Archive for December, 2013

December 31, 2013

New Indexes page

Recently Mr Adrian Russell, a regular visitor to the site, noted that “what this blog needs is an index”. Here at A Folk Song A Week we are always keen to respond positively to customer feedback, so – shazam! – the blog now has an index page.

On this page you will find a straightforward week-by-week Contents list as well as an Alphabetical Index of all songs posted. The latter lists alternative titles for some songs e.g. the entry for ‘Poison in a Glass of Wine’ will take you to Week 111 – Worcester City.

Please note that these indexes are not generated automatically, so may lag a little behind.

You can of course also use the search box headed Search this blog at the top of the right-hand side.

In fact, if you know the Roud number for a song, the quickest way to find it here should be to use the search box to search by number e.g. “Roud 1863″

You could also use the tag cloud at the foot of the page – this lists only the most used tags, but would be a quick way to find e.g. all songs from the Copper Family repertoire, or from Kent, or where the recording features Magpie Lane, or with ananglo-concertina accompaniment.

December 28, 2013

Week 123 – The Mistletoe Bough

A sad story for your Christmas holidays. The words of this song were written in the early 1830s by Nathaniel Thomas Haynes Bayly (1797-1839), who also wrote the words of ‘Home Sweet Home’); the music was written by Sir Henry Bishop.

It seems to have been a very popular and well-known song. I first came across it in Bob Copper’s book Early to Rise, and on his solo LP Sweet Rose in June. I learned Bob’s version, although it was never a song that I sang very often. Then in 1995 I got to sing it on the Mellstock Band CD Songs of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, the Mellstock Band consisting for that track of Mark Emerson and Kathryn Locke. The Mellstock recording featured, I’m told, on the 15th December edition of Mariella Frostrup’s Open Book programme on Radio 4, in connection with a review of Kate Mosse’s recent collection, The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales.

By coincidence, on the very same day as that was broadcast, Linda Sergeant shared with me this 1904 silent film of The Mistletoe Bough story, recently restored by the British Film Institute – thanks Linda.

The Mistletoe Bough, still from Percy Stow's 1904 silent film; image copyright BFI.

The Mistletoe Bough, still from Percy Stow’s 1904 silent film; image copyright BFI.

The Mistletoe Bough

December 24, 2013

Week 122 – Hymn for Christmas Day / Sellwood Mollineux’ Carol / Newton’s Double

Hark! hear you not a cheerful noise
Which makes the heavens ring with joy

Well happy Christmas everybody. And here to cheer you on your way are live recordings of Magpie Lane singing three Christmas carols with Oxfordshire connections.

First up, ‘Hymn for Christmas Day’ from a nineteenth century Berkshire manuscript. We came across the song quite by chance, towards the end of the recording sessions for our 2006 album Knock At The Knocker, Ring At The Bell. Dave Eynstone, in whose studio we were recording, showed us a hand-written, leather-bound manuscript book which he had recently inherited, and in the front of which was inscribed

Thomas Eynstone  Cotthill  Berks 1840
Late of Drayton who Departed This Life
January February the 7th 1876
Aged 65 years

Alfred Eynstone  Black Horse  Berks 1876

Thomas Eynstone was an agricultural labourer from Cothill – just West of Abingdon – which has actually been in Oxfordshire since 1974. His manuscript book contains over 175 religious pieces – metrical psalms, anthems, and three pieces entitled ‘Hymn for Christmas Day’, one of which (No. 25) is Joseph Stephenson’s well-known ‘Hark, Hark What News’. This piece is No. 26, and it was completely new to me at the time. Subsequently, however, I found that the New Oxford Book of Carols also had a version, taken from A Book of Psalmody, published by Matthew Wilkins of Great Milton in Oxfordshire c.1760. Apart from the fact that the words were set to music twice by the American composer, William Billings, the NOBC editors had very little information on the piece. In Dave Townsend’s recently published Oxfordshire Carols he has transcribed ‘Hark, Hear You Not’ from A Collection of Church Musick, published by Elizabeth Wilkins, c.1775 – this would appear to be either Matthew Wilkins’ widow, or his daughter (they were both called Elizabeth). Dave doesn’t have anything to add on the provenance of the piece, but notes that it has now been found in another Oxfordshire West Gallery manuscript, belonging to Richard Herring of Marsh Gibbon.

Googling “Hark! Hear You Not A Cheerful Noise?” yesterday afternoon, however, I came across a YouTube “video” where someone had uploaded the recording of the hymn from our CD Knock At The Knocker, Ring At The Bell. Putting to one side the fact that this breaks various copyrights (and no, adding a disclaimer “This video is for entertainment purposes only. I do not own the copyright for the music or image used in this video” does not get you off the hook) there was an intriguing note that it was “Written by English composer William Knapp (1698-1768) in 1744, appearing in the musical work entitled “Anthems for Christmas Day””. My first reaction was “No, that’s wrong”; but further Googling revealed that it does indeed appear to be the case. Francis Roads has compiled a list of Knapp’s works which shows that ‘Hark! Hear you not a chearful noise? An hymn for Christmas Day’ appeared in Knapp’s Anthems for Christmas Day (London 1744).  Now the Christminster Singers are very big on Dorset composer William Knapp – indeed we recorded an entire CD of his compositions. It would appear that recently, and not for the first time, we have been singing and enjoying one of his works without realising that he was the composer. Of course copyright law was not very fully developed in the eighteenth century, and Matthew Wilkins, like other publishers of “West Gallery” collections, seems to have had no qualms about reproducing works by composers such as Knapp in his printed books.

You can hear a MIDI version of William Knapp’s setting at (you’ll need the free Sibelius Scorch plug-in to play it). The Knapp, Wilkins and Eynstone versions are very similar: but the first two have four harmony parts while Thomas Eynstone’s has only three, and the parts are all subtly different; it looks to me as though the carol may have been passed via the oral tradition, rather than simply copied from book to book.

Hymn for Christmas Day, Nos 25 and 26, from Thomas Eynstone's MS.

Hymn for Christmas Day, Nos 25 and 26, from Thomas Eynstone’s MS.

Hymn for Christmas Day, Nos 25 and 26, from Thomas Eynstone's MS.

Hymn for Christmas Day, Nos 25 and 26, from Thomas Eynstone’s MS.














The other two pieces here are taken directly from Dave Townsend’s Oxfordshire Carols, although Ian and I have been singing both for a while, either with the Christminster Singers, or as guest vocalists with the Mellstock Band.

‘Sellwood Mollineux’s Carol’ is a bit of an oddity, not least because it is in 5/4. Now there are numerous examples of English folk carols which are wholly or partly in 5/4, but I can’t think of another example from the West Gallery canon. Indeed, in Matthew Wilkins’ A Book of Psalmody, from which this is taken, it is barred in common time – but, as Dave realised when transcribing the piece, it is quite clearly supposed to be in five-time. Wilkins has it as a setting for Psalm 145, “I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name for ever and ever”.  But there is a copy of the Wilkins book which is inscribed “Sellwood Mollineux 1775”, and in that copy this piece is marked “Carol tune”. In the absence of any other information, Dave decided to use the tune as a setting for Philip Doddridge’s text ‘Hark, The Glad Sound! The Saviour Comes!’. The Mollineux family, incidentally, were farmers in the Great Milton area; Sellwood is, I think, an unjustly neglected first name, due for a revival (although I wouldn’t necessarily wish it on any of my own children!).

Finally, ‘Newton’s Double’, from William Walton of Adderbury. In the 1910s Walton provided local folk-song collector Janet Blunt with numerous songs, information about the Adderbury Morris, and West Gallery style carols. He had sung the old carols, first as a boy, then as a man; and remarkably could recall all of the harmony parts from his youth. Blunt had trouble working out how the parts of this fuguing piece fitted together, but Dave Townsend has reconstructed it with reference to other sources, in particular the 1836 James Martin MS from Poole.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Newton's Double), collected by William Walton of Adderbury by Janet Blunt; from the Full English archive.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Newton’s Double), collected by William Walton of Adderbury by Janet Blunt; from the Full English archive.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Newton's Double), collected by William Walton of Adderbury by Janet Blunt; from the Full English archive.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Newton’s Double), collected by William Walton of Adderbury by Janet Blunt; from the Full English archive.

























The recordings of ‘Sellwood Mollineux’ Carol’ and ‘Newton’s Double’ were made at this year’s annual Magpie Lane Christmas concert in the Holywell Music Room, Oxford. We were joined for these by our friends from Eynsham, Tom Hillman, Toby Goss and Simon Headford. Many thanks to them and, of course, to Dave Townsend for making us aware of these fine carols.

Hymn for Christmas Day

Magpie Lane, recorded at the Roman Catholic Church of St. Dunstan, Woking, 8th December 2012.

Jon Fletcher, Marguerite Hutchinson, Andy Turner, Ian Giles, Mat Green – vocals
Sophie Thurman – cello

Sellwood Mollineux’ Carol

Magpie Lane, recorded at the Holywell Music Room, Oxford, 14th December 2013.

Jon Fletcher, Sophie Thurman, Andy Turner, Ian Giles, Mat Green, Tom Hillman, Toby Goss and Simon Headford – vocals

Newton’s Double

Magpie Lane, recorded at the Holywell Music Room, Oxford, 14th December 2013.

Jon Fletcher, Sophie Thurman, Andy Turner, Ian Giles, Mat Green, Tom Hillman, Toby Goss and Simon Headford – vocals

December 16, 2013

Week 121 – Saint Stephen / Rejoice and be Merry

‘Saint Stephen’: a song about a man who gets stoned on Boxing Day…

I first heard this carol on the Peter Bellamy LP The Fox Jumps Over the Parson’s Gate, and was then pleased to find the words in The Oxford Book of Carols. My friend Mike and I used to sing this in the late seventies. As I recall, he sang the bass line as printed in the book. I revived it in the early days of Magpie Lane: it’s on our 1995 CD Wassail, with Di Whitehead playing a rather funky cello line of which I was very proud at the time.

The notes in the Oxford Book state that the tune and last two verses were taken from William Sandys’ Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (1833), with the first three verses from Davies Gilbert’s Some Ancient Christmas Carols (1823).

St Stephen - from William Sandys

St Stephen – from William Sandys “Christmas-tide, Its History, Festivities and Carols, With Their Music” (London: 1852), via

‘Saint Stephen’ is, appropriately enough, number 26 in the book. On the previous page is ‘Rejoice and be merry’, under the title ‘A Gallery Carol’. This is one of two pieces in The Oxford Book of Carols “from an old church-gallery book, discovered in Dorset… by the Rev. L.J.T. Darwall”. The musical setting given is, as I understand it, by co-editor Martin Shaw; it’s a shame that the original harmonies from the church gallery book have not been preserved.

I have a feeling that I sang this one year in a carol service with my school choir, although it’s possible that – having spotted songs  like ‘King Herod and the Cock’ and ‘King Pharim’, which I knew from Watersons LPs – I may just have picked this out, leafing through the book, as a carol worth investigating. Either way, I’ve been meaning to learn it for 35 years or more, and have finally got round to it.

Paolo Uccello - Stoning of St Stephen, from Wikimedia Commons.

Paolo Uccello – Stoning of St Stephen, from Wikimedia Commons.

Saint Stephen 

Andy Turner: vocals, C/G anglo-concertina

Rejoice and be Merry

Andy Turner: vocals, G/D  anglo-concertina

December 7, 2013

Week 120 – The Shepherds Amazed

Dave Townsend found this carol in a handwritten manuscript compiled around 1814 by James Bridcut, from the village of Marsh Baldon, about 5 miles South of Oxford. It is one of many fine and rousing pieces included in Dave’s recently published Oxfordshire Carols (£8.50 from Serpent Press, and highly recommended). We’ve been singing ‘The Shepherds Amazed’ probably for twenty years now with the Christminster Singers, and it’s been a joy, the last two Sundays, to sing at workshops run by Dave using material from the new book. The noise made by forty-odd people blasting out ‘Lyngham’ or ‘High Let Us Swell’ in a confined space reminded me, if I needed reminding, of the visceral power of massed voices, and of how much I enjoy unrestrained choral singing. It was pretty special, too, to sing half a dozen carols in the atrium of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford (I was standing more or less where the woman is standing, at the foot of the kouros in this picture).

Dave’s notes to this song say that the carol was first published in John Geary’s Fifteen Psalm Tunes, 1781. Geary was organist at Caldecote in Warwickshire. I see – from that, like last week’s carol, ‘The Shepherds Amazed’ was included in Bramley and Stainer’s Christmas Carols New and Old (with a completely different minor key tune);  and also in the Rev. Edgar Pettman’s The Westminster Carol Book, 1899 (with a different tune again). Although different from each other, all three tunes are in 3/4 time.

In James Bridcut’s book the carol is written out as tune plus bass for the verses, then in four parts for the chorus. My concertina part retains the chordal structure of the piece, without attempting to recreate individual vocal lines.

The Shepherds Amazed by Gilbert Spencer, Leeds Art Gallery.

The Shepherds Amazed by Gilbert Spencer, Leeds Art Gallery.

The Shepherds Amazed

Andy Turner: vocals, C/G anglo-concertina

December 6, 2013

Magpie Lane Christmas shows

Just a quick announcement to let you all know that Magpie Lane’s Christmas concerts kick off tomorrow night in Woking.

Over the next couple of weeks we will be playing in Surrey, Hampshire, Islington, Oxford and Northamptonshire – full details are on the Magpie Lane website.

I hope to see some of you at one of the shows – do come and say hello.

And here’s a taste of the sort of songs we’ll be singing:

December 1, 2013

Week 119 – The Seven Joys of Mary

It’s December 1st, it’s the first Sunday in advent, and I’ve spent the afternoon singing West Gallery carols: I think the time has come when I can start posting some Christmas songs to this blog.

I learned this one from Maddy Prior and June Tabor’s Silly Sisters LP. That album was released in 1976. I suspect that I was given it as a birthday present the following year, and have no doubt that the carol was in our repertoire that Christmas when my friend Mike and I went out “wassailing” around Ashford and Saltwood in Kent. Actually, it’s not particularly Christmassy – in fact, given that it ends with Christ’s crucifixion and ascension to “wear the crown of Heaven”, I suppose it could be classed as an Easter carol.

Seven seems to be the standard number of Joys. But with Magpie Lane we do a ‘Nine Joys’ collected by Vaughan Williams in Essex, while Tim Van Eyken does a Cornish ‘Twelve Joys’, and ten was also apparently an acceptable numbner. I had a recollection that at one point the number of joys reached fifteen, and the members of Magpie Lane have passed many a happy hour trying work out what the rhymes might be for thirteen, fourteen and fifteen (other than “contrived”). But alas, having just read through the very detailed and informative notes to the song in The New Oxford Book of Carols, it seems I may have made that up.

The notes to Silly Sisters say that Maddy and June had the song from lovely Cornish singer Vic Legg. Their version is basically the same as that in the Oxford Book of Carols, which was actually reproduced  from Christmas Carols New and Old (1867) by the Reverend H. R. Bramley, a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and Dr. John Stainer, organist at the same college. It’s also pretty much the same as the version collected by Cecil Sharp from the Kentish singer James Beale’s daughter Alice Harden in 1911 (one of three carols Sharp had from her).

Seven Joys Of Mary, collected by Cecil Sharp from Alice Harding. From the Full English archive.

Seven Joys Of Mary, collected by Cecil Sharp from Alice Harding. From the Full English archive.

The Seven Joys of Mary

Andy Turner: vocals, C/G anglo-concertina