Johnnie o' Breadisley

from Ballads Vol. I by Iona Fyfe

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(Child #114 Greig-Duncan V2 #250, Roud #69, Last Leaves pp. 92-95)

This version of Johnnie o’ Breadisley is from Norman Buchan’s iconic “Wee Red Book” otherwise known as 101 Scottish Songs, published in 1962 and reprinted by Harper-Collins in 2016. The Traditional Music and Song Association have held a series of live concerts at Celtic Connections in Glasgow and invited tradition bearers to sing a song of their choice from the Wee Red Book.

The first notice in print of this ballad was in Joseph Ritson’s Scottish Song in 1794, with a manuscript being previously sent to Bishop Thomas Percy from a woman in Carlisle in 1780. The protagonist of the ballad if known by several names – Johnny Cock in the borders, Johnnie o’ Breadisley, Johnny o’ Cocklesmuir, Johnnie o’ Braidisbank and in Jeannie Robertson’s Aberdeenshire version as Johnnie the Brine. Gavin Greig states in Last Leaves: “Johnnie o’ Braidisleys is the name oftenest given in our records to this ballad.” James Francis Child was particularly fond of this ballad referring to it as a “previous specimen of the unspoiled traditional ballad” and featuring 13 texts and two tunes in his English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Bronson includes 15 versions.


Johnnie rose up on a May morning
Caad fir water tae wash his hauns
Sayin “Gae lowse tae me my twa grey dugs
That lie bound in iron bands, bands
That lie bound in iron bands”

Fan Johnnie’s mither heard o this
Her hauns fir dule she wrang,
Sayin “Johnnie, fir yer venison,
Tae the greenwood dinna gang, gang
Tae the greenwood dinna gang”

But he has taen his guid bend-bow
His arras one by one
And he’s awa tae the greenwood gane,
Tae ding the dun deer doon, doon
Tae ding the dun deer doon

Johnnie shot and the dun deer lap,
And he wounded her on the side;
And atween the water and the wids,
The grey dugs laid her pride, pride
The grey dugs laid her pride

They ate sae much o’ the venison,
And drank sae much o’ the bleed
That Johnnie and his twa grey dugs,
Fell asleep as they’d been deid, deid
Fell asleep as they’d been deid

By there cam’ a silly auld man,
And an ill daith may he dee;
And he’s awa tae Esslemont
The seiven foresters for tae see see,
The seiven foresters for tae see

“As I cam’ doon by Monymusk,
And doon amang yon scrogs,
Wha did I spy, but the bonniest loon
Lyin sleepin atween twa dugs, dugs
Lyin sleepin atween twa dugs

“The buttons that were on his sleeves
Were o’ the gowd sae guid
And the twa dugs that he lay atween
Their moo’s were dyed wi bleed, bleed
Their moo’s were dyed wi bleed”

Then up and spak’ the first forester
He wis heidsman ower them aa
“Gin this be Jock o’ Breadislie,
Then unto him we will draw, draw
Then unto him we will draw”

The first shot that the forester fired,
It wounded him in the knee’
But the seicond shot that the forester fired
His hairts blid blint his e’e, e’e
His hairts blid blint his e’e

Up rose Johnnie oot o’ his sleep,
And an angry man wis he;
“Ye micht hae waukened me frae my sleep,
For ma hairts blid blins my e’e e’e
Ma hairts blid blins my e’e

He his leant his back against an oak,
His fit against a stane,
And he has fired at the seiven foresters,
And he’s kil’t them aa’ but ane, ane
He’s kil’t them aa’ but ane

He has broken fower o’ this man’s ribs,
His airm an’ his collar bone,
And he has set him tae his horse,
Tae cairry the tidings home, home
For tae cairry the tidings home

Johnnies guid bend-bow is broke,
His twa grey dugs are slain;
And his body lies in Monymusk,
And his huntin’ days are dane, dane
His huntin’ days are dane


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.” (
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