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John Blunt / Get Up and Bar the Door / The Barring of the Door

[ Roud 115 ; Child 275 ; G/D 2:321 ; Ballad Index C275 ; Bodleian Roud 115 ; trad.]

Ewan MacColl sang the comical domestic tale with a ring of Aesop, Get Up and Bar the Door, in 1956 on his and A.L. Lloyd's Riverside album The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Volume I. 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 commented in the album's notes:

This amusing domestic comedy has numerous analogues in the tales and literature of Europe and Asia (See Child's headnote).

The generally ribald nature of the ballad has encouraged the creation of additional bawdy stanzas, and versions so embellished are in vogue as a college student song. The origin of this new oral tradition, however, is based on printed texts to which the bawdy stanzas have been added.

The ballad has been collected from tradition several times since Child, most of these texts being reported in America.

MacColl's version, learned from his father, follows the Greig and Keith [Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs] text very closely.

Tony Rose sang this song as John Blunt on his 1971 album Under the Greenwood Tree. He commented in his sleeve notes:

John Blunt has this same wry sense of humour [as Basket of Eggs on the same album -ed]. The song occurs frequently in Scots' versions as The Barring of the Door. It is one of the very few songs to acknowledge the social significance of black puddings—usually goes down well in Bury!

Martin Carthy sang John Blunt on his 1972 album Shearwater and a few years later live at the Folkfestival '76 Dranouter. He commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

Lord Randall and John Blunt must be among the more widespread story-ideas in the folk consciousness, the stories remaining more or less the same and varying according to locale and-or the individual imagination of whoever sings them. Variations on the idea of John Blunt range from the Arabian tale where the new husband wins the argument with his bride when she pleads for his life as he is about to be executed for insolence in refusing to answer police questions, to another which has hemp-eating tomb robbers arguing over who shall shut the gate of the vault in which they habitually gorge themselves. Nothing quite so extreme here, but would-be rapists and burglars might take note.

The Silly Sisters (Maddy Prior and June Tabor) sang this in 1988 as The Barring of the Door on their second album, No More to the Dance. They were accompanied by Dan Ar Braz, guitar, Huw Warren, keyboards, and Patsy Seddon & Mary Macmaster (a.k.a. Sìleas), clarsachs.

And Frankie Armstrong sang John Blunt accompanied by John Kirkpatrick in 1996 on her ballads album Till the Grass O'ergrew the Corn. The sleeve notes commented:

The characters who inhabit ballads are a notably wilful lot. In this “domestic” ballad, we are a world away from castle and greenwood, from heroines with milk-white skin and heroes on berry-brown steeds. Yet still the protagonists are involved in a titanic struggle of wills on that most unforgiving battle field of all: married life. Sung by Mrs Seale in Dorchester Union in December 1906, where maybe she had little but her songs to keep her warm. Those who see folksongs as pretty relics from a vanished rural Arcadia should be sobered by how many were collected in workhouses.

Jon Boden learnt John Blunt from the singing of Martin Carthy and sang it as the April 12, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Lyrics

Ewan MacColl sings Get Up and Bar the Door Silly Sisters sing The Barring of the Door

It fell aboot a Martinmas time,
and a fine time it was then o,
That oor gudwwife got puddens to mak'
And she boiled them in a pan o.

It fell about the Martinmas time
And a gay time it was then o
That our good wife had puddings to make
And she boiled them in the pan o.

Chorus (after each verse):
An' the barrin' oor door, weel, weel, weel,
An' the barrin' oor door weel.

The wind it blew fae East to West,
An it blew upon the floor o,
Says oor gudeman tae oor gudewife,
“Get up bar the door o.”

The wind blew cold from East and North
And blew into the floor o,
Quoth our good man to our good wife,
“Get up and bar the door o.”

“Ma hand is in my hissy-skip,
Gudeman as ye may see o;
Though it shouldna be barred this seven year.
It'll no' be barred by me o.”

“My hand is in my hussyfskap,
Good man, as you may see o.
If it should be barred this hundred years
It'll not be barred by me o.”

They made a paction 'tween themselves
And fixed it firm and sure o,
That the yin wha spoke the foremost word,
Should rise and bar the door o.

They made the pact between the two
They made it firm and sure o:
Whoever should speak the very first word
Should rise and bar the door o.

Twa gentlemen had lost their road,
At twal' o'clock o' the nicht o,
And they couldna' find neither hoose nor ha',
Nor coal nor candle-licht o.

Then by and came two gentlemen
At twelve o'clock at night o,
And they could see that in the house
There was coal nor candle light o.

“Noo whether is this a rich man's hoose,
Or whether is it a poor o?”
But ne'er a word would yin o' them speak,
For barrin o' the door o.

“Oh, have we here a rich man's house
Or have we here a poor o?”
But never a word would the old couple speak
For the barring of the door o.

Well, first they ate the white pudden,
And syne they ate the black o,
And oor gudeman says tae himsel',
“The deil gang doon wi' that o.”

So first they ate the white puddings
And then they ate the black o;
And muckle thought the good wife herself
But ne'er a word she spoke o.

The young man tae the auld man said,
“Here, man, tak ye my knife o,
And gang and shave the gudeman's beard
And I'll kiss the gudewife o.”

Then one unto the other did say,
“Here man, take ye my knife o.
Do you take off the old man's beard
And I'll kiss the good wife o.”

“There is nae water in the hoose,
And what'll we do then o?”
“Whit ails ye at the pudden-bree,
That boils intae the pan o?”

“But there's no water in the house
And what shall we do then o?
What ails ye at the pudding broth
That boils in yonder pan o.”

Then oot it spak the auld gudeman,
And an angry man was he o:
“Would ye kiss my wife afore my e'en?
Scaud me wi' pudden bree o?”

Oh, up then started our good man
And an angry man was he o,
“Well ye kissed my wife before my eyes
And scald me with pudding broth o.”

Then up it raise the auld gudewife,
Gaed three skips on the floor o:
“Gudeman, ye spak the foremost word
Get up and bar the door o.”

Oh up then started our good wife,
Gave three skips on the floor o,
“Good man ye have spake the very first word:
Get up and bar the door o.”

Note: hussyfskap (Scottish) = household chores

Tony Rose sings John Blunt Martin Carthy sings John Blunt

There was an old couple lived under a hill,
And Blunt it was their name o.
And they had a good beer and ale for to sell
And it bore a wonderful name o.

There was an old couple lived under the hill,
Blunt it was their name o.
They had good beer and ale good to sell
And it bore a wonderful fame o.

John Blunt and his wife drank free of this ale
Till they could drink no more o;
Then up to bed the old couple went
But forgot to bar the door o.

John Blunt and his wife they drank of the drink
Till they could drink no more o;
They both got tired and they went up to bed
But forgot to bar the door o.

So they a bargain, bargain made,
They made it strong and sure o:
That which of them should speak the first word
Should go down and bar the door o.

So they a bargain, bargain made,
Made it strong and sure o:
The first of them should speak the first word
Should get up and bar the door o.

And there came travellers, travellers three,
Travelling through the night o.
And no house, no home, no fire had they,
Nor yet no candlelight o.

So there came travellers, travellers three,
Travelling in the night o.
No house, no home, no fire had they,
Nor yet no candlelight o.

They came straightway to John Blunt's house
And quickly opened the door o,
And the devil of a word the old couple said
For fear who should bar the door o.

They went to his cellar and drank up his drink
Till they could drink no more o;
And they went to his cupboard and ate up his meat
Till they could eat no more o.

They went to his cellar, they drank up his drink
Till they could drink no more o;
But never a word did the old couple speak
For fear who should bar the door o.

It's first they'd eaten the white puddings
And then they'd eaten the black o.
The old woman she listened and said to herself,
“May the devil slip down with that o.”

They went to his larder, they ate up his food
Till they could eat no more o;
But never a word did the old couple speak
For fear who should bar the door o.

Then quickly they procured a light
And quickly went upstairs o,
And then they threw the old woman out of her bed
And they laid her on the floor.

They went upstairs, they went to his room,
They broke down the door o;
But never a word did the old couple speak
For fear who should bar the door o.

They hauled his wife all out of the bed,
Laid her out on the floor o;
Then up got poor John Blunt in his bed
For he could stand no more o.

Up spoke John Blunt, “You've eaten my meat,
And laid my wife on the floor o.”
“You spoke the first word John Blunt, she said,
Go down and bar the door o.”

Said, “You've eaten my food and drunk all my drink,
Laid her out on the floor o.”
“You spoke the first word John Blunt, she said,
So go down and bar the door o.”

Acknowledgements and Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyrics Correction: Barring of the Door.

Martin Carthy's version was transcribed by Garry Gillard.