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 hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com 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
Andy Turner: vocals, C/G anglo-concertina