Mudcat Café message #4002381 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #166447   Message #4002381
Posted By: Vic Smith
28-Jul-19 - 07:05 AM
Thread Name: Your favorite version of Barbara Allen
Subject: RE: Your favorite version of Barbara Allen
When I started going to folk clubs in the late 1950s, Barbara Allen was sung quite frequently, but it was always the same version that I heard; a rather soppy version that many of us had learned at school:-
In Scarlett Town where I was born,
There was a fair maid dwelling,
Made every youth cry "Well-a-day".
Her name was Barbara Allen.

I remember thinking to myself. " 'every youth cry "Well-a-day'? Yuk! However much I get into this folk music thing, I'll never want to sing that awful song!"
It must have been 12 or 13 years later that I heard Stanley Robertson in the flesh for the first time - I had heard recordings of him before this - at the opening concert of the TMSA concert in the first year they moved the festival to Kinross. I heard a voice that seemed to be coming through the ages and yet had total involvement with what he was singing.
By the end of the first verse, I had a shiver going down my spine and the flesh moving aginst the muscles in my arms.
By the end of the first verse, I knew that I would have to learn it. I still have the copy of the words in his neat copperplate writing that Stanley wrote out for me before the end of that weekend:-
It fell aboot last Martinmas time,
When the leaves they were doon-faa'ing,
Sir John The Graeme fae the north country,
Fell in love wi' Barbri Allen.

It was harsh, moving, strident, emotional. It was everything that I loved in a ballad and I have sung it countless times since.

I have heard many other versions since and many that I like but three come to mind. Two are from other members of the travelling community. John Hughes, husband of the famed Caroline Hughes, could not be called a great singer could not be called a great singer as his wife certainly was, but there is something about his delivery that I find utterly compelling. Then Vic Legg's version I also love - mind you I love everything that Vic Legg sings and finally the version that Brian Peters reconstructed from a tune and verse noted from an ex-slave Aunt Maria Tomes in Virginia by Cecil Sharp. the combination of the old British words and an African-American tune I find delightful.