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

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