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Barley Mow, The

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Place Collected: Upton St. Leonards
Date collected: 1977 (14 Apr)
Collector: Davies, Gwilym
Roud Number: 944

A song which was in much demand in the folk revival from the 1960s onwards, apparently based on a version sung by Cyril Tawney. However, it had a parallel existence in the world outside the revival in several forms. Mr Payne’s version is fairly standard, whereas Mr Ballinger’s and Mr Parsons’ versions are more distinctive.

In fact it is one of our older folk songs and the phrase “Barley Mow” is not so agricultural as it sounds. A song from 1609 in Ravenscroft’s “Deutromelia”, published in 1609, has an early version of the song, with the chorus “Single gentle butler balla moy”. Quite what this curious phrase means is unclear but it seems natural that country singers interpreted this as “Barley Mow”. There may even be an older version as a 16th century song has the phrase “Gentle butler, bell amy” (good friend?). It has been in circulation ever since, without the help, apparently, of printed versions. It is quite easy to tell the “traditional” versions from the “revival” ones as the latter have “Here’s good luck, good luck, good luck etc” whereas the latter only have 2 “good lucks”.


Notes by Gwilym Davies 28 March 2015