> June Tabor > Songs > Johnny o' Bredislee

Johnie Cock / Johnny the Brine / Johnny o' Bredislee

[ Roud 69 ; Child 114 ; G/D 2:250 ; Ballad Index C114 ; trad.]

John Strachan sang Johnny o' Braideslee in Fyvie, Aberdeenshire in 1951. This recording collected by Alan Lomax and Hamish Henderson was included in 1961 on the Tradition album Heather and Glen and (as Johnie Cock) on the anthology The Child Ballads 2 (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 5; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968).

Ewan MacColl sang Johnnie o' Breadisley in 1956 on A.L. Lloyd and his Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume II. This track was also included in 2009 on the Topic reissue of his ballads from this series, Ballads: Murder·Intrigue·Love·Discord. He recorded this ballad again in 1960 accompanied by Peggy Seeger on guitar on their Topic album Chorus from the Gallows. This track was also included in 1993 on his Topic anthology The Real MacColl. Kenneth S. Goldstein commented in the first album's booklet:

This fine ballad, which Child referred to as a “precious specimen of the unspoiled traditional ballad”, had not been reported before the end of the 18th century; an examination of early texts with their interesting examples of primitive beliefs suggests a greater antiquity.

Various attempts have been made to identify the specific localities in which the action took place. Tradition and local pride, however, have served to confuse the issue. That it is a ‘Border Ballad’, there is no doubt; here we have a prime example of the lawlessness and heroics which made the Scottish-English ‘no man's land’ fertile ground for the creation of some of the greatest popular ballads.

MacColl's version, learned from John Strachan of Fyvie, Aberdeenshire, ends on a note of defiance, very much like the Child “D” text in which anti-climatic details concerning the sending of a message to Johnnie's mother have been deleted.

The ballad has been reported only once in America (in Virginia).

Jeannie Robertson sang this ballad as Johnny the Brine in 1960 on her Prestige album Scottish Ballads and Folk Songs. Another version titled Johnnie Cock (Johnnie o' Breadislee) was included in 2012 on the Topic anthology Good People, Take Warning (The Voice of the People Series Volume 23). A version sung by Stanley Robertson in Aberdeen in 2002 was printed in 2006 in Mike Yates' book Traveller's Joy.

Andy Irvine sang Johnny of Brady's Lea in 1980 on Planxty's Tara album The Woman I Loved So Well. He commented in the album's sleeve notes:

This is a famous traditional ballad from Scotland that I've known for years. Johnny is evidently an outlaw or at least a man who pays little regard to the game-laws. Despite his mother's warning, he sets out one day to ‘bring the dun deer down’. His dogs & himself feast on the deer to such an extent that they all fall asleep. The foresters are tipped off by an interfering old codger and wound Johnny mortally as he sleeps. Johnny wakes in a rage and kills six of them. The seventh one suffers multiple injuries and is put on his horse to ride out of the forest and tell the news. Johnny Moynihan sings a version called Johnny O'Cocklesmuir where the hero kills six, wounds one and rides off unscathed.

June Tabor sang Johnny o' Bredislee in 1997 on her album Aleyn. A live recording from Germanstown Academy, Philadelphia, on March 30, 1996 was included in 2005 on her Topic anthology Always.

Siobhan Miller and Jeana Leslie sang Johnnie o' Braidisleys in 2010 on their Greentrax CD Shadows Tall. They commented:

One of the most cinematic or our narrative ballads—almost a complete screenplay. Collated from various versions, originally from the Greig-Duncan collection.

Peter Shepheard sang Johnnie o' Graidie at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2010. This recording was included a year later on the festival anthology Hurrah Boys Hurrah! (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 7). The liner notes commented:

The hero of this fine old ballad is known by various names—Johnny Cock in the borders, Johnnie o' Braidislee, Johnie o' Cocklesmuir and in Jeannie Robertson's Aberdeenshire version as Johnnie the Brine. Francis James Child was particularly keen on the ballad for which he includes 13 texts and two tunes in his English and Scottish Popular Ballads and he refers to it as this precious specimen of the unspoiled traditional ballad. Bronson includes 15 versions. Almost all the known versions have been collected in Scotland (all of Bronson's 15 versions) and it is still part of the living tradition with traditional singers from Fife to Aberdeenshire and to the Borders continuing to provide fresh variants. The version sung here is more or less as collected by Pete in 1968 near Cupar, Fife from Willie Stewart, a traveller aged around 25 at the time, who learned the song from his father Dights (David) Stewart.

Top Floor Taivers sang Johnny o' Braidieslee on their 2017 CD A Delicate Game. They commented:

Versions of the traditional ballad exist all over Scotland, but there is a speculation that it originally came from South West Scotland. ‘Johnny’ is said to have been an outlaw and deer stealer who owned Morton Castle near Durisdeer.

Lyrics

Jeannie Robertson sings Johnny the Brine June Tabor sings Johnny o' Bredislee

Johnny he raised one May morning,
Called watter tae wash his hands,
Roaring, “Bring tae me my twa greyhounds
That are bound in iron bands, bands,
That are bound in iron bands.”

Johnny arose on a May morning,
Called for water to wash his hands,
“Come lose to me my twa greyhounds
Lie bound in iron bands, bands,
That lie bound in iron bands.”

His auld wife she rung her hands,
“Tae the greenwoods dinnae gang
For the sake o the venison.
Tae the greenwoods dinnae gang, gang,
Tae the greenwoods dinnae gang.”

When Johnny's mother she heard of this
Her hands in dule she wrang,
“Johnny for your venison
Ta the greenwood dinnae gang, gang,
Ta the greenwood dinnae gang.

“For we have plenty of the white bread
And of the good red wine.
Johnny for your venison
Ta the greenwood dinnae gang, gang,
Ta the greenwood dinnae gang.”

But Johnny has breskit his good benbow,
His arrows one by one,
He is on to the gay greenwood
For to bring the dun deer down, down,
For to bring the dun deer down.

But Johnny went up through Monymusk
And doon and through some scroggs,
And it was there he spied a dun deer leap,
She was lying in a field o sprogs, sprogs,
She was lying in a field o sprogs.

As they gaed down by Merriemoss
Down among yon scroggs,
There they spied the dun deer lie
At the back of a bush of broom, broom
At the back of a bush of broom.

The first arrow he fired at her,
He wounded her on the side.
And between the water and the wids
For his groundhounds laid her pride, pride,
For his groundhounds laid her pride.

Now Johnny shot and the dun deer lap
And he wounded her in the side.
Between the water and the woods
The greyhounds laid her pride, pride,
The greyhounds laid her pride.

Johnny and his twa greyhounds
Drank sae muckle o her blood
That Johnny an his twa greyhounds
Fell a-sleeping in the wids, wids,
Fell a-sleeping in the wids.

Now they ate so much of the good venison
And they drank so much of the blood,
Johnny and his twa greyhounds
Lay asleep as they'd been dead, dead,
Lay asleep as they'd been dead.

By came a silly auld man
And an ill death may he dee,
He went up and telt the first forester
And he telt what he did see, see,
And he telt what he did see.

And by and came a silly old man
And an ill death may he die.
For he's on to the seven forester
For to tell what he did see, see,
For to tell what he did see.

“O as I came down by Merriemoss,
Down among yon scroggs,
The bonniest lad that e'er I saw
Lay asleep atween twa dogs, dogs,
Lay asleep atween twa dogs.

“And the coat he wore upon his back
Was of the Lincoln twine,
And the stock he wore about his neck
It was pearl and precious stone, stone,
It was pearl and precious stone.

“And the buttons he wore upon his coat
Were of the gold so good,
And the twa greyhounds he lay between
Their mouths all red with blood, blood,
Aye, their mouths all red with blood.”

Then up spoke the first forester,
An angry man was he,
“If this be Johnny o' Bredislee
My faith we'll gar him die, die,
My faith we'll gar him die.”

“If that be the young Johnny the Brine
Ye'd better let him a-be.
If that is young Johnny the Brine
Ye'd better let him a -be, a-be,
Ye'd better let him a -be.”

Then up spoke the second forester,
His sister's son was he,
“If this be Johnny o' Bredislee
We'd better let him be, be,
Oh, we'd better let him be.”

He went up and telt the seventh forester,
He was Johnny' sister's son,
“If that be young Johnny the Brine
Tae the green wids we will gang, gang,
Tae the green wids we will gang.”

Then up spoke the seventh forester,
Lord among them all,
“If this be Johnny o' Bredislee
We'll gang and gar him fall, fall,
Aye, we'll gang and gar him fall.”

The first arrow they fired at him,
They wounded him on the feet,
And the second arrow they fired at him
For his hert's blude blint his ee, ee,
For his hert's blude blint his ee.

And the first shot that the foresters fired
They wounded him in the knee,
And the second shot that the foresters fired
Oh, the red blood blinded his ee, ee,
Oh, the red blood blinded his ee.

But Johnny rose up wi a angry growl
For a angry man was he.
“I will kill a' you six foresters
And brak the seventh one's back in three, three,
And brak the seventh one's back in three.

When Johnny awoke from out of his sleep,
An angry man was he,
“You could have roused me from my dream
Ere the red blood blinded my ee, ee,
Ere the red blood blinded my ee.

“But if my bow prove true as it used to do
And my courage do not fail,
I'll mak you dearly rue the day
That you cam to the Dinspeer Hill, Hill,
That you cam to the Dinspeer Hill.”

He placed his fit upon a stone
And his back against a tree,
An he kilt a' the six foresters
And broke the seventh one's back in three, three,
And broke the seventh one's back in three.

Then he's set his back against an oak,
His foot against a thorn,
And he's shot the seven foresters,
Shot them all and one, one,
Aye, he's killed them all and one.

Johnny broke his back in three
And he broke his collar-bone.
An he tied him on his grey mare's back
For to carry the tidings home, home,
For to carry the tidings home.

Johnny's good benbow is broke,
His twa greyhounds lie slain,
Johnny sleeps in Merriemoss
And his hunting days are done, done,
Aye, his hunting days are done.