Fleshmarket Close (Glad It’s Not Trad)

March 31, 2010 on 6:55 pm by Michael Grey | In Music, Stories | 7 Comments

Of all the tunes I have built the one that gives me the most copyright grief is “Fleshmarket Close”. This tune wasn’t two years old and it appeared on a recording, a vinyl recording, with the dreaded “public domain/traditional” note. I won’t bother mentioning the offending parties – but it was not a bagpipe group. It was a “folk” band. Anyway, the cool part – especially thinking about it today – was the vinyl record bit of the story.

To me, even today, there seems something extra-special about having your music on vinyl. Maybe others feel that way and that might account in part for the resurgence of vinyl – and, yes, apparently it’s resurging. The unaccredited ownership part? Not so cool. See, if your music misses fair credit it slips through the copyright filter. Instead of 37 cents in royalties you get a rollicking fuck-all. And cash aside, well, fair is fair.

Anyway, from that point on my tune “Fleshmarket Close” has been cursed with inaccurate publishing and just plain wrong compositional attribution (I can hear “Chewin’ the Fat” guys now: “Ooooh, compositional attribution”).

So. Fleshmarket Close. It’s a reel I wrote September 21, 1986. I can tell you exactly where I wrote this tune (and I can’t say that for many I’ve made). And its with great presumption I imagine you give a rat’s ass.

The tune was written in the flat of then Polkemmet Colliery piper, Ian Morris. Ian’s place was in the west end of Edinburgh, a place known as “South Gyle” or, an area, I think, generally known as, “the Gyle”. After university I was determined to stay in Scotland for a good bit of time to take lessons from Captain John MacLellan and, to be truthful, delay the inevitability of working life. I did stay for a while though not as long as originally imagined. Anyway, money was tight and thanks to knowing Andrew Berthoff – who himself was merrily crashing at Ian’s flat (a fellow Polkemmet bandmate) – I came to stay a very short while at Ian’s place (“Come and stay,” said Andrew, “he’s away, he won’t mind a bit” – [man, I hope Ian knows this story]). So, while sitting in front of Ian’s TV, while Ian was away and Andrew was busy making pies at “Mama’s Pizza” in the Grassmarket [still one of my favourite pizza places anywhere], I wrote Fleshmarket Close.

Andrew B was doing a recent office tidying-up and came across the following manuscript. He passed this score along. Note the careful penmanship, the near-architectural lines of the score. There’s next to nothing about this manuscript that is similar to my current scoring technique (read: scrawl) today. Unemployment and time-on-hands, I guess, have benefits in writing legible manuscript. So here is that score.

Original score of Michael Grey's reel "Fleshmarket Close"

I published my fifth book not so long ago and included a four-part version of Fleshmarket Close. Up until that point, for people who knew it, the tune had always been a two-parter. After publishing, Andrew reminded me of my original score and the original four-plus parts. I had completely forgotten.

For those that enjoy the trivial minutiae of bagpipes [and when it comes to pipers I say their numbers are freakishly legion], the score here has added interesting sidelights. For instance, Bill Livingstone’s handwriting is seen down the right hand side of the page: “CHANGE”, he writes. Who knows what he wanted changed in such a pristine and perfect score – but fun to see all the same. His band, and mine at the time, the 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band, did end up starting a medley with the tune – two parts only. Maybe I was obstinate and wouldn’t change the score. So unlike me.

Fleshmarket Close came the morning after a long session in the Old Town with Brian Lamond and Andrew. I remember Andrew and me toddling down Princes Street, collecting Brian Lamond, who was busking in front of Jenners’ department store, then heading to Milne’s Bar on Hanover Street. We’d have a pint while Brian packaged the spoils of his pipe box and off we went. Up to the Old Town with first stop Fleshmarket Close and Jinglin’ Geordie’s pub – the famous newspaperman’s hangout.

There you are: Fleshmarket Close – and Edinburgh. Still up there with my favourite places anywhere. But like the tune I made, both places not as traditional as people seem to think.

And “Fleshmarket Close”? Surely, the coolest name of any piece of art, as Ian Rankin also found years later.



  1. I know copyright issues are difficult but can the listing “trad” be a mistake? I’m looking right now at the cover of The world’s greatest pipers Vol. 10. Track nine offers a different composer of Susan McLeod. A fact that I’m sure annoys the new composer a hell of a lot. One famous uillean piper listed two sides of trad stuff as composed by himself. I asked him and he told it was a mistake. Monarch was notorious for omitting composers on the WPBC recordings. On the other hand one famous, now defunct, Irish band listed the Clumsy Lover as trad. although they bloody well knew who made it. It just shows you how difficult it is. Some twenty years ago I made a recording and one or two of the tunes I only had from underground tape recordings with no chance of getting any copyright right. These modern times with mp3’s of yesterdays recital flying all over the globe has not made things easier.

    Comment by Stig Bang-Mortensen — April 13, 2010 #

  2. Good times. It was fun to watch “Flesh” take off in Scotland. It seemed like every band was playing it within a few years. In Polkemmet in 1987, the year that Huge Ronnie Lawrie took the band after Rab Mathieson reconnected with Shotts, we played it to open a medley. It was followed by “The Kesh Jig.” So, if you can hear Ronnie’s Highland voice, he referred to the medley as “The Flesh and the Kesh.” I think people like it because of its simplicity and strong melody, and he fact that it rolls from the hands. I’d think all those “trad” designations would add up to quite a few pennies in the pipe box.

    Comment by aberthoff — April 14, 2010 #

  3. Stig – yes, agree, it is a common problem and most folkie record companies (especially), it seems to me, take the path of least resistance: they don’t bother. A call in to the local performing rights society (SOCAN, ASCAP, PRS, et al) would get the details right – and a license.

    Andrew – “The Flesh and the Kesh” – a tune name!
    Thanks to you both for your comments.

    Comment by Michael Grey — April 17, 2010 #

  4. … and then you get this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLRl6hFUVsE

    We’re (The Vale) playing the tune in our medley this year and it’s always nice to know a little story behind tunes that you play. It seems to set them apart from all the others.

    Comment by libbyobrien — April 23, 2010 #

  5. Thanks for the youtube link (yikes), Libby. Well, “A” for effort, I guess. Great to hear the band is playing the tune! Hope all is well and you’re getting enough pavlova to keep you right. 🙂


    Comment by Michael Grey — April 24, 2010 #

  6. There can NEVER be enough Pavlova!

    Comment by libbyobrien — May 4, 2010 #

  7. “There Can Never Be Enough Pavlova”, sounds like the name of a cool Kiwi Indie movie …

    Comment by Michael Grey — May 4, 2010 #

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