The Barley Mow

the-master-of-drinking

The Barley Mow is a jolly drinking song that once frequented the larynx’s of many a drunken reveler. The aim of the song is to remember and sing each of the cumulative verses in order, until you must inevitably stumble for breath, for which you must quaff your pint. It was once a popular form of drinking song, with variants like the Bog Down in the Valley, or Paddy On The Railway being still widely sung. Along with these, it now exists mostly in Ireland, but it has had a good lifespan throughout Britain and it’s empire. Early references include Popular Music of the Olden Time (1855-1859), but variations of the song must extend back far further.

A Barley Mow is a stack of that most hallowed of crop, the harvested Barley, which is used for malting into beer. The ‘Barley Mow’ is often replaced with the name of the pub it is being sung in.

Mike Yates said of it that ‘The Barley Mow is one of the best-known cumulative songs from the English folk repertoire and was usually sung at harvest suppers, often as a test of sobriety. Alfred Williams, who noted a splendid set in the Wiltshire village of Inglesham some time prior to the Great War, wrote that he was “unable to fix its age, or even to suggest it, though doubtless the piece has existed for several centuries.” Robert Bell found the song being sung in Devon and Cornwall during the middle part of the 19th century, especially after “completing the carrying of the barley, when the rick, or mow, of barley is finished.” Bell’s comment that “the effect of The Barley Mow cannot be given in words; it should be heard, to be appreciated properly” is certainly true, and most singers who know the song pride themselves on being able to get through it without making a mistake.’  

and John Howson that ‘It was usual to finish a bar-room singing session with a drinking toast and this must have been the most popular, all over rural England. The text appears in James Henry Dixon’s Ancient Poems, Ballads, and Songs of the Peasantry in England (1846), where it is described as “sung at country meetings in Devon and Cornwall”, while the tune appears in William Chappell’s Popular Music of the Olden Time (1859). In Suffolk it was always the finisher at Blaxhall Ship and Jack French was recorded there in 1953 by Peter Kennedy who published it in his Folk Songs of Britain and Ireland (1975). In his film entitled The Barley Mow (1955) it is sung by Arthur Smith. Harry’s version is very similar to most of the versions which have been collected in other counties. See Sussex’s George Spicer’s version on They Ordered Their Pints of Beer and Bottles of Sherry’
Cyril Tawney describes the song as ‘the finest of all English tavern songs.’, and the Barley Mow is the fourth most popular name for traditional pubs to this day.

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Now here’s jolly good luck to the quarter gill
Good luck to the Barley Mow
Jolly good luck to the quartergill
Good luck to the Barley Mow
Oh, the quarter gill
Fetch in a little drop more
Here’s good luck, good luck, good luck to the barley mow

Now here’s jolly good luck to the half gill
Good luck to the Barley Mow
Jolly good luck to the half gill
Good luck to the Barley Mow
Oh, the half gill, quarter gill
Fetch in a little drop more
Here’s good luck, good luck, good luck to the barley mow

Now here’s jolly good luck to the gill pot
Good luck to the Barley Mow
Jolly good luck to the gill pot
Good luck to the Barley Mow
Oh, the gill pot, half gill, quarter gill
Fetch in a little drop more
Here’s good luck, good luck, good luck to the barley mow

Etc

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