Life in the Finland Woods is a popular Scandinavian piece of music. Written by Carl Jularbo (1893-1966), it is prevalent in Canada and the USA as well as Scotland and Ireland. It was made famous in the UK and Ireland with Jimmy Shand, Foster and Allen, Seán Ryan and many others recording it. It is also known by different titles such as ‘Life in the Finnish Woods’ or “Livet i Finnskogarna”, (life in the Finn forests), and despite the name, the tune is from Malmo, Sweden. The song was written about some Finnish people who settled in the woods nearby.  Here’s what i learned on the web….

The composer Carl Jularbo was a Swedish accordion virtuoso who first recorded the tune in 1915, and it was published in a 1938 Swedish tune book Jularbos Basta. It’s also believed Pattie Page used the first two parts of the melody for her 1950’s hit song “Mockingbird Hill”. She has a stunning voice.

I learned the tune from the playing of Mick Foster of Foster and Allen. He gave me a copy of his music book in Aberdeen some twenty years ago. I still have my signed copy and I would recommend you snap up a copy for yourself.  As an accordionist or any other musician I think you need this book in your collection of scores. It will make you feel more complete and add value to your repertoire. The print is large so the score is very easy to read and there’s a good variety of melodies.

Get the Mick Foster accordion tunes book here:​ 

Foster and Allen’s recording of the song in 1987 appears on their album “Reflections”, it’s track 15.

Carl Jularbo’s 1954 recording of his original tune “Livet i Finnskogarna” on track 28 of the album De bästa soloinspelningarna 1913-1954

Well I hope this short post gives some value to your day and that you enjoyed my playing the version of Life in the Finland Woods from Mick’s book and hearing the older original version from Carl Jularbo on Amazon. It’s been an interesting exercise for me to research the tune for you and I’ve discovered another accordionist to listen to and steal ideas from. I’ll be listening to more of Carl and discovering more new tunes on the never ending journey of discovery that is music.

Leave a comment and let me know what you’d like to hear me play, or just comment for the sake of it so I know someones’ reading. We are all just joining the dots on the pages of time.

It might look like I’m listening to you, but in my head I’m playing the accordion.

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The Dark Island. (written by Iain MacLaughlan) originally for a 1960’s BBC TV program. There is also now a question over whether it was written by Iain or if he developed the melody from an exiting tune. In 2015 it emerged that a lady called Grace Gibson may have written it in the 1950s before Iain and had also published a version, which was widely played by musicians in music halls during the fifties.

See the Daily Record article from 2015

This particular recorded soundtrack is from my album “A Celtic Voice.” released on 30th November 2018.

The Dark Island

Benbecula is the Island that is thought to be the inspiration for the song. In 2018 we took a last minute decision to go camping in North Uist in July 2018. It’s an island to the north of Benbecula joined by road. We took the decision based on the weather forecast. According to the MET office, the only sunny place in Scotland where no rain was forecast was Uist. So we made the 7 hours drive from Aberdeen to get there hoping for some sunny summer days. They were wrong. It rained every day. It didn’t stop us enjoying the islands of North Uist, Benbecula South Uist and Eriskay.

If God has a holiday home, it will be somehwere in the Hebrides.

There are very few people there and pretty much hardly any tourists. You might be advised to cook your own food and go prepared as we did. The few shops and restaurants you find seem to stop serving at 7 pm. I love places like this. Places with few people. So peaceful. During our camping trip, I took all the photos used in this video. There’s no photoshop used on any of them. The colours and all the beauty are all natural.

Forecasting stone Berneray
The alternative weather forecast. Berneray.
North Uist Unspoiled beaches
North Uist – Unspoiled beaches.

I first heard this song from Tam Reid, in the early nineties at the Garlogie Ceilidhs.  I always liked Tam.  He was the kind of gent that personified all that was teuchter and Aberdeenshire.  His eyes glinted, like he’d been born with a dram in his veins, though I can say I never saw him drunk or ower foo.  I remember his white hair, dark eyebrows and Rosie red cheeks. He was a thick set strong man with a gentle smile, big hands and a weather worn face. Everyone I knew liked him.  He was known as ‘The Bothy Ballad King’.

Naturally I had assumed it was a north east song but its origins go back to Ayrshire or Edinburgh around 1800.

I made a YouTube video of the song using family pictures from my mums side.

Littlejohn brothers from Turriff
Littlejohn brothers from New Deer, Turriff. Douglas, Alister and my Grandpa Jimmy on the right.

The original author, Rev George S. Lawrie, also the son of a Kirkmicheal minister studied at Edinburgh University. He was ordained in 1763 at Galston, Ayrshire. (He was to remain there for the rest of his days.) The following year he married Mary Campbell, the daughter of a divinity Professor from St. Andrews University. – Archibald Cameron.  They had 2 Children, the oldest daughter was also a talented musician.

In 1786 George had read the Kilmarnock Edition, by Robert Burns.   Burns was having problems in his career at the time was thinking on giving up writing poetry altogether, fearing his words were falling on deaf ears and was considering leaving Scotland forever.

George was so impressed by the Poetry and songs from Burns he sent a copy of the works to Edinburgh to a Dr. Blacklock.   Blacklock was known to George as an influential member of high society in Edinburgh.   Blacklock immediately wrote back to George enthusiastically with great passion about Burns’ works.  George showed this letter to a friend Gavin, who showed it to Burns….

Later, in an autobiographical letter from Burns to a Dr. Moore, burns says the following about Lawrie and Blacklock..

I had taken the last farewell of my friends; my chest was on the road to Greenock; I had composed my last song I should ever measure in Caledonia, “The gloomy night is gathering fast”, when a letter from Dr Blacklock to a friend of mine overthrew all my schemes by rousing my poetic ambition.’

Burns and Lawrie remained friends and Burns would frequently visit the manse and stay over.

Without the help of Lawrie, Robert Burns may have quit his craft and Scotland would have been a poorer culture for it. Can you imagine a Scotland with no Burns?

No auld Lang Syne, No Red Rose, Nae sleekit’ cowerin beasties? Nae parcel o rogues….oh wait, that would probably be good J!

old picture of mum on a pony
My Mum on a Pony, Mains of Idoch, Turriff.

In this song “Di yi mind in lang lang syne” I feel there is a great depth of nostalgia for the past and an acceptance of what is finally to come.  I can imagine an old George S. Lawrie. Sitting in the manse in front of his fire, sipping a malt. Thinking back on his childhood, all the landscapes of places he played as a young boy in Perthshire, all the friends he misses who have passed on, all the hard-working farm folk who ‘rose wi the lark in the morning’.

I remember my own experiences with my family and friends and draw my own comparisons.  I miss people I have lost. I remember all the same places in my own mind where I once played. The fun my own generation had as children.  It all seems golden in my memory.  It’s also sad because it will never happen again for me. …. I am 43 and I would get arrested for guddling in a burn 😉

I fear my own kids will never have such a good childhood as I enjoyed.  iPads and technology seem to be strangling childhood.

I have seen some slightly different lyrics to the song on-line but I learned these from a Tam Reid recording.

Dae ye mind on Lang Lang Syne? 

Dae ye mind on lang, lang syne?
When the summer days were fine,
and the sun shone brighter far
Than it’s ever deen sin syne?
Dae ye mind the Haa Brig Turn
Whaur we guddled in the burn,
And were late for the school in the mornin?

Dae ye mind the miller’s dam
Whaur the frosty winter cam?
We slid amongst the curlers’ rinks
And made their game a sham;
When they chased us through the sna,
We gid leg bail yin and aa,
But we did it a’ again in the mornin’.

Dae ye mind the sunny braes
Far we gaithered hips and slaes,
And we fell among the brummle bushes,
Tearin aa wir claes?
And for fear we wid be seen,
We gid slippin hame at een,
Bit were licket fir oor pains, in the mornin’.

Far are a thon leal hearts noo,
That were eynce sae fond and true?
Aye there’s some hae left this troubled scene,
Bit there’s some still aye strugglin through;
and there’s some hae risen higher,
and gan tae life’s destiny,
Bit they rose wi the lark in the morning.

Well noo, life’s sweet spring is past,
And the autumn’s come at last;
Oor summer days hae passed away,
and winter’s comin fast;
But though lang the nicht may seem,
We shall sleep wi’oot a dream,
Till we waakin on yon bright summer’s mornin.

turriff cousins abel littlejohn

Above: My 2 brothers and I with my cousins at Ardin Farm, Turriff. Many moons ago.

No much wonder we grew up with drink problems. 🙂

Flower Pot Brothers
Flower pot brothers

My Brother Stuart and I, dressed as Flower Pot Men, ready to explore the word.