Hey John Barleycorn


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!

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38 Responses to “Hey John Barleycorn”

  1. Jane Ramsden says:

    Just about to go to bed, but had to take a peek at ‘tomorrow’s’ song! This is new to me, as I only know the version on Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die which, as one Amazon reviewer says:
    “But the 1970 album is remembered most for the title tune, a traditional folk tune blessed with one of the finest vocals of Winwood’s long career.” Got to agree, and it has always stuck with me. Purists turn away now if ye canny bear it, but I had to see the man himself in superb action on this 2005 YouTube video:
    There are also earlier Winwood versions on YouTube, and one very nice, more traditional (though accompanied) cover at:
    Those who like unaccompanied singing are now going to deal with me like John Barleycorn! I still like this version, and the longer Barleycorn article seems to suggest it is preferred as more interesting in tune and word. Perhaps that’s why recorded performances of Hey John Barleycorn may not be so common? So thanks again to Jon for showing me sthg new and different.

  2. SRD says:

    Rousing stuff for a Saturday morning, although I confess I’m off after cider today.

  3. Linda Hall says:

    Strawhead sing 3 versions of John Barleycorn, all different and all excellent, as well as a couple of other Joe Geogoghan songs (Seaport Town of Manchester and Ten Thousand Miles Away) which Gregg always introduces as virtually the only decent songs among Joe Geogoghan’s vast output! Jon’s singing of this one shows that it should definitely be added to the list!

  4. Shelley says:

    One thing I’ve been planning to do for a while is compile a playlist of all the versions of “John Barleycorn” I have in my record/CD collection. This is one I haven’t heard before – thanks Jon!

  5. edith lewis says:


  6. StephenH says:

    Lovely rendition, Jon! I hadn’t heard this before, I quite like it. I can certainly see it as a Copper Family song, a fitting companion to “O Good Ale”. I off to have a look at the John Barleycorn website. cheers.

  7. StephenH says:

    Just to add, I should have know the article was on the Musical Traditions site- a wonderful source of articles on folk music.

  8. John Bryson says:

    A superb rendition – I look forward to my visits to see what Jon has in store for us each day

  9. sylv says:

    Heard this the first time at English Heritage Festival of History in July sang by John Fitspatrick.

  10. Jo Breeze says:

    More about Hey John Barleycorn from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
    There are 171 records of John Barleycorn in the Library, from the singing of Fred Hamer, Fred Jordan, Bob Hart and many more.
    We used the Roud number to cross reference against different titles for the song. There appear to be two different Roud numbers featuring in the list, which seem to refer to the two variants of the song – one, the well-known version beginning ‘There were three men came out of the west’ (or similar) is Roud number 164. Jon’s version, also with varying unpleasant things happening to John Barleycorn but without the same narrative, may be Roud number 2141. When searched on Roud No. 2141 there are just 18 records – some of which were collected by Bob Copper and Cecil Sharp.
    If you wish to see more detail on each record, change the ‘output’ to ‘record’ and press ‘submit query’.
    There are 2 records of the song in the Take 6 collection if we use the same Roud number search.
    To find these go to http://library.efdss.org/archives/cgi-bin/search.cgi enter 2141 into the first empty field, select ‘Roud number’ from the drop down menu ‘all fields’ and press ‘submit search’.
    We use the Roud index and the Take 6 online collections in the search for information on Jon’s selections.
    For more information, or to carry out your own search for songs, please visit http://www.efdss.org/front/access-the-library-online/access-the-library-online/115
    If you need any help accessing the library online or have any questions, please contact the VWML on 020 7485 2206 or library@efdss.org.

  11. Jane Ramsden says:

    YouTube has decided my Winwood posting of his version on this song can no longer be viewed in this country, so here’s another, from 1972:


    But the other link to podline66 still works. If it’s 70’s music you want and a host of other musical favourites of all types from a master musician, listen to Larry! 2 hours soon pass listening to some of his 600+ videos. He should be available on prescription, never mind subscription!

  12. Jane Ramsden says:

    Just back from seeing Martin Carthy & Swarb at Square Chapel in Halifax. Very pleased they played several songs I really only knew better from A Folk Song A Day – like ‘The Death Of Queen Jane,’ ‘My Son, John’ and ‘A Begging I Will Go.’

    This led to a bit of Googling, reminiscing and YouTubing that produced this link to rather wobbly archive footage from 1995 of Steeleye Span with Tim Hart singing ‘John Barleycorn’ at the Forum in London:


    More icing on the cake, as I am going back to Square Chapel to see Peter Knight’s Gigspanner on Friday. Yeh!

  13. Peter Walsh says:

    @Janie: a link worth following there, thanks! The pic may be wobbly but the sound is excellent (even proper stereo separation).

  14. Jane Ramsden says:

    Eee, I love a bit o’ barleycorn!

    Hello AFSADDERS! Although this more properly sits under song no 338, ‘Birds Upon The Tree,’ the Library of Congress in Ameriky has now come up with the goods from the Leo Feist collection (for a consideration!) so it is time to unveil the mystery of Where She/McDooley Got It/The Brick! Not unsurprisingly, in the neck! It was ever thus! Here are the original 4-verse lyrics:


    (Composer of “HE NEVER SMILED AGAIN” “FORBIDDEN FRUIT” and many others)
    (Author of “SWEET NELLIE BAWN” “LITTLE NORA MALONE” and many others)

    1. McDooley used to carry hod to pass the time away, Till he recently met a sudden death. A brick fell off the scaffold and it lit upon his neck And separated Dooley from his breath; Then in behalf of Mrs Mac, I went to see the gang, That should be made to pay for Dooley’s life. They said I was a robber, would not trust me with a cent, But would send the money to MacDooley’s wife.

    Chorus: She got it where McDooley got the brick, She got it where McDooley got the brick, The gang are still debating, And McDooley’s wife still’s waiting, And she’ll get it where McDooley got the brick.

    2. A little boy once stole some bread to save his mother’s life. He’d begged from door-to-door but all in vain. They took him to the station house as though he’d forged a check, And told him there for weeks he must remain; Next day in court he told the judge his sad and weary tale, “My mother’s ill and starving, who’d begrudge One loaf of bread, that’s all I took for mother dear,” he sobbed, “Then take him out and hang him,” said the judge.

    Chorus: He got it where McDooley got the brick, He got it where McDooley got the brick, If you haven’t got the hoodle, They will soon chop off your noodle, And you’ll get it where McDooley got the brick.

    3. From windows in our boarding house we see the street below. It’s only from the first floor from the sky. It’s fun to see the ladies fair go tripping to and fro, And watch the dudes that mash them on the sly; We saw two handsome ladies pass, walk stately by that way, The skinny dudes not thinking they’d get fooled, Then ‘smole a smile’ and raised their hats and winked the other eye, But the ladies called a cop and had them pulled.

    Chorus: They got it where McDooley got the brick, They got it where McDooley got the brick, The copper knocked them silly, With the butt end of a billy, And they got it where McDooley got the brick.

    4. I went out to a musical about a week ago, And strange to say they wanted me sing. I gave them that old reason that my music was at home, Without my notes, I couldn’t do a thing; One lady there I can’t forget, “Her sweet smile haunts me still.” She told the guests she wasn’t built that way, That she could sing without her notes the finest classic songs, so she started in on “Ta-ra-boom-de-aye.”

    Chorus: She got it where McDooley got the brick, She got it where McDooley got the brick, In just about a minute, Oh! she found she wasn’t in it, For she got it where McDooley got the brick.

    I’m not seeing it as a show-stopper, but I bet the chorus went down well with the audience!

  15. Jane Ramsden says:

    Extra verses 5 & 6 were written by J. A Fraser Jr., described as “the well known playwrite and song writer” tho I could not find out anything about him on t’internetty.

    5. In New Orleans some time ago there was a mighty fight Between the king of pugilists and one Who since that time has styled himself the champion of the world, And fighting with his “talk” has only done; John L. Sullivan though beaten, is the people’s idol still, For he always fought his battles in the ring; He never was a “bluffer” and he sought no easy mark, But with Corbett, it is quite another thing.

    Chorus: He’ll get it where McDooley got the brick, He’ll get it where McDooley got the brick, He’ll have to take to fighting and to quit newspaper writing, Or he’ll get it where McDooley got the brick.

    6. There’s a robber named McKinley, he’s monopoly’s best friend, His tariff nearly stole the people poor, He was chummy with “Carnaygie” and the Reading coal combine, and the “Pinkertons” at “Homestead” I am sure; But one day last November when the people got a chance, they marched in hundred thousands all around; T’was with ballots not with bullets they attacked him, and he’s now With his little “bill” beside him underground.

    Chorus: He got it where McDooley got the brick, He got it where McDooley got the brick, He thought himself in clover, but got paralized by Grover, And he got it where McDooley got the brick.

    These 2 verses are very contemporary social comment and I had to look up the references to understand them. I can see why some music hall songs could be deemed akin to some folk music though, when you examine subject matter such as the Homestead Strike mentioned below. (Shades of the Calton Weavers.)

  16. Jane Ramsden says:


    John Lawrence Sullivan (October 15, 1858 – February 2, 1918), also known as the Boston Strong Boy, was recognized as the first Heavyweight Champion of gloved boxing from February 7, 1882 to 1892, and is generally recognized as the last heavyweight champion of bare-knuckle boxing under the London Prize Ring Rules. He was the first American sports hero to become a national celebrity and the first American athlete to earn over one million dollars.

    James John “Gentleman Jim” Corbett (September 1, 1866 – February 18, 1933) was best known as the man who defeated John Sullivan. He was also a minor actor, but a film was made about him called Gentleman Jim in which Errol Flynn took the starring part.
    Wiki is interesting ref both men, but has this to say about the match referred to in the song:

    “Undefeated at that point, Sullivan did not defend his title for the next four years.
    Sullivan agreed to defend his title in 1892, against challenger “Gentleman Jim” Corbett.. The match was on 7 September in New Orleans. It began at 9pm in the electrically-illuminated Olympic Club in the upper Ninth Ward neighborhood now known as Bywater section. The venue filled to its 10,000 person capacity despite hefty ticket prices ranging from $5 to $15 (approximately $117 to $353 in 2009 dollars). The heavyweight contest occurred under the Queensberry Rules, but it was neither the first title fight under those rules, nor was it the first title fight using boxing gloves. Corbett was younger, faster and his boxing technique enabled him to dodge Sullivan’s crouch and rush style. In the 21st round, Corbett landed a smashing left “audible throughout the house” that put Sullivan down for good. Sullivan was counted out and Corbett declared the new champion. When Sullivan was able to get back to his feet, he announced to the crowd, “If I had to get licked, I’m glad I was licked by an American.”

    William McKinley (January 29, 1843 – September 14, 1901) was the 25th President of the United States serving from March 4, 1897, until his death. McKinley led the nation to victory in the Spanish-American War, raised protective tariffs to promote American industry, and maintained the nation on the gold standard in a rejection of inflationary proposals. McKinley’s administration ended with his assassination in September 1901, but his presidency began a period of over a third of a century dominated by the Republican Party.

    It was in 1876, when he was elected to Congress, that he became the Republican Party’s expert on the protective tariff, which he promised would bring prosperity. His 1890 McKinley Tariff* was highly controversial; which, together with a Democratic redistricting aimed at gerrymandering him out of office, led to his defeat in the Democratic landslide of 1890.

    *The tariff raised the average duty on imports to almost fifty percent, an act designed to protect domestic industries from foreign competition. Protectionism, a tactic supported by Republicans, was fiercely debated by politicians and condemned by Democrats. The McKinley Tariff was replaced with the Wilson-Gorman tariff in 1894, which promptly lowered tariff rates.

    Andrew Carnegie earned most of his fortune in the steel industry. In the 1870s, he founded the Carnegie Steel Co., a step which cemented his name as one of the “Captains of Industry”. By the 1890s, the company was the largest and most profitable industrial enterprise in the world. Carnegie sold it in 1901 for $480 million to J. P. Morgan, who created U.S. Steel. Carnegie devoted the remainder of his life to large-scale philanthropy, with special emphasis on local libraries, world peace, education and scientific research. His life has often been referred to as a true “rags to riches” story.

    1892: Homestead Strike

    The Homestead Strike was a bloody labour confrontation lasting 143 days in 1892, one of the most serious in U.S. history. The conflict was centered on Carnegie Steel’s main plant in Homestead, Pennsylvania, and grew out of a dispute between the National Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers of the United States and the Carnegie Steel Company.
    Carnegie left on a trip to Scotland before the unrest peaked. In doing so, Carnegie left mediation of the dispute in the hands of his associate and partner Henry Clay Frick. Frick was well-known in industrial circles for maintaining staunch anti-union sensibilities.
    After a recent increase in profits by 60%, the company refused to raise worker’s pay by more than 30%. When some of the workers demanded the full 60%, management locked the union out. Workers considered the stoppage a “lockout” by management and not a “strike” by workers. As such, the workers would have been well within their rights to protest, and subsequent government action would have been a set of criminal procedures designed to crush what was seen as a pivotal demonstration of the growing labour rights movement, strongly opposed by management. Frick brought in thousands of strikebreakers to work the steel mills and Pinkerton agents to safeguard them.
    On July 6, the arrival of a force of 300 Pinkerton agents from New York City and Chicago resulted in a fight in which 10 men—seven strikers and three Pinkertons—were killed and hundreds were injured. Pennsylvania Governor, Robert Pattison, ordered two brigades of state militia to the strike site. Then, allegedly in response to the fight between the striking workers and the Pinkertons, anarchist Alexander Berkman shot at Frick in an attempted assassination, wounding Frick. While not directly connected to the strike, Berkman was tied in for the assassination attempt. According to Berkman, “…with the elimination of Frick, responsibility for Homestead conditions would rest with Carnegie.” Afterwards, the company successfully resumed operations with non-union immigrant employees in place of the Homestead plant workers, and Carnegie returned to the United States. However, Carnegie’s reputation was permanently damaged by the Homestead events.

    Pinkerton Government Services, Inc., founded as the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, usually shortened to the Pinkertons, is a private security guard and detective agency established in the U.S. by Allan Pinkerton in 1850 and currently a subsidiary of Securitas AB. Pinkerton became famous when he claimed to have foiled a plot to assassinate president-elect Abraham Lincoln, who later hired Pinkerton agents for his personal security during the Civil War. Pinkerton’s agents performed services ranging from security guarding to private military contracting work. At its height, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency employed more agents than there were members of the standing army of the USA, causing the state of Ohio to outlaw the agency due to fears it could be hired as a private army. Pinkerton was the largest private law enforcement organisation in the world at the height of its power.

    I am assuming Grover mentioned in the final chorus is the Democrat Grover Cleveland, 22nd US President (1885-1889) and 24th (1893-1897.) Since McKinley was President after him, his Democrat-over-Republican victory only lasted so long.

    Amazing what you can get from a song! I do have the music as well, and could see Bellowhead doing a good McDooley chorus!

  17. Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    I am such an innocent…as I listened to the song I was thinking ‘John Barleycorn/bread’ and only in the last line did I realise it was an anthem to BEER!

    @Jane…………… MacDooley only got it in the NECK!…….THE NECK!……
    what a disappointment………I had envisaged a much more sensitive place…..
    but thank you Jane for putting us/him out of our/his misery………..

  18. Diana says:

    Great. A really entertaining song.

    Muzza pull the other leg!!! Innocent? I don’t think so. You knew ale was made from barley didn’t you? I am sure you have consumed some in your time.

  19. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana: My suspicions ref beer are the same as yours!

    @ Muzza: I must confess to a little disappointment missen (esp for 25 quid!) and especially when I didn’t initially understand the American allusions. However, this was dispelled with enlightment from searching t’internetty for the info. I have learnt quite a bit there methinks, and it really reveals the popular power of song in the political moment (or even vice versa – the political moment in the popular power of song!) Of course, it does not help its longevity, but it’s not lost, and has had an airing here it may never get again.

    Can’t help thinking it might go down well if Bellowhead jazzed it up a bit, crossed the pond to Ameriky & performed it there! I’m sure an American audience would appreciate such an effort. Lol! They have after all retained the archive of songs contained in the Leo Feist Collection…

    …I’m rather tempted by the one mentioned above called ‘Forbidden Fruit…’ No, Ted! Don’t go there! Could be the start of a lifetime’s work of musical revival! But Muzza, I’ve sent ye the music MS, so get yer squeeze-box thingy out! – oh-er, Matron! – and give it a go!

  20. Jane Ramsden says:

    “@Jane…………… MacDooley only got it in the NECK!…….THE NECK!……
    what a disappointment………I had envisaged a much more sensitive place…..
    but thank you Jane for putting us/him out of our/his misery………..”

    I’m thinking some more about and of this song. Only in the neck, Muzza?!! It killed the poor bloke! And swathes of Ameriky were built with immigrant Irish labour… and he’d probably fled the Great Hunger to boot! And his wife ne’er got a penny compensation by the sounds of it… Ted is weeping into his fur!

  21. Linda says:

    Nice to be back….

  22. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Just testin’ to see if it works!

  23. Diana says:

    It soes Muzza.

  24. Old Muzza(nw Surrey) says:

    Blimey Janey…….all that info above from you must have used up all the letters on the internetty

  25. Jane Ramsden says:

    I had to get my 25 squids’ worth for McDooley, Muzza! And it annoyed me not understanding it all until I’d researched it. One could be there a lifetime, doing it for every old song! Especially with the Leo Feist collection of about 2,000 titles! Leo Feist (1869-1930) began his career as a corset salesman – he’d have done well at Downton Abbey! – but also composed songs. When he failed to find a publisher for his work, he set up his own firm to deal in popular songs. “You can’t go wrong with a Feist song” was the slogan printed on every copy of the firm’s sheet music. A wonderful marketer, Feist soon had company branches in England, France, Germany, and Australia, specialising in American popular music. He was one of the top 7 music publishers in the world in his day. Nay bad for a corset salesman!

  26. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    I’ll make no bones about it….that extra info was fascinating

  27. Jane Ramsden says:

    I’ve still got it, still a Feisty one! Lol. You, by contrast, appear to have lost a bracket somewhere, Muzza. Hahahahahahaha!

  28. Linda says:

    Can’t believe I haven’t comment on this song it is one I really enjoy the thought that went into the writing ,being able to visualize the barley as a human ….

  29. […] of ale or whisky. The name John Barleycorn is one you may hear these Lammastide days. It comes from many an old song praising the personification of ale and whisky. Some are sad and some are jolly, but all understand […]

  30. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey UK) says:

    Wow…..ploughing through all the comments yet again….Poor old John B and McDooley are having a hard time.

  31. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey UK) says:

    Hey……..it’s my 58th wedding anniversary although we only managed to stay together for 33 of them. Back in 1959, today was a scorching hot day…..really hot…the tar on the roads was melting and the next day it changed dramatically to herald the start of a very chilly Autumn!

  32. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey UK) says:

    Oh dear….just checked date of the song….a day out…. wedding anniversary is the 12th!!!

  33. Linda says:

    Missed a few weeks been away paying homage to Yankee Jack in Watchet nice song to return to always like this song and the thought that went into it….

  34. Linda says:

    Muzza love Diana’s comment from 2012. Have always liked this song the way the barley is “mistreated” only to get its revenge…..cheers

  35. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    yup Lindy Lou…….our Dainer never missed a trick….mind you….I have never been a beer man. Always remember, at a big gathering, in my early morris dancing days, the barman bellowing out for everybody to hear…”LEMONADE…..IN a PEWTER TANKARD!”
    and blimey, at today’s prices…who can afford the real thing!

  36. Linda says:

    Once tried tea in a pewter tanker (a very cold evening at the Dorset Steam fair ) didn’t realise how hot the handle would get …… would love to see illustrations to this song..

  37. Linda says:

    Still a favourite raise a glass to John Barleycorn….

  38. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Because of the way those damn Yankees write the date….I doubt if many of us remember this as the day of the ‘Twin Tower’ tragedy….(9/11 sounds like November to most of us!)
    The song does emphasis that none of us know when we are going to be cut down.
    Cor blimey guvnor…Janey had a field day, above with information!….and Lindy Lou having a quick peek a day early!

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