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Two/Three (Jolly) Butchers/Sportsmen

[ Roud 17 ; Laws L4 ; G/D 2:186 ; Ballad Index LL04 ; Bodleian Roud 17 ; Wiltshire Roud 17 ; trad.]

This is a ballad about the betrayal of a good Samaritan.

Bob Scarce of Blaxhall, Suffolk, sang it as Three Jolly Sportsmen in a Peter Kennedy recording made for the BBC in 1953 on the anthology Fair Game and Foul (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 7; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970). He was recorded for a second time by Keith Summers at The Ship Inn in Blaxhall in 1972. This recording was included in 2007 on the Musical Traditions anthology A Story to Tell: Keith Summers in Suffolk 1972-79.

Harry Cox sang Two Jolly Butchers in a recording made by Leslie Shepard in October 1965. It was included in 2000 on his Topic anthology The Bonny Labouring Boy.

Martin Carthy sang Two Butchers in 1966 on his Second Album. He commented in the album sleeve notes:

Fairly common on both sides of the Atlantic, the story stays essentially the same, only varying in the number of butchers, or in the number of robbers who range themselves again Johnson. A treacherous woman has always seemed more despicable than a treacherous man. This version is from the Cecil Sharp MSS.

Sweeney's Men recorded this song as Johnstone in 1968 for their first album, Sweeney's Men.

The Halliard with Jon Raven recorded it in 1968 as The Three Butchers for their album The Halliard : Jon Raven and Tony Rose in 1970 for his first album, Young Hunting. The latter commented in the sleeve notes:

Different variants of The Three Butchers crop up all over the south of England—this one having been collected by Lucy Broadwood in 1902 from Henry Burstow of Horsham, Sussex. Although I've omitted it here, because I think it slows down the story line, this is the only version of the song to my knowledge, in which the singer sang a chorus:

With my hey ding, ding, with my ho ding, ding,
With my high ding, ding, high day
May God keep all good people from such bad company.

John Faulkner and Sandra Kerr sang Three Jolly Butchers in 1969 on their Argo LP John & Sandra.

Roy Bailey sang The Three Butchers in 1971 on his eponymous Trailer album Roy Bailey. This track was also included in 1975 on the Trailer sampler Our Folk Music Heritage.

Roy Harris sang The Three Butchers on his 1972 Topic album, The Bitter and the Sweet.

Walter Pardon sang Two Jolly Butchers in a recording made by Mike Yates in June 1978 on his 1983 album Bright Golden Store. An earlier recording from 1975 can be found on his 2000 Topic anthology A World Without Horses.

The Wassailers sang Three Jolly Sportsmen in 1978 on their Fellside album Wassailers.

Steeleye Span recorded Two Butchers for their 1989 album Tempted and Tried, this time with a chorus. This track was also released as B-side of the single Following Me. A live version of this song recorded in 1994 was released on the CD Steeleye Span in Concert.

Damien Barber sang Three Jolly Butchers in 2000 on his CD The Furrowed Field.

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings Two Butchers

It's of two noble butchers as I have heard men say,
They started out from London all on the market day;
And as they were riding along as fast as they could ride,
“Oh stop your horse,” says Johnson, “for I hear some woman cry.”

“I will not stop,” says Wilson, “I will not stop,” says he.
“I will not stop,” says Wilson, “for robbed we shall be.”
So Johnson he got off his horse and he searched the woods all around
And there he found this woman with her hair pinned to the ground.

“How came you here dear woman? How came you here fast bound?
How came you here stark naked with your hair pinned to the ground?”
“Oh they robbed me, they stripped me, they left me here fast bound.
They left me here this morning with my hair pinned to the ground.”

So Johnson he being a valiant man and a man of valiant mind,
He wrapped his coat around her and he took her up behind.
And as they were riding along as fast as they could ride
She put her fingers to her mouth and she gave three shivering cries.

Out jumped three bold and struggling men with swords keen in hand
Who then commanded Johnson commanded him to stand.
“I'll stop, I'll stand, said Johnson, “I'll stop I'll stand,” says he,
“For never was I in all my life afraid of any three.”

Oh two of them he quickly slew and the third he did not mind,
Till the false young woman took her knife and she stabbed him from behind.
Poor Johnson he spun round about and fell down to the ground
And he cursed that wretched woman who gave him his dead wound.

Oh the day it being the market day there were people passing by
Who saw the awful murder, who saw poor Johnson die.

Tony Rose sings The Three Butchers

A story I will tell to you, it is of butchers three,
Gibson, Wilson and Johnson, mark well what I do say;
Now as they had five hundred pound all on a market day,
Now as they had five hundred pound to pay upon their way.

And as they rode along the road as fast as they could ride,
“Spur on your horse,” bold Johnson called, “for I hear a woman cry.”
And as they came into the woods, the scene they spied around,
They saw a naked woman lie a-swooning on the ground.

“O woman, o woman,” Johnson cried, “Oh pray come tell to me.”
“O woman, o woman,” Johnson cried, “Have you got any company?”
“Oh, no no no,” that woman said, “However can that be
When here have been by ten swaggering blades who've robbed and beaten me.”

Now Johnson being a valiant man and he bore a valiant mind,
He wrapped her up in his great coat and he set her up behind.
And as they rode along the road as fast as they could ride,
She put her fingers to her ears and she gave a screetful cry.

With that came out ten swaggering blades with the rapiers in their hands,
And they rode up to bold Johnson, and they boldly bid him stand.
“Oh, I will not fight,” young Gibson says, “for I fear that I will die.”
“No more will I,” cries Wilson, “for I would sooner fly!”

“Come on! Come on!” said the bold Johnson, “I'll fight you all so free.
And woman, stand you here behind, we'll gain the victory.”
Now the very first pistol Johnson fired was loaded with powder and ball
And out of them ten swaggering blades, well five of them did fall.

“Come on! Come on!” said the bold Johnson, “There are but five to me.
And woman, stand you here behind, we'll gain the victory.”
And the very next pistol Johnson fired was loaded with powder and ball
And out of them five swaggering blades, well three of them did fall.

“Come on! Come on!” said the bold Johnson, “I'll fight you both so free.
And woman, stand you here behind, we'll gain the victory.”
Now Johnson fought those rogues in front, the woman he did not mind,
She took his knife all from his side and she ripped him down behind.

“Well I must fall,” said the bold Johnson, “I must fall to the ground,
For helping a wicked woman, she gave me my death wound.”
O woman, o woman, o woman, do you see what you have done?
You killed the bravest butcher that ever the sun shone on.

And just has she had done the deed some men came riding by,
And when they saw what she had done they raised an awful cry.
Now she was condemned to die in chains, in iron links so strong
For murdering of bold Johnson, that brave and valiant man.

Steeleye Span's version of Two Butchers

It's of two noble butchers as I have heard men say,
Started out from London all on a market day.
And as they were a-riding as fast as they could ride,
“Oh, stop your horse,” says Johnson, “for I hear some woman cry.”

“I will not stop,” says Wilson, “I will not stop,” says he.
“I will not stop,” says Wilson, “for robbed we shall be.”
Johnson, he got off his horse, searched the woods all round,
And there he spied a woman with her hair pinned to the ground.

“How came you here, dear woman? How came you here fast bound?
“How came you here this morning with your hair pinned to the ground?”
“They robbed me, they stripped me, they left me here fast bound,
They left me here this morning with my hair pinned to the ground.”

Chorus:
May God keep all good people, may God keep all good people,
May God keep all good people from such bad company.

Then Johnson, he being a valiant man and a man of courage bold,
He took his coat from off his back to keep her from the cold.
And as they were a-riding as fast as they could ride,
She put a whistle to her mouth and she gave three shivering cries.

Up jumped three bold and swaggering men with swords all in their hands,
Who then commanded Johnson, commanded him to stand.
“I'll stop, I'll stand,” says Johnson, “as long as I can stand,
For never was I, in all my life, afraid of any man.”

Chorus

Oh, two of them he quickly slew and the third he did not mind
Till the false young woman took a knife and stabbed him from behind.
Poor Johnson he spun round about and he fell down to the ground.
And he cursed that wretched woman who gave him his death wound.

Now the day it being a market day, there were people travelling by
Who saw the awful murder, who saw poor Johnson die.
Now Johnson he was a valiant man, and a valiant man was he,
May God keep all good people from such bad company.

Chorus

Acknowledgements

Transcribed by Garry Gillard. Thanks to Patrick Montague for correcting the lyrics.