Tag Archives: peasants revolt

(1300s) The Cutty Wren

This song is traditionally thought to date back to the 1300s and have been sung by participants of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. Worth noting that wikipedia and academia are both are keen to point out that there is no evidence of this, but people in the trad folk tradition are equally quick to point out in return that academics historically often have little idea about the oral tradition.

In A.L.Lloyd’s excellent Folk Song In England he states:

(The song) is often thought of as an amiable nursery piece yet when it was recorded from an old shepherd of Adderbury West, near Banbury, he banged the floor with his stick on the accented notes and stamped violently at the end of the verses, saying that to stamp was the right way and reminded of old times.

What memories of ancient defiance are preserved in this kind of performance it would be hard to say , but we do know that the wren-hunting song was attached to pagan midwinter ritual of the kind that the Church and authority fulminated vainly against- particularly in the rebellious perdio at the end of the Middle Ages when adherence to the forms of the Old Religion was taken to be evidence of subversion, and its partisans were violently persectuted in consequence.

In the sleeve notes of an Ian Campbell Folk Group record, A.L. Lloyd had this further explanation:

Some of the most ancient, most enduring and at the same time most mysterious English folk songs are those concerned with the attributes and sacrifice of monstrous animals. At the end of the 14th century, when peasant rebellion was in the air, the old magical song of the gigantically powerful bird (presented by a kind of folklore irony as a tiny wren) took on a tinge of new meaning. For here was the story of a great fowl so hard to seize, so difficult to dismember but so apt for sharing among the poor; and what did that suggest but a symbol of seignorial property?

Lyrics

“O where are you going?” said Milder to Maulder
“O we may not tell you,” said Festle to Foes
“We’re off to the woods,” said John the Red Nose

“What will you do there?” said Milder to Maulder
“O we may not tell you,” said Festle to Foes
“We’ll hunt the Cutty Wren,” said John the Red Nose

“How will you shoot her?” said Milder to Maulder
“O we may not tell you,” said Festle to Foes
“With bows and with arrows,” said John the Red Nose

“That will not do then,” said Milder to Maulder
“O what will do then?” said Festle to Foes
“Big guns and big cannons,” said John the Red Nose

“How will you bring her home?” said Milder to Maulder
“O we may not tell you,” said Festle to Foes
“On four strong men’s shoulders,” said John the Red Nose

“That will not do then,” said Milder to Maulder
“O what will do then?” said Festle to Foes
“Big carts and big waggons,” said John the Red Nose

“How will you cut her up?” said Milder to Maulder
“O we may not tell you,” said Festle to Foes
“With knives and with forks,” said John the Red Nose

“That will not do then,” said Milder to Maulder
“O what will do then?” said Festle to Foes
“Big hatches and cleavers,” said John the Red Nose

“Who’ll get the spare ribs?” said Milder to Maulder
“O we may not tell you,” said Festle to Foes
“We’ll give them all to the poor,” said John the Red Nose

Ewan MacColl – Bring The Summer Home – 1381 The Great Revolt

Peggy Seeger also sent over this track called ‘Bring The Summer Home’ from Ewan MacColl’s 1998 reissue compilation album Antiquities.

It is about the Peasants’ Revolt (or the Great Revolt as it should be know!), the 100 Year War with France, the first attempt at an English Poll Tax and the Black Death.

Someone on the Mudcat forums has a bash at working out the lyrics here – http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=141748.

You can hear it online via this youtube mix tape…

John Ball and the Peasants’ Revolt (60 mins)

braggBBC Radio 4 hour long documentary by Melvyn Bragg on John Ball and the Peasants’ Revolt – connecting it with the English Civil War, the Diggers, the Levellers, and Blake’s words which became the song ‘Jerusalem’.

This has now been successfully cleansed from the internet so lucky I took my own backup of it to share with you here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04d8khr/melvyn-braggs-radical-lives-1-now-is-the-time-john-ball

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/voices/voices_reading_revolt.shtml

(1381*) John Ball by Sydney Carter

 

I am utterly in love with this song about John Ball, one of the leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381.

I first heard it via Chris Wood and soon worked out a version of my own. Dolly May came up with some lovely harmonies and then one cheeky Sunday we ended up recording the song with the brilliant Nick Hart on concertina.

The melody is a traditional Northumberland tune, with lyrics written on the 300th anniversary in 1981 by Camden-based folk-singer Sydney Carter who died in 2004. He is best known for penning ‘Lord Of The Dance’ and most of the other songs I used to sing in Sunday School.