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Highland Mary

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Source: C. Sharp ms no. 2482 in Vaughan Williams Memorial Library
Place Collected: Longborough
Date collected: 2 May 1910
Collector: Sharp, Cecil

Henry “Harry” Taylor was 68 in 1910. He had led the Longborough morris. The last time that Taylor danced with a side was at the Jubilee of 1887. Cecil Sharp noted his dances with the tunes, which Taylor sang to him; he is said to have never learnt an instrument, though Kenworthy Schofield implies that he was a fiddler. Clive Carey also noted some of his tunes.
The first time C. Sharp met Taylor, on 2 May 1910, the latter had gone to Condicote, just over the hill from Longborough, for a “haystack thatching job”. There under the shelter of a haystack, using wisps of hay in lieu of the orthodox handkerchiefs, Mr Sharp and “Old Harry”, as he was called, danced a “Pas de Deux”, the ancient one whistling the tunes, of which, along with the steps, notes were taken and afterwards pieced together. The first dance gone through was Constant Billy, because of its possible relationship to the Campden dance, then Country Gardens (to the tune usually called Highland Mary), Taylor’s favourite tune for the sidestep dance, and onto Hey Diddle Dis, the processional.

“Highland” Mary Campbell (1763-86) was one of Robert Burns’ loves, who inspired some of his poetry, particularly a song, ‘The Highland Lassie, O’. It seems they exchanged vows of marriage, upon which she returned to the West Highlands to arrange matters among her friends for their projected change of life. She returned to Greenock, “where she had scarce landed when she was seized with a malignant fever, which hurried my dear girl to the grave in a few days”.

note by Charles Menteith