Our sincere thanks go to JESS SMITH, author of “Jessie’s Journey”, “Tales from the Tent”, “Tears for a Tinker”, and "Bruar's Rest", who is now a valued committee member of Romany Road. Jess is a Traditional Scottish Storyteller and has kindly given permission for us to use and enjoy some of her wonderful stories in our journals and on this website. She has also donated a copy of her CD "The Matted Cat" to us, which is full of Scottish songs, stories, poems and haunting music that will go with us to future events.
Jess has sent us this wonderful picture of Janet Burns, her Father's Aunt
Here is one of Jess’s tales called “Barry Chavie”
When bare knuckle fighting was made illegal around the beginning of the early 1900s, Gypsy fighters were forced to perform their art in secret. As was usually the case, several thousands of pounds were bet and to distinguish champions, Gypsy news-carriers would spread word among the settled population that a certain fighter was deemed “A barry chavie”. This meant
he was strong, powerful and young. "Barry" is Scottish Gypsy/Traveller Cant for good, immense or great, while Chavie means a young man or teenager coming into prime. On the other hand, if the carriers wanted punters to know about a flaying fighter, he was called “Shan gadji”. Shan means useless, poorly, undernourished or finished and gadji means older man and certainly not a good bet.
Sometimes Cant words seep into mainstream, the above are a small few. Police and law offers never knew the Cant words, but in time they picked them up and were able to discover where a fight was being held. Once when the Queen was attending Ascot, several hundred yards away a bare-knuckle fight was in full swing, and it’s thought more money passed hands there than was held in bookmakers purses at the races!
MORE LOVELY STORIES FROM JESS ABOUT SCOTTISH TRAVELLERS COMING SOON
Many of the Scots Travellers known to Jess are featured in a fascinating book called THE SUMMER WALKERS by Timothy Neat published by Canongate books, which features Scotlands Travelling people and pearl-fishers in the highlands of Scotland.
DUNCAN WILLIAMSON - Teller of Scots Travellers' Tales
In an obituary published on 13 November 2007, Ken Hunt reported that Duncan James Williamson, storyteller, singer and writer, born Furnace, Argyllshire on 11 April 1928, had died of a stroke at Kirkcaldy, Fife on 8th of November 2007.
As a story-teller and singer, Duncan Williamson was one of the greatest voices of Scots traveller culture. Duncan believed that when you tell a story, or sing a song, the person you heard it from is standing behind you. When that person spoke, he in turn, had a teller behind him, and so on, back and back and back and Williamson kept a pledge to those chains of voices – known and unknown – that had spoken down the generations. Born into a culture that values traditional knowledge and skills, with wonder stories, trickster tales, nonsense doggerel, riddles and ballads about bloodletting, dark deeds and revenge, he held his people enthralled by their camp fires, where the supernatural figured prominently. He took what had been handed down to him and turned it into his own.
Duncan was a Scots Traveller – Travellers that are a historically nomadic people, completely separate to Gypsy or Romany people, though they too experienced much prejudice. The seventh of sixteen children, he was widely reported to have been born in a bow tent by Loch Fyne in Argyll. Scots folklorist Hamish Henderson recorded that Duncan's mother was Betsy Townsley and that his "Travelling basketmaker and tinsmith" father was Jock Williamson. Both were unable to read or write, but they were steeped in the oral tradition of traveller lore. Piping, singing and storytelling were also in Duncan's genes and like many traveller families, they were Roman Catholics. Inevitably, he took to the road, finding agricultural work and learning horse-dealing while picking up songs and stories as he went, often overlaying the versions he knew with new ones to make them wholly his own, and that road fed in him the passions that were to drive his entire life.
Scots Travellers were known as the "Summer Walkers" in many parts earning money from seasonal work like freshwater pearl-fishing or berry-picking. In 1967 on one of his visits to his mother, Duncan met Helen Fullerton and she was able to tape some of his original poetry, songs and ballads. Helen in turn introduced him to collector Geordie MacIntyre and that led to further recordings. From then Williamson went on to international recognition. His books documenting traveller life and lore included “The Broonie, Silkies and Fairies: Travellers' Tales” (1985), “The Genie, the Fisherman and Other Tales from the Travelling People” (1991) and his highly recommended “Horsieman”. He recorded extensively, appearing most recently on “Travellers Tales, Volumes 1 and 2”, recorded by Mike Yates and released on his Kyloe label in 2002. Academic archives holding Williamson's work include the School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University, the Centre for Appalachian Studies and Services at East Tennessee State University, and the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh.
JESS SMITH tells us :-
“Duncan as an ambassador for Travellers was the best! Many people (and this is true) had never heard of our culture until they'd heard Duncan tell a tale and sing a song. Like Betsy Whyte’s 'Yellow on the Broom', he opened a door into our world; a place governments’ have constantly refused to recognise and according to settled people, where the Bogey man lives! A different world where parents are revered, children adored and animals treated as individuals. Respect towards others is slipped into our men's minds before the foot to polished shoe; honest decent people. Duncan has shown many people that side of us and that is why his name will live on. He will always be remembered with fondness. My only regret is that the academics who are waiting like vultures to take his works and put their slant to them will dissect the man in text books; removing his individuality. Although a world stage performer, Duncan was at his best in small gatherings, a round the fire man where his facial expressions and sea blue eyes brought life to his tales. A fine man who got a great deal of mileage from his frame of 80 years!”