Posts tagged ‘Roud 164’

June 10, 2016

Week 251 – John Barleycorn

This is the second version of ‘John Barleycorn’ to appear on this blog. I posted a Shropshire version back in Week 61, and there’s also the – largely unrelated – ‘John Barleycorn’s a Hero Bold’. I’ve also recorded a third version – collected from Charlie Hill of Devon in the 1970s – on the Magpie Lane CD A Taste of Ale. That CD can still be purchased from our website (so don’t pay £34 for it from Amazon!), or downloaded from Amazon, iTunes etc. etc. (I notice on Amazon we are described as “Oxfordshire folk supergroup” – not sure we’re quite in the Traveling Wilburys league).

Ian and I sang this version of the song on the first Magpie Lane CD, The Oxford Ramble, back in 1993, and I suppose we’d better revive it for the ‘Songs from Bampton’ session we’re running at the English Country Music Weekend at the end of this month. It’s the best-known version – indeed I’d say it’s one of the  best known English folk songs, thanks to the fact that it was included in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, and to recordings by Mike Waterson, Martin Carthy, Traffic, Chris Wood… and Martin Carthy again, with Paul Weller of all the unlikely people, on the first Imagined Village album.

Believed to be a photograph of Shepherd Hayden, taken by Cecil Sharp. Copyright EFDSS.

Believed to be a photograph of Shepherd Hayden, taken by Cecil Sharp. Copyright EFDSS.

Cecil Sharp noted the song at Bampton in Oxfordshire, on 31st August 1909, from the eighty-three year old Shadrach ‘Shepherd’ Haden.

John Barleycorn, collected by Cecil Sharp from Shepherd Hayden (or Haden); from the Full English.

John Barleycorn, collected by Cecil Sharp from Shepherd Hayden (or Haden); from the Full English.

Another, completely different version of the song, also collected in Bampton, was included in the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Steve Roud’s notes to the song say

It was perhaps inevitable that this song would attract the ritual-origins theorists who claimed that it was all to do with corn spirits and resurrection, but it is now generally agreed that such notions were romantic wishful thinking and there is no evidence either for the theories themselves or for this song to be anything other than a clever allegory.

And I’ll go along with that. Long live Occam’s Razor.

John Barleycorn

And here’s Ian Giles and me singing the song at the very first Magpie Lane gig, Holywell Music Room, May 1993.

 

October 22, 2012

Week 61 – John Barleycorn

‘John Barleycorn’ was one of the first traditional songs I ever heard. That was the Steeleye version, which I soon discovered was pretty much the same as that printed in Fred Hamer’s Garners Gay. Like pretty much everything on Below the Salt, I learned that version at the time; and I’m pretty sure it was for a while in the repertoire of a group I sang with at University, The Paralytics aka Three Agnostics and a Christian.

In more recent times, I have recorded two different versions with Magpie Lane. First, on The Oxford Ramble Ian Giles and I sang the classic Shepherd Haden version. Then on A Taste of Ale I sang a version collected by Gwilym Davies in the 1970s. The Oxfordshire version should appear on this blog at some point, since it is, notionally at least, still in my repertoire. But the Devon version, like much of the material on A Taste of Ale, was worked up for the CD, then forgotten about (I can’t actually recall the tune right now).

If I was starting from scratch, and looking for a ‘John Barleycorn’ version to sing, I might well be tempted by the rather nice minor key version (another from Bampton-in-the-Bush) printed in the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. But here’s a version which I recorded on a demo tape with Chris Wood, circa 1985. This came from Peter Kennedy’s Folk Songs of Britain and Ireland. Kennedy collected the song from Bert Edwards of Little Stretton, Shropshire, and it’s similar to the way another Shropshire singer, Fred Jordan, used to sing the song.

The notes to this song in the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs say

It was perhaps inevitable that this song would attract the ritual-origins theorists  who claimed that it was all to do with corn spirits and resurrection, but it is now generally agreed that such notions were romantic wishful thinking and there is no evidence either for the theories themselves or for this song to be anything other than a clever allegory.

If we stick to what we do know…

Well if you want to know what we do know, you’ll have to buy the book. Even if you never learn any of the songs, it’s worth every penny for Steve Roud’s excellent well-informed and thoroughly commonsensical introduction.

John Barleycorn

Andy Turner: vocals, anglo-concertina

Chris Wood: fiddle, vocals

Recorded 1985 (?) by Bernard Brown