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More Barbara Allen

Posted: Sun Mar 09, 2014 3:22 am
by kellymac

I only recently purchased the First & Second Three Years, and what a thrill to catch so many of your lesser-known tunes, and to learn more of your taste in covers . . . very interesting take on Pay to Cum; nice to finally hear the words!

One thing that I just can't get out of my head, though, is your choice of lyrics for Barbara Allen. Why do you give her the rose and him the bramble? To quote Pete Seeger, "the test of a good song is its ability to be sung in a number of different ways and still stand up." By that definition, it's a great song, and your way has me wondering what sympathy you might have for cruel old Barbara :-)

(I did some research, and found that the original didn't even have those last verses, but every other version I've heard puts the brier on her grave.)

Just curious . . .?


Re: More Barbara Allen

Posted: Sun Mar 09, 2014 2:45 pm
by greezy
EVERYBODY....Stop. Give yourself a big hug. We are debating Barbera Allen's lyrics after...what 500 years or so? As a blues guy who thinks that a 50 year old song is OLD, I've got to say, THIS IS AWESOME!

By the way, in America, I learned the song, in English class, as "Barbry Allen". Any comments?

Re: More Barbara Allen

Posted: Sun Mar 09, 2014 2:47 pm
by frank
there are many, many different versions floating around. the one I used is mainly based on a field recording I got from the english folk dance and song society. it just seemed nicest to me. samuel johnson recorded the song as "barbary allen" (and described it as "an infernal racket" too).

Re: More Barbara Allen

Posted: Sun Mar 09, 2014 9:36 pm
by greezy
An infernal racket. Nice. Ga'up and barrr the door!

Re: More Barbara Allen

Posted: Tue Mar 11, 2014 12:39 am
by kellymac
greezy, any time you want to talk 500-year old song lyrics, just drop a line! (I see from your other posts that you are a DC local, same here.)

I had never heard the song until last fall--it was a bonus track on a Pete Seeger best-of. Of course, I bought that disc because I was trying to explain "We Shall Not Overcome" to my son, and had to play "We Shall Overcome" for contrast, and in so doing, realized that my music collection was woefully incomplete without Pete. So when it turned up on a Frank CD, it sort of completed the circle in a lovely way. Then I learned on this forum that it also appeared on the very CD that has been in my car stereo the past few weeks, the one I couldn't listen to all the way through because I hated it so much. (Played Billie Joe's version today, still hatin'.)

Samuel Johnson must have been a crotchety old man . . ..

Still, it's among the most bizarre stories ever set to music, IMHO, and I'm baffled at its longevity. Apparently I'm not the only one, as there are hundreds of discussion threads about it around the 'nets. Gotta love the 'nets--it took me 20 years and the dawn of Wikipedia to sort out Cat Stevens and "Morning Has Broken." ;-)

Re: More Barbara Allen

Posted: Sun Mar 23, 2014 5:28 pm
by tenaciousdazz
I'd noticed that rose/briar difference from other versions too. There are so many versions around it's ridiculous. I just looked at the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs and the version in there makes no mention of the rose and the briar. Nor does it name the male as William, which many versions do.
I'm fascinated by the song. I've taken to singing my daughter to sleep with it, using Frank's version because it's the only melody/lyrics I can remember! It's a bit macabre for a child I know, but she's too young to understand at the moment!

Re: More Barbara Allen

Posted: Fri Mar 28, 2014 6:18 pm
by greezy
kelly - Song histories get curiousier and curiousier. I take lessons from the Online Irish Academy of Irish Music. I'm working on The Lakes of Pochatrain now. It seems that nobody knows why a song, obviously from Louisiana, shows up in the Irish cannon. I was weened on traditional American music. I never heard it. What I think about Barbry is that the verses got a bit mixed up... I call it the "Dan Tucker Theory". Died with a toothpick/toothache in his heel. The folks who sang it just sang a "monkey telephone" version of what they thought they heard.

I once had a co-worker that envied "fur-headed boys". Ha!

Maybe see you at the 9:30.

By the way, my friends mom thought that this was a suitable lullaby. Veddy skeddy...

tenacious, looking at your avatar. I'm watching "The White Queen" on disc. Any thoughts?

Re: More Barbara Allen

Posted: Sun Mar 30, 2014 9:28 am
by tenaciousdazz
Haven't seen it. Looks like it was on here last summer - didn't watch much TV around that time as I was a little preoccupied with the arrival of our 1st child!

Re: More Barbara Allen

Posted: Sun Aug 03, 2014 6:45 am
by kellymac
Greezy, I did ask everyone I met at the 9:30 show if they were on the forums - no luck. That reminds me--did you recognize the song that played as they were coming on stage? I was wondering . . . or Frank, have you answered that question 100 times already?

"Matty Groves" is right up there in bizarre songs too. As a lullaby? Thinking about it, both songs are sad, but quite beautiful. My dad's repertoire included "Molly Malone" and "Danny Boy," not the cheeriest songs on the planet, but still pretty and sleepy. tenaciousdazz, the fact that you sing to her is what matters--the sound of my dad's voice (singing or otherwise) is such a part of me that I can hear it now, even though he's been gone 10 years (and we didn't speak for another 10 while he was alive). It's always been a comfort, whether I knew it or not at the time.

Psych 101 says that macabre fairy tales were a way to help children deal with the scary realities of life, and maybe the same can be said of folk songs from that period. That's actually why I came back to re-read this thread--I recently broke up with a man who has cancer. After a week of being wracked with guilt, it came to me late one night: I AM Barbara Allen!! And damn, it seems every time I've been judgmental, I've later found myself in the position of the person I've judged. Of course, it didn't feel like judgment in the case of the 500-year old fictional character.

Anyway, now I'm glad there are as many versions of the song as there are, and feeling quite a bit more sympathetic towards her (not to mention hoping to avoid a similar fate).