Week 175 – The Trees are All Bare

The trees all are bare not a leaf to be seen
And the meadows their beauty have lost.
Now winter has come and ’tis cold for man and beast,
And the streams they are,
And the streams they are all fast bound down with frost.

One of my favourite seasonal songs, from the repertoire of the Copper Family – they call it simply ‘Christmas Song’. Bob Copper sings it solo on the 4 LP set A Song for Every Season  but I learned it from Bob’s book of the same name. Having learned it from the printed page, and found a way of fitting the words comfortably to the tune, whenever I listen to any of the Coppers singing the song,  I always find their word fit on some lines incredibly awkward.

According to the late Malcolm Douglas the song was

Originally a poem written by Thomas Brerewood of Horton, Cheshire (d. 1748); part, I think, of a set of four called ‘The Seasons’. A setting by ‘Mr Lockhart’ appears in Joseph Ritson, A Select Collection of English Songs: With Their Original Airs: and a Historical Essay on the Origin and Progress of National Song. London: F. C. and J. Rivington, 3nd edn, 1813, vol III p 153: http://books.google.com/books?id=u-UVAAAAYAAJ

The words are in volume I, page 232 (song LIV), titled ‘Winter’: http://books.google.com/books?id=6a4iAAAAMAAJ

The text appears as ‘Winter’ in The Universal Songster. London: Jones and Co., III, 1834, 163-4. http://books.google.com/books?id=jGQLAAAAYAAJ

At Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads as The Timid Hare

Lockhart’s tune doesn’t appear to be related to the one used by the Coppers or by George Townsend.

I have updated the links above to the Bodleian Broadside site, which has been been revamped since Malcolm wrote that. Here is ‘The Timid Hare’ from a broadside published between 1858 and 1861 by “John Bebbington, Printer, 31, Oldham Road, Manchester. Sold by J. Beaumont, 176, York Street, Leeds”.

The Timid Hare: mid-nineteenth century broadside from the Bodleian collection.

The Timid Hare: mid-nineteenth century broadside from the Bodleian collection.

All the versions in the Roud Index are from Sussex or Surrey. Although some have different verses to the Coppers none, as far as I can see, retains the second verse from the original poem, which begins “While the peasant inactive stands shivering with cold”. The people who kept this song alive presumably knew that “peasants” rarely had the chance to be inactive (and had more sense than to be so on a freezing cold day).

This song has been the closing number at our Magpie Lane Christmas concerts (well, the one before the totally spontaneous encore, at any rate) since I first played one in December 1994. It was on our CD Wassail recorded and released the following year (and due to be re-released next year, with luck, having been unavailable for some time). And I never tire of it. Below you’ll find two recordings from Christmas 1993. It seemed appropriate to include the recording from the Holywell in Oxford, as that is where the band has played almost every year since 1993; but there’s also one from Woking, where we were joined by former member Marguerite Hutchinson on vocals and Northumbrian pipes.

On behalf of the band, enjoy the rest of Christmas and have, as the song says, a joyful New Year.

Now Christmas is come and our song is almost done
For we soon shall have the turn of the year.
So fill up your glasses and let your health go round,
For I wish you all,
For I wish you all a joyful New Year.

 

The Trees are All Bare

Magpie Lane recorded at the Holywell Music Room, Oxford, 14th December 2013.
Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina
Ian Giles – vocal
Jon Fletcher – bouzouki, vocal
Sophie Thurman – cello, vocal
Mat Green – fiddle

Magpie Lane recorded at the Roman Catholic Church of St. Dunstan, Woking, 7th December 2013.
Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina
Ian Giles – vocal
Marguerite Hutchinson – Northumbrian small pipes, vocal
Jon Fletcher – bouzouki, vocal
Sophie Thurman – cello, vocal
Mat Green – fiddle

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