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John's Scottish Sing-Along
Belle Stewart (1906-1997)

'The Berry Fields O' Blair'

The outstanding traveller, traditional singer and songwriter Belle Stewart wrote this song in 1947 for the family Hogmanay party at the request of her brother Donald. She composed a Hogmanay song every year thereafter. Belle Stewart was born in a bow tent pitched on the bank of the River Tay at Caputh, near Dunkeld, on 18 July 1906.

On the day of her birth, her father Donald (Dan) MacGregor was pearl fishing in the Tay and found a beautiful, large pearl, just before word came of Belle’s birth. He declared that he had two pearls in the one day. A passing American couple bought the Tay pearl for £5, a large sum at the time, but Dan still had the finest of the two pearls.

Unfortunately Dan died when Belle was only nine month old, and her mother settled in Blairgowrie. From her Perthshire base Belle travelled extensively in both Scotland and Ireland. In 1925 she married piper Alex Stewart. After they were ‘discovered’ as carriers of traditional song and music.

The Stewarts of Blair, became well-known performers on the folk scene and performed all over Europe and the United States. In recognition of her contribution to folk music, Belle Stewart was awarded the British Empire Medal.

Aged 91 she died in the cottage hospital in Blairgowrie on 4 September 1997. In an obituary the folklorist Dr Hamish Henderson wrote in The School of Scottish Studies publication, ‘Tocher’ in 1998 –
‘Belle’s clan is undoubtedly the custodian of an amazing treasure-house of Scottish and Irish folk music. The way of life which engendered and preserved this astonishing cultural phenomenon is nowhere better recorded than in Belle’s own song ‘The Berry Fields O Blair’.

When berry time comes roond each year
Blair's population's swellin
There's every kind o picker there
An every kind o dwellin.
There's tents and huts an caravans
There's bothies an there's bivvies
An shelters made wi tattie-bags
An dug-outs made wi divvies

Noo there's corner-boys fae Glesgae
Kettle-boilers fae Lochee,
An miners fae the pits o Fife
Mill-workers fae Dundee,
An fisherfowk fae Peterheid
An tramps fae everywhere
Aa lookin for a livin off
The berry fields o Blair

Noo there's traiv'llers fae the Western Isles,
Fae Arran, Mull an Skye
Fae Harris, Lewis an Kyles o Bute
They come their luck tae try
Fae Inverness and Aiburdeen
Fae Stornoway an Wick
Aa flock to Blair at the berry time
The straws and rasps to pick

Noo, there's some wha earn a pound or twa
Some cannae earn their keep
An some wid pick fae morn tae nicht,
An some wid raither sleep
There's some wha has tae pick or stairve,
An' some wha dinna care
An' there's some wha bless an some wha curse
The berry fields o Blair

There's faimilies pickin for one purse,
An some wha pick alane
An there's men wha share an' share alike
Wi wives thit's no their ane
There's gladness an there's sadness tae,
There's happy herts an sair
For there's comedy an tragedy
Played on the fields o Blair

But afore I put my pen awa
It's this I wid like to say
You'll traivel far before you'll meet
A kinder lot than they
For I've mixed wi them in field in pub
An while I've breath to spare
I'll bless the hand that led me tae
The berry fields o Blair

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