Barbara Allen

from Ballads Vol. I by Iona Fyfe

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(Child #84 Greig-Duncan V6:1193, Ords pp 476-477, Last Leaves #32 pp 67-69)

Barbara Allen is considered the most widely collected ballad in the world. A broadside ballad from the 17th century, it is Scottish by origin and has been also been collected in England, Ireland and in North America. The earliest mention of the ballad is made by London-born member of parliament, Samuel Pepys in a diary entry on 2nd January 1666 detailing that a “Mrs Knipp” sang a “little Scotch song of Barbary Allen”. In 1740, Alan Ramsay published “Bonny Barbara Allen” in his Tea-Table Miscellany. Thomas Percy published two similar variants in his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry published in 1765. The ballad went on to be heavily published in literature, but also sung by several notable folksingers. In The Rose & the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad, Bob Dylan stated that “without Barbara Allen, there’d be no Girl From The North Country”.

This particular version, which rhyme scheme is reliant upon dialect, was given to me from Tom Spiers of Shepheard, Spiers & Watson. Tom was compiling a new online resource called A Puckle Muckle Sangs – Traditional Ballads in the Scots Leid, and asked me to contribute this particular version of the ballad. Tom Spiers writes:

“Since early childhood I’d often heard this ballad sung, but was never motivated to learn it until I heard a recording made by Peter Hall in the early 1960s, of John Stewart, a settled traveller in Aberdeen. I loved the tune and the feeling he put into it. Over the years I’ve changed a few lines and added a couple of verses, but don’t ask me which ones - it’s just part of the normal process of personalising songs, and why there are so many different versions. Bronson published 198 tunes for this Ballad and tune #127 is very close to the tune John Stewart sang, and I now sing. It was collected by Gavin Greig from a lady called Mrs Cruickshank, and is also the tune used in Last Leaves, and much later, The Scottish Folksinger.”

lyrics

It fell aboot the Martinmas Time
Fan the green leaves they were fa’in
That young John Graeme, fae the north countrie
Fell in love wi Barbara Allan
Fell in love wi Barbara Allan

He’s coortit her for seiven lang years
till he could coort nae langer
For he fell sick and his hairt wis sair
So he sent for his true lover
Aye he sent for his true lover

He sent his man doon through the toon
Tae the place far she wis dwellin
Sayin haste ye cam tae my maisters side
Gin yer name bees Barbara Allan
Gin yer name bees Barbara Allan

Sae hooly hooly she rose up
And sae slowly she’s gaed wi him
And fan she pulled the curtains roon
She said young man I think yer dyin
Young man I think yer dyin

Aye surely I am dyin love
but a kiss fae you micht cure me
A kiss fae me that’ll niver dee
Gin yer hairts blid wis a-spillin
Gin yer hairts blid wis a-spillin

For mind ye no young man she said
Fan we sat in yonder tavern
Ye gart the healths gae roon an roon
But ye forgot yer Barbara Allan
Ye forgot yer Barbara Allan


O look ye doon tae my bed fit
It’s there ye’ll find a token
A china vase that’s ful o tears
Gae that tae Barbara Allan
Gae that tae Barbara Allan

He’s tirnt his face untae the waa
For daith wis wi him dealin
And he’s bid fareweel tae aa his freens
And adieu tae Barbara Allan
And adieu tae Barbara Allan

Noo she hid scarcely walked a mile
Fan she heard the deid bell tollin
And ivry strike, it seemed tae say
Hard-hairted Barbara Allan
Hard-hairted Barbara Allan

O mither, mither maak my bed
For I am broken hairted
For young John Graeme his died fir me
But we winna lang be pairted
No we winna lang be pairted

The pair wis laid in yon kirk-yaird
Aye she wis laid aside him
And frae her hairt there grew a rose
And frae his hairt a briar
And frae his hairt a briar

They grew up tae the bell tower tap
Till they could grow nae higher
And there they made a lovers knot
The rose amang the briar
The rose amang the briar

credits

from Ballads Vol. I, released July 22, 2020
Iona Fyfe: vocals

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Iona Fyfe Scotland, UK

Aberdeenshire folksinger, Iona Fyfe, has become one of Scotland’s finest young folk singers, rooted deeply in the singing traditions of the North East of Scotland.The youngest ever winner of Scots Singer of the Year at the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards 2018, Iona has been described as “one of the best Scotland has to offer.” (Global-Music.de)

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