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John Barleycorn

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Performer: Phelps, Charles
Place Collected: Avening
Date collected: 1927-1935
Roud Number: 164

It is surprising that this song, known in many versions, should only have been collected twice in Gloucestershire and only once with a tune. It is very common all over England, less so in Scotland, Ireland and Canada and hardly at all in the USA. But then, none of the grand old English drinking songs found favour there. The theme is very old: the ballad of “Sir John Barleycorne” was registered in 1624 and a Roxborough ballad of the mid 17th century tells of “The Bloody Murder of Sir John Barleycorn”. This latter song tells in fanciful fashion of the turning of barley into beer and contains many elements of the more recently collected versions.

Notes by Gwilym Davies