John Ball


Here’s one to stir the radicals, written by Sydney Carter, who apparently also gave us Lord Of The Dance and Jon says, “This was sung most nights in the Half Moon in the days when Ian Giles and myself lived upstairs. Happy days.”

The John Ball in question here is the Lollard priest who became associated with Watt Tyler’s Peasants Revolt. Chris Wood included this on his excellent Trespassers CD and he’s joined by Karine Polwart on this track. You can read about John Ball on Wiki here and note his gruesome demise, perhaps as you’d expect. The thrust of this song comes from a sermon that Ball preached to the rebels at Blackheath that included the question “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?” A link to Mudcat here is most interesting in several ways. There’s more information about the author, a Quaker apparently and that this was written on the 500 year anniversary of the Peasants Revolt. I note with great irony that the song has been removed from Mudcat at the insistence of the American copyright holders. That may be in response to Michael Flatley’s Riverdance, but seems so utterly contrary to the sentiment of this song. I am not in any way in favour of stealing music but in this case I wonder who the beneficiary is. I am, therefore, moved to suggest a mass trespass. Anyone who can should sing this out, loud and proud, but learn it quick or buy the Chris Wood CD (you should do that anyway if you can) and learn it from there, as I wonder whether we will be able to keep this track up.


You can buy the January digital album now from all good download stores.


69 Responses to “John Ball”

  1. Piers Cawley says:

    This is a great song to sing, but it can be hard to, ah, keep it up when other singers are yelling “Cock!” loudly at the appropriate point in the chorus.

  2. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    Gadzooks Piers….seems you keep company with a rabble of rough&fowl fellows!
    Good song/singer and from Wiki I learned a lot about poor old John Ball.

  3. Alan Rosevear says:

    I confess I have trespassed, I confess we all sang it very loud, but I did credit Sydney Carter so maybe I will only get transportation. It is an easy song to learn and so up-lifting with a crowd singing along. Thanks for adding this to the AFSAD repertoire.

  4. Shelley says:

    I didn’t realise is it was by Sydney Carter. Love this song, and it is a great singalong one, and has already been arranged by a fellow Bailey Sister for inclusion in our repertoire, so we’ll be trespassing too (hurrah!) I’ve heard Ian Giles and the Young ‘Uns do this one too, and really enjoyed listening to Jon singing it.

  5. Neil says:

    There’s a cracking version of this on Chris Wood’s ‘Trespasser’ album.

  6. Neil says:

    Of course, you lot have actually bothered to read the notes above, so will know this..

  7. jonathan says:

    On the more general ideas of the Peasants’ Revolt, ‘Song of the Leaders’ on Roy Bailey’s Past Masters is worth a listen, or perhaps on AFSAD?

  8. Reinhard says:

    John Kirkpatrick and Sydney Carter himself sang John Ball early in the 1980s on the wonderful album Lovely in the Dances: The Songs of Sydney Carter. He wrote a lot more fine songs than just Lord of the Dance and this one.

  9. Phil says:

    Reinhard beat me to it – if you only know this & the LOTD you’ve got some great discoveries ahead of you. He was a terrific writer, and this is one of his best.

  10. Jan says:

    I know there is much more to Sydney Carter than LOTD but had never come across this one. I shall do my best to learn it and sing it out!

  11. Jan says:

    I’ve just bought the Chriss Wood CD to make sure!

  12. Peter Little says:

    Teriffic!!!! sang this with the Mere Singers last year – what a great song, and JB does it justice

  13. SRD says:


  14. Rosie says:

    What a lovely song, and so uplifting. Must have it !

  15. elfpix says:

    Stainer owns the copyright, since both Sydney and his wife are deceased. Stainer is

  16. elfpix says:

    Stainer is very possessive of its copyright.

    We should all be very possessive of our copyright. Only by licensing from each other do we keep ourselves alive.

  17. SRD says:

    Am I in the dog house? My comments seem to have gone missing.

  18. Simon says:

    SRD – Spam filter being over zealous again. There’s no logic to it, it snaffled the first post (now reinstated) and let the second one through! Believe me, however, it’s better this way than the mountain of garbage we get sent. I do go back through it and try to rescue anything genuine, but Ikea did for my time on the site this weekend.

  19. Mark says:

    When Chris Wood sings this live, he sometimes says this song in some way channels John Ball, and lets him ‘sing’ to us from beyond the grave. He’s right, there’s something very moving and pleasingly stubborn about this song. Lovely version, too!

  20. John Burton says:

    Chris Wood version is on You Tube here, I liked it so much that I started doing it myself with Guitar, had always done it a cappella prior, both versions come out completely differently.
    Great song, from a great guy who was far more sharing with this compositions than his copyright holders.

  21. Cherry says:

    One of my favourite songs, my friend Patrick brought the Kirkpatrick version to our summer singing sessions, and we then took it to the Raise the Roof singers, and in 2009 we sang it at Blackheath Halls Christmas concert, much to the delight of the staff from John Ball school, who were also there with their choir, and demanded the music (which we couldn’t provide having learnt it by ear. Who knows how many other people went away to continue spreading the word…

  22. Jane Ramsden says:

    This has just got my January vote, and I’m looking forward to anoraking John Ball once I’ve worked my way through my AFSAD backalog! Recently heard Phil Beer sing it, as well as having it on Chris Wood’s Trespasser CD. It is a great song, and you did it justice, Jon.

  23. Mike Carter says:

    Im amazed and delighted to see all the interest in my fathers work!
    there are many many other great songs in his repertoire and my mission is to get them all up and going!
    watch this space…

  24. John Bryson says:

    This is a great song

  25. muzza (N.W Surrey) says:

    What a great song to listen to while a fellow is up early and excited and opening his birthday cards….and hanging in there just as John Ball seems to have done on the Mudcat site…Huzzah!……Uh Oh…..the Queen’s card seems to have been lost in the post yet again.(sorry Lucy-I forgot that AFSAD is not Twitter!)

  26. Daina says:

    Well certainly a song with a difference. Someone always has to stand up for their
    principles and it doesn’t always end happily, and in John Ball’s case a gruesome death.

    Happy Birthday Muzza. Hope you got lots of cards to open, but no post on Sunday so you must have stored them up from Saturday. It was my birthday yesterday and my cards all came on Friday.

  27. Diana says:

    Have just listened to Chris Wood’s version on “Mainly Norfolk” (You Tube) and have found lyrics on Mudcat. I was under the impression from Reynard’s site that the lyrics were unavailable due to copyrights. Has sense prevailed?

  28. John Bryson says:

    Birthday greetings Muzza, a great song to celebrate your birthday with

  29. Tedd O'Ramsden says:

    I love this song so much. John Ball had a thinking head on his shoulders was certainly a questioner; of that, no doubt. How many of us will be remembered for a line at all, let alone one comes down to us from as far back as the 1300s:

    “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.”

    Spot-on, I’d say, but we are still fighting that battle today. *Sighs* A wonderful song, well sung. Can’t help but be drawn by Chris Wood’s comments, as quoted by Mark above.

    Happy Birthday, Diana and Muzza. Hope it has all been lovely.

  30. Daina says:

    @Tedd: Thanks for your birthday wishes – it was a lovely day.

  31. muzza (N.W Surrey) says:

    @Diana/John/Jane…..thank you for your kind wishes……..yep….I save my cards for the big day…….many people don’t……we human beans are a rum lot!

  32. Jane Ramsden says:

    Happy birthday, Muzza, and many happy returns of this day! And hope you had a good birthday yesterday too, Diana.

    Still love this song, and very rousing for birthdays!

  33. Muzza (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Thank you Jane………..still keeping late nights I see….
    waiting to hear the new song no doubt………
    and Diana…I know you will have had a good day…You Capricorns are similar to we Aquarians!
    Ref John Ball……..did we ever post Jan’s version.

  34. Diana says:

    Hey Muzza it was on the 21st so am an Aquarian just like you. Anyway Happy Birthday Muzza – enjoy.

  35. Jan says:

    Happy birthday, Muzza, and thanks for posting the link to Miscellany – we love singing John Ball! Haven’t been nobbled for copyright infringement so far, but we always credit Sidney Carter. Looking through the posts above, I guess Simon started a John Ball movement back in 2011 that’s still going strong (and Jon too of course).

  36. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Jan: Very nice Miscellanous John Bull singing! Thanks!

  37. Ashley says:

    There is a fantastic version of this song by The Old Dance School too, on their Forecast album. I’m thinking of having it as the first dance at my wedding in June!

  38. John Bryson says:

    Happy Birthday Muzza

  39. Linda says:

    Nearly missed it Happy Birthday Muzza……………….

  40. SRD says:

    We’ve just got back from the David Hall at South Petherton having seen the Young’Uns. They encored with this a capella and unamplified, lovely.

  41. Paul Makin says:

    I sang this earlier today at the George at Upper Denby. There were many many folk singers there celebrating Steve Robinson’s life. Steve tragically died recently. He was an outstanding singer and human being as the testimony at his service highlighted. We will miss him. He told me that John Ball should be sung every day. We should not ignore Steve’s advice.

  42. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    Paul….is that Steve Robinson the Bristol Busker…have you a link

  43. Diana says:

    Happy birthday Muzza. X

  44. Linda says:

    Like The Young Uns version of this as well as Jons…..Happy Birthday Muzza

  45. Old Muzza(N.W Surrey-UK says:

    Thank you ladies…..phew doesn’t time fly…….the comments columns are getting longer but I still enjoy my daily song….and they seem to come round so quickly as well!

  46. […] Carter’s great song about the Peasant’s Revolt : John Ball, sung here by John […]

  47. Linda says:

    Happy Birthday Muzza time for a quick chorus…..and look what we’ve got tomorrow sailors !!!!!

  48. Jane Ramsden says:

    Many Happy Returns of the Day, Muzzy! Xxxx.

  49. Old Muzza (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Blimey 80! Thank you for your good wishes ladies Now definitely in Big G’s waiting room….better get all my songs onto Youtube pronto!……now where did I put those angel wings for my ‘Bright side of life’ vid!

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