• Rachel Shearer

The Fidgety Bairn (Songs from Rachel's childhood)


Rachel Shearer ran her own independent music group in Oxfordshire for over 20 years until recently. She loved the baby music classes and seeing the relationships between little babies and their adults grow and develop. She still does the occasional class for the Abingdon Music Centre.

We sang a lot in our house as my brother and sister and I were growing up, but the song that I distinctly remember from early on was 'The Fidgety Bairn’, a Hebridean cradle song. I remember demanding it from my mother at bedtime, although she would stop after the first two verses and I only got the full version if I was ill in bed. I loved it for its gentle lilting rhythms; you can just imagine the mother in the song pacing the floor and rocking her baby.

When I had my own children I raided my parents' house and memories for all the songs I had known and ‘The Fidgety Bairn’ leapt out at me again as the full impact of the words struck a very deep chord. Here is a lullaby for a normal child - the one who won’t go to sleep - and the mother tries a different tack before going back to the gentle lilt. It is one of the very few lullabies to acknowledge the feelings of the mother.

Hush my dear, the galloping men

Ride through the bracken and ride o’re the ben

Mammy will watch her sleeping hen

So close your e’en my dearie

Close your e’en and greet nae mair

O, but your mither’s heart is sair

Daddy’s asleep in the big rocking chair

So close your e’en my dearie

Oh! will ye never learn?

Ne’er, ne’er was sic a bairn

Oh! will ye never learn?

Ne’er, ne’er was sic a bairn

Breaking my heart, ye fidgety, fidgety

Breaking my heart, ye fidgety bairn

Breaking my heart, ye fidgety, fidgety

Breaking my heart, ye fidgety bairn

Hush my dear, the galloping men

Ride through the bracken and ride o’r the ben

Mammy will watch her sleeping hen

So close your e’en my dearie...

(cradle song from Barra, English words by Hugh Roberton, tune noted from the singing of John MacMillan, Barra)

Most lullabies are (rightly) so soothing and gentle that I, being wound up like a spring with my first-born, was hardly able to sing them! If I was relaxed enough, they were more likely to send me off to sleep than her. I was in that parallel universe where the wild-eyed new parents live. What brought me back was music, because singing a conversation doesn’t need a reply and because occasionally she stopped screaming to listen.

The song I have passed on to countless new parents in my music sessions is one I came across then, and the only modern lullaby I found which also acknowledges the adult’s feelings, the very lovely ‘Up the Wooden Hill’ written specially for Playsongs by Sandra Kerr (Listen here Downloads page, Playsongs Album 2, no 25) Again a beautiful lilt to sooth the child and enough meaning in the words to calm the adult.

The first line says it all, 'You’re a sleepy baby, I am tired too…'

Another favourite song from my childhood was a knee bouncer called ‘I’m a little electric train’. This was one my Dad passed on from his childhood - he said that it came from ‘Children’s Hour’ on the radio in the early 1930’s. We would sit on Dad’s knee, arms moving like pistons against our ribs and collapse from the tickling at the end.

I would dearly love to know who wrote it and whether I’m singing it right! The chances of the song not evolving are slim!

I’m a little electric train

I go out in the wind and the rain

I go faster, faster, faster

‘Till I come to the underground

then I make a very big sound

Whooo-ooo

Note: There a many versions of 'The Fidgety Bairn' on YouTube by Kathleen Ferrier in full ‘concert performance’ mode. Try Hyperion records for a more lullaby-like rendition by Marie McLaughlin http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/tw.asp?w=W8763

#TheFidgetyBairn #Cradlesong #Upthewoodenhill #SandraKerr #HughRoberton #Imalittleelectrictrain #kneebouncer #lullaby #newparent

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