Flowers of the Forest

  1. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas
    I thought we already had a thread for this tune, but as it's not in the index I appear to be mistaken.

    This is one of the best-known Scottish laments, possibly written to commemorate the battle of Flodden Field in 1513. Widely played by pipers at funerals (indeed, Wikipedia says that pipers are supposed to play this tune only for that occassion).

    I have played this as an instrumental, with a three-part harmony arrangement based on the version recorded by Fairport Convention on their album "Full House" (1970). I play all three voices on tenor guitar for the first verse, doubling the bass line an octave down on bouzouki, then add mandolin on the harmony for the second verse, and on lead for the third.

    Played on my 1921 Gibson Ajr mandolin, my Ozark tenor guitar (GDAE tuning) and my Troubadour bouzouki (here tuned down to F#C#AE, as the lowest note of the bass part is F#).

  2. Jim Baker
    Jim Baker
    Martin, the video is marked private.
  3. Michael Pastucha
    Michael Pastucha
    Very nicely played!
  4. Marcelyn
    How pretty that tune is. Your instruments sound lovely.
  5. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas
    Michael/Marcelyn -- thanks for the comments!

    Jim -- try again now and it should be OK. The video was private for about half an hour last night because after first posting I decided to tweak the stereo mix a bit for better separation of the instruments. I made it public again after substituting the remixed soundtrack.

  6. John Kelly
    John Kelly
    Martin, intriguing arrangement of the tune. You have managed to create a really good atmosphere with your choice of instruments. The tune does indeed commemorate the Battle of Flodden in which the cream of the young Scottish nobility (The Flowers of The Forest) were slain. The best-known lyrics are those written by Alison Rutherford Cockburn (1712 - 1794).
  7. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas
    John, thanks for the kind comment! I said "possibly" based on the battle of Flodden Field because the tune is at least 150 years older than the Alison Cockburn lyrics and that makes it difficult to be certain. Those lyrics are without doubt about Flodden, but the tune may or may not be. The earliest version of the tune, already with that title, is from the Skene manuscript in the late 16th century, but it may well be much older than that. Incidentally, I have used a photo of the battlesite at Flodden Field, from 1:36 in the video.

    The harmonies I use were written by Fairport Convention, and are taken from volume 2 of their official songbook. These are originally vocal harmonies, however, which I am playing on tenor guitar and mandolin. Fairport's instrumental backing track was extremely (and uncharacteristically) sparse with only an electric dulcimer and snare drum.

  8. Jim Baker
    Jim Baker
    Very well done Martin. The harmonies are captivating. I must find that Fairport Convention album.
  9. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas
    Thanks, Jim! The songbook is out of print, unfortunately, but the album is widely (and cheaply) available with the welcome addition of five bonus tracks. You can hear the instrumental dulcimer intro and the first line of the vocal harmony on the audio snippet at The same album also has their 1970 Christmas single "Now Be Thankful" (I have just posted my own recording of this tune in the Christmas Tunes thread) as well as their mandolin tour-de-force "Flatback Caper". Quite a bit of mandolin on this album, actually -- probably instrumentally the best Fairport album of them all.

  10. Bertram Henze
    Bertram Henze
    Very solemn, stately and well becoming for the theme. There is often doubt about how well plucked instruments can recreate pipe tunes in general, and this one in particular; your rendition tells us what is possible.

    Exceptional choice of pictures, too.
  11. Mandophyte
    Super stuff Jonas!

    A piping friend has told me that for non-funearal use, including practicing they always make a deliberate mistake.
  12. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas
    Thanks, Bertram/Mandophyte. Rendering pipe tunes on plucked instruments is difficult -- Richard Thompson is a bit of a pioneer in that respect and has recorded a number of pipe tunes on guitar in his inimitable style. Thompson, of course, was a member of the Full House line-up of Fairport Convention who recorded Flowers Of The Forest.

    I've only just come across a very rare video of Fairport performing the song at the 1980 Cropredy festival, with the addition of a piper playing the tune solo before Fairport take over (at around 2:00 into the clip) -- the only Fairport live recording of it I could find. This is a bit slower than the studio version, and than my version, but even with the dubious live sound on the video and some off-key singing from Simon Nicol, it gives an idea of the vocal harmony arrangement. No Thompson on this track, but Nicol, Swarbrick and Pegg are all there. Sparse electric dulcimer accompaniment from Simon Nicol, with a bit of bass and bass drum added towards the end. The dulcimer has a bit of a headstart over the guitar or mandolin when it comes to emulating the pipes, because it can do drones (especially with electric sustain). Mandophyte: the piper on this video seems to have been willing to compromise his principles. Mind you, I think there may be a deliberate mistake there.

  13. Jim Baker
    Jim Baker
    Martin, I am working on this tune to play on the bouzouki in either GDAD or ADAD which ever fits best. I'd also like to work up two part so as to play a duet.

    I did find a midi file which includes the piping harmonies and ornamentations. I hope to prune from it what I need. Wish me luck.

    I did get hold of the Fairport Convention album and will refer to their version as it flows nicely and will give me the timing.

    The midi seems to be in D. Not sure if that will work out. If not I may impose upon your kindness for help.
  14. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas
    Jim: Good luck in figuring out the harmonies -- I'm very pleased to help! For what it's worth, the Fairport version in the songbook is notated in B Mixolydian (!), which is the same key signature as E major (four sharps). That accounts for the rather unusual harmonies. Each of the three parts is very simple, with very few exceptions staying on the pentatonic scale.

    Thus, the opening harmony sequence to the couplet "I've heard them lilting / at our ewe milking" is (voices given high-to-low): (FD#B), (G#EF), (FD#B), (BFB), (D#BB), (EBC#), (D#A#C#), (C#G#C#), (BF#D#), (G#G#E), (BG#E), (G#BE).

  15. Jim Baker
    Jim Baker
    Thanks Martin. Do you think there would be any way of transposing to D to take advantage of the GDAD drone? Or would it be better to tune differently?
  16. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas
    I would have thought you can transpose to D (or, rather, A Mixolydian) which would give you drones in A and D rather than (as in my version) in B and E. Play everything two semitones lower than my version.

    For what it's worth, A Mixolydian is usually seen as the native mode of the bagpipes, so it's arguably a more authentic key to notate it in than the Fairport version. Presumably, that's why the MIDI you found was in that key. However, most pipes are tuned much sharper than concert pitch, to A=470Hz to 480Hz. That means that when a piper thinks he plays an A, he's actually playing something closer to B in concert pitch (which is 493Hz). So, the Fairport version in B Myx when played in concert pitch equates to what most pipers will play as A Myx.

  17. Jim Baker
    Jim Baker
    A little over my head Martin but thanks.
  18. maudlin mandolin
    maudlin mandolin
    Jim - I Have an arrangement of this piece in G in standard notation which I could send, if that is of any use to you.
  19. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas
    I've just revisited this tune I first recorded in 2011 -- one of my very first multi-tracked recordings!

    Here is the same arrangement, based on the 1970 Fairport Convention recording as transcribed by Maartin Allcock. This time played on mandolin, tenor guitar and mandocello.

    Mid-Missouri M-0W mandolin
    Vintage Viaten tenor guitar
    Suzuki MC-815 mandocello

  20. Ginny Aitchison
    Ginny Aitchison
    That's nice Martin. I've been toying with doing this one, there are lots of examples out there. On the list...
  21. Christian DP
    Christian DP
    Nice two voiced harmony between mandolin and mandocello.
  22. Callum Murray
    Callum Murray
    Nice playing Martin! This tune is on my list to learn too. I think Rob Mackillop's version is incredible.

  23. John Kelly
    John Kelly
    Thanks for this posting, Callum. Rob is such a fine exponent of Scottish music and a great arranger and performer.
  24. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas
    I think Rob's recording is the version from the 17th century Skene manuscript -- I do have a modern transcription of that one, as well as Rob's own mandolin setting of it, but I find it unplayable. It's just too different from how we know the tune. However, it is proof that Flowers Of The Forest wasn't ever a pure pipe tune but was played on mandolin-like instruments from the beginning. The Skene manuscript was intended for mandore, a sporano lute very much like a gut-string 5-strinf mandolin.

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