‘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).
‘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.
Andy Turner: vocals, C/G anglo-concertina
Rejoice and be Merry
Andy Turner: vocals, G/D anglo-concertina