John Strachan (1875 - 1958)

Scottish singer of traditional songs.


Liner notes to "John Strachan: Songs From Aberdeenshire" Introduction by Ewan McVicar.

John Strachan was born at Crichie - farm where he lived most of his life (and where he died) - in 1875. Crichie is about three miles south of Fyvie, and twenty-three miles north-west of Aberdeen: it lies in the midst of a great tract of rich farming country. In 1868 John's father, who had made a large amount of money through horsedealing, rented Crichie from Lord Aberdeen. The family which had previously farmed Crichie for many years were the williamsons (by-named the "stately Williamsons"); these were - according to John - "a' big men", and great cattle-dealerd who in the old days had walked their herds down from the Muir of Ord to the Falkirk Tryst. However, the formidable family of Williamsons 'ran to daughters', and Trachans moved into their territory. The vehicle of social mobility, which had earlier been cattle-trading, had thus become - for the Strachans, at any rate - the horse-trade.

John attributed his father's financial success to the Franco-Prussian war, fought five years before he was born.

"I think", he wrote in a notebook, "I am about the only one left that would know about the horse trade. I think the French and the Germans were both here buying horses before the war commenced, and little bits of mares were making 100 freely". Yet the day of the "twal ousen plough" was not long in the past in the North-East, when John was born. In the same notebook he wrote: "At a literary Society meeting at Tarves I heard this Mr. Mackie give a lecture; I don't remember what it was about, but he told us he was once a goadsman at Collnye, that is, the man or boy who carried a long stick with a sharp point, and gave any of the twelve oxen a prod when not doing their share of the work. there were very few horses at the time, he said."

About 1888, John's father rented another farm from Lord Aberdeen - this was Craigies, in the parish of Tarves.

The family went to Craigies, leaving my brother, who was fifteen to sixteen years old, to carry on the work, and a sister to keep house for him....

... It will be seen that when John Strachan was writing notes for lectures (e.g. for the Turriff Agricultural Association, of which he was at one time President), he wrote a careful Gordon's College scholar's English, but when he spoke, it was in the raciest of North-East Doric. ....

Several of John's favourite songs - such as "The Laird o' Drum" (Child No 236) and "The Forfar Sodger" - were heard in early childhood from the servants on his father's farm, but quite a few he got from his mother, a native of Pitglassie, Aucterless, who was musical and taught her boys to sing. The boys got dancing lessons from one of the foremost local instructors, Forbes Morrison ("Dancie" Morrison). John used to recall the mock-rueful amusement how, when visitors were paying social calls, he and his brother would be summoned to the parlour to dance the highland fling for them, while their mother played the piano......

John's frequent visits to markets, ploughing matches and feeing fairs gave him plenty of opportunity to make and maintain contact with singers. Consequently, when James Madison Carpenter arrived in Aberdeenshire in 1930 to record its folk-song on wax cylinders, John was able to give him valuable assistance...

In December 1935 when John was sixty, two events took place which remained red-letter days in his memory. The first was a radio program, "The Farm Year", which was broadcast live from Crichie; the script was by J.R. Allan and the producer was Moultrie R Kelsall, the Aberdeen station director. According to all accounts, this program must have been a rare spree for all participants. It embraced all seasons of the farm year, from ploughing and spring sowing to the reaping, stacking and binding at 'hairstin' time', and genuine sound effects were provided by implements and animals. ...

Several local characters - well-known to listeners to Aberdeen radio - were naturally invited to take part, including Willie Kemp, the "cornkister", who featured in the bothy scene, dunting his "tackety boots" on the cornkist and joining in, while John Mearns sang "The Bonnie Lass O' Fyvie". ...

John's second experience of a lifetime came a week later, when he was invited to contribute to the Christmas day radio programme which included King George V's speech. John came on the air in a worldwide link-up just after a family in Ottawa had spoken, and he sent greetings to a farmer in South Africa.


Last updated on 02/02/2011