John Come Kiss Me Now

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JOHN COME KISS ME NOW. English, Scottish; Air and Country Dance Tune (4/4 or cut time). England, Northumberland. G Major (Chappell): F Major (Emmerson, Johnson). Standard tuning (fiddle). One part (Chappell): AB (Emmerson, Johnson). Originally an English tune appearing in the Cuming Manuscript (a fiddle book from Edinburgh, 1723-4), the McFarlane Manuscript, 1740, (in an experimental air-jig-allegro form by William McGibbon), and the Gillespie Manuscript of Perth (1768), the title also appears in Henry Robson's list of popular Northumbrian song and dance tunes ("The Northern Minstrel's Budget"), which he published c. 1800. "John Come Kiss Me Now" is structured on an imported Italian 16th century form called "passamezzo moderno" (which involved stock chord progressions) and was the most popular tune in that form in both England and Scotland in the 16th and 17th centuries (Johnson, 1984). John Glen (Early Scottish Melodies, 1900) finds early Scottish tunes under the title "John come kiss me now" in the Blaikie and Margaret Sinkler manuscripts (1692 and 1710, respectively) and, comparing it with the English collector Chappell's sources, concluded "in all probability the Scottish air was different from the English one." Glen challenges Chappell's conclusion that the tune has no Scotch character, and believes its characteristics are as much Scottish as English.

Despite the several Scottish appearances, Simpson (in British Broadside Ballads) traces the tune in England to a lute-tablature mansucript of c. 1570. Both a once-popular French tune known as "(Les) Bouffons/Buffons/Buffens" and the morris dance tune "Shepherd's Hey" equal the first (and sometimes sole) part of "John Come Kiss Me Now." The French variant was traced by Ward through European manuscripts back to the year 1552. Bayard ("A Miscellany of Tune Notes," in Studies in Folklore, p. 157) notes that the tune was part of the Welsh harpers' tradition under the name "Pen Rhaw" (The Spade Head), but that second strains differ in nearly all sets of the tune he reviewed, and he concludes that the first strain formed the nucleus of the tune with other strains being independently joined. Emmerson (1971) reports that "John Come Kiss Me Now" survives in the second strain of the well-known country dance jig "New Rigged Ship (1) (The);" reviewing the common-time version presented by Johnson, however, leads him to say the jig is best described as "a set of the old air." John Glen (Early Scottish Melodies, 1900) says "Stenhouse's assertion that the second strain of the tune called 'New Rigged Ship (1) (The)' is a mere copy of the second part of 'John come kiss me now,' thrown into triple time, is fallacious.

Chappell (1859) prints the first strain, which he finds (with fifteen variations) in The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (c. 1650, therein credited to the famous English composer William Byrd), Robinson's New Citharen Lessons (1609), Airs and Sonnets, and a MS in the British Museum; another 16th century version appears in a MS book of "Airs and Sonnets" at Trinity College, Dublin, accompanied by verses in 16th century Scots. The first strain appears with a second in several more publications, including Playford's Introduction to the Skill of Music (1654), Musick's Delight on the Cithren (1666), A Book of Lessons for the Cithern & Gittern (1652), Apollo's Banquet for the Treble Violin, D'Urfey's Pills to Purge Melancholy, McGibbon's Scots Tunes (1768), and others. Robin Williamson's version is from Robert Edwards' Music Commonplace Book of 1650. Edwards was minister of Murroes Church in Angus, near Panmure House. Williamson explains that a number of airs were adapted in 16th century to lyrics which satirized the old church, so much so, in fact, that an act of Parliament was passed in 1552 condemning printers of "Ballattis, sangis, blasphematiounis, rymes" whether in Latin or English. The new Church of Scotland was quick to adopt the airs of songs popular at the time for religious purposes, even though many of the original lyrics were bawdy in nature (though what that nature might have been is apparently unknown. Chappell {1859} printed the first four lines but stated that nothing more remained of the original song, at least in English, though, as previously noted, Scots versions do exist). The Church's first publication of these rewritten songs was in Gude and Godlie Ballatis (see also "Scots Wha Hae") in which "John Come Kiss Me Now" appears in what (to Williamson's mind) is a curiously sanitized version:

Johne cum kis me now
Johne cum kis me now
Johne cum kis me by and by
And mak no mair adow

which continues in the Church version:

The Lord, Thy God, I am
That Johne dois the call,
Johne representit man
Be grace celestiall etc.

Chappell finds several references to the tune in the literature throughout the 17th century, and deduces from these that it was used more as a dance than a song. In Thomas Heywood's A Woman Killed with Kindness, 1600, the tune is mentioned by Sisley, who says, "I love no dance so well as 'John, come kiss me now;" and in Tis Merry when Gossips Meet (1609), by Samuel Rowlands, can be found "Not an old daunce, but 'John, come kisse me now.'" John Hawkins writes disdainfully of the air in Cromwellian times:

...Fidlers and others, hired by the master of the house; such as in the night season were wont to parade the city and suburbs under the title of Waits...Half a dozen of fidlers would scrape "Sellinger's Round," or "John, Come Kiss Me," or "Old Simon the King" with divisions, till themselves and their audience were tired, after which as many players on the hautboy would in the most harsh and discordant tones grate forth "Greensleeves," "Yellow Stockings," "Gillean of Croydon," or some such common dance tune, and the people thought it fine music.

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Aird (Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, vol. 4), 1796; No. 75, p. 31. Chappell (Popular Music of the Olden Time), vol. 1, 1859; p. 268. Emmerson (Rantin' Pipe and Tremblin' String), 1971; No. 2, p. 14. Johnson (Scots Musical Museum), 1792; No. 305. Oswald (Caledonian Pocket Companion, Book 6), 1760; p. 6.

Recorded sources: Dorian 90238, The Baltimore Consort - "A Trip to Killburn." Flying Fish Records, Robin Williamson - "Legacy of the Scottish Harpers." Maggie's Music MMCD216, Hesperus - "Early American Roots" (1997).

See also listing at:
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [1]




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