> Folk Music > Songs > Hey John Barleycorn

Hey John Barleycorn

[ Roud 2141 ; Ballad Index K277 ; Bodleian Roud 2141 ; Joseph Bryan Geoghegan (c.1816-1889)]

According to the Copper Family website, Bob Copper collected John Barleycorn from George Attrill in Stopham, Sussex in about 1954; see Chapter 8, pp. 73-82, of his book Songs and Southern Breezes for the details; and the appendix, p. 217, for the words. (The accompanying Topic LP Songs and Southern Breezes includes Epsom Races as an example of George Attrill's singing but not this song.)

George Townshend sang John Barleycorn in a recording made by Brian Matthews in 1960-64 that was included in 2012 on his Musical Traditions anthology Come, Hand to Me the Glass. Brian Matthews and Rod Stradling commented in the accompanying booklet:

This is not the widely-known song which recounts the death, burial, rebirth, growth and subsequent ill-treatment of Sir John Barleycorn, before he emerges as ale or beer. Rather, it praises and lists the virtues of the beverage (so much more than just a breakfast drink!), and could easily have once been the latter half of the better-known one—and could certainly be added to it should anyone be so inclined… I bet Gordon Hall already did it!

This version appears in only a couple of broadsides, plus Cecil Sharp collected it from Albert Poole of Exford, Somerset, in 1906 and Bob Copper recorded it for the BBC from George Attrill of Fittleworth, Sussex, in 1954.

Dave and Toni Arthur sang Hey John Barleycorn in 1969 on their Topic LP The Lark in the Morning. They and A.L. Lloyd commented in the album's liner notes:

This version of John Barleycorn from the singing of the road repairer George Attrill, of Fittleworth, Sussex, was collected by Tony Wales, of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, in July 1958. Mr Attrill, with a repertory of over seventy songs, was a keen sportsman—cricketer, footballer, player of bowls and quoits, and an excellent shot with rifle or catapult. He also played Father Christmas in the Fittleworth Mumming Play. He died on 10th November 1964, aged 78.

Mr Attrill's version is more exultant than the usual sets of John Barleycorn, and has a good rousing chorus. It dwells less on the life cycle of the corn, to which has been ascribed various ritual meanings including the death and resurrection of the Corn God. Rather, it concentrates on extolling the virtues of English beer and its happy effects on the lucky imbiber. Robert Ford prints a Scottish version in his Vagabond Songs and Ballads of Scotland; he presumes it is of English origin though, of course, Burns refurbishes a well-known version (and did it no good). Certainly, the song seems to have been widespread in England since its first appearance on a blackletter broadside early in the seventeenth century.

Robin Dransfield sang Hey John Barleycorn in 1976 on the Free Reed album The Tale of Ale. Vic Gammon commented in the album's notes:

Another paean of praise to the English Dionysus. It is from the singing of George Attrill of Fittleworth, Sussex, but had been altered quite a lot before it got on this record.

Canterbury Fair sang Hey John Barleycorn on their eponymous 1977 album Canterbury Fair. They noted:

A great song to sing, with a tradition that goes back to the old death and resurrection rituals. Many people have given explanations of the symbolism in the different versions of this song, but this set is clearly in praise of English beer, though not unaware of the problems it can cause.

Bob Lewis sang John Barleycorn at a concert he did with Bob Copper at Nellie’s Folk Club, The Rose and Crown Hotel, Tonbridge, Kent, on October 17, 1999. This concert was released in 2017 on their Musical Traditions CD The Two Bobs' Worth.

The Wilson Family sang Hey John Barleycorn in 1991 on their Wilson Family Album.

Jon Boden sang Hey John Barleycorn as the September 11, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Cupola sang John Barleycorn on their 2011 CD Ivy.

Andy Turner learned John Barleycorn's a Hero Bold from George Attrils's singing with the tune printed in Peter Kennedy’s book Folk Songs of Britain and Ireland. He sang it as the March 7, 2015 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

This video shows Jack Rutter singing Hey John Barleycorn, “a fine song about beer, learnt by osmosis (then brushed up on later) from the unstoppable force that is The Wilsons at some very late nights in the bar of the Resolution Hotel at Whitby Folk Week a few years ago now”, at The Royal, Dungworth, in early Summer 2017:

Lyrics

Hey John Barleycorn from Songs and Southern Breezes

John Barleycorn is an hero bold as any in the land,
For ages good his fame has stood and will for ages stand.
The whole wide world respect him no matter friend or foe,
And where they be that makes too free he's sure to lay them low.

Chorus (after each verse):
Hey, John Barleycorn, ho, John Barleycorn,
Old and young thy praise have sung, John Barleycorn.

To see him in his pride of growth his robes are rich and green,
His head is speared with prickly beard fit nigh to serve the Queen.
And when the reaping time comes round and John is stricken down,
He yields his blood for England's good and Englishmen's renown.

The Lord in courtly castle and the Squire in stately hall,
The great of name in birth and fame on John for succour call.
He bids the troubled heart rejoice, gives warmth to Nature's cold
Makes weak men strong and old ones young and all men brave and bold.

Then shout for great John Barleycorn nor heed the luscious vine,
I have no mind much charm to find in potent draught of wine.
Give me my native nut-brown ale, all other drinks I'll scorn
For true English cheer is English beer, our own John Barleycorn.

Robin Dransfield sings Hey John Barleycorn

John Barleycorn is a hero bold as any in the land,
His fame has stood for ages good and shall forever stand.
The whole wide world respects him no matter friend or foe,
And where they be that makes too free he's sure to lay them low.

Chorus (after each verse):
Hey John Barleycorn, ho John Barleycorn,
Old and young his praise is sung, John Barleycorn

To see him in his pride of growth his robes are rich and green,
His head is speared with goodly beard fit nigh to serve a Queen.
And when the harvest time comes round and John is stricken down,
He'll use his blood for England's good and Englishmen's renown.

The Lord in courtly castle, the Squire in stately hall,
The great of name, of birth and fame on John for succour call.
He bids the troubled heart rejoice, gives warmth to Nature's call,
Makes weak men strong and old men young and all men brave and bold.

Links

See also Pete Wood's article John Barleycorn revisited: Evolution and Folk Song at Musical Traditions.