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Origins: John Barleycorn by Gordon Bok


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RTim 02 Sep 19 - 10:05 PM
Joe Offer 02 Sep 19 - 11:00 PM
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Subject: Origins: John Barleycorn by Gordon Bok
From: RTim
Date: 02 Sep 19 - 10:05 PM

The recording "So Will We Yet" (1990) by Gordon Bok, Ann Muir and Ed Trickett - has an unusual version of John Barleycorn.....does anyone know where this version comes from - is it Traditional or a written piece.....??

Tim Radford

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Subject: ADD: John Barleycorn (Brown & Bok)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 02 Sep 19 - 11:00 PM

Hi, Tim - Yes, I've always wondered about that track. A recording is now available at YouTube:

And Folk-Legacy recordings like this one are now available at Smithsonian-Folkways:

And Glory Be, the liner notes are available for download:

    Gordon Bok's notes: I found this version of the old "John Barleycorn" in George Mackay Brown's An Orkney Tapestry, among other traditional poems and songs. It wasn't clear in the book, but it is my guess that, because of the style and poetry of it, this is not a traditional version, but Mr. Brown's own personal version. I built the tune for it in 1986, including the variations which allow it to follow the words more closely.

    (Words by George Mackay Brown*, Melody by Gordon Bok)

    As I was plowing my field
    The hungriest furrow ever torn
    Followed my plow, and she did cry,
    "Have you seen my mate, John Barleycorn?"

    Says I, "Has he got a yellow beard?
    Is he always whispering, night and morn?
    Does he up and dance when the wind is high?"
    Says she, "That's my John Barleycorn.

    "One day they took a cruel knife
    (Oh, I am weary and forlorn);
    They struck him at his golden prayer
    And they killed my priest, John Barleycorn.

    "They laid him on a wooden cart,
    Of all his summer glory shorn,
    And threshers broke, with stick and stave,
    The shining bones of Barleycorn.

    "The miller's stone went 'round and 'round;
    They rolled him underneath with scorn.
    The miller filled a hundred sacks
    With the crushed pride of John Barleycorn.

    "The baker came by and bought his dust.
    (That was a madman, I'll be sworn.)
    They burned my hero in a rage
    Of twisting flames, my Barleycorn.

    "The brewer came by and stole his heart.
    (Alas, that I was ever born!)
    They thrust it in a brimming vat
    And drowned my dear John Barleycorn.

    "And now I travel narrow roads;
    My hungry feet are dark and worn,
    But no one in this winter world
    Has seen my dancer, Barleycorn."

    I took a bannock from my bag,
    Lord, how her empty mouth did yawn.
    Says I, "Your starving days are done,
    For here's your lost John Barleycorn."

    I took a bottle from my pouch,
    I poured out whiskey in a horn.
    Says I, "Put by your grief,
    for here Is the merry blood of Barleycorn."

    She ate, she drank, she laughed, she danced,
    And home with me she did return.
    By candle light, in my old straw bed,
    She wept no more for Barleycorn.

    Melody ©1986 by Gordon Bok

    Ed & Ann: vocals; Gordon: 'cellamba.

    *(Bok spells the name George McKay Brown, which is incorrect.)

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