> June Tabor > Songs > Young Johnstone

Young Johnstone

[ Roud 56 ; Child 88 ; G/D 8:1929 ; Ballad Index C088 ; trad.]

Betsy Whyte sang Young Johnston on the anthology The Muckle Sangs (Scottish Tradition 5; Tangent 1975; Greentrax 1992).

Arthur Knevett sang Young Johnston and the Young Colonel on his 1988 cassette Mostly Ballads. Vic Gammon commented in the album's notes:

Psychological motivation is often scantly sketched in ballad texts. This ballad contains hat Levi Straus might describe as the under-valuing of blood relations. Johnston kills to redress an insult to his sister but that sister then rebukes him and sends him away; the murdered man's sister welcomes and protects her brother's murderer who is also her lover. Why does Johnston then kill his lover and the instantly regrets it? This point has vexed critics for a considerable time and it has been proposed that Johnston takes his lover for a pursuer and kills her by mistake, that he is intensely jealous that his lover may have gone with another man to protect him, or simply that he is a wild and vicious character. There is, perhaps, a hint of class difference, the colonel is willing to keep Johnston's sister as a housekeeper, thus Johnston's slaying of the colonel's sister could be an act of class revenge. None of the texts make Johnston's motivation explicit and perhaps part of the continuing appeal of the ballad is what some critics would describe as the openness, the listener has to complete the story in his or her imagination.

This fine version of Young Johnston is mainly from Betsy Whyte, a Scottish traveller and an excellent ballad singer.

June Tabor recorded Young Johnstone in 2003 for her CD of Border Country ballads, An Echo of Hooves. This track was also included in 2005 on her anthology Always. She commented in the original album's notes:

Mostly from Motherwell, W. Minstrelsy Ancient and Modern, 1827.

This is the true stuff of Tragedy—a short temper fuelled by alcohol sets in motion an inexorable sequence of events in which the innocent suffer and the (anti-)hero meets a bloody end (cf. Korusawa's Throne of Blood)—all the careless violence of a Western but set in a Scottish landscape.

Ellen Mitchell learned Johnston and the Young Colonel from the singing of Betsy Whyte, and sang it on her and Kevin Mitchell's 2001 Musical Traditions album Have a Drop Mair. She also sang Young Johnstone at he Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2006. This recording was included a year later on the festival anthology, Some Rants o' Fun (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 3). The latter album's notes commented:

This rare old ballad has survived in the song tradition of the Scottish traveller family of Johnstones. It has been collected from several members of the family since the 1960s—Duncan Johnstone of Birnam in 1967 when in his 80s, his niece Margaret Johnstone recorded in Fife in 1968, another niece Betsy White (nee Johnstone), author of two books about Scottish traveller life The Yellow on the Broom and Red Rowans and Wild Honey, and also from Betsy's sister in Australia.

Jackie Oates sang Young Johnson in 2011 on her CD Saturnine, and she played the role of Johnston's lover in the dramatic video that accompanied this recording:

Lyrics

June Tabor sings Young Johnstone

Young Johnstone and the young Colonel
Sat drinking at the wine,
“It's if you'll marry my sister,
It's I will marry thine.”

“I wouldn't marry your sister
For all your houses and lands,
But it's I will make her my mistress
When I come o'er the strand.”

Young Johnstone had a little wee sword
Hung low down by his gear,
And he's thrust it through the young Colonel;
That word he never spoke more.

Then he's away to his sister's bower,
He's tirled at the pin:
“Where have you been, my dear brother,
So late a-coming in?”
“It's I have been at school, lady,
Learning young clerks to sing.”

“Oh, I have dreamed a dreadful dream,
I hope it may be for good;
They were seeking you with hawks and hounds
And the young Colonel was dead.”

“Hawks and hounds they may seek me,
As I trow well they be;
For I have killed the young Colonel,
Thy own true love was he.”

“If you have killed the young Colonel,
Then dule and woe is me!
May they hang you from the high gallows
And have no power to flee.”

Then he's away to his true love's bower,
He's tirled at the pin:
“Where have you been, my dear Johnstone,
So late a-coming in?”
“I have been at school, lady,
Learning young clerks to sing.”

“I have dreamed a dreadful dream,
I hope it may be for good;
They were seeking you with hawks and hounds
And the young Colonel was dead.”

“Hawks and hounds they may seek me,
As I trow well they be;
For I have killed the young Colonel,
Thy own brother was he.”

“If you have killed the young Colonel,
Then dule and woe is me!
But I care the less for the young Colonel
If thy own body be free.”

“Come in, come in, my dear Johnstone,
Come in and take a sleep;
And I will go to my casement,
And carefully I'll thee keep.”

She had not well been at her bower door,
No not for half an hour,
When four and twenty belted knights
Came a-riding by the bower.

“Well may you sit and see, lady,
Well may you sit and say;
Did you not see a bloody squire
Come riding by this way?”

“What colour were his hawks?” she says,
“What colour were his hounds?
What colour was the gallant steed,
That bore him from the bounds?”

“Bloody, bloody were his hawks,
And bloody were his hounds;
But milk-white was the gallant steed,
That bore him from the bounds.”

“Yes, bloody, bloody were his hawks,
And bloody were his hounds;
But milk-white was the gallant steed,
That bore him from the bounds.”

“Light down, light down now, gentlemen,
And take a glass of wine;
And the steed be swift that he rides on,
He's past the bridge of Lyne.”

“We thank you for your bread, lady,
We thank you for your wine,
But I'd rather thrice three thousand pound
That that bloody knight was ta'en.”

“Lie still, lie still, my dear Johnstone,
Lie still and take a sleep;
For thy enemies are past and gone,
And carefully I'll thee keep.”

Young Johnstone had a little wee sword,
Hung low down by his gear,
And he thrust it in fair Annet's breast,
A deep wound and sore.

“What aileth thee now, dear Johnstone?
What aileth thee at me?
Have you not got my father's gold
And my mother's fee?”

“Now live, now live, my dear lady,
Now live but half an hour,
And there's no a leech in all Scotland
But shall be at thy bower.”

“How can I live? How shall I live?
Young Johnstone, don't you see
The red, red drops of my heart's blood
Run a-trickling down my knee?

“But take your harp into your hand,
And harp out o'er yon plain,
And think no more on thy true love
Than if she'd never been.”

He had not well been out of the stable
And on the saddle set,
When four and twenty broad arrows
Were thrilling in his heart.

Ellen Mitchell sings Johnston and the Young Colonel

Johnston and the young colonel
Sat drinking high at wine.
“Oh I will marry your sister
If you will marry mine.”

“Oh no, oh no,” says the young colonel
“Such a thing can never be.
I'll keep her as my housekeeper
When I come o'er the lea.”

Noo Johnston had a guy broad sword
And a guy broad sword had he,
He reared it through the young colonel
'Til he fell dead on the floor.

He spurred his steed and swiftly rode
Like lightning o'er the lea,
Until he came to his sister's gates
And he tirl'd at the pin.

“I dreamed a dream brother, dear Johnston,
And I hope it's for your good.
They're seeking ye wi hawk and hound
And the young colonel is dead.”

“They're seeking me wi hawk and hound
As I well expect they'll be,
For I have slain the young colonel,
Your ain dear lover was he.”

“Be gone, be gone, ye bloody knight,
Be gone, be gone, fae me
If ye have slain the young colonel,
Ye'll be nae brother tae me.”

He's spurred his steed and swiftly rode
Like lightning o'er the lea
Until he came to his true love's gate
And he tirl'd at the pin.

“I dreamed a dream love, dear Johnston
And I hope it's for your good.
They're seeking ye wi hawk and hound
And the young colonel is dead.”

“They're seeking me wi hawk and hound
As I well expect they'll be,
For I have slain the young colonel,
Your ain dear brother was he.”

“Come in, come in love, dear Johnston,
Come in and take a rest,
For I care nae mair for the young colonel,
If your ain dear body is safe.”

He'd scarcely landed up the stair,
Intae the tower above,
When four and twenty belted knights
Cam seeking him at the gate.

“Ah did you see a bloody knight
And a bloody knight was he,
Or did ye see a bloody knight
Ride furiously ower the lea?”

“Come in, come in, dear gentlemen,
And have some bread and wine.
If the steed be good that he rides upon
He's across the bridge o Tyne.”

“Oh thank ye, lady, for your bread,
And thank ye for your wine,
But I'd give thrice a hundred pounds
If your ain dear body was mine.”

Noo Johnston had a guy broad sword,
And a guy broad sword had he,
He reared it through his ain true love
Til she fell down on the floor.

“What ails thee now, dear Johnston,
What ails thee now at me?
Haven't I given you all ma mither's gold
And all ma faither's fee?”

“Oh live, oh live, Lady Margaret,” he said,
“Even for a half an hour.
How can I live when my very heart's blood
Is trinkling on the floor?”

Noo Johnston had a guy broad sword,
And a guy broad sword had he,
He reared it through his ain false heart
And joined his fair lady.