11 August 2004

John Barleycorn / Comus / Wicker Man

Periodically, I find myself inexplicably obsessed with certain songs and recently my obsession has settled on the mythology of John Barleycorn. I first heard the song as sung by the Watersons (I think on 'Frost and Fire') and since then it's become an object of lust and obsession:

There were three men come out of the West
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow:
John Barleycorn should die!
John Barleycorn should die!

There are many versions of this harvest legend, all based on the story of three men who bury John Barleycorn alive only to see him re-surface, grow a beard (i always knew beards were wrong) and then, as he reaches full height, they cut him down at the knees, bind him to a cart, strip off his flesh, and grind him between two stones. In the songs, the final verses celebrate the resurrection with John Barleycorn reappearing as beer, thus condemning men for their brutality with a lifetime of mind-rotting hangovers and waking up with goats.

I think maybe it's symbolic.

Here's some versions of the song:

Green Crown (one of my favourite pure folk bands) did this version.

Here's the version by the General Guinness Band.

On a slight tangent, I also found a track by Momus here (scroll down) called The Life of the Fields which is inspired by the Wicker Man (itself associated with John Barleycorn)

And on an even greater tangent, I'm re-posting one of my first ever tracks because it seems to fit the mood (though Comus' feral folk seems more concerned with the death bit and less interested in re-birth) and because, well, no one was reading back then and I really wanted to share Comus' music because they truly sound like no one else and even cast-iron folk haters find it hard not to find something about it they like

Comus - the bite

And if you're very bored and you've found someone you fancy sacrificing here's A Guide to Building Your Own Wicker Man

(disclaimer: building your own Wicker Man is dangerous and should not be attempted by anyone stupid enough to follow my instructions)

Sir Mildred Pierce has some Mp3s of The Wicker Man soundtrack on her(?) site which you should check out if you don't already have them.


twee said...

The Wicker Man Soundtrack and the Comus album are both favourites of mine. The second Comus album is worth a listen too if you haven't already. Just as neurotically frantic but in an overly jolly poppy sing-song-along way. Thanks for bringing to my attention the John Barleycorn tracks, previously had only heard Traffic's version which is a bit dull. Shall have to hear more of Green Crown as I like the look of them.

Celestial Elf said...

Great Post :D
Thought you might like my machinima film,
The Lammas Wickerman
Bright Blessings

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