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John Barleycorn

[ Roud 164 ; Master title: John Barleycorn ; G/D 3:559 ; Ballad Index ShH84 ; MusTrad MT232 ; VWML CJS2/9/2124 , CJS2/10/1068 , RVW2/3/195 ; Bodleian Roud 164 ; GlosTrad Roud 164 ; Wiltshire 857 , 859 ; DT JBARLEY ; Mudcat 19412 , 168688 ; trad.]

Sabine Baring-Gould, Henry Fleetwood Sheppard, Songs of the West Norman Buchan and Peter Hall: The Scottish Folksinger Fred Hamer: Garners Gay Alan Helsdon: Vaughan Williams in Norfolk Volume 2 Mary and Nigel Hudleston: Songs of the Ridings: The Yorkshire Musical Museum Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger: Travellers’ Songs From England and Scotland John Morrish: The Folk Handbook Colm O Lochlainn: Irish Stree Ballads Patrick O’Shaughnessy: More Folk Songs From Lincolnshire Roy Palmer: Everyman’s Book of English Country Songs Roy Palmer: Songs of the Midlands Frank Purslow: The Constant Lovers Steve Roud, Julia Bishop: The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs Cecil J. Sharp: One Hundred English Folksongs Ralph Vaughan Williams, A.L. LLoyd: The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs Mike Yates: Traveller’s Joy

John Barleycorn is the personification of barley, and the song describes the process used to plant, harvest and brew the barley for beer. It was recorded in many versions by lots of musicians.

Cecil Sharp collected John Barleycorn on 31 August 1909 from ‘Shepherd’ Hayden of Bampton, Oxfordshire [VWML CJS2/9/2124] . Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd included this version in their 1959 book The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

A.L. Lloyd sang John Barleycorn in 1956, accompanied by Alf Edwards on English concertina, on English Drinking Songs. This recording was also included in 1994 on his Fellside anthology CD Classic A.L. Lloyd. Lloyd’s first three verses and the second half of his fourth verse are nearly identical to Hayden’s but verses 5-6 are completely different. Lloyd noted on the latter album:

The song is related to the ancient idea of the Corn King. Perhaps too neatly so, hence the suspicion that it may not be a genuine piece of primitive folklore. It is old (it was already in print c.1635) and has been passed on by generations of country singers. The tune is a variant of Dives and Lazarus.

A group of boggins at the Hood Game in Haxey, Lincolnshire, sang John Barleycorn in a 1950s recording made by Peter Kennedy and Séamus Ennis. A shortened version was included on the anthology Songs of Christmas / Ceremony (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 9; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970).

O.J. Abbott from Hull, Quebec, sang The Barley Grain for Me in a 1957 field recording made by Edith Fowke that was included in 1961 on his Folkways album Irish and British Songs From the Ottawa Valley. Edith Fowke noted:

The story of the death and rebirth of John Barleycorn has a long and interesting history. The first known printed version was as a broadside in 1620 which was described as “a pleasant new ballad about the murther of John Barleycorn”. The great seventeenth-century diarist. Samuel Pepys, had a copy of it which he reckoned was old then. In 1786 Robert Burns produced a poem which he noted “is partly composed on the plan of an old song known by the same name”. It has been suggested that the story had its origin in ancient vegetation rituals which originally involved human sacrifice to ensure the resurrection of the crops. However, most of the ballads are simply detailed accounts of the planting, reaping, threshing, milling, and brewing of the barley grain.

The ballad has been collected fairly frequently in Britain, but very rarely in North America. Mr. Abbott learned it from Owen McCann who worked with him on Skead’s farm along the Ottawa River some sixty years ago. I have been unable to trace the place named in the first line: most versions speak of “three farmers in the north” or “three kings from the west”. This version seems to have come from Ireland rather than England. It is fairly similar to The Barley Corn given in Irish Street Ballads, page 176.

Mike Waterson sang John Barleycorn on the Watersons’ 1965 LP Frost and Fire. He sang ‘Shepherd’ Hayden’s version from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs with verbs changed from past tense to present perfect. Mike Waterson’s recording was also published on the Topic Sampler No. 6, A Collection of Ballads & Broadsides and in 2004 on the Watersons’ 4 CD anthology Mighty River of Song. A.L. Lloyd noted on Mike’s original recording:

Sometimes called The Passion of the Corn. It’s such an unusually coherent figuration of the old myth of the Corn-king cut down and rising again, that the sceptical incline to think it may be an invention or refurbishing carried out by some educated antiquarian. If so, he did his work long ago and successfully, for the ballad was already in print in the early years of the seventeenth century, and it has been widespread among folk singers in many parts of the English and Scottish countryside. Cecil Sharp obtained this version from Shepherd Hayden of Bampton, Oxfordshire [on 31 August 1909, VWML CJS2/9/2124] .

Fred Jordan sang John Barleycorn in a recording made by Bill Leader and Mike Yates in a private room in The Bay Malton Hotel, Oldfield Brow, Altringham, Cheshire, in 1966. It was included in the same year on his Topic album Songs of a Shropshire Farm Worker and in 1998 on the Topic anthology They Ordered Their Pints of Beer and Bottles of Sherry (The Voice of the People Series Volume 13). Another recording made by Mike Yates in 1965 was included in 2003 on his Veteran anthology A Shropshire Lad. The Topic album’s notes commented:

In ancient Egypt, harvesters performed a ceremony in which they begged forgiveness of the corn before they reaped it. Indeed everywhere men have seen a divine power in corn, and sometimes cutting it has seemed close to the killing of the Gods. The Passion of the Corn is depicted with astonishing clarity and coherence in the old John Barleycorn song, which has already found its way into print in the early years of the seventeenth century. Fred Jordan learnt it from his father.

Martin Carthy sang John Barleycorn in 1966 on Songs From ABC Television’s “Hallelujah” and, accompanied by Dave Swarbrick, on their 1967 LP Byker Hill. This version is quite similar to Mike Waterson’s, see the lyrics below. It was reissued on the compilation album This Is... Martin Carthy. Another version is on his 1974 album Sweet Wivelsfield. A live recording from Memphis Folk Club, Leeds dating from 1973 can be found on The Carthy Chronicles. He also sang it live in studio in July 2006 for the DVD Guitar Maestros. Martin Carthy noted on his original album:

A.L. Lloyd in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs points out that if John Barleycorn is a folklore survival of the ancient myth of the death and resurrection of the Corn God, it is remarkable if only for its coherence, but, he says, it could be the work of some more recent writer which was somehow absorbed into the tradition. It is certainly powerful enough to be the former but also quaint enough (not to use the word in its pejorative sense) to be the latter. It might be interesting to speculate further of the three men coming from the West (sunset—the place of death?) bringing with them the promise of live (for no matter what they do they succeed only in giving John Barleycorn new life) and the Three Wise Men coming from the East (sunrise—the place of life?) to see Jesus, bringing as gifts the promise of death. It is found all over the British Isles; this version was taken down in Bampton, Oxfordshire, by Cecil Sharp.

and in the Carthy Chronicles:

Forget the academic stuff about death and rebirth, fertility symbols and corn gods! The reason that this is one of the best known and most popular of all ballads—and one which has crossed a great many musical thresholds—is that it’s actually about that other activity which most commonly accompanies the singing of traditional songs—drinking!

Dave and Toni Arthur sang The Barley Grain for Me in 1967 on their Transatlantic album Morning Stands on Tiptoe. They noted:

The earliest known copy of this song is in the Pepysian Collection printed in Blackletter by Henry Gosson (1607-1641). In the Roxburghe Collection it is entitled A Pleasant New Ballad to Sing Both Even and Morne, of the Bloody Murther of Sir John Barleycorne. Since then it has been widely published and H. Such printed a version Sir John Barleycorn. It has been collected many times in England over the last 70 years.Theories have been put forward that the song is a pagan survival of vegetarian rituals dealing with the death and resurrection of the corn god.The version sung here was collected from O.J. Abbott in the Ottawa River Valley and appears to be of Irish origin rather than English. A similar song is The Barley Corn in Irish Street Ballads, page 176.

The Young Tradition sang John Barleycorn in 1968 on their last LP, Galleries. Their version was collected by Cecil Sharp from John Stafford of Bishops Sutton on 27 August 1906 and printed in Folk Songs From Somerset 4 (1908) [VWML CJS2/10/1068, RoudFS/S150195] . This track was included in 1994 on the Ronco anthology The British Folk Collection as the first Young Tradition track reissued on CD. They also sang it on 17 November 1968 at their concert at Oberlin College, Ohio, that was published in 2013 on their Fledg’ling CD Oberlin 1968. Heather Wood noted on the original album:

From the Cecil Sharp collection. One of the many songs which we picked up by a process of osmosis.

Bob Hart sang John Barleycorn at home in Snape, Suffolk, on 8 July 1969 to Rod and Danny Stradling. They included this in 2007 on his Musical Traditions anthology A Broadside. A 1972 Bob Hart home recording made by Tony Engle was published in 1973 on his Topic album Songs From Suffolk. A.L. Lloyd noted:

The Passion of the Corn was a sacred drama in the minds of ancient Egyptians, and since remote times agricultural peoples have begged the pardon of the grain before they cut it. Our Barleycorn song has become a semi-comic affair, yet it still keeps some of its old ceremonial aura. The song was already in print by 1620, and it has stayed green ever since.

Traffic recorded John Barleycorn as the title track of their 1970 album John Barleycorn Must Die with verses nearly identical to Mike Waterson’s. In fact, Steve Winwood learnt the song from the Watersons. This track was also included in 1975 on the famous anthology Electric Muse: The Story of Folk into Rock. This video shows Steve Winwood singing John Barleycorn in 2012 or earlier:

The Broadside sang John Barleycorn on their 1971 album of Lincolnshire folk songs, The Gipsy’s Wedding Day. They noted:

One of the songs traditionally sung at Haxey in connection with the famous Hood Game, held every 6th January. This ancient and widespread ballad in celebration of barley juice is very suitable to that occasion.

The Songwainers sang John Barleycorn in 1971 on their eponymous Argo album The Songwainers. They also sang it in June 1976 at the festival Eurofolk ’76 in Ingelheim, Germany. They noted:

Surely one of the most popular songs of the Folk Music ‘revival’ both with singer and listener. This again is our own arrangement, taken from Fred Jordan’s text and set to a popular C19 harvest hymn-tune, Wir pflügen und sträuen, attributed to [Johann Abraham Peter] Schulz (1747-1800).

Derek and Dorothy Elliott sang John Barleycorn in 1972 on their eponymous Leader album, Derek & Dorothy Elliott.

Steeleye Span’s version of John Barleycorn on their 1972 album Below the Salt is again similar in the beginning to the previous versions but differs in the last verse. They recorded John Barleycorn a second time in 2002 for their CD Present. A live recording from The Forum, London on 2 September 1995 was released on their double CD The Journey. Their singer Maddy Prior recorded John Barleycorn in 2003 for her solo album Lionhearts; this track can also be found on her anthology Collections: A Very Best of 1995 to 2005. Their first recording’s sleeve notes commented:

Adam, Cain and Abel staggered manfully across the field carrying a plough, a harrow and a grain of wheat … John Barleycorn—mysterious intimations from above told them to dig three deep furrows and bury him—this done they returned home and started to draw up plans for the first ale house.

Vulcan’s Hammer sang John Barleycorn to Fred Jordan’s tune on their 1973 album True Hearts and Sound Bottoms. A live recording at Stone Church in 1975 was included in the same year on their album The Two Magicians.

Ernest Austin from Great Bentley, Essex, sang John Barleycorn in a recording made by Tony Engle in November 1973. It was published in 1974 on the Topic album Flash Company, and in 2010 on the Veteran anthology of traditional singers from Essex, The Fox & the Hare. John Howson noted on the song:

This complete version of the classic country song tells the story of the life-cycle of the barley grain used in brewing beer. One of the earliest known versions was a black letter broadside printed by Henry Gosson (1607-41) which can be found in the Pepys Collection. It became popular with eighteenth century printers and later on sequels such as Hey, John Barleycorn and Little John Barleycorn appeared. The song became popular all over rural England and not surprisingly was found throughout East Anglia.

I recorded two other fine versions in Suffolk from Tom Smith of Thorpe Morieux (Songs Sung in Suffolk) [and] Roy Last of Mendlesham Green (Who Owns the Game?), and early collectors also found the song prevalent in Essex. In 1904 Ralph Vaughan Williams collected it from a Mr Peacock at Ingrave, and in 1911 Clive Carey noted it down from both George Wright and Harry Smith in Thaxted. Then in the early 1960s Sam Steele recorded Billy Rash of West Wratting on the Cambridgeshire/Essex border singing the song and the excellent Essex singer Reg Bacon of Radwinter, whose version can be heard on Heel & Toe.

Bob Blake sang John Barleycorn in a recording made by Mike Yates at Broadbridge Heath, Sussex in 1974 that was included in 1987 on the Veteran Tapes cassette of traditional singing in Sussex, Ripest Apples (VT107), and in 2001 on the Veteran CD anthology of “traditional folk music from rural England”, Down in the Fields.

Tom Smith of Thorpe Morieux (b. 1918) learned John Barleycorn from his father Bert Smith and sang it in a John Howson recording on the Veteran Tapes cassette Songs Sung in Suffolk Vol 2 (VT102, published in 1987-89), on the 2000 Veteran CD Songs Sung in Suffolk, and on the CD accompanying The Folk Handbook (2007).

Austin Flanagan sang The Barley Grain at home in Luogh, Doolin, Co. Clare, in August 1974. This recording made by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology Troubles They Are But Few (The Voice of the People Series Volume 14).

Barry Skinner sang John Barleycorn in 1974 on the Argo album The World of the Countryside.

Roy Bailey learned John Barleycorn from The Constant Lovers, edited by Frank Purslow, and sang it in 1976 on his album New Bell Wake.

The John Renbourn Group sang John Barleycorn in 1977 on their Transatlantic album A Maid in Bedlam.

Louis Killen sang John Barleycorn in Winter 1977 at the Eldron Fennig Museum of American Ephemera; this recording was published in the following year on his album Old Songs, Old Friends.

Bill Price sang John Barleycorn in 1978 on his Autogram album I Sing As I Please. He noted:

An Irish version of the John Barleycorn saga. I can’t remember where I first learned it but probably in Canada. It has changed a lot over the years.

Fairport Convention sang John Barleycorn, with lyrics quite similar to Mike Waterson’s, on their 1978 album Tipplers Tales (where else?). There are also several live recordings, e.g. on Forever Young (Cropredy 1982), The Boot (Cropredy 1983), and The Cropredy Box (Cropredy 1997).

Like The Young Tradition, Tickawinda sang John Stafford’s version of John Barleycorn. They recorded it for their 1979 album Rosemary Lane.

Chris Foster sang Jack Barleycorn on the 1980 anthology Folk-al-Pint, which was produced by John Goodluck, presenter of the same-named weekly Radio Orwell programme. He also sang it on his 2003 Tradition Bearers CD Traces where he noted:

I was given this song by Jumbo Brightwell from Suffolk. He was a superb traditional singer and a lovely man.

Andy Turner first learned John Barleycorn from Steeleye Span’s album. He and Ian Giles sang the classic Shepherd Hayden version collected by Cecil Sharp, though, in 1983 on Magpie Lane’s first album, The Oxford Ramble, and he sang it as the 10 June 2016 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week. This video shows Andy and Ian at the very first Magpie Lane gig at Holywell Music Room in May 1993:

Andy Turner also sang a version of John Barleycorn collected in the 1970s by Gwilym Davies on Magpie Lane’s 2000 CD A Taste of Ale. Andy Turner and Chris Wood recorded another version on a demo tape in ca. 1985 which he used as the 22 October 2012 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week. This version was collected from Bert Edwards of Little Stretton, Shropshire, by Peter Kennedy and printed in the latter’s book Folksongs of Britain and Ireland, and is similar to Fred Jordan’s version.

Pete Morton sang John Barleycorn with ‘Shepherd’ Hayden’s words in 1990 at the Folk Festival Sidmouth, in 1992 on his Harbourtown album Mad World Blues, and in 1998 on his Harbourtown album Trespass. He noted on the last album:

I’ve loved this song since I first heard it in a pub in Leicester many moons ago. Turned me on to traditional folk and re-incarnation.

Barry Dransfield sang John Barleycorn in 1994 on his Rhiannon CD Be Your Own Man. This track was also included in 2007 on the anthology Old Wine New Skins. He noted on his album:

First heard this by Stefan Sobell when we played together in the Sixties. He makes great instruments now but he was a very good performer then. Also heard this over the years from Steve Winwood and The Watersons. Drink up, it’s your round!

Robin Laing sang Robert Burns’ John Barleycorn in 1997 on his Greentrax CD The Angels’ Share. He noted:

This is Burns’ version of a very old traditional song. I found the tune in a whisky glass one pleasant April evening.

Single malt whisky is made from malted barley. The magical nature of its treatment is evoked by this personification of barley into John Barleycorn.

Coope, Boyes & Simpson sang John Barleycorn on their 1998 CD Hindsight. They noted:

For those of you who have not witnessed the ritual event of the Haxey Hood (6 January each year in Haxey village) this involves a protracted game the object of which is to transfer a cylindrical leather Hood from the middle of a muddy field to one of four local pubs—it’s a bit like a cross between Rugby and trench warfare. Before and after the event, participants traditionally sing a series of songs, one of which is John Barleycorn. We particularly like the words of this version.

Davy Steele sang John Barleycorn: A Ballad in 1998 on the Linn anthology The Complete Songs of Robert Burns Volume 5. In a BBC page on Burns’ poem John Barleycorn, Pauline Mackay commented:

John Barleycorn is one of Burns’s earliest productions. However, it did not appear in print until the Edinburgh edition of Poems Chiefly in the Scots Dialect (1787). The poet himself noted that the song was “partly composed on the plan of an old song known by the same name”.

This folk allegory depicts the personification, death and transubstantiation of John Barleycorn from plant to whisky, referred to here as “his very heart’s blood”.

The New Scorpion Band sang John Barleycorn in 1999 on their first CD, Folk Songs and Tunes From the British Isles. They noted:

Although most of us no longer work on the land, the power of this extraordinary and ancient song remains undiminished. The song was first printed as a blackletter ballad in the reign of James II, but may well be much older. The spirit of the grain personified. Our version was collected by Cecil Sharp from John Stafford of Bishops Sutton in Somerset [VWML CJS2/10/1068] .

Duncan Williamson of Ladybank, Fife, sang John Barleycorn to Mike Yates in 2001. This version was included in 2002 on Yates’ anthology Travellers’ Tales Volume 2 and in Yates’ EFDSS book of songs of English and Scottish Travellers and Gypsies, Traveller’s Joy. A live recording from the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2006 was included a year later on Festival anthology Some Rants o’ Fun (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 3). Mike Yates noted in the EFDSS book:

Listening to Duncan’s sprightly version of this song, it is easy to see why many of the early folklorists saw John Barleycorn as a representation of the death and resurrection of the old corn god. Modern thinking has been summarized by the historian Stephen Wilson: “We may abandon the corn spirit but not the ethic of fecundity which it stood for.” See The Magical Universe: Everyday Ritual and Magic in Pre-modern Europe (London: Hambledon and London, 2000).

A black-letter broadside version, printed by Henry Gosson (1607-41), can be found in the Pepys Collection, and several eighteenth-century broadside versions exist. English Edwardian collectors noted many versions (Cecil Sharp collected sixteen), although it appears to have been less well known in Scotland. Robert Burns knew a fragment of the song, which he enlarged into a poem, and Gavin Greig collected a single text (without tune) which is basically Burns’s poem.

Finest Kind sang John Barleycorn on their 2003 album Silks & Spices. They noted:

A widely sung epic tale of mutilation, death and resurrection, which happily doubles as a recipe for mankind’s greatest thirst quencher. The same version of this song was recorded in 1970 by Traffic on an album called John Barleycorn Must Die, and was a considerable hit in the UK. Ian [Robb] confesses to some minor meddling with the tune; the originally transcribed version can be found in Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd’s The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

The Tabbush Sisters sang John Barleycorn on their 2003 album This Close….

Jim Causley sang John Barleycorn in 2005 on his WildGoose CD Fruits of the Earth. He noted:

I first discovered this gorgeous version of the song on a dreadful CD of songs collected in Somerset by Cecil Sharp and performed by a classical male quartet featuring a counter tenor—lovely! Great songs though and this one was sung to Sharp in August 1906 by a Mr John Stafford of Bishops Sutton in the Mendip Hills [VWML CJS2/10/1068] . It has a big place in my heart and the last verse never fails to give me goosies, to quote Norma Waterson!

Tim Radford sang John Barleycorn on his 2005 CD Home From Home. He noted:

As a child, whenever we went on a journey in the car or on a train in the South of England we would came across huge signs in fields announcing “You are now entering the Strong Country” this being the local Strongs Brewery of Romsey; one of their beers was “Barleycorn” and this was my first encounter with the word, and I think about that every time I hear this song. I also love the way the song describes the production of beer as the life and death of a man.

This song was collected throughout Hampshire and Dorset by the Hammonds and Gardiner and is even common in North America. My text is from Mr. Miller of Wootton Fitzpaine, Dorset, via Frank Purslow’s book The Constant Lovers, but my tune is probably influenced by a Roy Bailey version.

Chris Wood sang John Barleycorn, “after the singing of Martin Carthy”, in 2005 on his CD The Lark Descending. He noted

It was playing this song with Martin Carthy that finally lifted the scales from my eyes. “An English man of power” is how Martin introduced Sir John and night after night each performance drew me deeper into the passion of the corn.

Tim van Eyken sang Barleycorn “after Fred Jordan” in 2006 on his Topic CD Stiffs Lovers Holymen Thieves. This track was also included in 2009 on Topic’s 70th Anniversary anthology, Three Score and Ten.

Ron Taylor and Jeff Gillett sang John Barleycorn in 2006 on their WildGoose CD Both Shine as One. They noted:

Probably the most violent song on the album, but it’s all metaphorical (so that’s all right!) Words as sung by ‘Shepherd’ Hayden of Bampton in Oxfordshire, collected by Cecil Sharp in 1909; tune learned by Ron from Dave Swarbrick in Sidmouth, 1969 (although it may have changed slightly since!)

Paul Weller and Martin and Eliza Carthy sang John Barleycorn in 2007 on The Imagined Village’s eponymous first CD, The Imagined Village.

The Lark Rise Band recorded John Barleycorn in 2008 for their album Lark Rise Revisited.

Tim Laycock sang John Barleycorn on his 2010 CD of folk songs and tunes from Dorset, Sea Strands. He noted:

Another song from the repertoire of William Miller of Wootton Fitzpaine, who the Hammond brothers visited in April 1906, braving the hills of West Dorset on their bicycles. They also collected a version of John Appleby from Farmer Miller, and Henry Hammond wrote to his friend and fellow collector George Gardiner as follows: “I am going to get John Appleby on Monday God willing; I am not bursting my kidneys but I nearly burst myself altogether by falling off my bike going down a steep hill on which I encountered a big stone which did ‘my ruin prove’. I have wrenched my left shoulder, and am just off to see Cooper medicus of Lyme Regis. My brother R is riding to Bridgwater today.”

Jon Boden sang John Barleycorn as the 13 April 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He noted in his blog:

Another ‘big song’ that I’ve only just got around to learning. There are so many good versions around, to choose from, but this is basically Carthy’s version I think.

Mark T sang John Barleycorn in 2011 on his CD Folk Songs & Ballads.

Mary Humphreys and Anahata sang John Barleycorn on their 2012 album A Baker’s Dozen. Mary Humphreys noted:

The tune only was collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from cement-worker Llewellyn Mallion of Fen Ditton in 1906 [VWML RVW2/3/195] . It was probably sung to him in the now defunct pub The Harvest Home at Green End, next door to where Mr Mallion lived. His two brothers Bill and Harry both were farm workers and supplied songs to Vaughan Williams on other occasions. He would have been familiar with the seasonal round of the ploughboy’s year, and there is no denying he would have been partial to a drop of the old John Barleycorn served next door. The text is one compiled from many sources and is not specific to Cambridgeshire.

Arthur Watson sang John Barleycorn in 2012 on Shepheard, Spiers & Watson’s Springthyme album Over the Hills. They noted:

The character of John Barleycorn in the song represents the spirit of the harvest, and of the alcohol made from it—whisky and beer. In the song, John Barleycorn suffers from the ploughing of the ground, the reaping of the crop, the milling of the grain and the conversion of the grain into alcohol. Finally a glass of the liquor is in raised as a toast to his health.

The song was known to Robert Burns and is widespread in English tradition but this version is from the repertoire of the late Duncan Williamson, Scottish traveller, and master of the storytelling art.

The Dovetail Trio sang Ernest Austin’s version of John Barleycorn in 2014 on their eponymous EP, The Dovetail Trio. This video shows them at the Wheelhouse on 4 January 2014:

Belinda Kempster and Fran Foote sang their uncle/great uncle Ernest Austin’s version of John Barleycorn on their 2019 CD On Clay Hill.

Jim Moray sang John Barleycorn on his 2019 CD The Outlander. He noted:

This is the version sung by the fool and eleven boggins at the Haxey Hood game in Haxey, North Lincolnshire, on the twelfth day of Christmas every year.

Sam Lee sang John Barleycorn in a 2021 video about Stonehenge in Wiltshire. This is part of a video series Songs of England which explores traditional songs and their connections to historic places. It was commissioned by English Heritage and the Nest Collective.

Kirsty Merryn sang John Barleycorn in 2021 on her and Ben Walker’s EP Life and the Land. They noted:

This clever song is a brilliant take on the murder ballad tradition, replacing the figure of the spurned and murdered lover with the mythical figure of John Barleycorn. John is brutally murdered and reborn as delicious beer. It has a fiendish melody: performed fast it is a real challenge to sing! We wanted to bring the great energy and tempo of this track to the project. It’s also a very English version of a myth of death and rebirth, Winter and Summer which we share with many others.

Old Blind Dogs sang John Barleycorn on their 2021 album Knucklehead Circus.

Filkin’s Ensemble performed John Barleycorn on their 2023 EP Live From ‘The Folk’.

Lyrics

‘Shepherd’ Hayden sings John Barleycorn

There were three men come out of the west
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn should die.
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in,
Throwed clods on his head.
And these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn was dead.

Then they let him lie for a very long time
Till the rain from heaven did fall,
Then little Sir John sprung up his head
And soon amazed them all.
They let him stand till midsummer day
Till he looked both pale and wan.
And little Sir John he growed a long beard
And so become a man.

They hired men with the scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee.
They rolled him and tied him by the waist,
And served him most barbarously.
They hired men with the sharp pitchforks
Who pricked him to the heart.
And the loader he served him worse than that
For he bound him to the cart.

They wheeled him round and round the field
Till they came unto a barn
And there they made a solemn mow
Of poor John Barleycorn.
They hired men with the crab-tree sticks
To cut him skin from bone,
And the miller, he served him worse than that
For he ground him between two stones.

Here’s little Sir John in a nut-brown bowl
And brandy in a glass
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
Proved the stronger man at last.
And the huntsman, he can’t hunt the fox
Nor so loudly to blow his horn,
And the tinker, he can’t mend kettles nor pots
Without a little of Barleycorn.

A.L. Lloyd sings John Barleycorn

There was three men come out of the west
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn should die.
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in,
Throwed clods upon his head.
And these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn was dead.

They let him lie for a very long time
Till the rain from heaven did fall,
And little Sir John sprung up his head
And that amazed them all.
They let him stand till midsummer
And he growed both pale and wan.
Then little Sir John, he growed a long beard
And so become a man.

They hired men with the scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee.
And poor little Johnny Barleycorn
They served most barbarously.
They hired men with the sharp pitchforks
To pierce him to the heart.
And the loader, he served him worse than that
For he bound him to the cart.

They wheeled him all around the field
A prisoner to endure,
And in the barn poor Barleycorn
They laid him upon the floor.
They hired men with the crab tree sticks
To cut him skin from bone,
And the miller, he served him worse than that
For he ground him between two stones.

I’ll make a boy into a man,
A man into an ass.
I’ll change your gold to silver, lass,
And your silver into brass.
I’ll make the huntsman hunt the fox
With never a hound or horn.
I’ll bring the tinker into gaol
Says old John Barleycorn.

Oh barley wine is the choicest drink
That was ever drunk on land.
It will make a man do miracles
By the turning of his hand.
You can tip your brandy in a glass,
Your whiskey in a can,
But barley corn and his nut-brown ale
Will prove the stronger man.

Boggins at the Hood Game in Haxey sing John Barleycorn

There was two brothers stood on yon hill,
As it might be you and I,
And betwixt those two brothers there rose a dispute
That John Barleycorn should die.

So they buried him by yonder hill so high
And they threw soil over his head,
And there he lay a considerable time
Till they thought he was almost dead.

[He laid in the ground for a long long time
Till the rain from the skies did fall,
And then Sir John how he plucked up his head
And he did surprise them all.]

He laid till midsummer time of the year
Till the weather was pleasant and warm,
And there Sir John how he grew a beard
And he soon became a man.

[Then they hired men with their scythes so sharp
And they cut him down to the knee.
And how they used poor Barleycorn,
They served him barbarously.]

[Then they hired men with a fork so sharp
And they pricked him down to the heart.
And how they used poor Barleycorn
For they tied him fast to a cart.]

[Then they wheeled him around and around again
Till they wheeled him into a barn,
And there they made a mold of him
And with that they thought no harm.]

[Then they hired men with a flail so strong
And they flick-ed flesh from his bones.
But the miller used him a ten times worse
For he ground him betwixt two stones.]

O you can put red wine into a glass,
Put brandy into a can,
You can put Sir John in a nut-brown jug
And he’ll make the merriest man.

He’ll make a maid dance around this room,
Stark naked as ever she was bom.
He’ll make a parson pawn his books
With a little John Barleycorn.

[He’ll turn your gold into silver,
Your silver into brass,
He’ll make a man become a fool
And a fool become an ass.]

Note: The verses in brackets were printed in the album’s booklet but edited out of the recording.

O.J. Abbott sings The Barley Grain for Me

Oh three men went to Deroughata
To sell three loads of rye;
They shouted up and they shouted down
The barley grain should die.

Chorus (after each verse):
Tirey igery ary ann, tirey igery ee,
Tirey igery ary ann, the barley grain for me.

Then the farmer came with a big plough,
He ploughed me under the sod,
The winter it being over
And the summer coming on
Sure the barley grain shot forth
His head with a beard like any man.

Then the reaper came with a sharp hook,
He made me no reply;
He caught me by the whiskers and
He cut me above the thigh.

Then the binder came with her neat thumb;
She bound me all around,
And then they hired a handyman
To stand me on the ground.

Then the pitcher came with a steel fork;
He pierced it through me heart,
And like a rogue or a highwayman
They bound me on the cart.

Then they took me to the barn and
Spread me out on the floor;
They left me there for a space of time,
And my beard grew’ through the door.

Then the thresher came with a big flail;
He swore he’d break my bones,
But the miller he used me worse,
He ground me between two stones.

Then they took me out of that and
They threw me into a well;
They left me there for a space of time,
And me belly began to swell.

Then they sold me to the brewer
And he brewed me on the pan,
But when I got into the jug
I was the strongest man.

Then they drank me in the kitchen and
They drank me in the hall,
But the drunkard he used me worse,
He lashed me against the wall.

Mike Waterson sings John Barleycorn

There were three men come out of the west
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn should die.
They’ve ploughed, they’ve sown, they’ve harrowed him in,
Throwed clods on his head.
And these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn was dead.

They’ve let him lie for a very long time
Till the rain from hea’en did fall,
And little Sir John sprung up his head
And soon amazed them all.
They’ve let him stand till midsummer day
Till he looked both pale and wan.
And little Sir John’s grown a long, long beard
And so become a man.

They’ve hired men with the scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee.
They’ve rolled him and tied him by the waist,
Serving him most barbarously.
They’ve hired men with the sharp pitchforks
Who pricked him to the heart.
And the loader, he served him worse than that
For he’s bound him to the cart.

They’ve wheeled him round and around the field
Till they came into the barn
And there they’ve made a solemn mow
Of poor John Barleycorn.
They’ve hired men with the crab-tree sticks
To cut him skin from bone,
And the miller, he has served him worse than that
For he’s ground him between two stones.

Here’s little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
And here’s brandy in the glass
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
Proved the strongest man at last.
For the huntsman, he can’t hunt the fox
Nor so loudly to blow his horn,
And the tinker, he can’t mend kettles nor pots
Without a little Barleycorn.

Fred Jordan sings John Barleycorn

Now, there came three men out of Kent, my boys,
For to plough for wheat and rye,
And they made a vow and a solemn vow
John Barleycorn must die.

So they ploughed him deep in the furrow
And they sowed rye o’er his head,
And these three men home rejoicing went
John Barleycorn was dead.

But the sun shone warm and the wind blew soft
And it rained in a day or so.
John Barleycorn felt the wind and rain
And he soon began to grow.

But the rye began to grow as well,
The rye grew slow but tall,
But John Barleycorn he grew short and quick
And he proved them liars all.

So they hired men with sickles
To cut him off at the knee,
And worst of all, John Barleycorn,
They served him barbarously.

For they hired men with pikels
To toss him on to a load,
And when they tossed John Barleycorn
They tied him down with cords.

Then they hired men with threshels
To beat him high and low.
They came smick-smack upon poor Jack’s back
Till the flesh began to flow.

Then they put him into the kiln, my boys,
Thinking to dry his bones,
And when he came out John Barleycorn
They crushed him between two stones.

Then they put him into the mashing tubs,
Thinking to burn his tail,
And when he came out they changed his name,
For they called him home-brewed ale.

So put your wine into glasses
And your cider in pewter cans.
Put John Barleycorn in the old brown jug,
For he’s proved the strongest man.

To me rye-fal-dairy fol-the-diddle-ay,
To me rye-fal-lairy oh,
To me rye-fal-lairy fol-the-diddle-ay,
To me rye-fal-dairy oh.

Martin Carthy sings John Barleycorn

Oh there were three men came out of the west
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn should die.
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in,
Throwed clods upon his head.
Then these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn was dead.

They let him lie for a very long time
Till the rain from heaven did fall.
Then little Sir John he raised up his head
And he soon amazed them all.
They let him lie till the long midsummer
Till he looked both pale and wan.
Then little Sir John growed a long, long beard
And so became a man.

They hired men with the scythes so sharp
To cut him off down by the knee.
They rolled him and tied him around by the waist,
Served him most barbarously.
They hired men with the sharp pitchforks
Who pierced him to the heart.
But the loader, he served him far worse than that
For he bound him to the cart.

They rode him around and around the field
Till they came into a barn,
And there they made a solemn mow
Of poor John Barleycorn.
They hired men with the crab-tree sticks
Who cut him skin from bone
But the miller, he served him far worse than that
For he ground him between two stones.

Here’s little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
And brandy in a glass.
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
Proved the stronger man at last.
For the hunter, he can’t hunt the fox
Nor so loudly blow his horn,
And the tinker, he can’t mend his kettles or his pots
Without a little bit of John Barleycorn.

The Young Tradition sing John Barleycorn

There were three kings come from the West,
Their victory to try;
And they have taken a solemn oath,
John Barleycorn should die.

Chorus (after each verse):
Fol the dol the did-i-ay,
Fol the dol the did-i-a-go-wo

They’ve took a plough and they’ve ploughed him in,
Piled clods all on his head;
And they have taken a solemn oath,
John Barleycorn was dead.

They’ve let him lie for a full fortnight,
Till dew on him did fall:
And Barleycorn sprung up again,
And that amazed them all.

They’ve let him stand till midsummer day,
Till he looked both pale and wan;
And Barleycorn he’s grown a beard,
And so become a man.

Then they’ve sent men with scythes to sharp,
To cut him off at knee;
And then poor Johnny Barleycorn,
They served him bar’brously.

O Barleycorn is the choicest grain
That ever was grown on land;
It will do more than any grain
By the turning of your hand.

Bob Hart sings John Barleycorn

There came three men from the North
They came all for to try.
𝄆 They vowed a vow, and a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn must die. 𝄇

So they ploughed the land and harrowed it
And rolled clods over his head.
𝄆 Then they vowed a vow, and a solemn vow
John Barleycorn was dead 𝄇

But then the sun broke out again
Then rains from the heavens did fall.
𝄆 John Barleycorn sprang up again
And it did surprise them all 𝄇

So they hired men with scythes so sharp
To cut him to the ground,
𝄆 Then they left him there to rest awhile
’Til he was nicely browned 𝄇

Then they hired men with forks so sharp
To prick him to the heart.
𝄆 And after they had served him thus,
They bound him to a cart 𝄇

Then they hired men with flails, me boys,
To thrash his skin from his bones.
𝄆 And the maltster served him worse than that,
For he ground him between two stones 𝄇

Put whisky in a glass, me boys,
Put cider in an old tin can,
𝄆 Put barley broth in an old brown jug
And we’ll drink to the health of man 𝄇

The Songwainers sing John Barleycorn

There were three men came out of Kent,
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn should die.

So they ploughed him deep into furrows
And they throw’d clods o’er his head;
And these three men home rejoicing went,
John Barleycorn was dead.

Chorus (after every other verse):
Come, put your wine into glasses,
Put your cider into old tin cans.
Put Barleycorn in the nut-brown bowl
For he’s proved the strongest man.

But the sun shone warm and the winds blew strong
And it rained in a day or so.
John Barleycorn saw the wind and the rain
And he soon began to grow.

But the rye began to grow as well,
It grew both strong but tall.
John Barleycorn grew short and sweet
And he proved them a-liars all.

So they hired men with scythes
For to cut him off at the knee,
And worse than that, poor Barleycorn,
They served him barbarously.

And they hired men with pitchforks
To toss him into the barn,
And when they’d tossed John Barleycorn
They tied him down with thorns.

Then they hired men with thrashes
To beat him high and low;
They came smick-smack upon poor Jack’s back
Until the place began to flow.

Then they put him into a mashing bin,
Thinking to burn his tail,
And when he came out they changed his name
For they called him home-brewed ale.

Steeleye Span sing John Barleycorn

[spoken] There were three men
Came From the west
Their fortunes for to tell,
And the life of John Barleycorn as well.

They have laid him in three furrows deep,
Laid clods upon his head,
Then these three man made a solemn vow
𝄆 John Barleycorn was dead. 𝄇

They let him lie for a very long time
Till the rain from heaven did fall,
Then little Sir John he sprang up his head
And 𝄆 he did amaze them all. 𝄇

And they let him stand till the midsummer day,
Till he looked both pale and wan.
The little Sir John he grew a long beard
And 𝄆 he so became a man. 𝄇

Chorus (from here on after each verse):
Fa la la la it’s a lovely day
Sing fa la la leia
Fa la la la it’s a lovely day
Singing fa la la leia

So they have hired men with the scythes so sharp,
To cut him off at the knee,
And they rolled him, they tied him around the waist,
𝄆 They’ve served him barbarously. 𝄇

And they have hired men with the crab tree sticks,
To cut him skin from bone,
And the miller, he has served him worse than that,
𝄆 He ground him between two stones. 𝄇

And they have wheeled him here and they’ve wheeled him there,
They’ve wheeled him to a barn,
And they have served him worse than that,
𝄆 They’ve bunged him in a vat. 𝄇

Well, they have worked their will on John Barleycorn
But he lived to tell the tale,
For they pour him out of an old brown jug
And 𝄆 they call him home-brewed ale. 𝄇

Ernest Austin sings John Barleycorn

There was three men come from the west, and they were all a-dry,
They made a vow, a solemn vow, John Barleycorn should die,
Ah poor boy, John Barleycorn should die.

They ploughed their land, they harrowed it well, scratched clods all over his head,
They made a vow, a solemn vow, John Barleycorn was dead,
Ah poor boy, John Barleycorn was dead.

They let him lay a little while, ’til a shower of rain did fall,
Then John Barleycorn sprang up a green blade and soon surprised them all,
Ah poor boy he soon surprised them all.

They let him stand ’til midsummer, ’til he grew pale and sear,
Then they hired men with scythe stick in to cut him down at his knees,
Ah poor boy, to cut him down at his knees.

They hired men with pitchforks in to prick him to his heart,
They pitch-ed him and they loaded him and they bound him to a cart,
Ah poor boy, they bound him to a cart.

They carted him up and down the field, they carted him to the farm,
That is how they served John Barleycorn and they swore they done him no harm,
Ah poor boy, they swore they done him no harm.

They’ve hired men with great sticks in to beat him out at once,
Swish, swash went onto his head, and the flesh flew from his bones,
Ah poor boy and the flesh flew from his bones.

They put him into a sack poor boy and tied him up with a string,
But John Barleycorn untied himself and he soon got out again,
Ah poor boy, he soon got out again.

They put him onto a kiln poor boys for to roast his bones,
But now they served him the worst of all, they crushed him between two stones,
Ah poor boy, they crushed him between two stones.

They put him into a tub poor boy, for to scald him there,
But John Barleycorn ran out below and he soon became strong beer,
Ah poor boy, he soon became strong beer.

Put wine into a glass, put cider into a can,
Put John Barleycorn into a pint mug and he’ll prove the noblest man,
Ah poor boy, he’ll prove the noblest man.

Let any man be as strong as he will, as I’ve often told you before,
But if he takes too much of John Barleycorn he’ll put you onto the floor,
Ah poor boy, he’ll put you onto the floor.

Chris Foster sings Jack Barleycorn

Jack Barleycorn was an Indian weed
and the farmer he lived close by.
He made a vow and a solemn vow,
Jack Barleycorn should die.
Aye poor boy. Jack Barleycorn should die.

They let him lay for a shower of rain,
A shower of rain did fall.
Jack Barleycorn jumped out of the ground
And he so surprised them all.
Aye poor boy, he so surprised them all.

And they let him lay ’til the mid-summer,
To wrangle out tall and thin.
And then Jack Barleycorn grew a long beard
And he so became a man.
Aye poor boy, he so became a man.

They hired men with scythes all in,
To cut him at his ease.
And this they served Jack Barleycorn,
They cut him below his knees.
Aye poor boy, they cut him below his knees.

And they drove him up and down the field,
They thought it would do him no harm.
And then they took Jack Barleycorn
And put him into a barn.
Aye poor boy, they put him into a barn.

And they hired men with cudgels too
And they laid him upon a stone.
Swish swosh the cudgels flew
And the flesh flew from his bones.
Aye poor boy, the flesh flew from his bones.

And then they put him into a sack
And they tied it up with a string.
But the miller he served him worst of the lot,
For he ground him between two stones.
Aye poor boy, he ground him between two stones.

And then they put him into a kiln
and they thought about roasting him there.
But Jack Barleycorn jumped out of the tub
And he soon became strong beer.
Aye poor boy, he soon became strong beer.

You can put wine into a glass
And you can put cider into a can.
But old Jack Barleycorn in a brown jug
Will prove out the strongest one.
Aye poor boy, he’ll prove out the strongest one.

So let anybody be strong as they will.
As I’ve oft’ told you before,
If you take too much of Jack Barleycorn
He’ll put you onto the floor.
Aye poor boy, he’ll put you onto the floor.

Davy Steele sings John Barleycorn: A Ballad (Robert Burns)

There was three kings into the east
Three kings both great and high;
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn should die.

They took a plough, and plough’d him down,
Put clods upon his head,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead.

But the cheerful Spring came kindly on,
And show’rs began to fall;
John Barleycorn got up again,
And sore surpris’d them all.

The sultry suns of Summer came,
And he grew thick and strong,
His heed weel arm’d wi’ pointed spears,
That no one should him wrong.

The sober Autumn enter’d mild,
When he grew wan and pale;
His bending joints and drooping head
Show’d he began to fail.

His colour sicken’d more and more,
He faded into age;
And then his enemies began
To show their deadly rage.

They’ve taen a weapon, long and sharp,
And cut him by the knee;
They ty’d him fast upon a cart,
Like a rogue for forgerie.

They laid him down upon his back,
And cudgell’d him full sore;
They hung him up before the storm,
And turnd him o’er and o’er.

They filled up a darksome pit
With water to the brim,
They heaved in John Barleycorn,
There let him sink or swim.

They laid him out upon the floor,
To work him farther woe,
And still, as signs of life appear’d
They toss’d him to and fro.

They wasted, o’er a scorching flame,
The marrow of his bones;
But a Miller us’d him worst of all
For he crush’d him between two stones.

Any they hae taen his very heart’s blood,
And drank it round and round;
And still the more and more they drank,
Their joy did more abound.

John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
Of noble enterprise,
For if you do but taste his blood,
’Twill make your courage rise.

’Twill make a man forget his woe;
’Twill heighten all his joy:
’Twill make the widow’s heart to sing,
Tho’ the tear were in her eye.

Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand;
And may his great prosperity
Ne’er fail in old Scotland!

Duncan Williamson sings John Barleycorn

There were three kings into the east,
Three kings both great and high;
And they have sworn a solemn oath,
John Barleycorn should die.

So they took a plough, they ploughed him down,
Put clods upon his head.
And then they swore a solemn oath,
John Barleycorn was dead.

Chorus:
Oh-oh, oh-oh poor Barley,
Oh poor Barleycorn.
It would cut the heart from a dying man,
To hear John Barley groan.

And then the spring it entered mild,
And showers began to fall.
John Barleycorn got up again,
And he so surprised them all.

And then the summer entered warm,
An he grew strong and tall.
His head well hung with pointed spears,
No one could do him wrong.

(Chorus)

And then October entered mild,
And he grew worn and pale.
His bending head and drooping joints,
Showed he’d began to fail.

His colour sickened more and more,
As he grew into age.
And then his enemies began,
To show their deadly rage.

(Chorus)

They laid him out upon the floor,
To work him further woe.
And as the signs of life appeared,
They tossed him to and fro.

They filled up a deep and darksome pit,
With water to the brim.
They heaved and pulled John Barley,
To let him sink or swim.

They roasted o’er a scorching fire.
The marrow of his bones.
But a miller used him worst of all,
For he crushed him between two stones.

And then they took his very heart’s blood,
And drank it round and round.
And as the more and more they drank,
Their joy did more abound.

John Barleycorn is a noble man
Of gentle enterprise.
And if you do but taste his blood,
Will make your courage rise.

’Twill make a man forget his woes,
Will tiding all of his joy.
Will make the widow’s heart to sing,
Though tears be in her eye.

So here’s to dear John Barley,
Each man a glass in hand.
And may his great prosperity,
Never fail in all Scotland.

(Chorus)

Tim Radford sings John Barleycorn

Two hired men came from the north, their victory to try
And they did make a solemn vow John Barleycorn should die.

Chorus (after each verse):
To me right fol dol the diddle lol the day
To me right fol the diddle dol the dey.

They ploughed the ground and harrowed him in, threw clods upon his head
Then they did both rejoice and sing, John Barleycorn is dead.

There he lay all underground, till rain on him did fall
Then Barleycorn sprung up again and so he done ’em all.

There he stood till midsummer, till he grew pale and wan
And Barleycorn he grew a long beard and so became a man.

They hired men with scythes so sharp to cut him off at knee
And the women with their forks and rakes they used him bitterly.

They hired men with prongs so sharp to stab him to the heart,
And like a thief or felon, they did bind him to a cart.

They wheeled him round and round the fields till they came to a barn
And there they made a mow of him to keep him from all harm.

Then hired men with long staffs came To beat him skin from bone,
But the miller he served him worst than that for he ground him between two stones.

Put brandy in a keg, me boys, put cider in a can,
But Barleycorn in an old brown bowl will floor the strongest man.

He’ll turn your gold to silver, your silver into brass,
He’ll make a boy become a man, and a man become an ass.

Arthur Watson sings John Barleycorn

There came three men oot fae the west,
Three men baith great and high;
And they hae swore a solemn oath,
That John Barleycorn should die.

Chorus (after each verse):
Oh! Oh! John Barley,
Oh! John Barleycorn,
It wad break the heart o a dying man,
Tae hear John Barley moan.

They hae ploughed him deep intae the grund,
Put sods upon his heid;
And they hae swore a solemn oath,
That John Barleycorn wis deid.

Aye, an gentle spring cam kindly on,
And showers began tae faa;
John Baleycorn rose up again,
Aye, an sair surprised them aa.

Aye, an sultry summer soon it cam,
And the sun it brightly shone;
John Barleycorn grew a lang, lang beard,
Aye, and so became a man.

They hae taen a scythe baith land an shairp,
Cut him aboot the knee;
And they’ve tied him fast upon a cairt,
Like some rogue for a felony.

They hae roasted him ower the scorching fire,
Till the marra ran fae his bones;
And the miller used him worse than that,
He’s crushed him between two stones.

Aye, but John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
And of noble enterprise;
If ever you do taste his blood,
It’d mak your courage rise.

So let us toast John Barleycorn,
Every man wi his gless in his hand;
Aye, an may his great prosperity,
Never fail in aa Scotland.

The Dovetail Trio sing John Barleycorn

There were three men come from the west and they were all a-dry.
They made a vow, a solemn vow, John Barleycorn should die,
Ah poor boy, John Barleycorn should die.

They ploughed the land, they harrowed it well, scratched cloths all over his head.
They made a vow, a solemn vow, John Barleycorn was dead,
Ah poor boy, John Barleycorn was dead.

They let him lay a little while ’til a shower of rain did fall,
Then Barleycorn sprang up a green blade and soon surprised them all,
Ah poor boy, and soon surprised them all.

They let him stand ’til midsummer ’til he grew pale and sore,
Then they hired men with scythe sticks in to cut him down at his knees,
Ah poor boy, to cut him down at his knees.

They hired men with pitch forks in to prick him to his heart.
They pitched him and they loaded him and they bound his to a cart,
Ah poor boy, they bound him to a cart.

They carted him up and down the field, they carted him to the farm.
That’s how they served John Barleycorn, and they swore they’d done him no harm,
Ah poor boy, they swore they’d done him no harm.

They hired men with great sticks in, to beat him out at once.
Swish, swash went onto his head and the flesh flew from his bones,
Ah poor boy, the flesh flew from his bones.

They put him into a sack, poor boy, and tied him up with a string.
But Barleycorn untied himself and he soon got out again,
Ah poor boy, he soon got out again.

They put him onto a kiln, poor boy, for to roast his bones.
But now they served him the worst of all, they crushed him between two stones,
Ah poor boy, they crushed him between two stones.

They put him into a tub, poor boy, for to scold him there.
But Barleycorn ran out below, he soon became strong beer,
Ah poor boy, he soon became strong beer.

Put wine into a glass, poor boy, put cider into a can,
Put Barleycorn into a pint mug and he’ll prove the noblest man,
Ah poor boy, he’ll prove the noblest man.

Let any man be strong as he will, as I’ve oft told you before,
If he takes too much John Barleycorn he’ll put you onto the floor,
Ah poor boy, he’ll put you onto the floor.