Up Yon Wide and Lonely Glen: Travellers' Songs, Stories and Tunes of the Fetterangus Stewarts

By Elizabeth Stewart. Edited by Alison McMorland. 2012. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. 305 pages. ISBN: 978-1-61703-314-8 (hard cover), 978-1-61703-308-7 (soft cover).

Reviewed by Amber Slaven, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

[Review length: 777 words • Review posted on February 6, 2013]

When first picking up this collection of stories and traveller tunes, I was a little intimidated by the Scottish dialect used throughout to tell the stories of this well-known musical family. However, the magic of the stories and the earnestness with which they are told create an atmosphere of familial affection and musical charm that quickly absorbed my attention. Consisting of four chapters, three appendices, and a number of supplemental inclusions, Up Yon Wide and Lonely Glen skillfully melds the personal narratives of Elizabeth Stewart with the musical notation of the Fetterangus Stewarts’ songs.

Chapter 1 focuses on the ancestral origins of the family and their eventual settlement on Duke Street in Fetterangus. Stewart beautifully narrates the royal connections of the family before retelling the ghost stories that her grandparents encountered while traveling. This chapter also contains many stories documenting the musical accomplishments and skill of Elizabeth’s ancestors and family members. The next chapter, “Jean Stewart’s Dance Band,” details the stories and memories concerning Elizabeth’s mother, Jean. Elizabeth’s voice in these stories shines with love and affection for her mother, who was regularly involved in a number of musical and theatric productions. Chapter 3 gives an account of Elizabeth’s Aunt Lucy, who was a significant part of Elizabeth’s upbringing and cared for several of the Stewart children including Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s own children. While the preceding two chapters present family history and the musical inclination of Elizabeth’s family, chapter 3 adds stories, jokes, and riddles shared during her childhood. After discussing Lucy’s relationship to the children and her role as a caregiver, the chapter explores Lucy’s role as a singer and the song collectors who came to record and collect her ballads. The final chapter, “Bonnorrie,” documents the life history of Elizabeth herself. These memoirs begin with her birth and early childhood years, and move to her later performing career and family life. She tells of the difficulty experienced as a traveller fitting into school as well as her budding musical talent. Elizabeth’s voice is both nostalgic and somber as she weaves tales of her American music tour and the people she meets along the way with descriptions of her troubled marriage and family tragedy.

This book’s composition intertwines stories and memories with songs, song fragments, and various other narratives. Following the personal narratives told by Elizabeth, chapters contain short entries by individuals associated with family members. Numerous songs and sheet music accompany these short pieces at the end of each chapter. Geordie McIntyre includes a section of song notes that gives short contextual information on each song. Appendix I, written by Caroline Milligan, discusses the difficulty of determining the voice of the narrative and how that was manifested in the finished product. In Appendix II, Jo Miller discusses the process of transcribing the songs and music of the family’s principal two singers, Lucy and Elizabeth. She looks at tempo, rhythm, harmony, and structure among other musical elements to give a full picture of the process. The final appendix, composed by Alison McMorland, acknowledges the contributions of The Kenneth and Rochelle Goldstein Archive, which houses copies of the Stewart family field-recordings made by Kenny Goldstein between 1959 and 1960. Several stories, song fragments, and riddles contained within the archive are reproduced in this section. Beyond these appendices, the book contains other supplemental material, such as a family tree, glossary of terms, song index, map of the area, bibliography, and brief bios of the contributors.

In each chapter, the stories, songs, and memoirs of this immensely gifted family take shape and invite the reader into the traveller community. There is a magic here that centers on family and tradition, a magic which is nourished by a strong and richly vibrant musical and narrative passion. The stories are supported with photographs and images of Elizabeth, her family, traveller life, and the people they came into contact with over the years. The stories not only entertain but also subtly instruct readers on traveller customs and songs as well as document the family traditions and history of the Stewarts. The skill of McMorland in compiling and polishing the material is thoroughly and deftly coupled with Elizabeth Stewart’s storyteller craft. Anyone who is interested in Scottish traveller culture, music, stories, or tradition, or traditional ballads and songs would find something in this work. More than this, anyone who appreciates well-constructed family narratives and history will undoubtedly enjoy this composition.

It is hard to imagine how anyone could find fault in the thoroughness, expertise, and applicability of this collection of songs and stories. It is an obvious work of love and devotion which intensifies the success of the work as a whole.

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© Journal of Folklore Research, 2010. Last revised June 21, 2010.