This ballad is grouped by Professor Child in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads under the heading of Lady Maisry, and is numbered ballad 65 in that collection.
The ballad is a strange one in its basic precepts. Whether it be Susie Cleland or Lady Maisry, the punishment for the “crime” is no less than to be burned alive. Modern scholarly research suggests that far fewer burnings took place than oral tradition suggests.
This is a 19th century song, made popular in the 60s Folksong Revival through the singing of Willie Scott, the Liddesdale shepherd and singer. In the book Herd Laddie of the Glen by Alison McMorland (revised 2006 edition) Geordie McIntyre’s note tells us that the piece was written by “Fermanagh-born Thomas Elliot, of Border descent.”
It appears in The Lyric Gems of Scotland, where the music is credited to A.Hume. Alison McMorland feels that it is highly probable that Lyric Gems was one of the books in the Scott household. This argument is supported by the fact that Willie also sang “In Freenship’s Name” which appears in the same book.
The genesis of the latest offering from West, “A Scots Chorus” was in 2011 when he first decided he wanted to explore the possibility of working in concert with other voices and on hearing the amazing a cappella group ‘Muldoon’s Picnic’ perform for the first time knew he had found the perfect combination of voices to realise the project’s musical potential.
It was while working folk clubs and festivals and tutoring both adults and school students at the National Centre for Excellence in Traditional Music in Plockton that West became aware of how important a tool a folksong with a good chorus was to unlocking non-singer/performers self belief in their ability to sing and to engage with, sometimes, quite complicated narratives. Whilst discussing this with representatives of West Highland College and NCETM he was delighted to find that they where looking for quality projects that would help introduce people to different aspects of the Scots musical tradition and so the seed was sown.
In mid 2012 West and Muldoon’s started exploring the different harmonic possibilities of a body of the most interesting and representative Scots chorus songs they could find. Mick then asked musicians Frank McLaughlin and Stewart Hardy to co-produce the project, including a booklet of all the arrangements and lyrics for community singing groups, students and performers. At this point on hearing of “A Scots Chorus” Celtic Connections Director Donald Shaw offered the group an opportunity to air this music for the first time at the 2013 Festival in Kelvingrove Art Gallery with a hundred singers from community choirs in front of an animated and tuneful sell-out crowd of six hundred singers!