> June Tabor > Songs > Judas (Was a Read-Headed Man)

Judas (Was a Read-Headed Man) / The Bonfire Carol

[probably Ruth Tongue]

Pete Coe sang Judas in 2004 on his CD In Paper Houses. He commented in his sleeve notes:

John Swift found this song in a magazine contributed and ‘collected’ by Ruth Tongue. There was supposed to be a bonfire custom in Shropshire which suggested that red-haired men were either the Devil or Vikings. It all sounds a bit dubious to me and it may well be one of the better examples of ‘fakelore’.

The Devil's Interval (Lauren McCormick, Emily Portman and Jim Causley) sang The Bonfire Carol in 2006 on their WildGoose CD Blood and Honey. They commented in their liner notes:

After thirty years of pestering, John Swift finally gave in and sang this song down the phone to Pete Coe. Bizarrely John discovered it in a farming magazine whilst waiting in a dentist surgery! Somerset folklorist and song collector Ruth Tongue regularly contributed her findings to that very magazine and apparently John was so attached to the song that he refused to pass it over to anyone, even the Young Tradition! We were fortunate enough to squeeze it out of the delectable Chris Coe. The Bonfire Carol intriguingly interweaves apocryphal themes with English folklore. The Bonfire Council of Lewes in Sussex might be particularly interested in this one.

June Tabor sang Judas (Was a Read-Headed Man) in 2011 on her second album with the Oysterband, Ragged Kingdom. The album's sleeve notes state that it is a

Spring carol from Somerset collected by Ruth L. Tongue in 1916. It refers to the ancient custom of making twelve fires of hedge cuttings and one apart, of green weeds and rubbish—“That one be for Judas—he burn slow.”


June Tabor sings Judas (Was a Read-Headed Man)

There were twelve bonfires burning in a field
Judas, Judas
There was one for Peter, there was one for John
Every disciple he had one
Judas, Judas
There was one for James who died by the sword
The biggest and the best was for our dear Lord
Burn, burn, Judas burn slow
Bright, bright, bright for our dear Lord's sake.
Burn slow for Judas
Judas was a red-headed man

There was one for Judas and it stood all alone
Judas, Judas
Down by the marish and it smoked away
Smoked all night and it smoked all day
Judas, Judas
'Twas a proper green smoke for all to see
But the fire burned sweet for our Lord on the Tree
Burn, burn, Judas burn slow
Bright, bright, bright for our dear Lord's sake
Burn slow for Judas
Judas was a red-headed man

(repeat first verse)