A combined “Toast to Let it Blaw” and
the annual “Bard’s Oration”
26th January 2019
As December blew in 1880,
Blizzards, gales and dark sky heavy,
Some cronies met at Henderson’s Inn,
To talk o’ Burns o’er a social dram.
The oldest there, James Pearson by name,
A bushy white beard and flowing mane,
Walked from Ravelrig up to the Inn,
Ignoring the cold, the snaw and the wind.
James Fairbairn his cronie, stayed in the village
A student of the Bard, he thought that a Supper,
Held in Burns’ memory, he’d like to consider.
William Garlick attended, a stern old chiel,
Manager o’ the quarry at Hannahfield,
Not the sort of man to suffer fools gladly,
Added his views to the gathering strongly.
They were joined by two of Balerno’s coal merchants,
George’s brother Alex, who was the Innkeeper,
Kept the drams flowing as the snaw it got deeper.
Then, out of the storm all covered in snaw,
Staggered in James Wales, the last o’ them a’,
A butcher to trade, from Currie he’d come,
A fine singer was James, a lover of Burns.
It’s a wild nicht out, the cronies agreed,
Dinna mind the weather one of them said,
The wind might be howling, wild is the snaw,
Ne’er heed the storm, we’ll just “Let it Blaw”
In that blink of an eye our Club had a name,
In Henderson’s Inn our Club had a hame,
Ower those few drams our cronies were heartened,
Could they ever have imagined, what they’d just started?
An omen of success, they all believed,
Plans for the supper were quickly agreed,
Arrangements were made for the inn to cater,
For that memorable occasion, our club’s first burns supper.
Invitations were issued, excitement spread,
As the great day approached and the Toast List was read,
The menu agreed; the seating plan sorted,
A horse-shoe shape table where the Chairman presided.
On 25th January 1881,
’Let it Blaw’ gathered in Henderson’s Inn,
Twenty-three cronies, James Pearson showed the way,
Hilarity and Harmony, the order o’ the day.
He entertained the Company, with his favourite song,
An old bothy ballad of those who worked the land,
Since then sung every year as ‘Let it Blaw’ gathers,
Join Jimmie Dunbar, as we sing it a’ thegither.
The Balerno Song sung by Jimmie Dunbar
James Fairbairn performed Croupier’s duties,
Introduced songs, poetry and stories,
No doubt back then, just as today,
An abundance of talent there on display.
George Robertson down from Craigentarrie,
One-time teacher over in the City,
At the early Suppers, George always starred,
Eleven times President and the Club’s first Bard.
David B. Fairbairn was President twelve years,
Toasts, Recitations and anything you care,
David e’er willing, whenever he was called,
Contributed so much, as ‘Let it Blaw’ formed.
His brother, John Fairbairn, a clerk at The Mill,
His minutes still exist, they went on until,
As a very old man, in the 1930s,
He passed on the pen to one of his cronies.
For fifty-three years, Let it Blaw’s Secretary,
Recording so much of our colourful history,
We owe John so dearly for his long dedication,
Conscientious work and tireless contribution.
The farmers of the Balerno were well represented,
Old David Wyllie farmed out at Haughead,
They would have empathised with Rabbie’s life farming,
They would have sympathised with the toil, then failing.
Over at Glenbrook, Tom Horsburgh’s smiddy,
Twenty-nine years President, o’er Great War and the Thirties,
Songs and recitations, he’d turn his hand to anything,
No doubt that he was there, at the Club’s formation.
William Waterston must have been, at the Club’s first Supper,
Not recorded by John, but I’ll tell you nothing’s surer,
Known to all in Balerno as he was the village Grocer,
A fine speaker, good singer and three times Croupier.
Balerno had a tailor then, William Smith by name,
He ran a sewing business in a room at hame,
By our second year William was one of a Committee,
So the year before in 81, he was present; surely!
We can’t be totally positive, who attended that first Supper,
Eleven names are certain, twelve others to consider,
But the answer very sadly, will stay long lost in time,
Gone with it our cronies, for Auld Lang Syne.
The success of ‘Let it Blaw,’ was almost instantaneous,
Folk would do most anything, to get one of the tickets,
In ’83 such was demand it caused shock and dismay,
James Craik was asked for one in Church, on the Sabbath Day.
For the first 30 years, those worthies were the core,
Of Let it Blaw’s success, until the Great War,
Many others played their part, at all those early Suppers,
Let’s spare a thought tonight, for those early Village brothers.
A word about John Davidson, Croupier, Bard and Speaker,
Described in Club records as a Currie Chauffeur/Driver,
In ’21 apologised to the Committee for his absence,
Apparently in pain after a serious motor accident.
About that time, another new name, at ‘Let it Blaw’ was heard,
Our cronie Andrew Falconer, new Croupier and Bard,
A ‘Let it Blaw’ regular since the earliest of times,
His talent now discovered when he wrote for all in rhyme.
Let’s remember Davy Stewart, the Minister down at Currie,
The Priest from St Joseph’s, Father Edward Miley,
From Balerno Parish Kirk, the Rev. David Turner,
To add a bit of reverence to the usual coothie banter.
And then in 1923, came a new Headmaster,
Our cronie Fred Belford, originally frae the Borders,
He became enthralled by Burns, promoting it in class,
All Balerno’s children had to learn their lines to pass.
The school competitions immediately thrived,
To take ‘Let it Blaw’ to an unprecedented height,
Our Club shone so brightly under their light.
To the Club that same year, came our cronie Dargie Orr,
A dedicated member for many’s a long year,
Speaker when required, and several years’ the Bard,
Became Club Secretary, when old John retired.
And then in 1928, the bagpipes first skirled loudly,
David Ross at ‘Let it Blaw’; and blaw he did fu’ rarely,
Every year since David Ross wi’ march, strathspey and reels,
In 1932, came our cronie Willie Shanks,
He later saved ‘Let it Blaw’, for that he’s earned our thanks,
It’s because o’ Willie’s efforts that we’re gathered here tonight,
Willie joining ‘Let it Blaw’ was like a ray of light.
He was secretary for many years and oft times Treasurer too,
Nothing was ever too much, for Willie Shanks to do,
He was Bard for as long, and ran School Competitions,
Generations of children gained from his dedication.
About this time to ‘Let it Blaw’ came one Harry Rankin,
A jovial chiel with a host of songs, got everybody singing,
Harry’s brother Robin came along a wee bit later,
On 26 occasions he recited Tam o’ Shanter.
Robin ‘Addressed’ the Haggis, a couple of dozen times,
Harry sang the Balerno Song each year ‘til he died,
“Rantin’ Rovin’ Robin” he led at every Supper,
A few years he was Treasurer, occasionally Croupier.
But as the thirties slipped away, once again to War,
Fred Belford left Balerno to a new promoted post,
The Club lost the heart, it had relied on most.
And so in 1940, ‘Let it Blaw’ books were closed,
While war ravaged on, and local men were lost,
The Shanks family witnessed, the air raid at Kirknewton,
Willie hid with wife and kids, ‘neath a table in the kitchen.
As Willie hid under, his flimsy Glenbrook shelter,
He counted eight whistles, as bombs dropped down like thunder,
But only seven explosions, until the danger passed,
What happened to the other one, Willie always asked.
He told his lost bomb story, until the day he died,
And many of his cronies, Willie’s tale decried,
Then just a few years back, when howkin’ at a hole,
A workie clobbered metal; Willie’s mystery was solved.
War years hard, the Club was gone, but certainly not forgotten,
A spark of ‘Let it Blaw’ lived on for all the Village children,
Contests still held at the School, Willie adjudicator,
And then in 1955 a second Reformation,
Led by Bertie Tennant, the Club it finally wakened,
The Honky was again the home to Let it Blaw’s old craic,
A huge success for all involved, ‘Let it Blaw’ was back.
Dargie Orr involved again and coincidentally,
Fred Belford back in 56, proposed the Immortal Memory.
Many of you’ll remember, our old friend “Loppy” Ramsay,
Joined ‘Let it Blaw’ in ‘74 but …. ever present in the 50s,
He worked for Bob Turnbull, at the Malleny Arms,
And offered to carry the Haggis in when he heard he’d get a dram.
It’s an unusual introduction, to the Life & Works of Burns,
Humphin’ haggis on a plate, all for the sake of a dram,
But those of you who knew Loppy, won’t be a bit surprised,
How dedicated “Loppy” could be for the sake of a glass on the side.
That core of men restored the Club to previous past glories,
Through the 50s and the 60s, the numbers just kept growing,
The endless hunt for tickets, to every annual Supper,
Proved hopeless for some worthies so they started up another.
And so began a new Club at the howff up on the hill,
Our Sister Club was founded at the old Marchbank Hotel,
The Marchbank took the overflow as ‘Let it Blaw’ still thrived,
With so much talent on display both the clubs survived.
Throughout the 1960s ‘Let it Blaw’ prevailed,
Bertie Tennant in the Chair until his poor health failed,
Harry & Robin Rankin still the backbone of our Supper,
So into the 1970s ‘Let it Blaw’ swept on……….
But those cronies, they were no thy lane
In proving how foresight often is in vain:
The best-laid schemes o mice and men, Gang aft agley
An lea’e us nought but grief and pain, For promis’d joy !
Unfortunately, at this time, a Secretary elected,
The appointment a disaster, later much lamented,
He reduced ‘Let it Blaw’ to only seven members,
A drunken, incompetent, is how he is remembered.
Oddly enough about this time, as he was shown the door,
Club records from the 60s, also disappeared,
He turned to Willie Shanks, who tried to stop it happen,
And ridiculed him cruelly, for being no more than a plooman.
Oh dear my friends, how low to sink,
What would our good friend Rabbie think,
To hear a fellow plooman, spoken tae offhand,
Accused of being illiterate, because he worked the Land.
Now maybe this the lowest point, in the times of ‘Let it Blaw’,
Maybe this, the lowest snub a plooman had to bear,
But Willie worked hard endlessly, to restore the Club’s old standing,
And ‘Let it Blaw’ came back again, once again expanding.
The mid 70s were the start of what we might refer to,
As our ‘Modern Era’, it was something of a break-through,
Since then it’s all been on the up, we’ve never missed a beat,
Many of our greats joined at that time and took a powerful lead.
Assisting Willie move things on new President Eddie McCue,
Strutting about like a farm-yard cock waving his arms askew,
Eddie was our President, for twelve successful years,
His theatrical introductions sparked hilarity and cheers.
Remember David Ogston, new Minister at the Kirk,
Dram in hand, rolled his fags, did much to spread his word,
But not by preaching scriptures to those who disbelieved,
With a few more David Ogstons, church numbers might be saved.
I mind the story of David, sitting here along the top,
Noticed that his glass was dry, asked the bottle to be passed,
Harry Rankin leapt up to his feet as David poured his dram,
“Mind now Meenister” Harry screamed, “you’ve got your work the morn.”
Then one year, maybe 78, Ian Falconer said mid-toast,
“Burns was a fine God-Fearing Man”, a claim that sparked a host,
Of sudden Godlike happenings, from the wall Burns’ portrait fell,
Eddie McCue in panic thought his Club was going to Hell.
Estimates have varied, how long it took poor Eddie,
To regain some sort of order and restore Ian Falconer steady,
It might have just been five, or maybe twenty minutes,
As cronies waited a lightning strike as God is aye my witness.
My memory turns in great respect, to our cronie, old Jim Tait,
A gentleman, a diplomat, a solver of disputes,
And my good friend Jimmy Johnstone, whose disputes were somewhat frequent,
Jimmy would laugh to hear me say, he was all that Jim Tait wasn’t.
My mind now turns to Jack McCaig, an outrageous ancient trucker,
One year Jimmy Johnstone told us both to be a croupier,
Tears of laughter flowed, as Jimmy thrashed his gavel,
How many mind us singing ‘The Star’ while we stood on the table.
I mind the time the three of us served up “Willie Brewed”
“Loppy” was the waiter serving drams between each verse,
Inevitably, down we crashed and landed on our arse.
As ever with such things, damage might have been worse,
Jimmy rolling about in pain, yet he’d only one rib burst,
“Loppy” poured medicinal drams to serve where Jimmy fell,
McCaig tripped o’er me on the floor and dinged the drams tae hell.
Oh dear, where have these great times gone,
What’s happened to Pearson’s hilarity,
I oft think we’re too serious now,
Perhaps, I’m an ancient minority.
I’ve mentioned many cronies, in the verses gone,
Many you’ll have heard of but, most perhaps unknown,
But what they have in common, is that sadly they’ve all passed,
It’s right that they’re remembered by those of us who’re left.
I’m sure our worthy Chairman
Wouldn’t be a bit upset,
Were I to propose an extra Toast,
To those who we have lost.
Gentlemen, please charge your glasses.
What I’d like to do is propose a Toast to the countless Club Members now gone who, for over 130 years,
ensured the aims of our Founders prevailed.
Gentlemen, please be upstanding and join me in the Toast
“The Spirit of Let it Blaw”
Wha sae base, as be a member, under Iain McSporran’s Law,
Kerr Cowan’s been our Piper now for 40 lengthy Blaws,
Charlie Husband’s ukulele, thank God it’s not been heard,
Max and Tam o’ Shanter once again tonight united.
I’ve got to mention Angus Swan who once again is present,
Almost forty years ago he was the Club’s Vice President,
For many years was absent, five years back re-enlists,
Angus! Where’s your accordion gone; that’s what we really missed.
Ian Falconer isn’t here tonight, another Honorary Member,
Helped Willie’s competitions, he was the School Headmaster,
Ian is in his 90s now, he is our senior man,
I wish him well in his new home upon the banks of Don.
The best news of all tonight, we have some younger speakers,
Peter’s line goes all the way back, to our founder old James Pearson,
It would be good to hear some more young folk, on occasions just like this one.
I wouldn’t say I’ve brought, the ‘Let it Blaw’ tale up to date,
Perhaps one day another Bard will take up where I’ve left,
I admit, I’ve dwelt entirely, on our ancient droothie cronies,
For without those friends, what would we have? Absolutely Nothing !
My ‘Let it Blaw’ is not about, Robert Burns and his fame,
Rather about my cronies, who’ve kindled at Burns’ flame,
It’s about us joining together, preserving our tradition,
Started all those years ago, by our brother old James Pearson.
Gentlemen, please charge your glasses,
be upstanding, and join me in the Toast to
The Balerno Burns Club
“Let it Blaw”