German version
powered by

Traditional English Folk Songs

A Collection Of Traditional British Folk Songs Full English - A Collection Of Traditional British Folk Songs features the amazing talents of Mat Williams who did most of the vocals and also played most of the traditional instruments involved in the recordings, such as Guitar, Violin, Viola, Mandolin, Banjo, Banman, Upright Bass, Piano and many more. Mat invited some fellow folk musicians to share him for this album and add more traditional instruments, such as the Irish Whistle, Uilleann Pipes and Bodhran. Enjoy the music and read along as you listen!


John Barleycorn

Sound Sample:
iTunes      |      |

There were three men
Came from the west
Their fortunes for to tell
And the life of John Barleycorn as well.

They’ve laid him in three furrows deep,
Laid clods upon his head.
Then these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn was dead,
John Barleycorn was dead.

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

They let him stand till the midsummer’s day,
Till he looked both pale and wan.
Then little Sir John he grew a long beard
And he so became a man,
He so became a man.

Fal la la la, it’s a lovely day,
Sing fal la la, lay-o,
Fal la la, fal la la,
It’s a lovely day,
Singing fal la la la, lay-o.

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

Words & Music: Traditional,
arranged & performed by Mat Williams


They have hired men with the crab-tree sticks,
To cut him skin from bone,
The miller he has served him a-worse than that,
He’s ground him between two stones,
He’s ground him between two stones.

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


Well they’ve 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,
They call him home brewed ale.

3 x Chorus

Origin and meaning of John Barleycorn

This is one of folksongs’ many “riddles.” Dreadful things are done to Poor John Barleycorn but clues are supplied as we go along.

Firstly, he’s buried, then resurrected in the spring. Then he grows a beard to show his maturity - the seed head of barley has many long spikes on it when it is ripe. This is known as the “beard.” Having reached adulthood, the poor man is cut down, (scythed) and tied into a bundle ready to be placed in the field in “stooks.”. He is then beaten with sticks to separate grain from straw (threshed) then ground by the miller. The long-suffering John is then drowned in the brewing vat.

The song could not be written now. Mechanisation has meant that most of these processes are done by one giant machine - the combine harvester.

In the end he triumphs, as all good heroes should, and becomes the all-important ingredient in beer. Home brewed ale was very important to farms and their workers. Low alcohol beer was safe to drink (even children had it in small quantities) which the water from local streams and springs may not have been. Harvesting was thirsty work and ale was brought out to the field workers when now there might be a tea-break. No doubt a stronger brew was made for harvest supper. Mechanisation has meant that there is no longer a need for huge crews of extra labour. Water from the tap and a visit to the supermarket will provide for the celebrations of harvest home.

Many seasonal farming processes were made magical in this way - the Harvest King, the Corn Dolly, the May Queen and the Maypole Dance. Maybe they helped to make the uncontrollable forces of nature less frightening. It is difficult nowadays to realise how local and immediate food production used to be. There were no shops, at least not as we know them, and certainly no supermarkets and definitely no global transport of basic foodstuffs. There were no green beans from Kenya at Christmas time for instance. Grain could be stored in barns and carefully rationed to last the winter but if the summer was wet and stormy and the crops beaten to the ground, there would be hungry bellies all round. If there was a drought the grass would not grow. No grass meant no hay. No hay meant no food for the plough horses. No hay meant little or no milk from the cow. No milk meant no butter or cheese to take to market. There was no buffer against a bad harvest which meant no brewing of ale. This would be the least of the problems. A bad harvest could mean death the following winter. No wonder rituals were observed, superstitions respected and songs sung. Anything that might just please the wilful gods of the weather was worth doing.

Commentary written by Gillian Goodman,
© ClassicRocks, Mat Williams 2012


info at classic-rocks dot com
<<<< learn languages with music >>>>
fon: 030-47301388
<<<< learn languages online >>>>