Ian Giles takes the credit as Jon’s source for this and he says, “I used to sing this at Warwick Castle with Ian as part of the Highwayman’s Supper. Singing folk songs to mobile phone salesmen whilst they consume large quantities of C18th Stella is as good an apprenticeship as I can think of for being a professional folk singer.” This is an interesting song in terms of history and provenance, in that the Copper Family claim to have collected it and you can link to the page on the family’s website here, where it says, “Collected by Bob Copper from George Attrill in Stopham, Sussex in about 1954.” I also found a very long article about the various John Barleycorn songs, which traces the anthropomorphism of barley back to the C16th and possibly before. It then, however, adds that this is a late addition to that family of songs and names the writer as an Irishman called J B Geogoghan of Sheffield. A quick cross reference with Mudcat brings up a Joseph Bryan Geoghegan and that song is listed in his known repertoire, with some interesting history added about his rather wayward life. It even gives a date of 1860 and an alternate title of John Barleycorn Is A Hero Bold. The longer John Barleycorn article you’ll find here. It takes some wading through (and I’ll confess to skimming it with a view to going back later to read more thoroughly), but you’ll note that this song is more a music hall number from the C19th and didn’t make it into the Edwardians’ folk collections. There’s a further note that it is rare in the tradition. If anyone knows of other performances/recordings or can flesh this out further, please dive in. Regardless, it’s a fine drinking song, charge my tankard (not with dread Stella mind) and I’ll doubtless be joining in. You may want to cover your ears!
Hey John Barleycorn