the song
title : The bonny Besses
written by : Rev Hammer
song copyright : 1997 Cooking Vinyl / BMG Music Publishing Ltd

the performance
musicians
Eddi Reader lead vocal, as Mary Overton
with :
Rachel Auty, Camilla Bostock
Jude Cox, Sonia Powell
and Nicola Sears
backing vocals, as The Bonny Besses
and with band :
Rev Hammer electric guitar
Phil Johnstone electric guitar, piano, bass guitar
Peter Blackett lead(?) electric guitar
Mike Gregovich tambourine
Robb Heaton drums
music
key : G major
time-signature : 4/4
tempo : MM 144
form : i V V B C V B C ¼v V B C C C C p
lyrics

provided for research and private study only (see above for copyright details):

The bonny Besses

so at five in the morning with William Walwyn
they dragged Honest John to the Tower
with Thomas Prince and Richard Overton
they dragged Honest John to the Tower

once more high treason was the given reason
when they dragged Honest John to the Tower
and the women of the city rose up in disgust and pity
when they dragged Honest John to the Tower

and the street threw up this bloody cry…

we are the Bonny Besses in the sea-green dresses
and we spit on your abuse of this power
we say “free Honest John from the Tower”
ho-oh

and parliament said “women go tidy your beds!”
when they dragged Honest John to the Tower
and parliament said “some things are above women’s heads”
and they dragged Honest John to the Tower

and the street threw up this bloody cry…

we are the Bonny Besses in the sea-green dresses
and we spit on your abuse of this power
we say “free Honest John from the Tower”

forty thousand names wanted to break those chains
of our four friends there in the Tower
forty thousand names wanted to break those chains
when they dragged Honest John to the Tower

and the street threw up this bloody cry…

we are the Bonny Besses in the sea-green dresses
and we spit on your abuse of this power
we say “free Honest John from the Tower”

we are the Bonny Besses in the sea-green dresses
and we spit on your abuse of this power
we say “free Honest John from the Tower”

{we are the Bonny Besses} we are the Bonny Besses {in the sea-green dresses} in the sea-green dresses
and we spit on your abuse of this power
we say “free
{Honest John} Honest John {from the Tower}
free Honest John

{we are the Bonny Besses} we are the Bonny Besses {in the sea-green dresses} in the sea-green dresses
ooh-ho, aah-ee-ah {etc., behind:}
{and we spit on your abuse of this power
we say “free Honest John from the
} Tower”
ah-ee-ah, Honest John

explanations
Eddi sings the lead vocal, in the character of Mary Overton, with backing vocals (green in the above lyrics) provided by the chorus (the women of the City of London, as ‘Bonny Besses’)
this song tells part of the story which occupies the whole album: ‘Honest John’ is John Lilburne, the working-class hero of the Levellers’ protest in the 1640s against, first, the King and Lords and then, later, the military and parliamentary government of Cromwell; the ‘Tower’ is the Tower of London, long used for the incarceration of those considered dangerous to the state; the Levellers’ emblem was a sea-green colour
the odd moment at the end of the last chorus, when Eddi’s voice joins the backing vocalists for their final word in the midst of her vocalise passages, sounds to me, on repeated hearing, like a poorly-chosen edit point rather than a deliberate musical decision by Eddi or Rev Hammer

the recording
personnel
produced by : Phil Johnstone
recorded by : Mike Gregovich and Phil Johnstone at Horsecombe
mixed by : ? at ?
mastered by : ?at ?
technical
track timing : 5:17
song timing : 5:17
released on
album : Freeborn John track 9