The North East of Scotland has a rich ballad and folk song tradition and many of these songs mention specific areas, rivers, towns, villages and farms. Hundreds of these songs were gathered and transcribed by Gavin Greig and the Reverend James Bruce Duncan in the early years of the 20th century creating what is now known as the Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection.
You can use our interactive map to discover if one of the songs in the collection mentions the place you were born or currently live in. Where possible we have linked to a performance of the song on YouTube, or on the Kist of Riches website.
The University of Aberdeen, who published the collection, have plans to make the full transcriptions available online. Once that happens we will be able to link from the map to the complete text and music for each song.
In the decade before the outbreak of the First World War, Gavin Greig, schoolmaster at Whitehill, New Deer, and the Reverend James Bruce Duncan of the United Free Church at Lynturk, near Alford, collected over 1900 folk songs and ballads from the North East of Scotland.
The initial idea for a collection of local folk songs came from the New Spalding Club, an antiquarian society in Aberdeen, and in 1902 they commissioned Gavin Greig with the task.
Very quickly however, he realised that the musical heritage of the ‘ordinary folk’ of the North East was richer and more extensive than he could have imagined.
He enlisted the help of the Rev James Bruce Duncan, a friend from his student days at Aberdeen University. Like Greig, he was ideally suited to the job in hand. Both men were musically gifted and applied high scholarly standards to their work. Crucially however, they were both local men who were trusted and liked within their communities, equally at ease in the company of the laird or the ploughman, conversing in their native Doric and not averse to encouraging a hesitant singer with something from their hip flask!
‘Give exactly what you get’ was their guiding principle, and their approach set a new benchmark for folklore collectors. They visited contributors in their own homes, meticulously transcribing every variation in tune or lyrics that they heard. Gavin Greig also used an early form of ‘crowdsourcing’ - eliciting information about songs through his regular column in the Buchan Observer.
Their harvest of songs was so bountiful that both men were to pass away before their stacks of notes and transcriptions could be properly collated and published.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that the University of Aberdeen and the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh joined forces to begin the Herculean task of editing and publishing the collection.
The 8th volume in this monumental set was finally released in 2002, one hundred years after the New Spalding Club first suggested the idea to Gavin Greig.
The Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection is a jewel in the cultural heritage of the North East and a lasting monument to these two remarkable Aberdeenshire figures.
You can view copies of the Greig Duncan Folk Song Collection at several Aberdeenshire Libraries.
A full set of all eight volumes are held at Library Headquarters in Oldmeldrum, and various individual volumes are available at Libraries across Aberdeenshire.
Check the online Aberdeenshire Libraries Catalogue to see which volumes are held at which branches.
Remember that registered borrowers can reserve books from any Aberdeenshire Library and have them delivered to a convenient pick-up Library location for collection.