Ewan MacColl >
Lang Johnny More
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Lang Johnny More / Long John, Old John and Jackie North
; Child 251
; G/D 2:246
; Ballad Index
; DT LANGJMOR
; Mudcat 24474
Alexander Keith: Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs Katherine Campbell: Songs From North-East Scotland
John Strachan sang Lang Johnny More on 17 July 1951 in Fyvie, Aberdeenshire to Alan Lomax and Hamish Henderson. This recording was included on the anthology The Child Ballads 2 (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 5; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968), and on his 2002 Rounder anthology, Songs From Aberdeenshire. Hamish Henderson and Ewan McVicar noted:
Gavin Greig called this “the raciest perhaps of our old ballads”. Certainly its comic elements are very unusual in the Child ballads, as are the large cast, the somewhat mismatched lovers, the treacherous king, the loyal page boy, the angry giant uncles, the trembling trumpeter, the false friends who slip laudanum into the drink, the fifers and drummers who play when the Scots leave. “More” means large in Gaelic, so he is Big Johnnie Big. John Strachan mostly sustains the pace well through his 43 verses, which he seems to sing from manuscript, but Hamish Henderson’s supporting voice singing the refrain saves him from greater stumbling. The young giant Lang Johnnie More is now depicted in the Pictavia museum of Pictish life, situated in the shadow of Mount Bennachie, which is only 518 metres high but dominates the flatter landscape for far about. Tap O Noth is 563 metres high and is 10 miles west of Mither Tap, the highest point of Bennachie. John Strachan sometimes sings “North” and sometimes “Noth”. The tune is Cauld Kail In Aberdeen.
Ewan MacColl sang Lang Johnnie More in 1956 on his and A.L. Lloyd’s The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume III. This and 28 other ballads from this series were reissued in 2009 on MacColl’s Topic CD Ballads: Murder·Intrigue·Love·Discord. Kenneth S. Goldstein wrote in the album’s booklet:
This ballad was apparently included by Child as an afterthought. In his notes to Johnie Scot (Child 99), he referred to Lang Johnnie More as being either an imitation as a parody of the Johnie Scot ballad because of their identity. It is hardly likely that Child would have included Lang Johnnie More as a separate ballad in his canon if he had maintained that opinion. Obviously, some time during the six years between his printing of Johnie Scot and Lang Johnnie More, he changed his mind about this point.
The ballad is unknown in tradition outside of Scotland. Aside from the single text published by Child, only the four versions collected be Greig in Aberdeen have been reported from tradition; the ballad has remained alive, however, for the version MacColl sings was learned in fragmentary form from his father, and was collated with stanzas from a version in Greig and Keith [Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs].
Ewan MacColl also recorded Lang Johnny More in 1979 for his and Peggy Seeger’s Blackthorne album Blood & Roses Volume 1. He noted:
In a note to ballad No. 99, Child refers to Lang Johnny More as “perhaps an imitation and in fact almost a parody of Johnnie Scot.” This less than enthusiastic reference to one of the funniest pieces in the entire canon suggests that the professor’s ear for the Scots tongue was less than perfect.
While it is true that the plots of Lang Johnny More and Johnnie Scot are almost Identical, the intonation and general tone of the two ballads are poles apart. Johnnie Scot is “as brave a knight as ever sailed the sea” The hair that “hung on his head was like threads of gold”. He takes a knightly [oath] to “relieve the damsel that last lay by my side”. He fights a duel with an Italian champion swordsman and wins the liberty of his love. This surely is the language of romance and chivalry.
Lang Johnnie More, on the other hand, is a genial giant who talks like an Aberdeenshire ploughman and who, even on the gallows, cannot bring himself to take his captors seriously. Auld Johnny and Jock o’ Noth are two amiable old worthies, still able in their dotage to run from North Aberdeenshire to London in some two-and-a-half days. At the gates of the city, they indulge in no heroics but casually kick a hole in the wall and enter that way. By riding in “by Drury Lane and doon by the toon ha’”, they reduce London to a country town of manageable size.
Much of the irony is directed inwards at the Scots’ sense of exaggerated self-esteem and at what is sometimes seen as an obsessional national compulsion to deafen the world with assertions of masculinity.
Parody? Perhaps, but if so, the parody is a great deal more interesting than the original model.
The Battlefield Band sang Lang Jonnie Moir in 1978 on their Topic album At the Front.
Martin Carthy sang Long John, Old John and Jackie North in 1979 on his album Because It’s There. He noted:
[…] The exceptions are Long John, Old John and Jackie North which is a reworking of Long Johnny Mor, full of swash and buckle, and the Death of Young Andrew, a reworking of a severely holed set of words, and both songs are to be found in F.J. Child’s English and Scottish Popular Ballads.
Bill Jones sang Long John Moore, “from Martin Carthy’s adaption”, on her 2000 album Turn to Me.
Jock Duncan sang Lang Johnny Moore on his 2001 Sleepytown album Tae the Green Woods Gaen.
Ewan MacColl sings Lang Johnny More
There lives a man in Rynie’s land
And anither in Auchindore,
But the bravest lad among them a’
Was lang Johnnie More.
Now, Johnnie, he’s a growin’ lad
Fu’ sturdy, stout and strang,
And the sword that hung by Johnnie’s side
Was fully ten feet lang.
Now, Johnnie was a clever youth
A sturdy lad o’ might,
He was full three yards aboot the waist
And fourteen feet in height.
Johnnie’s gane to London toon
To see what he could see;
And the fairest lass in a’ the lands
Fell in love wi’ young Johnnie.
The news has gane through London toon
Till it cam’ to the king,
That a muckle Scot has won the hairt
O’ his dochter, Lady Jean.
Now, when the king got word o’ that,
A muckle oath swore he.
That Johnnie More should stretch a rope
And be hangit on a tree.
Now, Johnnie heard the sentence passed,
A muckle laugh gied he;
While I hae strength to life my sword
They’ll no’ be hangin’ me.
But the English dogs are cunning rogues
And around him they did creep;
And they gied him drops o’ laudamy
While he lay fast asleep.
When Johnnie waukened frae his sleep,
A sorry hairt had he,
Wi’ jaws and hands in iron bands
And his feet in fetters three.
“O, whaur will I get a bonnie boy
That w ill win meat and fee?
That will rin to my uncle’s house
At the foot o’ Benachie?”
“O, here am I, a bonnie boy
Will wark for meat and fee;
And I’ll rin to your uncle’s hoose
At the foot o’ Benachie.”
“When ye come to Benachie,
You’ll neither chap nor ca’;
But you’ll ken auld Johnnie stannin’ there
Three foot abune them a’.”
“Ye’ll gie to him this lang letter
Sealed wi’ my faith and troth;
And ye’ll bid him bring alang wi’ him
The lad ca’d Jock o’ Noth.”
And when he cam’ to Benachie
He would neither chap nor ca’;
But he kent auld Johnnie stannin’ there
Three feet abune them a’.
“Whit news, whit news, my little wee boy,
You were never here before.”
“Nae news, nae news, but a letter
Your nephew, Johnnie More.
“He sends to you this lang letter
Sealed wi’ his faith and troth;
And ye’re bidden bring alang wi’ ye
The lad ca’d Jock o’ Noth.”
Noo, Benachie lies unco’ low
And the tap o’ Noth lies high—
But for a’ the distance ’tween them twa
They heard auld Johnny cry.
And when these twa auld champions cam’
A-rinnin’ side by side.
There were three feet between their brows,
And their shouthers three yards wide.
They rin ower hills, they rin ower dales,
They ran ower m ountains high ,
Until they cam’ to London toon
At the dawn o’ the third day.
And when they cam’ to London’s gates
Bound wi’ an iron band;
Wha should they see but a trumpeter
Wi’ a trumpet in his hands.
“O, what’s the matter, ye keepers all,
And what’s the matter within,
That the drums do beat and the bells do ring
And raak’ sic a doleful din=”
“There’s naithin’ the matter,” the keeper said,
“There’s naithin’ that matters to thee.
But a muckle Scot’s to stretch a rope
And this mom he maun dee.
“Then open the gates, ye keepers proud,
Open without delay!”
But the keeper winked his e’e and said,
“I hanna got the key.”
“Open the gates, ye keepers proud,
Open without delay!
For here’s a laddie at my back
Frae Scotland’s brocht the key.”
“Ye’ll open the gates,” says Jock o’ Noth
“Ye’ll open them when I ca’!”
And wi’ his foot he has drove in
Three yards’ breadth o’ the wa’.
They gaed in by Drury Lane
And doon by the toon’ ha’,
And there they saw young Johnnie More
Stand on the English wall.
“Ye’re welcome here, my uncle dear,
Ye’re welcome here to me;
Come loose the knot and slack the rope
And set me frae the tree.”
“O is’t for murder or for theft
Or is’t for robbery?
If ye’ve injured ony wee folk here
There’s nae remeid for thee.”
“It’s no’ for murder nor for theft,
It’s no’ for robbery;
It’s a’ for lovin’ a bonnie lass
They mean to gar me dee.”
“Then whaur’s the lady?” says Jock o’ Noth,
“It’s fain I wad her see.”
She’s lockit in her ain chamber
And the king he keeps the key.
So they hae gane before the king
Wi’ courage bold and free,
And their armour bricht cast sic a licht
It almost blint his e’e.
“O whaur’s the lass?” says Jock o’ Noth,
“It’s fain we wad her see.
We’ve come to see her bedded
Fae the foot o’ Benachie.”
“ O tak’ the lady,” says the king,
“You’re welcome a’ for me.
But I never thought to see sic lads
Fae the foot o’ Bennachie.”
“If I’d hae kent,” says Jock o’ Noth,
“Ye’d hae been surprised at me,
I’d wad hae brocht my brither,
He’s three times as big as me.
“Likewise, if I had thocht that I’d
Been sic a fright tae thee,
I’d hae brocht young Jock o’ Erskine Park
He’s thirty foot and three.”
“Wae be to the bonnie boy,” said the king,
“That brocht the news to thee.
Let a’ England say what it will,
High hangit he shall be.”
“O, if ye hang that bonnie boy
That brocht the news to me,
W e’ll come to the funeral
And we will bury thee.”
“O tak’ the lady,” says the king,
And let the bonnie boy be.”
“A priest, a priest!” young Johnnie cried,
“To join my love and me.”
“A clerk, a clerk!” the king he cried,
“To seal her tocher wi’.”
“We need nae clerk,” auld Johnnie said,
“We need nae gear fae thee.
“For I hae cows and ewes enough,
And fifty plows and three,
And a hunder horse to pu’ them wi’
At the foot o’ Benachie.
“Hae ye ony masons at your court
Or ony at your ca’?
Ye’d better noo send some o’ them
To mend your English wa’.”
So auld Johnnie More and young Johnnie More
And Jock o’ Noth, a’ three,
And the English lady and the little wee boy
Went back to Benachie.
Martin Carthy sings Long John, Old John and Jackie North
Now Long John’s from the mountain gone, he’s to London town,
And the king’s daughter in fair London she fell in love with him.
Now Long John was a giant born, he was fourteen feet in height,
And the king’s daughter she wept for him as she laid alone at night.
And when the king he heard of this an angry man was he,
Says, “This mighty man shall stretch the rope that hangs on the gallows tree!”
So he sent men and cunning men and around him they did creep
And they fed him drops of laudanum and they laid him fast asleep.
So that when he’s awaked out of his sleep a sorry man was he,
With his jaws and hands in iron bands and his feet in fetters three.
So he’s bribed him a servant, Long John he’s given him meat and fee
To run to his uncle Old John to come and rescue he.
And the first few miles the little boy walked and the next few miles he ran
And he run till he come to the broad water where he lay down and swam.
And when he come to the mountain high he cried out aloud
For there he spied him Jackie North with Old John by his side.
And there as these two giants stood a grisly sight to see
For they were tall as the eagles call and broad as the oaken tree.
“Oh rise rise, Old John, Jackie North, come thee!
For Long John’s in prison strong and hanged he must be.”
So they ran over hill and they ran over dale and they ran over mountain high
Till they come down to London town at the dawning of the day.
They cried upon up your city gates, “Open at my call!”
Then they up with their feet and they kicked a hole straight in through London Wall.
And they trampled down by Drury Lane, the crowd before them ran,
Till there they spied him, Long John stood under the gallows pin.
They said, “Is it for murder? Is it for rape? Is it for robbery?
For if it’s any heinous crime we’ll stand and watch you die.”
He says, “Not for murder, not for rape, not for robbery.
But it’s all for the love of a gay lady they are here to see me die.”
So they took him from the gallows pin, before the king went they
Their armour bright cast such a light it fair dazzled his eye.
“Good day to you,” cries Jackie North, “Good day to you,” cries he,
“For we have come for your daughter’s wedding all down from the mountains high.”
When the king he seen them come an angry man was he,
Cries, “One of you is tall enough what shall I do with three?”
“Oh cursed be that serving boy the tidings bore away.
For I do vow and I do swear high hanged he shall be.”
“Oh if you hang this little boy the tidings brought to me
We three shall come to his burial and paid you’ll surely be.”
“A priest, a priest,” Long John he cries, “to join my love and me,
A priest, a priest,” Long John he cries, “for married we will be.”
“Oh take my daughter, Long John, my curse upon you fall.
And take my serving boy also lest all my city fall.”
They’ve taken the lady by the hand, set her prison free
And the drums did beat and the fifes did play, they spent the night with glee.
And then Long John and Old John, Jackie North all three,
A freed bride and a serving boy went back to the mountains high.
Transcribed from the singing of Martin Carthy by Garry Gillard.