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Balloon Tytler - the unlikely songwriter

There is a brilliant article in today's local Courier by Gayle Ritchie - find it here via Twitter @C_GRitchie Tytler article Gayle has been working on the life and story of a man called James Tytler who had a chaotic and eventful life and who was a pioneer in balloon flight in 1784.

Nicky did some research into Tytler's life back in her University of Dundee days and Gayle gave her a call for her ideas on Tytler as a person and as a pioneer who lived a somewhat disastrous life. I'll let you read all about Tytler in the article by Gayle but you can find out quite a lot online and in some good biographies.

What is interesting for PlaidSong is that Tytler also wrote songs! in the biography by Sir James Fergusson there is a whole chapter entitled "Tytler and Burns". It seems our own national bard came across Tytler and he commented on the publication by James Johnson, The Scots Musical Museum, saying that the songs 'marked T, are the work of an obscure, tippling though extraordinary body of the name of Tytler'. Burns went on to give a description of Tytler and said he was "a mortal, who though he drudges about Edinburgh as a common printer, with leaky shoes, a skylighted hat and knee-buckles as unlike as George-by-the-grace-of-God and Solomon-the son-of-David, yet that same unknown drunken mortal is author and compiler of three fourths of Elliot's pompous Encyclopedia Britannica". This made reference to the work Tytler had done on Encyclopedia Britannica but it also encouraged us to look up his songs!

One song attributed to Tytler is "The Young Man's Dream" but it is often thought a little dreary and not terribly original!

Another is "The Bonny Brucket Lassie" which was published in A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs by George Thomson and Burns wrote that the 'verses are poor and are I believe the production of that odd being, Balloon Tytler, the air deserves fine verses" - so it seems Burns was not terribly impressed with Tytler's efforts!

Tytler also wrote 'The Muckin of Geordie's Byre' BUT the "words and air are quite different from those of a well known song by the same name"!

There is one success for Tytler on the song writing front and that is his version of 'Loch Eroch Side'. Burns too wrote words to this old tune but it is Lady Nairne's lovely song 'The Lass O Gowrie' that is surely the most popular version set to this tune - find it on our Music page it's certainly one of our favourites and we will be looking up Tytler's words to that tune!

Nicky did tell Gayle that Tytler deserves a movie as his life is so interesting, dramatic and more than a little tragic but here we are with the inspiration for his theme tune found in old song books.

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I have been researching James Tytler, as apparently he is an ancestor of mine albeit distant.

I have a theory... Burns and Tytler knew each other and didn't care much for each other, but Burns was at that time unpublished and poor whereas Tytler was poor but he worked for a publisher as Editor of Encylopedia Brittannica. There are letters written between the two and about the two, and thats about as far as I've got.....


John white
John white

I never heard the author of the songs before, but you just discovered new music for me, which blew me the brain. I never thought that the doublebass could be used in such complex parties, I heard something like this in the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, but it didn't even stand with these masterpieces. It does not occur to me how such a great man could remain in the shadows, I think it is the problem of his producer. Whatever to be in a similar situation, I recommend that all novice authors of the songs look for their producers using cvs. This is the best cv writing service in the UK!

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