Catalogue no. 1053

The Deil’s awa wi’ the exciseman

Music: Trad. arr. Brad Pierson, Words: Robert Burns

Voicing: SATB

Performance time approx: 1m 20s

Range: S: c' – f'' (descant g'') / A : c' – d'' / T : c – f' / B: F – d'

Price code: D


This song by Robert Burns, written in 1792, humorously portrays popular dislike of excisemen — government officials whose chief job was to track down whisky distilleries and tax the proceeds. Burns himself worked as an exciseman from 1788 until his death, so he knew first hand how much they were hated.

Burns’ original lyrics reflect racial stereotypes of the 18th century: the devil is described as ‘old Mahoun’ (a medieval name for the prophet Mohammed) — and as ‘black’. Our edition uses alternative lyrics. We also include a guide to the pronunciation and meaning of the more unusual Scots words.

The tune is very similar to a 17th century English dance tune called The Hemp Dressers.

Brad Pierson’s arrangement is homophonic throughout, easy to learn and fun to sing. The action switches around between the voices and there’s a descant in the last chorus.

The deil cam fiddlin’ thro’ the town,
And danc’d awa wi’ th’Exciseman,
And ilka wife cries, “Evil one,
I wish you luck o’ the prize, man.”

The deil’s awa, the deil’s awa,
The deil’s awa wi’ th’Exciseman.
He’s danc’d awa, he’s danc’d awa,
He’s danc’d awa wi’ th’Exciseman.

We’ll mak our maut, and we’ll brew our drink,
We’ll laugh, sing and rejoice, man,
And mony braw thanks to the meikle auld deil,
That danc’d awa wi’ th’Exciseman.

There’s threesome reels, there’s foursome reels,
There’s hornpipes and strathspeys, man,
But the ae best dance ere cam to the land
Was the deil’s awa wi’ th’Exciseman.

Robert Burns (slightly adapted)

Card ImageScottish

The Deil’s awa wi’ the exciseman

Brad Pierson


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