Wild Mountain Thyme – or Will You Go Lassie Go?
Wild Mountain Thyme is only a short song but the words are so expressive that they provide several potential titles.
That’s why the song is often known by other phrases taken from the lyrics such as The Purple Heather, and more commonly, Will You Go Lassie Go?
Popular in Scotland but it is an Irish song
It is so popular in Scotland that many people think it is Scottish, but it is in fact an Irish song. Not only that but it isn’t even old, even though it sounds as though it has come straight out of the Irish folk tradition.
It was written by William McPeake from the famous McPeake family of musicians from Belfast.
It was first recorded in 1957 and featured in the BBC series, As I Roved Out.
Variations of Will You Go Lassie Go
The confusion over the origin of the song may be related to the fact that there is a fine Scottish ballad which contains echoes of Wild Mountain Thyme. It’s called the Braes of Balquhidder which was written by Robert Tannahill in the late 18th or early 19th century.
It is a beautiful melody but quite distinct from McPeake’s song. There are more noticeable echoes in the lyrics, however.
Let us go Lassie go to the Braes o’Balquhidder
The Tannahill song begins with the lines:
“Let us go lassie, go tae the braes o’Balquidder,
Where the blaeberries grow among the bonnie bloomin’ heather.”
This is clearly similar to the chorus of the Wild Mountain Thyme. There is also a reference to making a bower by a silver fountain which suggests McPeake may have been influenced by the older Scottish song, but not so much that he did not create a new and original work of his own.
All around the blooming heather
And what a song it is. The melody is sublime, as shown by the numerous artists who have performed it over the last 60 years.
Like so many great songs it has a sting in the tail at the end. After all the time spent coaxing the lassie to go with him, the young man is prepared to be surprisingly pragmatic if she should leave him.
I would surely find another
After promising to build her a pure crystal fountain decorated with flowers, the young man considers what he would do if she were gone.
It seems to be no problem for he would simply find another where the
“wild mountain thyme grows around the blooming heather”.
Recordings of Wild Mountain Thyme
The McPeake Family were the first to record the song but it was quickly picked up by a host of other Irish artists, including The Clancy Brothers who put it on their album, The Boys Won’t Leave the Girls Alone.
Van Morrison recorded a version under the title Purple Heather on his album, Hard Nose the Highway. The Irish Rovers put it on The Irish Rovers’ Gems, and The Chieftains placed it on Further Down the Old Plank Road.
Recordings by Scottish musicians
The Scottish duo, The Corries, are among the performers most closely associated with the song, which may have added to the belief that it was a Scottish traditional song. It appears on their album, The Corries: In Concert.
The Silencers put in their album, So Be It, and the Glasgow singer-songwriter Jim Diamond placed it on Sugarolly Days.
Recordings by English singers and bands
The folk rock band The Strawbs recorded it on their album, Halcyon Days. Marianne Faithfull put it on North Country Maid, and Kate Rusby recorded it as Blooming Heather on Awkward Annie.
Fotheringay placed it on their album, Fotheringay 2.
Recordings by American folk artists
Judy Collins was one of the first American folk artists to record Wild Mountain Thyme on her album, A Maid of Constant Sorrow.
Joan Baez soon followed with a version on her album, Farewell Angelina. Bob Dylan performed it at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1969 and it’s also available on the bootleg album, Minnesota Tapes. James Taylor featured it on Telluride Bluegrass Festival: Reflections.
Recordings by pop and rock performers
Rod Stewart, another Scottish connection, recorded it as Purple Heather on A Spanner in the Works.
The Byrds put it on Fifth Dimension, Long John Baldry on Everything Stops for Tea, The New Christy Minstrels on Wandering Minstrels, and Irish pop star Ronan Keating recorded it on Songs for my Mother.