~A Little Light Music ~


An introduction to
"A Little Light Music"

In the early nineties plans were made to organise a acoustic Jethro Tull tour. It all started in 1991, just before the release of 'Catfish Rising', when Ian, Martin and Pegg undertook a two week promotional tour in the USA, playing live acoustic sets for several radio stations. Due to the change in band members, Ian's vocal problems and the necessity to play at least some Tull's famous rock songs to satisfy the audience, the outcome was a mixed set of both acoustic and rock songs.

The tour was billed as 'A Little Light Music' and started out in Guildford, UK, on May 1st 1992 and feautured Ian Anderson, Martin Barre, Dave Pegg and David Mattacks. From there it continued, through Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Turkey and Israel, were the band mostly performed in tiny, intimate venues, taking them to places were they never performed before. Every show after Guildford was recorded and from these recordings 17 songs were picked and released on the double live-album (or single CD) 'A Little Light Music'. The tour itself was not a complete success, since Ian's voice proved not to be reliable every night, as one can here on the album. Maybe that is the reason why several songs - like 'Look Into The Sun' and 'Pussy Willow' - were performed as instrumental pieces.
After gigs in Iceland, Austria and Italy and three more in the UK, the tour was continued in the USA by October, billed as 'The Light And Dark' tour, in which Andy Giddings reinforced the band as keyboardist. The show consisted of two distinct part: the 'Light' part featuring the more quiet, acoustic songs and the 'Dark' part the heavy rock songs.
* Jan Voorbij

"A Little Light Music" European tour programme (May-Sept. 1992).
By kind permission of Pete McHugh (Electrocutas - The Jethro Tull Archive).


John Barleycorn

  • John Barleycorn is a traditional [English] song and therefore in the public domain. The earliest written version that I know of is by Robert Burns, the great 19th Century Scottish poet (see complete text below). Traffic did a version which is the earliest rock treatment of the song that I know of. Tull seems to have covered Fairport Convention's reworking. (Only fair, as Dave Pegg was still a co-member.) John Barleycorn is the sidhe or spirit responsible for the fermentation of grain and therefore responsible for alcoholic beverages, which are celebrated in this song. It is also a classic death and resurrection legend of the kind co-opted by the Christians (Easter, specifically) in order to facilitate their spread into pagan Europe, as well as the British Isles.
    * Don Spade, SCC, Vol. 9, Nr.8, December 1997
  • The many versions of this song are said to come from Oxfordshire, Sussex,and Somerset, and there are estimated to be between 100 and 140 versions. The earliest known copy is of the age of James 1st. in the Pepoysian collection 1465 printed in black letter by H.Gorson(1607-1641) The popular interpretation is the effort of the people to give up the alcohol distilled from barley.(This is taken from the album, John Barleycorn Must Die. By the group Traffic- Island Records, 1971.)
    * Whitey, SCC,Vol.9, nr.9, January 1998
  • Robert Burns (1759-1796), a Scottisch poet Ian Anderson has stated to be very fond of, wrote a ballad about the mythical figure John Barleycorn:

John Barleycorn. A Ballad.
Text by Robert Burns

 There was three kings into the east,
   Three kings both great and high,
 And they hae sworn a solemn oath
   John Barleycorn should die. 

 They took a plough and plough'd him down,
   Put clods upon his head, 
 And they hae sworn a solemn oath
   John Barleycorn was dead.

 But the cheerful Spring came kindly on,
   And show'rs began to fall;
 John Barleycorn got up again, 
   And sore surpris'd them all.

 The sultry suns of Summer came,
   And he grew thick and strong,
 His head weel arm'd wi' pointed spears,
   That no one should him wrong.

 The sober Autumn enter'd mild,
   When he grew wan and pale;
 His bending joints and drooping head
   Show'd he began to fail.

 His coulour sicken'd more and more,
   He faded into age;
 And then his enemies began
  To show their deadly rage.

 They've taen a weapon, long and sharp,
   And cut him by the knee;
 Then ty'd him fast upon a cart,
   Like a rogue for forgerie.

 They laid him down upon his back,
   And cudgell'd him full sore;
 They hung him up before the storm,
   And turn'd him o'er and o'er.

 They filled up a darksome pit
   With water to the brim,
 They heaved in John Barleycorn,
   There let him sink or swim.

 They laid him out upon the floor,
   To work him farther woe,
 And still, as signs of life appear'd,
   They toss'd him to and fro.
 They wasted, o'er a scorching flame,
   The marrow of his bones;
 But a Miller us'd him worst of all,
   For he crush'd him between two stones.

 And they hae taen his very heart's blood,
   And drank it round and round;
 And still the more and more they drank,
   Their joy did more abound.

 John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
   Of noble enterprise,
 For if you do but taste his blood,
   'Twill make your courage rise.

 'Twill make a man forget his woe;
   'Twill heighten all his joy:
 'Twill make the widow's heart to sing,
   Tho' the tear were in her eye.

 Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
   Each man a glass in hand;
 And may his great posterity
   Ne'er fail in old Scotland!

* Source: John Barleycorn, a ballad
  • John Barleycorn: Don mentions that Tull may have covered Fairport Convention's version. It's a fairly common folk song so I doubt the Tull version could be termed a 'cover' of someone else's version. Ian probably knew the song before he knew Peggy or Fairport; Steeleye Span included 'John Barleycorn' on their 1972 album 'Below The Salt'; presumably Ian listened to that album before producing Steeleye's 1974 album, 'Now We Are Six'. The Fairport version is substantially different to Tull's, but did you know that on 16 August 1989, Fairport performed the song at their Cropredy Festival, accompanied by a certain Mr. Anderson.....?
    * Neil R. Thomason
  • In 1913 Jack London (1876-1916) wrote a novel on alcoholism, titled John Barleycorn (King Alcohol). The complete text is published by the Gutenberg Project and can be read at and downloaded from their website
    * Jan Voorbij
  • Top of page

The "Light & Dark" US tour programme (Oct. - Nov. 1992).
By kind permission of Pete McHugh
(Electrocutas - The Jethro Tull Archive).


Back to "A Little Light Music" lyrics page


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Jan Voorbij (1998-2009)