This version of a very old tune was transcribed in the early part of the twentieth century by Cecil Sharp from the playing of John Mason of Stow-on-the-Wold. Cecil Sharp, along with others such as Vaughan Williams and Percy Grainger, was responsible for rescuing a large amount of folk music from oblivion.
This tune exists in several versions, a common feature of other versions being that the last-but-one bar in both parts is played as | G3 E3 |.
Unusually, this version (known as the “Bledington” version) has an extra half bar in the B-part. It is customary when the tune is played for a particular dance that the B-part starts half-way through the first bar, and continues through in 6/8.
There is yet another version of this tune in Pete Cooper’s “English Fiddle Tunes”. Mr Cooper’s detailed on-line notes (http://www.petecooper.com/eftnotes.htm#19) to his CD give a lot of information about Black Joak. I refer the reader to that link, but I’ll summarise by saying that the tune appears to have been that of a bawdy song, possibly of Irish origin, dating back to the early days (at least) of the 18th century. Extracts from this song appear in Mr Cooper’s notes, from which it is not too difficult to deduce the meaning of “joak”.
The tune is variously also known as “Black Joke” or “Black Joker”
The structure is unusual. Would it be classified as a set dance as opposed to a jig?
Possibly, but not on this forum since there is no provision for “set dance” in the tunes database. “Jig” is the only realistic classification for this tune here because it is in 6/8.
The Miles Krassen edition of O’Neill has a specific section for set dances. Most of them are notated in 2/2 time, and only a small handful in 6/8.
The term “jig” had a broader definition centuries ago: it could be used for almost any dance that involved jumping or leaping movements (“jigging about”), and was not restricted to 6/8, 9/8, or 12/8 as it is today. In fact, on the database there is a very old tune called the Radstock “Jig” (tune #2926) – although “jig” is not permitted in the title here – and it is in 4/4, so it’s either a reel or a hornpipe.
There is another version of this tune on the database called “Sprig of Shillelagh” (tune #2302), and some more discussion about “joak” tunes on discussion #13496 (date 28/4/2007).
There’s another version of this in a book by Walsh (1730) in Manchester music library. There is also a White Joak, Yellow Joak, Brown Joak and another, the name of which escapes me. There are no half bars. These tunes typically have an A part of 6 bars and a B part of ten bars. I presume the joke is on dancers who are dancing a pattern that ends on 8 bars, so they are wrong footed after the A part but right at the end of the B. If I can get it right I’ll post the ABC for it. It’s a dotted rhythm and I’m not an ABC expert.
“Joak” is not synonymous with “joke” as used today. It is said to be (female) pubic hair.
Walsh’s book is tiny, about 6“ by 3“. It contains 3 or four Joak tunes, all named as colours. It’s years since I came across it. I asked if I could photocopy it and they said yes. About half of the tunes are 3/2 hornpipes. One of these is The Downfall Of The Ginn, similar in many ways to Purcell’s Rhondo from Abdenazer.
If I remember correctly all the Joak tunes have a short A part and a long B part. The two parts added together come to a normal tune type length. So if Joak has a bawdy connotation there could also be a bit of word play as well.
If any one is interested I can dig out my copy and add some of the other Joaks to the tunes section.
No mortal sure can blame ye man,
Who prompted by Nature will act as he can
Wth a black joke, and belly so white:
For he ye Platonist must gain say,
that will not Human Nature obey,
in working a joke, as will lather like soap,
and ye hair of her joke, will draw more yn a rope,
with a black joke, and belly so white.
[…The first printing of the tune which can be accurately dated occurred in Charles Coffey’s ballad opera The Beggar’s Wedding (1729), where a song beginning ‘Of all the girls in our town’ (Air 10) is marked to be sung to the tune of ‘Coal-black Joke.’ Immediately thereafter the music was associated with Coffey’s lyrics in the vocal miscellany publications, and became consequently ‘respectable.’ My surmise is that ‘The Original Coal-black Joke’ was published at about this time as a single-sheet edition in an attempt by the publisher to demonstrate that Coffey’s ‘respectable’ version was not the ‘original’ one. While the words of ‘The Original Coal-black Joke’ were not reprinted in any of the miscellanies, the tune became popular in these publications and in the ballad operas, always being referred to as ‘The Black Joke’ or ‘The Coal-black Joke.’ Two companion songs and tunes quickly appeared. In Watts’s Musical Miscellany there was printed ‘The Nut-brown Joke, or K-y’s Magick Circle,’ which celebrated the ‘Paradise’ provided by ‘K-y.’ A relevant passage follows:
No Magick has so mighty a Force,
Both Person and Heart, for Better and Worse,
In a Circle to lock,
As her Nut-brown Joke
Where Ages are lost,
And Pleasures engrost,
Where Soul and Sense their Paradise find.
The third tune was ‘The White Joak,’ or ‘Gay Myra, Toast of All the Town,’ with lyrics written by a Mr. Davis. This tune was in existence by August, 1730, since it was used as Air 14 in the anonymous ballad opera Robin Hood, which was acted at Bartholomew Fair that year. Though a single-sheet edition of ‘The White Joak’ was printed, probably about 1730,’ the first reliable date of the appearance of the words is 1731, when the song was printed in the same volume of Watts’s Musical Miscellany as ’The Nut- brown Joke. Not at all bawdy, as were its companions, ‘The White Joak’ along with ‘The Black Joke’ quickly became popular as accompaniment to dances performed at the theaters and elsewhere…]
An Unrecorded Meaning of ‘Joke’ (Or ‘Joak’) in England
Edgar V. Roberts
American Speech, Vol. 37, No. 2 (May, 1962), pp. 137-140
Published by: Duke University Press
Article DOI: 10.2307/453150
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/453150
A Cotswold Morris version of the tune from the village of Adderbury, Oxfordshire (UK).
Re: Black Joak
Black Joke is also a Morris dance and English Country dance tune, with many versions. Morris dances often have quirky arrangements and may include changes in tempo and I would guess that the odd half measure fits a particular Morris dance tradition. An internet search for Black Joke Morris will turn up lots of examples.
Re: Black Joak
On the Battlefield Band’s album “Beg and Borrow”, they have a jig called “The Scottish Lovers” which reminds me of the Black Joak except for what sounds like one note difference. I think I like it better than the Morris tune, although it might just be because the BB version has a very relaxed feel to it.
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