Week 300 – Shepherds Arise

I started this blog in August 2011 and posted to it religiously, week in week out, for five years. Since then posts have been sporadic, appearing at completely irregular intervals, but I decided to retain the “Week…” prefix. In the summer I realised that I was fast approaching Week 300 and decided this should be celebrated in some way. I’m not sure what form that celebration would have taken in a normal year, but in 2020 there seemed to be only one thing to do – assemble a virtual choir. And the choice of song, once it came to me, seemed obvious: record my favourite Christmas carol, the Copper Family’s “curly tune”, ‘Shepherds Arise’.

I transcribed the song from A song for every season, added a few extra notes to Ron’s bass line, and wrote two extra harmony parts. I then sent out the score plus a midi backing track, and invited people to record themselves singing along. In terms of musical direction, all they got was “have fun, and channel your inner Copper Family / Sheffield Carols / West Gallery spirit”. And that, it would seem, is exactly what they’ve done.

So here you have the finished article, performed by a bunch of wonderful human beings who also happen to be wonderful singers.

This being folk music, singers have interpreted the written notation in slightly different ways. And – just as I hoped they would – people have sung the carol in their own individual style. The end result is not the smooth polyphony of a cathedral choir, but – to borrow a word I’ve heard Dave Townsend use in relation to choirs of the West Gallery period – heterophony. You can hear the individual singers, and it’s all the better for it. When recording stuff remotely, on your own, with a four-square backing track, there’s the danger that it all ends up sounding a bit lifeless. Not so here. I reckon we’ve captured the spirit of a really good carol-singing session – the kind of session I love to be part of, and which we’ll all be missing this year (although, as one contributor has quite rightly commented, “I ain’t never been to a pub carol-session as tight as that before!!!”).

If you fancy joining in, well, obviously you can just make up your own harmonies and sing along to this recording. But I’ve also set up a Google folder with all of the written parts, the midi track, and even a video where you can see exactly where you are in the score as you sing along (a bit like a bouncing ball video, although there isn’t actually a ball). That video can also be found at https://youtu.be/_5fooV0OPv4

In previous posts (Week 284 and  Week 285) I wrote of how my school friend Mike and I – and eventually a number of other people – used to go out “wassailing” around Ashford and Saltwood in Kent. Mike had been given a copy of the single LP A song for every season for his seventeenth birthday. We learned ‘Shepherds Arise’ from there. We sang it the first year we went out, and it remained absolutely central to our Christmas repertoire thereafter. It was in the fact the carol we had just sung when told by a usually appreciative householder “I have to say I thought that was dull as ditchwater!”. To be fair, I suspect we sang it a lot slower than we do in this recording.

Cover of the single LP version of A Song for every Season, from discogs.com

Cover of the single LP version of A Song for every Season, from discogs.com

In terms of the oral tradition, this carol is unique to the Copper Family (if you look at the VWML entries for Roud 1207 ignore the references to ‘Abraham Newland’ – that’s an error which should be corrected shortly). And so far it only seems to have turned up a few times in manuscript sources. William Adair Pickard-Cambridge (1879 – 1957) published a four-part setting in 1926, in his book A Collection of Dorset Carols. Some of the pieces in this book had been written down by his father, who had been rector of Bloxworth in Dorset. ‘Shepherds Arise’, it seems, came from an anonymously-authored manuscript from nearby Winterborne Zelston. Pickard-Cambridge may well have tidied up both the harmonies and the words. We shall never know, as the original manuscript was destroyed when his house was hit during the Blitz, in 1940. However another Dorset version has been discovered, from Puddletown, and this is safely preserved in the Dorset Record Office. This version, transcribed and edited by Rollo Woods, was printed in West Gallery Harmony: Carols & Celebrations (WGMA, 1998). And you can find another arrangement on the Roding Music website.

(Information in the preceding paragraph based on the Wikipedia article on ‘Shepherds Arise’, the Hymns and Carols of Christmas website, and Francis Roads’ article on Pickard-Cambridge’s Dorset carols).

 

I was delighted to be joined on this recording by friends from various parts of my life. Most of the contributors have sung with at least one other person here, but we’ve definitely never all been in the same room together. There are people who, in a normal year, I would sing with regularly, with Magpie Lane and/or Christminster Singers. There are people I’ve never sung with before, except possibly in a pub session. And there are people who I sang with often back in the 1970s/early 1980s, but very rarely since.

To everyone who took part, an enormous, heartfelt, Thank You.

I’d like to mention in particular those people who rely on music for their income. Like everyone in the arts world, 2020 has been a disastrous year for them. Do check out the links I’ve given below – you might find a few tasty CDs you could buy as presents for friends or family, or even just for yourself. Every little helps.

 

Several of the singers on this recording are, or have been, associated with the Oxford folk scene in one way or another.

Jon Boden is one of several people here who, I’m sure, need no introduction. He now lives in the 21st century folk Mecca that is Sheffield – indeed, his nearest pub is one with a flourishing carol-singing tradition. But he has strong links with Oxford, having lived for several years in a room above the Half Moon, the city’s best known session pub. It was of course Jon’s A Folk Song A Day project which originally inspired me to start this blog, and it’s chastening to think, as I celebrate 300 posts, that Jon did considerably more than that in just one year.

https://www.jonboden.com/ – and look out for the 2021 Spiers and Boden reunion.

Jackie Oates and I were both involved in a project put together by Paul Sartin for the 2011 Broadstairs Folk Festival. She moved to Oxford shortly after that, and has since become a leading light in the local folk scene. In 2019 she was Musician in Residence at the Museum of English Rural Life, part of the University of Reading, where I work. Some of the songs to come out of that residency were included on her most recent CD, Needle Pin, Needle Pin, recorded with John Spiers.

https://www.jackieoates.co.uk/

Jim Causley is a big champion of Devon traditions, so it’s entirely appropriate that I first saw him singing at the Sidmouth Festival. We first met, I think, at a pub session in Bampton, Oxfordshire, and over the years our paths have crossed at various folk clubs and festivals. Jim has kept himself busy during lockdown, releasing the entirely home-made Cyprus Well II, and with a new CD, Devonshire Roses, due for release soon.

https://www.jimcausley.co.uk/

George Sansome and I have met only once, and briefly at that. He’s singer and guitarist with the excellent Granny’s Attic and earlier this year released a really good eponymous solo album. Through various online exchanges it emerged that I really like his stuff and, rather gratifyingly, he’s a fan of both Magpie Lane and this blog.

https://georgesansome.co.uk/

Ian Blake was the original clarinettist in the Mellstock Band, and we got to know each other while recording the album Under the Greenwood Tree. Ian has lived in Australia for many years, but that doesn’t stop him from playing with the group SANS, whose other members hail from the UK, Finland and Armenia.

https://www.ianblake.net/

Sophie Thurman is a fellow Magpie Laneite. Round about now we’d have been limbering up for a series of Christmas gigs, the highlight, as ever, being our afternoon and evening concerts at the Holywell Music Room in Oxford. That’s one of my favourite days of the year. But, much as I miss playing gigs with Magpie Lane, what I’ve really missed this year is meeting up with the rest of the band, and the enormous fun we all have, whether we’re performing, recording, or just rehearsing.

Some people reading this will already have all the Magpie Lane CDs. But did you know you could also get a restorative shot of Sophie’s vocals by buying a CD by Jenkinson’s Folly?

Tom Bower was a founder member of both Magpie Lane and the Christminster Singers. And he provided the magnificent cover illustration for our most recent Christmas CD, The 25th.

https://sites.google.com/site/worktombower/

Marguerite Hutchinson was Tom’s replacement in Magpie Lane, appearing on Six for Gold and Knock at the Knocker. She returned to play Northumbrian smallpipes on The 25th.

She’s joined here by her husband Giles Hutchinson, and her niece Lucy Davies.

Caroline Butler sang on the Under the Greenwood Tree album, and is now a fully-fledged member of the Mellstock Band. She’s also a member of the The Oxford Waits. We sing together in the Christminster Singers, and have been playing together in the dance band Geckoes for 30 years. Caroline is also an accomplished artist.

http://carolineritson.co.uk/

Becca Heddle is another member of the Christminster Singers, as well as being an award-winning writer of books for children.

 

I’m particularly pleased to be joined on this recording by the members of my first ever folk group, Gomenwudu.

Mike Eaton was my best friend at school and, as detailed in various posts here over the years, played a vital role in turning me on to folk music: he lent me his Dad’s copy of Below the Salt around this time of the year in 1975, and then he introduced me to the Copper Family.

Jonathan Jarvis was in the year below Mike and me, but we got to know each other through school choir and orchestra (where he was a much more accomplished performer than Mike and me). The three of us  were talking one lunchtime just inside the main school doors, when some spotty little oik from the third year – no doubt trying to get in from the playground when school rules said only senior boys were allowed in – commented “you look like three twins”. I don’t know if Jon remembers that, but I was pleased to find recently that it’s as fresh in Mike’s mind as it is in mine.

We got to know Gill Wren through her brother, who was in our class at school, and when we discovered that she liked folk music, she was quickly invited into the group.

As was Alison Tebbs. Her family home was absolutely at the centre of our social world when Mike and I were in the sixth form. Her wonderfully hospitable parents George and Beth put up with the presence of countless teenage boys in their living room and kitchen, talking too loud, making rubbish jokes, drinking famously dreadful coffee, and listening to music (there must have been others, but I particularly remember Dylan, the Beatles, Steeleye, Lindisfarne, Sex Pistols, Horslips, and Barclay James Harvest). At the end of the evening, no matter how many of us there were, George would pack us all into the back of his estate car and drive us home.

When making her recording for this project, Alison was joined by her daughter, Zoe Tebbs.

Gomenwudu singing at my 18th Birthday party, 1978

Gomenwudu singing at my 18th Birthday party, 1978.

And – last but not least – I’m joined by family members Carol Turner and Joe Turner, both of whom have made previous appearances on this blog.

Carol and I have been members of the Christminster Singers since the beginning. Carol sang harmony vocals (“spine-tingling” vocals according to Dave Arthur, and I’m not going to disagree) on my first, and so far only, solo album; and in the summer of 2012 she depped with Magpie Lane for an unwell Ian Giles at a couple of festivals.

Joe has also depped for Mat Green with Magpie Lane and, in 2010 stood in for Paul Sartin at a few Bellowhead gigs. More often playing electric guitar or drums in recent years, you can check out Joe’s band Junk Whale at https://junkwhale.bandcamp.com/music.

A massive Thank You once more to all of them.

And, finally, many thanks to the Copper Family whose treasury of songs and singing traditions continue to be a joy and an inspiration.

 

Shepherds Arise

Alison Tebbs, Andy Turner, Becca Heddle, Carol Turner, Caroline Butler, George Sansome, Giles Hutchinson, Gill Wren, Ian Blake, Jackie Oates, Jim Causley, Joe Turner, Jon Boden, Jonathan Jarvis, Lucy Davies, Marguerite Hutchinson, Mike Eaton, Sophie Thurman, Tom Bower, Zoe Tebbs – vocals.

 

 

Detail of a miniature of the Annunciation to the Shepherds, from the De Lisle Psalter. Copyright the British Library.

Detail of a miniature of the Annunciation to the Shepherds, from the De Lisle Psalter (Arundel 83 II). Copyright the British Library.

 

 

2 Comments to “Week 300 – Shepherds Arise”

  1. Just lovely! Thank-you all.

  2. The neighbours drainage system blocked today – flooding our garden. Spent five hours rodding the drain and hosing down the escaped sewage – this made a very bad day a whole lot better !!! Happy New Year !

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