Archive for December, 2011

December 31, 2011

Week 19 – The Moon Shines Bright

The last song to be posted here in 2011, and it’s another carol (we are only halfway through the twelve days of Christmas after all).

‘The Moon Shines Bright’ started off as a May carol, with a concluding verse along these lines

And now our song is almost done
And we can no longer stay,
So bless you all both great and small
And we wish you a joyful May.

As carols came to be associated almost exclusively with Christmas  time, this was easily changed to something like

So now my carol is almost done
No longer can we stay here,
May the Lord bless you all both great and small
And send you a happy New Year.

There’s a long discussion of the song, its history and association with various festivals, at

This version was recorded in the 1950s from Albert Beale of Kenardington in Kent, by Peter Kennedy and Maud Karpeles. I learned it many years ago from the BBC 78 rpm recording held at Cecil Sharp House; it was also included on the Folktrax cassette The Bitter Withy. Slightly different versions were taken down by Cecil Sharp from Albert’s married sister Alice Harden in 1911, and from his father James Beale in 1908; the latter is printed in the EFDSS collection Still Growing.

The Moon Shines Bright

Andy Turner: vocal, G/D anglo-concertina

December 27, 2011

Twelve Traditional Carols from Herefordshire

Thanks to the Tradsong mailing list and a discussion on Mudcat I’ve been alerted to a pre-Christmas interview in which Roy Palmer discusses Ella Leather’s carol-collecting activities in Herefordshire before the First World War.

The interview was on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on 23rd December, and is available in near-perpetuity on the iPlayer (it comes about 10 minutes from the end of the programme).

Roy has recently edited a new edition of E. M. Leather and R. Vaughan Williams’ Twelve Traditional Carols from Herefordshire for Stainer & Bell. I’ve not yet seen the book, but given Roy’s involvement, I’ve no reason to doubt that it’s an excellent production.

A Mudcat contributor points out that a facsimile of the original 1920 publication is available online.

It contains, for instance, the version of ‘Saviour’s Love’ which was the source of my words, though not my tune  (see Week 16 ‘Have you not heard’).

December 24, 2011

Week 18 – The Sussex Carol

Not, of course, specifically a Sussex carol: the Roud Index lists versions collected from oral tradition in counties including Shropshire, Gloucestershire, Surrey, Herefordshire and Hampshire; while the Bodleian has copies of early nineteenth centuryballad sheets printed in London and Birmingham. Indeed, according to Wikipedia the words were first published by Luke Wadding, a 17th-century Irish bishop, in a work called Small Garland of Pious and Godly Songs (1684).

But Vaughan Williams collected this version from Mrs Verrall, of Monk’s Gate, Horsham in Sussex, in 1904, and his arrangement of the carol was included in the Oxford Book of Carols, first published in 1928 (he had also incorporated it into his Fantasia on Christmas Carols, first performed in 1912).

I’ve always enjoyed singing this carol, but these days it has a particular significance for me as it’s almost invariably the song which closes our Magpie Lane Christmas concerts in Oxford. As such it brings a mixture of emotion: exhilaration at the completion of a successful concert in front of a supportive home crowd, and a general feeling of goodwill-to-all-men-it’s-almost-Christmas; mixed with a tinge of sadness because this year’s concerts are over, and we won’t be dusting off this repertoire again for another twelve months.

Here the lead vocals are taken by my wife Carol, with my eldest son Joe on fiddle. A very happy Christmas from all of us.

Christmas ballad sheet from the Bodleian Library collection

Christmas ballad sheet from the Bodleian Library collection

The Sussex Carol

Carol Turner: vocal
Andy Turner: vocal, G/D anglo-concertina
Joe Turner: fiddle

December 18, 2011

Week 17 – The Holly and the Ivy / Christmas now is drawing near at hand

Last week it was Shropshire, this week we have two carols collected in Herefordshire.

In quires and places where they sing, if you hear ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ it will invariably be sung to the tune which Cecil Sharp collected in 1909 from Mrs Mary Clayton at Chipping Camden in Gloucestershire, and which was included in the Oxford Book of Carols. On the folk scene, this tune exercises a similar hegemony. It was recorded in the 1950s from Peter Jones of Bromsash in Herefordshire, and that recording was included on the LP Songs of Ceremony (part of the Caedmon / Topic Folk Songs of Britain series). I first heard it in 1976 or 77, at a mass door-to-door carol-singing event in the village of Warehorne in Kent, where the singing was led by John Jones and Cathy Lesurf of the Oyster Ceilidh Band. It was an absolute revelation to me a) that carols like ‘Angels from the Realms of Glory’ sounded really good when accompanied by melodeons and guitars, and b) that there was more than one tune to some carols – notably this one, and ‘While Shepherds Watched’ (little did I know at that stage just how many different tunes ‘While Shepherds’ could be sung to).

I’m joined on this recording by my son, Joe, on fiddle. He said he’d never actually played the tune before, but it was lodged in his brain after “years of exposure to Magpie Lane at Christmas”.  Well, it doesn’t seem to have done him any permanent harm…

In the Journal of the Folk-Song Society for 1914 you will find a number of versions of ‘Christmas now is drawing near at hand’, collected by Vaughan Williams and Sharp in various locations, but particularly in the West Midlands and counties adjoining Wales. You can find transcriptions of some of the versions which appeared in early volumes of the Journal at

I, like almost everyone else on the folk scene, learned this fine carol from the singing of the late, great Lal Waterson, on the seminal Watersons LP Frost and Fire.

A.L. Lloyd’s sleeve notes for that LP say:

This moralising carol was much used by beggars and others towards Christmas time. Its tune turns up over and again attached to such carols as The Fountain of Christ’s BloodHave You Not Heard of our Dear Saviour’s Love, and The Black Decree, also to the favourite old dialogue-ballad of Death and the Lady, traceable to the sixteenth century. Here it is sung by Elaine Waterson in a form common among gipsies habitually drifting through the West Midlands half a century ago.

It looks to me that Lal based her tune on that collected by Vaughan Williams in September 1913: “Sung by a Waggoner (name unknown), Pool-End, near Hereford, Herefordshire”, and one of those printed in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol V, No. 18 (1914).

'Christmas now is drawing near at hand' Sung by a Waggoner (name unknown), Pool-End, near Hereford, Herefordshire; noted by R. Vaughan Williams, Sept 1913. Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol V, No. 18 (1914) p11

Sometimes I think I’ll relearn the tune the way Vaughan Williams wrote it down – not in a vain attempt to be more “authentic”, but because it has some rather nice subtle twists. But after singing it like this for well over 30 years, I suspect that’s not going to happen.

The Holly and the Ivy

Andy Turner: vocal, G/D anglo-concertina
Joe Turner: fiddle

Christmas is now drawing near at hand

December 10, 2011

Week 16 – Have you not heard / The man that lives

In December 1911 Cecil Sharp was in Shropshire collecting Christmas carols. I’m not sure if he went to Shropshire specifically to collect carols or whether, it being near to Christmas, that was simply what the people he met chose to sing. Equally, I don’t know if the  counties along the Welsh border were a particularly rich source of folk carols, or if he’d have done just as well at that time of the year in, say, Essex, or Kent, or Oxfordshire. Whatever the case, he had a rich haul.

Actually, Sharp probably did have a good idea what he was looking for. He’d already visited the village of Lilleshall in October that year, and collected some fine – and mainly pretty obscure –  carols from the splendidly named Samson Bates: ‘Awake, awake’,’The Little Room’, ‘This is the truth sent from above’, ‘The Twelve Apostles’, ‘The Virgin Unspotted’… He returned to see Mr Bates on 19th and 20th December, but this was just part of a very productive few days, during which he collected carols from a range of singers in the area. On December 18th, for instance, he noted ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ and ‘The man that lives’, from a Mrs Kilford of Lilleshall.

By Sharp’s time – and for some decades before that – carols had become associated almost exclusively with Christmas. Historically of course, that wasn’t the case – and there were plenty of carols which now got sung at Christmas which really had nothing to do with that particular season. Equally, he found plenty of Christmas carols which focused on the need to live a godly life (and what would befall you if you didn’t), rather than cosier motifs such as angels, shepherds, ox, ass and baby Jesus in a manger. All the same, ‘The man that lives’  has to be one of the least cosy carols I know. It sets out its stall right from the start:

The man that lives must learn to die,
Christ will no longer stay;
Our time is short, death’s near at hand
To take our lives away.

To my mind it seems to look with rather too much relish on the fate of unrepentant sinners. That they’ll suffer the torments of hell may well accord with your personal theology; but what pleasure can the supreme being derive from seeing the sinner’s sheep rot?

Mrs Kilford’s text is very similar to that found in printed sources such as A Good Christmas Box (a collection from 1847 which we know was still widely used as a source by the singers Sharp met in this area) or this ballad sheet in the Bodleian’s collection, printed in Birmingham around 1850. This suggests that she had probably learned the song from a printed source. Other versions of the carol were collected by Ella Leather and Vaughan Williams in Herefordshire, and by Sharp himself from a Mrs Halfpenny (again, what a wonderful name!) at Lilleshall on 20th December 1911.

Saviour's Love - from the Bodleian Library ballad collection

Saviour’s Love – from the Bodleian Library ballad collection

In between, on 19th December, he had taken down two very similar versions of ‘Have you not heard within a few miles of Lilleshall’: from Samson Bates (at The Trench) and Henry Bould (at Donnington Wood).

This is another carol which turns up (usually as ‘The Saviour’s Love’) in printed sources: for example this sheet printed by T. Bloomer of Birmingham, between 1817 and 1827; and, of course, in A Good Christmas Box. Indeed Sharp noted just two verses from Samson Bates, before writing “Rest the same as in ‘A Good Christmas Box'”.

Originally, I based my tune on the way Henry Bould sang the carol. But I find that, having sung it for a few years without consulting the music, I’ve drifted away in places. Oh well, that’s the oral tradition… sort of.

I started off learning just the three verses printed in E.M. Leather & Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Twelve Traditional Carols from Herefordshire. Those are, in themselves, a bit of a mish-mash: the notes say “Text from Mr C. Bridges, Pembridge, and Mr W. Phillips, Leigh, Worcestershire, with a few additions from A choice collection of Christmas Carols (Tewkesbury, 1786) and A Good Christmas Box“. Subsequently, I’ve added three more from the fourteen available in A Good Christmas Box.

Have you not heard


The man that lives

‘The Man that lives’ appeared on the Magpie Lane CD Knock at the knocker, ring at the bell, but this is a live recording – straight off the mixing desk – made at the Oxford Folk Festival in April 2006.

Andy Turner: vocal, G/D anglo-concertina
Ian Giles: vocal
Marguerite Hutchinson: vocal, recorder
Jon Fletcher: guitar
Sophie Thurman: cello
Mat Green: fiddle

December 3, 2011

Week 15 – One Cold Morning in December / The Drunkard and the Pig

December is here, and before I launch into a slew of Christmas Carols, here’s a couple of comic songs set in December, and where the narrator ends up in the gutter.

‘One Cold Morning in December’ is from my favourite traditional singer, Walter Pardon of Knapton in Norfolk. I learned it from the Topic LP A Country Life, but you can now find it on Voice of the People Volume 15: As Me and My Love Sat Courting. The song has not been collected from any other traditional singer.

I first heard ‘The Drunkard and the Pig’ sung – many years ago – by Doug Hudson of Tundra. The final line (rather like the line “Someone called out: Daddy, don’t go down the mine!” from ‘Rawtenstall Annual Fair’) stayed with me, even though I couldn’t remember the rest of the song. So I was very glad to find it included in Roy Palmer’s A Taste of Ale, and even more pleased when Magpie Lane were asked to record a CD to go with the book, so that I got the chance to record the song. Roy doesn’t print a tune, but notes that it’s to be sung to the tune of ‘The Wonderful Crocodile’. I took my recollection of ‘The Wonderful Crocodile’ and bent it a bit to fit these words. It’s very satisfying to sing; if you only have 30 seconds to spare and are desperate to burst into song, this is a good one to have in your repertoire!

One Cold Morning in December

 The Drunkard and the Pig