderson, my jo.

6. John Anderson, my jo, John, ye're welcome when you please
It's either in the warm bed, or else aboon the claes
Or ye shall hae the horns, John, upon your head to grow
An that's the cuckold's mallison, John Anderson, my jo.

Robert Burns' version (1789)

John Anderson, my jo, John,
When we were first acquent;
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonie brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snaw;
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson, my jo.

2. John Anderson, my jo, John,
We clamb the hill the gither;
And mony a cantie day, John,
We've had wi' ane anither:
Now we maun totter down, John,
And hand in hand we'll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo.