Song to Glasgow
Argyll and Bute
29 June 2021
A song by Duncan MacPherson (1832-1931) Researched and sung by Sophie MacDonald
I am here in Glasgow of the Shops where fashions and marvels are plentiful;
With all that my eyes have seen my heart has been roused to music;
Crowds like countless ants running at speed everywhere
Among smoke and stench, with plenty land going to waste in the glens.
Although Glasgow is famous as regards the latest fashions
There are many problems and abominations that drunkards willingly bring upon themselves;
There’s no milk to be had, the best drink in the world,
But the strong brew of whisky driving men and women mad.
Going through the Saltmarket where sellers of fish are plentiful
Many a ragged old man sings every ode under the sun;
A large grizzled, jaundiced old woman, knitting a stocking, a pipe in her mouth
Shouting “Loch Fyne Herring”, she has become hoarse telling lies.
Though it’s a fine sight, all the noble ladies of the city
Walking out on Sunday afternoon on Argyll Street of the jewels;
Clothed in silk down to their heels, sweeping the street after them
With veils and gloves but without a full set of teeth.
I see the giddy maiden with the wig she got yesterday
A bonnet set behind her ears like the peewit of the braes;
Although her step is purposeful, slim-legged, speedy, light
Her kisses would be bitter to me, with the discarded teeth of dead people in her mouth.
What a sad sight we have on a Saturday night
Men and women fighting and their half-dressed children crying after them;
Blood blinding their eyes as they hurl insults at each other
If Gaels behaved like that they would be the talk of the area back home.
How I chose the song
Following on from my interest in Glasgow I was surprised to discover that there are more songs connected to Glasgow. I am also interested in the city’s history and there are powerful images in the song. It describes how the situation was at the time and, although it’s a historical song, the subjects explained are still relevant today.
Duncan MacPherson was from Morvern and his parents, Sara and John MacPherson, originally came from Ardnamurchan. He moved to Glasgow before 1871 but because he didn’t like it he went to New Zealand, to the South Island, about 1880. He settled in Otago where he had a sheep and cattle station. As an old man he died in a rail accident. He wrote the song because Glasgow had a profound effect on him.
This song is a graphic account of the dire straits in which some people were as a result of living in Glasgow. Although the song is set many years ago, it deals with subjects that are just as relevant today, such as wealth, domestic violence, over-population, poor public health etc.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century the Industrial Revolution began in Glasgow and the city became a prosperous place according to worldly wealth. There were jobs connected with cotton, chemicals, textiles, glass and paper available there, and at a later date work connected with ship-building. Between 1870 and 1914 Glasgow was one of the most elegant and wealthy cities in Europe. But despite its wealth there was a lot of poverty and ill health and this song sheds light on that.
I would like to thank Jo MacDonald and Mary Ann Kennedy for their help with my research.