Object of the Month: A Love Song

Courtin ma love is a comedic music-hall folk song that tells the story of a man who tumbled from his beau’s window as he was wooing her. Between the dumbfounded stare of the parents and the brother’s alarm, it is hard not to smile to the songs lyrics and hum to it. The picture the song evokes is one of innocence and spectacle. It lifts the heart for us to imagine this man risking his skin for the person he loves. After all, who has not done silly things when in love.

She wheeled me in with a wheelbarrow,

My mother and father was at the door, and by God did they stare!

My brother Job came running out, he says, “Man, what have you done?”

I was courtin ma love, my bunny wee love, and fell and cut my bum.

Courtin ma love, Sandy Scott, 1960. Tobar an Dualchais

June is summer. It is a time for flowers to bloom, sun to shine and love to be celebrated. It is also the month dedicated to commemorating the actions and legacy of the LGBTQI+ community. The sixth month of the year thus invite us to ponder and reflect upon the cultural narratives we tell of love. Considered in this light, beyond its whimsical cuteness, this simple love song is a testament to the ways in which love move us to act despite scorn or shame.

The last verse of the song recounts how the entire village came to laugh at the man. Shouting at him as he was wheeled through the village to the doctor by his girlfriend. We can imagine the reaction of the villagers. Some might have been amused by the sight. Others might have been horrified. Nevertheless, it is obvious that though the details of the courtship might have been private, it is a ritual which involves not only the family but also the community as well.

Our concern with love and the behaviours surrounding it are governed by a set of social norms which is enforced by our communities. During the 1950s, in response to public outcry to the escalation of “urban vices,” the Wolfenden Committee determined that medical practices and psychological treatment should be introduced in the legal codes to curb the menace that was homosexual love. Like the villagers who were horrified by the actions of the couple, social stigma and shame were the tools by which communities readily maintained control over expressions of love.

Lark in the Park, Edinburgh, Prince Street, 1988. Equality Network

Yet this does not mean people were silent. Rather, in a thousand ways, individuals dissented from the norm and expressed their love regardless of shame and stigma. Cities became havens for expressions of love, as within the crowds, one could find relative safety in spaces like cafes and clubs for sexual exploration. Action groups could be form to pressure governments into action. On 28th May 1988, hosted by Scottish Homosexual Action Group, the first Lark in the Park event was held in Prince’s Street Gardens. The largest such event held at the time, the festival hosted comedy and musical acts. Here, like the man in the song, instead of hiding the events of his courtship, the man instead decided to eternalize his love by expressing it through music. In the process, what was supposed to be shameful is remembered and normalized as an act of love.

Today, this collective declaration for freedom to love as one see fit is still with us. Pride Edinburgh traces its roots directly to that first Lark in the Park and the organization continues to celebrate love each year. Like the couple in folk song, in the face of stigma and shame, we still bravely declared our love for one another. More than its catchy qualities, Courtin ma love should rather be heard as a proud anthem of love.

Written by Morris Chou

References

Aldrich, Robert. “Homosexuality and the City: An Historical Overview.” Urban Studies, Special Issue: SEX AND THE CITY: SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC EXPLORATIONS IN URBAN SEXUALITY, 41, no. 9 (August 2004): 1719–37.

Davidson, Roger. “‘Cure or Confinement’? Law, Medicine and the Treatment of Homosexual Offenders in Scotland, 1950–80.” In Illicit and Unnatural Practices The Law, Sex and Society in Scotland since 1900, 129–52. Edinburgh University Press, 2022. https://doi-org.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/10.1515/9781474441216-010.

Equality Network. “Lark in the Park,” n.d. https://www.equality-network.org/pride-in-scotland-history/lark-in-the-park-3/

National Records of Scotland. “LGBT History Month,” n.d. https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/learning/features/lgbt-history-month.

Pride Edinburgh. “Our History,” 2022. https://prideedinburgh.co.uk/our-history/.

Sandy, Scott. Courtin Ma Love. Audio Recording. Dunfermline, 1960. Tobar an Dualchais. https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/track/53345?l=en.

Author: VOiCE

UoE Collections VOiCE (Volunteers in Collections Engagement) run a monthly newsletter, podcast and blog about the different collections, people and museums at the University of Edinburgh.

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