Posts tagged ‘Christmas’

December 28, 2017

Week 271 – The Gloucestershire Wassail

Here is to Fillpail and to his left ear
Pray God send our master a happy New Year

I first came across this Wassail song in the Oxford Book of Carols in the 1970s – although, unlike the ‘Somerset Wassail’ it never actually became part of my repertoire. With a slightly different set of words the song was part of the Magpie Lane Christmas set from the very beginning, and we recorded it – with a different singer leading each verse – on our 1995 CD Wassail.

For this recording I’ve gone back to the version in the Oxford Book of Carols. The notes with the song tell us that the tune was collected by Vaughan Williams “from an old person in Gloucestershire”. Actually, it turns out that Vaughan Williams took it down in the inn at Pembridge in Herefordshire, in July or August 1909, from a singer whose name he did not record, but who presumably was a native of Gloucestershire.

The words printed in the book were collated from other versions collected by Cecil Sharp and Vaughan Williams in Gloucestershire – from William Bayliss of Buckland and Isaac Bennett of Little Sodbury – as well as nineteenth century printed sources. Magpie Lane’s words are closer to those originally collected by RVW at the inn in Pembridge.

You can find several other Wassail songs collected in Gloucestershire on Gwilym Davies’ GlosTrad site; and can read much more about this song, and the tradition which it accompanied, on the Gloucestershire Christmas website.

Tetbury Wassailers in about 1930. Photo by James Madison Carpenter, copyright the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. From http://www.gloschristmas.com

Tetbury Wassailers in about 1930. Photo by James Madison Carpenter, copyright the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. From http://www.gloschristmas.com

 

Waes Hael!

 

The Gloucestershire Wassail

Andy Turner – vocal, G/D anglo-concertina

 

December 21, 2017

Week 270 – As I sat on a sunny bank

Last night we had a really joyous carols and tunes session at the Bell Inn, Adderbury, North Oxfordshire. It’s a fantastic pub at any time (disclosure: I play in a band with Sandy, the landlady – but I challenge anyone to visit the pub and fail to be impressed). Last night, with about two thirds of the Christminster Singers, plus various friends and friends of friends, we really raised the roof with a selection of rousing carols from Dorset, Yorkshire – and Oxfordshire. It was particularly pleasing to be able to sing a few of the carols collected in Adderbury around a hundred years ago by Janet Blunt – ‘Adderbury Church’, ‘High let us swell’ and ‘Newton’s Double’ (which featured here four Christmasses ago). But here’s one we didn’t sing…

Janet Blunt collected several versions of ‘As I sat on a sunny bank’ / ‘I saw three ships’ in Adderbury. All used some variation on the well-known tune – apart from Sam Newman (a native of Wiltshire) who sang it to the tune of ‘Buffalo Girls’. This one was noted down from Clara Gillam, the parlour maid at Blunt’s home Halle Place, aka Adderbury Manor, and I learned it from the Blunt MSS via the Full English website.

The earliest known appearance of the carol in print was in 1666. According to the New Oxford Book of Carols the story is based  on

the Mediterranean journeyings of the supposed relics of the magi, the ‘Three Kings of Cologne’, the splendour of whose final voyage has remained vivid in European folk memory. The Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great and discoverer of the True Cross, carried them to Constantinople in the fourth century, from where they were later taken by St Eusthathius to Milan. In 1162 the skulls were gifted to Cologne Cathedral by Friedrich Barbarossa, and Bishop Renaldus brought them there, to rest in the jewelled caskets in which they remain to this day.

The notes in the book also refer to this version of the carol in Baring-Gould’s manuscript collection, which was noted from a boatman on the River Humber by the artist Lewis Davis, and preserves the link with Cologne:

I axed ’em what they’d got on board
They said they’d got three crawns [skulls]
I axed ’em where they was taken to
They said they was ganging to Coln upon Rhine
I axed ’em where they came frae
They said they came frae Bethlehem

As I Sat On A Sunny Bank, from the Lucy Broadwood Manuscript Collection, via the Full English archive.

As I Sat On A Sunny Bank, from the Lucy Broadwood Manuscript Collection, via the Full English archive.

I follow the song with ‘Christmas Day In The Mornin’’ a tune from Bruce & Stokoe’s Northumbrian Minstrelsy of 1882, where it is associated with the words

Dame get up and bake your pies,
Bake your pies, bake your pies;
Dame get up and bake your pies,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

 

As I sat on a sunny bank / Christmas Day in the Mornin’

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina, one-row melodeon in C

December 24, 2016

Christmas Bonus: a festival of nine carols, and no lessons

I like the idea of a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve, but in practice I just can’t get on with a lot of the music – neither the arrangements, nor the way it’s sung. So while I prepare my stuffing, and giblet stock, and cranberry sauce, I’m far more likely to be listening to carolling from Sheffield or Padstow, or The Messiah, or Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. So here’s nine carols as an alternative. All have appeared on this blog over the last five years – except, bizarrely, ‘Foster’, which I always think I’ve posted before, but somehow never have. I hope they get you into whatever mood you’d like to be in as Christmas approaches. Now – is it time to put the sprouts on yet?

 

1. While Shepherds watched their flocks by night (Foster)

for other versions see Week 225 – While Shepherds Watched and 

 

2. This is the truth sent from above

see 

 

3. As Shepherds Watched Their Fleecy Care

see 

 

4. Newton’s Double

see 

 

5. The Shepherds Amazed

see 

 

6. Lo! The Eastern Sages Rise

see 

 

7. All Hail and Praise

see 

 

8. Hark Hark What News

see 

 

9. The Sussex Carol

see 

December 23, 2016

Week 263 – Morning Star

After last week’s shipwreck, I thought the blog could do with a bit of Christmas cheer. And this is very jolly indeed. Like ‘Sweet Chiming Bells’ I learned it from the Oysterband’s John Jones, and it’s a carol sung in Meltham, the South Yorkshire village where John was brought up.

It was written by Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915), an American hymn-writer who seems to have had more than her fair share of pseudonyms, and was published in Song Worship for Sunday Schools (1884). There it is credited solely to L.O.Emerson – not another of Crosby’s noms-de-plume, but joint editor of the collection. I assume it was he who set Miss Crosby’s text to music.

Ring Merry Bells, from Song Worship for Sunday Schools (1884), via hymnary.org

Ring Merry Bells, from Song Worship for Sunday Schools (1884), via hymnary.org

John Jones used to sing just the first and last verses, but having discovered a couple more online, I thought I’d include them all here – I rather like the rose of Sharon verse.

The song was very nearly featured on the Magpie Lane album Wassail. We recorded it, but it was cut from the final mix – there was a rather fancy a cappella section which, the lead and harmony vocals having been recorded at separate recording sessions, didn’t quite hang together. Having recently listened back to that outtake, however, there’s a possibility we might revive it next year.

Although I’ve usually referred to the song as ‘Ring, Merry Bells’ I believe it’s known as ‘Morning Star’ in Meltham, and that title prompted the inclusion of the Bledington morris tune ‘Morning Star’ in this arrangement.

Happy Christmas everybody!

Morning Star

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

January 1, 2016

Week 228 – Padstow Wassail

A few days ago I was considering a temporary suspension of activity at A Folk Song A Week. I have a particularly busy month coming up, and no song recordings in my store (apart from the one I have saved for use as The Last Song On The Blog). But a recording window presented itself (i.e. the rest of the household were out for the day!) and I now have enough songs put by to last me into February. Moreover, prompted in part by a reminder from Jim Causley that there are twelve days of Christmas, and they’re a long way from being over, this song suggested itself as just right for New Year.

I knew it from a 1950s Peter Kennedy recording of Charlie Bate from Padstow, included on the Topic/Caedmon LP Songs of Ceremony (Volume 9 of the Folk Songs of Britain series). Some twenty years ago I suggested it as a possible Magpie Lane number, but at the time it met with little enthusiasm. Subsequently I’ve occasionally thought of trying it out as a solo piece, but never quite got round to it. On Monday, however, I found the tune going round my head so, in the evening, I listened to the Songs of Ceremony track to get the words down. What I had forgotten was that the LP only included a couple of verses before segueing into the Truro Wassail Bowl Singers singing the ‘Malpas Wassail’. A search of the web failed to turn up any further verses, although clearly Charlie Bate’s song is a version of this Cornish Wassail song (source not given) and this one from Ralph Dunstan’s Cornish Song Book (1929). I emailed a query to the TradSong list, and by 10 next morning had been sent a different Kennedy recording of Charlie Bate, made in 1956, and included on the Folktrax cassette West Country Wassailers.

This recording had six verses which I quickly transcribed and set about singing. As I had anticipated, the song sits beautifully in C on a C/G anglo, and by 11.30 that morning I had recorded the song for inclusion here.

 

Charlie Bate

Charlie Bate

Charlie Bate was an important figure in Padstow, and a man with a lovely, gentle singing style. You can hear a number of recordings of Charlie singing if you search the British Library Sounds website. I’m making no promises, but I’m greatly tempted to learn his I was the lover of Lady Chatterly!

Given the state of the world, it might be unduly optimistic to wish everyone peace, happiness and prosperity, but I hope at least that making and listening to music may bring you joy in 2016 – in fact, I can do no better than to repeat the traditional blessing

Joy, health, love and peace
Be all here in this place

Padstow Wassail

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

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 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

January 3, 2015

Week 176 – The Somerset Wassail

By no means the only Wassail song to have been collected in Somerset, once included in the Oxford Book of Carols this became for evermore The Somerset Wassail (cf. the Gloucestershire Wassail  and the Sussex Carol). The notes in the book say that the song was noted by Cecil Sharp “about twenty years ago” (September 1903 in fact) from the Drayton Wassailers in Somerset. Actually he collected several other versions in the county where the words included either the verse about a farmer who didn’t know how to look after his cow (more cider is the answer!) and/or the verse about the “Girt Dog of Langport”.

Wassail Song, noted by Cecil Sharp from Miss Quick, Drayton, Somerset. From the Full English archive.

Wassail Song, noted by Cecil Sharp from Miss Quick, Drayton, Somerset. From the Full English archive.

Again, according to the notes in the Oxford Book of Carols “Sharp thought that the great dog of Langport was a reference to the Danes whose invasion of Langport is not yet forgotten in that town”. I’m not sure I’d give that theory much credence. According to Mudcat

In fact, this Danish raid may be mere legend, as it seems that the Vikings never penetrated that far into the West Country. Their attempted invasion began on Christmas Day 877, when Guthrum’s surprise attack on Chippenham drove Alfred into the marshes of west Somerset. Alfred set up a base at Athelney (the Island of the Nobles) a few miles west of Langport, and immediately began organising his counter-attack. In 878 he defeated Guthrum at Edington (the Anglo Saxon Chronicle identifies the Edington near the Westbury White Horse, although there is a theory that it was the Edington by the Polden Hills near Glastonbury). It was the resulting treaty between Alfred and Guthrum which divided England into the Anglo Saxon kingdom and the Danelaw.

I think the only Danish attack on the West Country was by the force which arrived at the mouth of the Parrett and was wiped out at Cannington. If they had got any further, they would have come up against Alfred himself at Athelney.

That same Mudcat page puts forwards – and debunks – a number of theories. Bear in mind when considering them that King Alfred was an actual historical character, unlike another King whose name begins with A, and who is supposed to have associations with this part of the country. Drayton is only 15 miles from Glastonbury Tor, and the danger of infection by romantic New Age twaddle is consequently very high.

We recorded this on the Magpie Lane album Wassail and the song pops back into our Christmas repertoire every two or three years. We sang it again this Christmas, but I foolishly neglected to get a recording. So, rather than wait another twelve months, here it is with a hastily-concocted concertina part.

The Somerset Wassail

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina