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ALAN DICKSON - Songlines: The Road To Bonnymuir 

ALAN DICKSON - Songlines: The Road To Bonnymuir 
Rowth Publishing ISBN: 9780956465511 

Funny things, pandemics – who would have thought we would have spent a large part of the year unable to meet up with families, friends or colleagues? Mind you, 200 years ago, there was also a ban on groups of people getting together, but this was not for the health of individual citizens, but rather to prevent disgruntled citizens from agitating against the state.

The story of the Radical War in Scotland has been patchily taught, but the London government was in a panic over unrest, which was particularly strong in the weaving communities of the Southwest. In April 1820 events built to the climax of the Battle of Bonnymuir, following calls for a general strike and for workers to arm themselves. The role of agents provocateurs is hazy to this day, but the ringleaders John Baird, Andrew Hardie and James Wilson were executed and many more transported.

In this anthology Alan Dickson has brought together 40 songs, mostly from writers of the day, but with some modern adaptations, to help reflect on the attitudes and values of those who wanted to tell their version of the struggle. There is a lot of the ‘folk process’ evident, with writers using songs that their audiences would have known as the basis for their new compositions. There are very good notes which give extra information as to the background and origin of the songs, and biographies of the writers. No music is printed, but this does not detract from the spirit of the songs, which articulate the strong and passionate beliefs held.

If you are already knowledgeable about this period in our history, which many see, in hindsight, as one of the starting points of a better hope for working people, then this is a useful compendium indeed. If this is a new area, I would recommend the book, The Radical Rising: The Scottish Insurrection of 1820 by Peter Berresford-Ellis and Seamus Mac A’Gobhainn, as an informative study.

Top marks to Alan and Rowth Publishing for helping raise awareness of this important bicentenary.

Gordon Potter


This review appeared in Issue 135 of The Living Tradition magazine