Posts tagged ‘Easter’

April 3, 2015

Week 189 – The Holly Bears a Berry

A carol, so it’s often sung at Christmas. However with three of the four verses dealing with Christ’s death and resurrection, it’s surely more of an Easter carol – A.L.Lloyd, in his sleevenotes to the Watersons’ Frost and Fire describes it as “Another spring carol, proper to the period between Passiontide and Easter” and that’s good enough for me. I first heard the song on that 1965 Watersons LP; I probably learned it from there too, although I may have got the words from the Oxford Book of Carols, where it appears under the title of the ‘Sans Day Carol’. It’s also known as the ‘St. Day Carol’, having been taken down from an old man, Mr Thomas Beard,  at St Day in the parish of Gwennap, in Cornwall. The Oxford Book of Carols tells us that “St. Day or St. They was a Breton saint whose cult was widely spread in Armorican Cornwall”.

Sheet Music for the St Day Carol, from Ralph Dunstan, The Cornish Song Book (London: Reid Bros., Ltd., 1929), p. 123 - via

Sheet Music for the St Day Carol, from Ralph Dunstan, The Cornish Song Book (London: Reid Bros., Ltd., 1929), p. 123 – via

The Holly Bears a Berry

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

April 18, 2014

Week 139 – There is a Fountain of Christ’s Blood

Last Christmas I was taken to task for failing to mention, when I wrote about ‘This is the truth sent from above’, the version collected, and subsequently arranged for choir, by Ralph Vaughan Williams. That version, noted from a Mr Jenkins at King’s Pyon in Herefordshire, has, I have to admit, a rather wonderful melody. But actually variants of the same melody seem to have been used elsewhere in the Welsh border counties for other carol texts. I have a four-part arrangement which I hope to post some time of a version of ‘On Christmas Night All Christians Sing’, collected in Shropshire by Cecil Sharp, and which is clearly a variant of Mr Jenkins’ tune. And here’s another variant, once again from Herefordshire, recorded in 1909 by Vaughan Williams and E.M. Leather from Mr W. Hancock (or Hancocks) at Weobley.

The tune and first verse of the carol were printed in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol 4 No 14 (1910), alongside numerous other really fine carols collected by Vaughan Williams. The notes for this piece say “Noted by R. Vaughan Williams, from a Phonograph Record”. I have completed the words with a further five verses (out of an available twelve) from A Good Christmas Box, a collection printed at Dudley in the West Midlands in 1847. It would seem that the song was not infrequently classed as a Christmas carol, as can be seen from these examples from the Bodleian and Full English collections, but it’s clearly a Passiontide piece. Referring back to the Journal article, I was glad to see that Ella Leather concurs: she notes

It is a great favourite with Herefordshire singers, and was formerly sung at Christmas, although the subject is clearly the Crucifixion and not the Nativity.

The Fountain Of Christ's Blood, from the Lucy Broadwood Manuscript Collection, via the Full English archive.

The Fountain Of Christ’s Blood, from the Lucy Broadwood Manuscript Collection, via the Full English archive.

Having learned and recorded ‘Jack Williams’ a couple of months ago, this was to have been my second new song of 2014. So far, however, all attempts to din the words into my head have proved fruitless. I have occasionally, when recording songs for this blog, had the words in front of me as a safety net; this is the first time they’ve been an essential prop. I wanted to put the song online now though, as it’s appropriate for Easter, and I’m not sure that I have enough songs to keep this blog going till Easter next year!

There is a Fountain of Christ’s Blood

March 29, 2013

Week 84 – Pace Egging Song

Emma Vickers - photo from Vickers

Emma Vickers – photo from Vickers

Oh we got a good welcome at all the toffs’ houses, up Junction Lane and round about, because… even the gentry had a certain love for the Pace Egg.

Back in the 1970s I learned the Watersons’ version of the ‘Pace Egging Song’ from their seminal LP Frost and Fire (sorry but it’s a legal requirement to refer to it as a “seminal” LP; although you are permitted, as Mark Radcliffe did on Radio 2 this Wednesday, to call it “one of the most important folk albums ever made”).

Then in the late eighties Malcolm Taylor of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library put out an excellent cassette, The Leaves of Life, containing field recordings made by the collector Fred Hamer. May Bradley was of course one of the stars of the show, but the other was undoubtedly Mrs Emma Vickers of Burscough in Lancashire. I was really taken by her ‘Pace Egg Song’: it has a funny little kink in the rhythm in the chorus; a first verse with plenty of rhymes, but not necessarily where you’d expect them; and a splendid last line “if you give us a trifle you’ll never be no worse”. What’s not to like?

Mrs Vickers, who had taken part in the Easter Pace Egging custom as child, and revived it later in life, had two Pace Egg Songs – this is actually the junior song, for use by the children. On The Leaves of Life she gives a good description of the characters’ costumes, and of how and where the custom was performed. The quotation at the start of this page is taken from that interview.

If you are a member of a Further or Higher Education institution in the UK – and apologies to those of my readers who are not – you can hear a longer interview conducted by John Howson back in 1972:

Description of pace-egging – Mrs Emma Vickers recorded by John Howson c1972 (login required)

Pace Egging Song

April 6, 2012

Week 33 – The Leaves of Life

A suitably sombre song for Good Friday. I learned this many, many years ago from the singing of Norma Waterson on the Watersons’ seminal 1965 LP Frost and Fire. (A note for the uninitiated: it is a legal requirement that certain album titles be preceded by the word “seminal”, and Frost and Fire is certainly one of those).

The sleeve notes to the LP, written by A.L. Lloyd, say:

This spring-time ballad-carol tells a story based on the Apocryphal Gospels, concerning a trip made by Mary to see her son at Calvary, in the company of seven virgins. The opening recalls the handsome illuminations in the Arundel Psalter, showing the sombre tree of death with its dismal birds, and the dazzling tree of life with iridescent leaves. The parallel between the death and resurrection of Christ and the ritual slaying and renewal of the divine kings of pagan belief (echoed in the mumming plays) needs no stressing.

The carol is included in A Good Christmas Box, published in Dudley in 1847 (although clearly this is not actually a Christmas carol). Sharp and Vaughan Williams both collected a number of versions, all in Shropshire and Herefordshire. Vaughan Williams included the carol in Twelve Traditional Carols from Herefordshire  and then in the Oxford Book of Carols. The notes to the latter say:

Melody and a version of the text from Mrs Whatton and Mrs Loveridge, The Homme, Dilwyn. From Twelve Traditional Carols from Herefordshire (Leather and Vaughan Williams), Stainer & Bell. Cf Popular Carols, by F Sidwick (Sidwick and Jackson). This fine example of the way in which a mystical vision is created by the best folk-poetry appeared in the Staffordshire A Good Christmas Box. 1847, Sylvester (1861) printed a version of it from an ‘old Birmingham broadside’. Sir A Quiller-Couch included it in the Oxford Book of English Verse, and Walter de la Mare in Come Hither.

In really important news yesterday, the English Folk Dance & Song Society announced that they had been successful in applying for funding to proceed with the Full English project. This will digitise and make freely available the folk song collections of Cecil Sharp, Vaughan Williams, Lucy Broadwood and a host of others. So in future, if we want for instance to check out all of the collected versions of this song, we will be able to do so at the click of a mouse. Excellent news.

One of the versions which Vaughan Williams collected came from the gypsy singer Mrs Esther Smith, mother of May Bradley, from whom Fred Hamer recorded the song some 50 years later. You can hear May Bradley sing the song on the Musical Traditions CD Sweet Swansea.

The Leaves of Life

Crucifixion, The Arundel Psalter f.52v (British Library)

Crucifixion, The Arundel Psalter f.52v (British Library)