Barbara Allen and The Beetles
(And pics from last week.) Today’s ‘wake up with a tune annoyingly stuck in your head’ game features the old folk song ‘, Barbara Allen.’ This is infinitely better than last week. After watching Barnum, the musical, on one of our Roku channels, I had a pretty decent night’s sleep only to wake up with a song from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat going around in my head with a repetitive four/four (D major). I’d rather have had one of the Cy Coleman numbers, but there you go. Anyway…
On Monday morning, it was Barbara Allen, a song I’ve not heard of played for many years. I had first woken up at 5.20 with the first two lines in my head, unable, in whatever dream I was having, to get to line three. In fact, I’d not correctly dreamt the first line, which is (as I am sure you know), ‘In Scarlet town where I was born.’ I’d remembered, ‘In the town where I was born,’ which then launched a Yellow Submarine into my mind to act in a strange fugue-like way with the folk song. I checked in my books and found, “In Scarlet town where I was born, There was a fair maid dwelling. And every youth cried well away, For her name was Barbara Allen.” (Other versions of the lyric may be available, but this was the version I had.)
So, with Babs-Al, as we used to call her, competing with the Beatles, I tried to get back to sleep, which I did, for another half hour or so. She was still there when I finally leapt gazelle-like out of bed (not) and into my socks, slippers, thermals, two hoodies, hat and gloves ready to start the day. I went and looked her up and realised, though I’d played and enjoyed it 100 times, it’s actually a very sad song. Rich boy is dying, calls for the glorious Babs-Al, she looks at him and says, ‘No hope for you, mate,’ and wanders off the fields, hears the church bell toll, repents and decides she’ll die tomorrow as she really loved him after all. The happy ending is suggested by her green briar and his red rose that grow from their graves (her in the churchyard, him in the choir ‘cos he was rich) to fair swamp the church and its steeple.
It’s a bitter-sweet old song, and easy to play, but I hope that by telling you this, I have now exorcised it from my mind. [Waits a few minutes.] Nope, it’s still there in the town where I wasn’t born with a yellow submarine. But, luckily, no Joseph and his amazingly lucrative costume.
As a follow-up to this ramble, I dug into YouTube to find a version of Barbara Allen that I remembered. Seems like everyone has had a go at it from Joan Baez to Art Garfunkel, and everyone has their own version, including variations on the tune and lyrics. The one I settled on was this. (Click here.) Not me singing, sad to say, and I used to play it in E flat but, there, you can have that stuck in your head now.