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Broadside ballad entitled 'John Anderson, My Jo (a new reading)'


Verse 1: 'JOHN ANDERSON, my jo John; when we were lad and lass, / I never thoct that sic a thing wid ever come to pass, - / That we wid brawl an' fecht, John, an' deave our neighbours so, / Ye'll see your error yet, I think, John Anderson my jo'.' Below the title we are told that 'Copies of this Popular Reading can always be had the POET'S BOX, Overgate, Dundee'. 'Jo' means 'dear' and 'deave' means 'to worry'.

This light-hearted ballad, a parody on the work by Robert Burns, contains a waspish dialogue between a husband and his wife. The narrative perspective of the ballad shifts in each verse, from John Anderson to his unnamed wife, with the insults flying fast and furious. The writer lets the wife have the last word of the argument, where she ironically contrasts John?s insults with the ?sweet honeyed wirds? that he deployed when he was wooing her. In short, this ballad is a tongue in cheek account of how some relationships can turn stale after a while. Many humorous broadside ballads such as this one are held in the National Library of Scotland's collection.
The Dundee Poets? Box was in operation from about 1880 to 1945, though it is possible that some material was printed as early as the 1850s. Most of the time it had premises at various addresses in Overgate. In 1885 the proprietor J.G. Scott (at 182 Overgate) had published a catalogue of 2,000 titles consisting of included humorous recitations, dialogues, temperance songs, medleys, parodies, love songs, Jacobite songs. Another proprietor in the 1880s was William Shepherd, but little is known about him. Poets? Box was particularly busy on market days and feeing days when country folk were in town in large numbers. Macartney specialised in local songs and bothy ballads. Many Irish songs were published by the Poets? Box ? many Irishmen worked seasonally harvesting potatoes and also in the jute mills. In 1906 John Lowden Macartney took over as proprietor of the Poet?s Box, initially working from 181 Overgate and later from no.203 and 207.

It is not clear what the connection between the different Poet?s Boxes were. They almost certainly sold each other?s sheets. It is known that John Sanderson in Edinburgh often wrote to the Leitches in Glasgow for songs and that later his brother Charles obtained copies of songs from the Dundee Poet?s Box. There was also a Poet?s Box in Belfast from 1846 to 1856 at the address of the printer James Moore, and one at Paisley in the early 1850s, owned by William Anderson.

Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term 'ballad' eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse.

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Probable period of publication: 1880-1900   shelfmark: L.C.Fol.70(15b)
Broadside ballad entitled 'John Anderson, My Jo (a new reading)'
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