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Broadside ballad entitled ?Uncle Will?


Verse 1: 'Noo, I'm a simple country chiel, / And I'm just cam tae the toon; / Because I am a stranger here, / Folk tak, me for a lood. / The folk, they a' glower after me, / The wanes a' laugh their full, / And tae ane anither ye wid here then say, / Oh look at Uncle Wull'. The song was originally performed by W.H. Lanegan, but no date for its composition is given. The broadside was published by William Shepherd at the Poet?s Box, 182 Overgate, Dundee. It is notable for more spelling and typographical errors than usual.

This a comic ballad describing the eponymous Uncle Will's annual pilgrimage from the countryside into Glasgow, to buy toys for his nieces and nephews. Uncle Will, who narrates the ballad, is portayed very much as an innocent abroad, and between the verses of the ballad there are spoken interludes where he describes his various adventures and mishaps at the hands of the more streetwise inhabitants of Glasgow. This structure of alternating sung and spoken sections is quite common in broadside ballads, and emphasises the fact that these were very much pieces intended for public performance, on the street, in pubs or in music halls.
The Dundee Poets? Box was in operation from about 1880 to 1945, though it is possible that some material was printed as early as the 1850s. Most of the time it had premises at various addresses in Overgate. In 1885 the proprietor J.G. Scott (at 182 Overgate) had published a catalogue of 2,000 titles consisting of included humorous recitations, dialogues, temperance songs, medleys, parodies, love songs, Jacobite songs. Another proprietor in the 1880s was William Shepherd, but little is known about him. Poets? Box was particularly busy on market days and feeing days when country folk were in town in large numbers. Macartney specialised in local songs and bothy ballads. Many Irish songs were published by the Poets? Box ? many Irishmen worked seasonally harvesting potatoes and also in the jute mills. In 1906 John Lowden Macartney took over as proprietor of the Poet?s Box, initially working from 181 Overgate and later from no.203 and 207.

It is not clear what the connection between the different Poet?s Boxes were. They almost certainly sold each other?s sheets. It is known that John Sanderson in Edinburgh often wrote to the Leitches in Glasgow for songs and that later his brother Charles obtained copies of songs from the Dundee Poet?s Box. There was also a Poet?s Box in Belfast from 1846 to 1856 at the address of the printer James Moore, and one at Paisley in the early 1850s, owned by William Anderson.

Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term 'ballad' eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse.

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Probable period of publication: 1880-1900   shelfmark: RB.m.143(057)
Broadside ballad entitled ?Uncle Will?
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