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.
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.
While Shepherds Watched
Andy Turner – vocal, Bb/F anglo-concertina