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The Barley Mow

[ Roud 944 , 10722 ; Ballad Index ShH99 ; Wiltshire Roud 944 ; trad.]

The Barley Mow is a drinking game song from William Chappell's Popular Music of the Olden Time (1855-1859).

Jack French sang The Barley Mow at The Ship in Blaxhall, near Woodbridge, Suffolk on October 10, 1953. This BBC recording made by Peter Kennedy was published in 1960 as the title track of the HMV EP The Barley Mow.

George Spicer sang The Barley Mow to Peter Kennedy in Copthorne, Sussex, on February 4, 1956. This BBC recording was published on the anthology Songs of Animals and Other Marvels (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 10; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970). Another version of his, recorded in The Half Moon in Balcombe, Sussex on June 27, 1962 by Ken Stubbs, was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology They Ordered Their Pints of Beer and Bottles of Sherry (The Voice of the People Volume 13). A third version, recorded on May 11, 1974 at the Lewes Arms, Mount Place, Lewes, Sussex by Karl Dallas, was published in 1975 later on the Transatlantic album The Brave Ploughboy: Songs and Stories in a Sussex Pub.

Tony Rose and audience sang The Barley Mow in a concert in Cheltenham in 1969. This recording was included in 2008 on his posthumous CD Exe.

Derek Sarjeant sang The Barley Mow in 1970 on his album Derek Sarjeant Sings English Folk.

Louis and Sally Killen sang The Barley Mow on September 14, 1974 at the Oberlin Folk Music Club. This recording was included in 1976 on the album of live recordings from this club, The Audience Pleased.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sang The Barley Mow live at Holstein's in Chicago in November 1982. A recording of this concert was published a year later as their album Live at Holsteins!.

George Fradley sang The Barley Mow to Mike Yates at Sudbury, Derbyshire on May 12, 1984. This track was released on the Veteran cassette One of the Best and it was included in 2005 on the Veteran CD anthology It Was on a Market Day—One. Mike Yates commented in the liner notes:

The Barley Mow is one of the best-known cumulative songs from the English folk repertoire and was usually sung at harvest suppers, often as a test of sobriety. Alfred Williams, who noted a splendid set in the Wiltshire village of Inglesham some time prior to the Great War, wrote that he was “unable to fix its age, or even to suggest it, though doubtless the piece has existed for several centuries.” Robert Bell found the song being sung in Devon and Cornwall during the middle part of the 19th century, especially after “completing the carrying of the barley, when the rick, or mow, of barley is finished.” Bell's comment that “the effect of The Barley Mow cannot be given in words; it should be heard, to be appreciated properly” is certainly true, and most singers who know the song pride themselves on being able to get through it without making a mistake.

Harry Chambers sang The Barley Mow to John Howson on August 1, 1985. This recording was released in 1987-89 on the Veteran cassette Songs Sung in Suffolk Vol 2, and it was included in 2000 on the Veteran anthology CD Songs Sung in Suffolk and in 2007 in The Folk Handbook. John Howson commented in the CD liner notes:

It was usual to finish a bar-room singing session with a drinking toast and this must have been the most popular, all over rural England. The text appears in James Henry Dixon's Ancient Poems, Ballads, and Songs of the Peasantry in England (1846), where it is described as “sung at country meetings in Devon and Cornwall”, while the tune appears in William Chappell's Popular Music of the Olden Time (1859). In Suffolk it was always the finisher at Blaxhall Ship and Jack French was recorded there in 1953 by Peter Kennedy who published it in his Folk Songs of Britain and Ireland (1975). In his film entitled The Barley Mow (1955) it is sung by Arthur Smith. Harry's version is very similar to most of the versions which have been collected in other counties. See Sussex's George Spicer's version on They Ordered Their Pints of Beer and Bottles of Sherry.

Fred Whiting of Kenton, Suffolk, sang a quite different local variant of The Barley Mow (Roud 10722) on the Veteran cassette Songs Sung in Suffolk Vol 3; it was also included in 2000 on the CD Songs Sung in Suffolk. John Howson commented in the CD's liner notes:

Not the common Barley Mow this, yet it was popular locally for many years. Fred said of it, “Now if you were in Debenham Cherry Tree sixty years ago, about nine o'clock, on a Saturday night, you'd get Barley Mow. Now if you were down there now and sung it I don't suppose anyone would know it!”

Ian Giles recorded The Barley Mow in May 1994 for the Mellstock Band's Saydisc CD Songs of Thomas Hardy's Wessex.

Cyril Tawney sang The Barley Mow in 1994 on his Neptune Tapes cassette Down the Hatch. This track was also included in 2007 on his anthology The Song Goes On. The latter's liner notes commented:

Cyril describes this list song as “the finest of all English tavern songs.” It is a song he collected on several occasions, including one with even more verses and container sizes from an 80 year old from Devon. The aim, of course, is to sing the whole list without taking a breath—otherwise one pays a suitably liquid forfeit. The Barley Mow is the fourth most common traditional pub name in England.

Lyrics

Tony Rose sings The Barley Mow (Roud 944)

Here's good luck to the pint pot,
Good luck to the barley mow.
Jolly good luck to the pint pot,
Good luck to the barley mow.

Chorus:
Oh the pint pot, half a pint, gill pot, half a gill, quarter gill, nipperkin and the brown bowl,
Here's good luck, good luck, good luck to the barley mow

Here's good luck to the quart pot,
Good luck to the barley mow.
Jolly good luck to the quart pot,
Good luck to the barley mow.

Chorus:
Oh the quart pot, pint pot, half a pint, gill pot, half a gill, quarter gill, nipperkin and the brown bowl,
Here's good luck, good luck, good luck to the barley mow

(With each verse, another term is used and added to the chorus:
half gallon, gallon, half barrel, barrel, landlord, landlady, daughter, slavey, drayer, brewer, company.)

Fred Whiting sings The Barley Mow (Roud 10722)

Well we ploughed the land and we planted it, and we watched the barley grow.
We rolled it and we harrowed it and we cleaned it with a hoe.
Then we waited 'til the farmer said, “It's time for harvest now.
Get out your axes and sharpen, boys, it's time for barley mow.”

Chorus (after each verse):
Well, here's luck to barley mow and the land that makes it grow.
We'll drink to old John Barleycorn, here's luck to barley mow.
So fill up all the glasses, lads, and stand them in a row:
A gill, a half a pint, a pint. a pint, and a quart and here's luck to barley mow.

Well we went and mowed the barley and we left it on the ground.
We left it in the sun and rain 'til it was nicely brown.
Then one day off to the maltsters, then John Barleycorn did go.
The day he went away, we all did say, “Here's luck to barley mow.”

Have no fear of old John Barleycorn when he's as green as grass.
But old John Barleycorn is strong enough to sit you on your arse.
But there's nothing better ever brewed than we are drinking now,
Fill them up: we'll have another round, here's good luck to barley mow.