Archive for December, 2015

December 26, 2015

Week 227 – Boxing Day

Most of the songs that I’ve posted on this blog I could sing more or less at the drop of a hat. With others I would need a bit of time to mug up on the words and/or accompaniment. And although I do sometimes sing with the words in front of me – particularly when recording a song where I’ve only just worked out the concertina arrangement – that’s purely a practical measure to avoid mistakes, and having to do multiple takes, in a week when the time I have available for recording might be in short supply. So far there has been only one song posted here where I have never known the words – and that was a bit of an exception, as I’d been unaware of the song’s existence until a few days before recording it.

This week, however, I’ve recorded a song the words of which I’ve never made any attempt to learn and, in all probability never will. But it’s appropriate for the season, might entertain a few listeners, and if I don’t record it there’s a pretty good chance that no one else will!

I came across the song on the Bodleian Broadside Ballads website, when looking for possible additions to the Magpie Lane Christmas repertoire, and provided the words with a tune (I briefly entertained the idea that it might be a suitable song for Ian to sing, somewhat in the style of ‘Stuff Your Guts’).

According to Broadside Ballads Online, the song was printed by T. Birt, wholesale and retail, of 10 Great St. Andrew-Street, Seven Dials, London, between 1828 and 1829. It describes the various tradespeople who were (or thought themselves) entitled to receive a “Christmas Box”, and the various other ways in which they would entertain themselves once they had benefited from their customers’ largesse (chiefly in eating and drinking – nothing changes!).

Interestingly, there’s another ballad in the Bodleian’s collection, ‘Boxing Day in 1847’, which mourns the decline in Christmas boxing customs over the intervening twenty odd years.

Verse 5 of ‘Boxing Day’ has Dick setting off “to see George Barnwell at the Surrey”.

This refers to The London Merchant (Or The History Of George Barnwell) written by playwright George Lillo and first produced in 1731. This was Lillo’s greatest hit and still popular a century after the play first opened – it features in Great Expectations in a way which clearly suggests that Dickens expected his readers to be familiar with the play and its plot.

The Oxford Companion to English Literature (accessed via www.oxfordreference.comdescribes the play thus:

A prose tragedy by George Lillo, produced 1731, based on a popular ballad. A young apprentice, Barnwell, is seduced by the heartless Sarah Millwood, who encourages him to rob his employer and murder his uncle. For this crime both are executed, he penitent and she defiant. The play was frequently performed as a moral warning to apprentices. It was admired by Alexander Pope, though Oliver Goldsmith mocked it as a ‘Tradesman’s Tragedy’ for its commercial focus. The play had a European impact and was commended and imitated by G. E. Lessing and Diderot.

The University of Cambridge Staging Crime site has this to add:

The story of George Barnwell, who robbed and killed his uncle to fund his relationship with a prostitute, was one of the most popular of the nineteenth century, though when Barnwell lived is difficult to say. His tale is first recorded as a ballad in the 1650s, and in 1731 was turned into a play, The London Merchant; it was staged almost 100 times in its first ten years and was printed in as many editions by the end of the century. At about the time this edition was printed, the essayist Charles Lamb drew attention to the strong moral tone of the story, calling it “a nauseous sermon”.

Boxing Day, from Broadside Ballads Online

Boxing Day, from Broadside Ballads Online

Boxing Day

December 23, 2015

At Christmas play and make good cheer…

At Christmas play and make good cheer,
For Christmas comes but once a year.

Thomas Tusser, A Hundred Points of Good Husbandry (1557)

This is the fifth Christmas season since I began A Folk Song A Week. For those who have only discovered the blog more recently or, indeed, for anyone who fancies a quick recap, here’s a list of all the songs I’ve posted in previous Advent and Christmas seasons:

Week 15 – One Cold Morning in December / The Drunkard and the Pig

Week 16 – Have you not heard / The man that lives

Week 17 – The Holly and the Ivy / Christmas now is drawing near at hand

Week 18 – The Sussex Carol

Week 19 – The Moon Shines Bright

Week 67 – Lazarus

Week 68 – Lo! The Eastern Sages Rise / Hark Hark What News

Week 69 – This is the truth sent from above

Week 70 – The Boar’s Head Carol / Babes in the Wood / The King

Week 71 – The Gower Wassail

Week 119 – The Seven Joys of Mary

Week 120 – The Shepherds Amazed

Week 121 – Saint Stephen / Rejoice and be Merry

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

December 19, 2015

Week 226 – God Bless the Master

I learned this from the Watersons’ 1977 LP Sound, sound your instruments of joy. Bob Copper recorded the song in the 1950s from Frank “Mush” Bond of North Waltham in Hampshire. The song was included in Bob’s Book Songs and Southern Breezes and you can hear the original recording on The Voice of the People Volume 16, You Lazy Lot of Bone-Shakers, alongside Frank’s brother Sam singing ‘Where Does Father Christmas Go To?’. Both brothers were members of the North Waltham Jolly Jacks, a Mummers team founded by Frank, and which continued to perform up to about 1950. They went out on Boxing Day; ‘God Bless the Master’ was sung at the end of the performance, and if you invited them in for a bit of hospitality, you’d be treated to ‘Where Does Father Christmas Go To?’.

You can see the Jolly Jacks in action (but not hear them, unfortunately) in a silent film preserved by Hampshire County Council’s Wessex Film and Sound Archive:

Manydown Park films: Various Subjects 1929-1931
Silent B/W amateur film by Colonel A S Bates at his estate in Hampshire, England. Shows family activities and events, including North Waltham Mummers and the Vyne Hunt.

The text at the start of the film says:

The actors include 3 Bonds and all come from North Waltham. This family has performed this play for certainly five generations.

Reg Hall’s notes for the Voice of the People CD state that Frank and Sam’s father had been a member of the Overton Mummers (a few miles from North Waltham), and five generations seems entirely plausible.

North Waltham Mummers - Hackwood Park 1948, from the Roud/Marsh collection

North Waltham Mummers – Hackwood Park 1948, from the Roud/Marsh collection

I notice that A.L.Lloyd’s notes to the song on Sound, sound your instruments of joy say

A carol that is midway between a wassail and a hymn, so a link between pagan luck-wish and pious hope. The words were widespread on garlands and broadsides around 1850, and several versions have been collected in the Southern counties during the twentieth century (most recently by Bob Copper at North Waltham, Hampshire). The Watersons’ tune and words are close to the set found by Vaughan Williams in 1909 at Preston Candover, barely five miles from North Waltham. The song was much used as a Mummers’ Salutation, sung as an overture in front of the houses at New Year before the mummers began their patter.

The Full English shows that the song was in fact quite widespread in Hampshire, as well as Sussex, Surrey and Berkshire. My words are a bit of a mixture of the Watersons’ interpretation of the Preston Candover version and  the version printed in Bob Copper’s book (which in fact supplements Frank Bond’s words with a couple of verses from Turp Brown, from nearby Cheriton). There was a time when I took delight in singing Turp Brown’s  line “He was buried in some safe old acre”, but these days I’m more inclined to sing “sepulchre”, which is perhaps not such a memorable choice of words, but makes a lot mores sense.

 

God Bless the Master

Andy Turner – vocal, G/D anglo-concertina

December 11, 2015

Week 225 – While Shepherds Watched

Surprisingly, I have so far posted only one other version of ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night’ on this blog – Sweet Chiming Bells. I was convinced I had also posted a recording of Magpie Lane singing ‘Foster’, but checking the site index I find that it’s not so. This will have to be rectified (actually, it is the first song in our Magpie Lane Christmas playlist which I shared here a week or so ago, but that doesn’t count!). It would be nice at some point also to be able to post recordings of ‘Otford’, ‘Lyngham’ and, probably my favourite setting of them all, William Knapp’s wonderful  ‘The Song of the Angels, at the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour’. And that still would still be no more than scratching the surface of all the great settings of these words from West Gallery sources, and from the living carolling traditions of South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Cornwall.

The words of ‘While Shepherds Watched’ – properly, as Knapp titled it, ‘Song of the Angels at the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour’ – were written by Nahum Tate (1652-1715), poet laureate to William of Orange. The ubiquity of the words owes much to the fact that the six, easily-remembered verses were included immediately after the metrical Psalms in the Book of Common Prayer.

Browsing through the Full English a few weeks back, for carols collected in Oxfordshire, I came across this one.

Shepherds Watch, collected by Cecil Sharp from Charles Benfield, 4th September 1909. From the Full English.

Shepherds Watch, collected by Cecil Sharp from Charles Benfield, 4th September 1909. From the Full English.

The simple tune was noted by Cecil Sharp on 4th September 1909 from Charles Benfield of Bould in Oxfordshire. Mr Benfield (1841-1929) is better known as a morris musician – he played both pipe and tabor and fiddle, for morris sides including  Bledington,Fifield, Idbury, Longborough and Milton-under-Wychwood.

A drawing of Charles Benfield

A drawing of Charles Benfield, and the “queer way he held his bow”. This is a scan of a postcard from my parents’ collection. The illustration was also used as the frontispiece in the first issue of the Countryman magazine. Check out the back of the postcard too.

 

 

While Shepherds Watched

Andy Turner – vocal, Bb/F anglo-concertina

December 5, 2015

Week 224 – All Hail and Praise

Many people have felt unwilling to criticise Kennedy, or to expose his illegal Folktrax publications, on the (pragmatic) grounds that he has actually made the recordings available.  They are no longer available from the EFDSS… and much of the BBC material has been lost…  Like a black-marketeer in wartime, Kennedy has been tolerated because “Where else can you get a pair of nylons?”

Rod Stradling, in an article on the more questionable aspects of the collector Peter Kennedy’s work, at http://www.mustrad.org.uk/enth53.htm

I never owned more than a handful of Folktrax cassettes – I was put off by the shoddy packaging as much as anything. But I have to admit (as proof of Rod’s point) to being rather glad that I bought a copy of Folktrax cassette FTX-504 The Bitter Withy: Early Folk Carols, as it contains a number of songs which are not, as far as I’m aware, available elsewhere. The opening track is ‘All Hail and Praise’, sung by Ralph Thomas from the village of Ashton-under-Hill (now in Worcestershire,  but part of Gloucestershire until the 1930s). It was recorded, not by Peter Kennedy but by Peter Duddridge, in May 1958.

Gwilym Davies told me that there had once been a flourishing carol-singing tradition in and you can read more about this on his excellent Gloucestershire Christmas site:

The Ashton carols were sung by the bell ringers when they came round the village on Boxing Day, but were not sung in the church and the custom died out just after World War II. The carollers were Ken Pratt, Ken Pratt’s father, Albert Langley, Charlie Moore and Frank Whittle (who lost a leg at Mons and who had a lovely voice).  They sometimes sang in parts (although it is not clear to what extent Mrs Roberson wrote the published parts).  Between the Wars Ralph Cotton used to accompany the carollers on violin.  The carollers went round late at night with a lantern on a bean pole.  The very last time they sang was in the 1960s when Fred invited them in to sing in the Tudor room at Stanley Farm.  One of the carols ‘All Hail and Praise the Sacred Morn’ used to be sung at in the nearby Worcestershire village of Elmley Castle at midnight on New Year’s Eve, after which the singers would go to the church gates and sing it there. That was last done in the 1970’s when Reg Berry was one of the carollers.

Naturally Gwilym’s site also includes a page on ‘All Hail and Praise’, where you  can hear a recording of the carol being sung by Ralph Thomas.

 

We sang this for a couple of years with Magpie Lane but, even at the time, I’m not sure I ever got a firm grip on the words. For this recording I had them in large print right in front of me. I’ve never come across this set of words anywhere else, and they just don’t seem very memorable somehow. Maybe, having over the years sung ‘Arise and Hail the Joyful Day’, ‘Arise and Hail the Sacred Day’, ‘Arise and Hail the Glorious Star’, ‘Awake Arise Good Christians’, and any number beginning ‘Hark! Hark!’ or ‘Hail! Hail! Hail!’, I’ve simply reached saturation point with carols. Still, if you go wrong, it should be fairly easy to improvise, as long as you can string together a bunch of lines rhyming born/morn, star/far, bring/sing/king, earth/birth/mirth and – if you’re from the West of England – join/divine.

Incidentally, keen Roud number-spotters will be getting really excited about this one. It didn’t seem to be in Mr Roud’s index, so I got in touch with Steve, and he’s had a rummage around in his bottom drawer, and found a spare one for this carol – it’s now Roud 25791.

All Hail and Praise

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

December 5, 2015

Magpie Lane Christmas shows 2015

Beginning to feel a lot like Christmas? Well no, not really. But we’re well into Advent now, so expect to see Christmas carols and seasonal songs popping up on this blog over the next few weeks. And it seems an appropriate time to alert you to this year’s Magpie Lane Christmas shows.

We kick off the season on Saturday 12th December with our annual concerts at the Holywell Music Room in Oxford. As ever we’ll be doing afternoon and evening concerts – but please note that the afternoon concert is slightly earlier than usual, starting at 3.30. For tickets contact the Oxford Playhouse box office: 01865 305305 or www.oxfordplayhouse.com/ticketsoxford

Then on Tuesday 15th we will be making our first appearance at Cecil Sharp House in London, at Sharp’s Folk Club. The Folk Club meets in the cellar bar – we think it’s likely to be pretty packed, so get there early.

And finally, on Thursday 17th, we return to Towcester, to launch the first in a series of events organised by Sophie and Phil Thurman under the banner “Jenkinson’s Folly Presents…”  at the Towcester Mill Brewery. The evening starts at 7.30 with a couple of guest spots. Then we’ll be doing two sets. And then from around 10.20  there will be a folk session for all to join in. Tickets from www.wegottickets.com/event/340283

Hope to see you at one of these – full details on the Magpie Lane website.

Meanwhile, here’s a taster of the kind of things you can expect to hear.