Posts tagged ‘Wassail songs’

January 8, 2023

Week 309 – The Cherington Wassail

Last week I posted a Wassail song which was definitely collected in Oxfordshire: . My searches of the VWML catalogue also threw up 3 phonograph recordings made by James Madison Carpenter, all of the same song. None of the recordings is dated, and all are credited to an unnamed “Oxfordshire Singer”.

The first thing that struck me about the song is that it is very reminiscent of the well-known wassail printed in the Oxford Book of Carols as ‘The Gloucestershire Wassail’. Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire are neighbouring counties, so I wondered if this particular strain of wassail song had crossed over the border. However, the more I look into it, the more likely it seems that the American collector Carpenter was confused, and wrongly labelled a song he had actually recorded in Gloucestershire.

The GlosTrad website has a list of songs collected by Carpenter in the county. This includes three wassails. Both the Avening and Minchinhampton songs are similar, but clearly not the same as these “Oxfordshire” recordings. The Cherington Wassail Song on the other hand looks suspiciously close.

The song’s source is given on the website as Tanner, Thomas and Howes Mr and Phelps, Charlie. Carpenter’s own notes are quoted thus:

Mr Howes has known for sixty years. Bowl decorated with fox’s brush and holly bow, with bough, decorated with ribbons. Charlie Phelps checked the Cherrington (sic) Wassail sung by Tom Tanner.

I did wonder if Thomas Tanner was related to the Bampton singer Charles Tanner, and that was where the Oxfordshire connection came from. But the GlosTrad page on Thomas Tanner tells us that he came from a well-established Cherington family, so I think that’s a red herring. When I consulted members of the Traditional Song Forum, the replies I got suggested that Carpenter’s attributions were not always to be relied upon.

Elaine Bradtke, who works for the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, wrote

I’ve been working on the Carpenter Collection with Julia Bishop.  A couple things to note: Carpenter was not the best of record keepers. His indexes for cylinders and discs are often rather vague, or just plain incorrect, and I suspect they were made significantly later than the recordings themselves. He also seemed to be a little geographically challenged, so his indications of locations may not always be correct. But that’s what we had to work with when we indexed the collection.  After we transcribed much of the material, we were able to match many of the texts to the recordings and give more precise attributions.  However, this doesn’t seem to be the case with Cylinder 131 00:00. We don’t know who sang it or where it was sung.
You are correct, it is very close to the Gloucestershire versions.  Especially Avening, and Cherrington where they repeat “Our bowl it is made of some mappelin tree With our wassailing bowl we’ll bring unto thee”. But it is not an exact match to any of the typescript texts in the collection.  I would say it’s probably Gloucestershire, despite what his own index said.

The GlosTrad site – and I’ve no doubt that the site’s founders Carol and Gwilym Davies will have based this attribution on the best information available – lists Tom Tanner as the singer of ‘The Unquiet Grave’, which comes immediately after the Wassail song on this recording https://www.vwml.org/record/VWMLSongIndex/SN18617. So I’m going to assume that it’s also Tanner singing the Wassail – it certainly sounds to me like the same singer. So I’m also assuming that the song I’m posting here is essentially the Cherington Wassail.

Out of laziness as much as anything else, I’ve sung the words from this transcription by Carpenter, which uses a standard chorus, rather than repeating the last two lines of the song.

Incidentally, all three Wassails collected by Carpenter in Gloucestershire refer to the bowl being made of the “mappelin” or “maypolin” tree. As far as I can tell, this is simply another name for the maple.

The Cherington Wassail

Andy Turner – vocal, G/D anglo-concertina

December 28, 2022

Week 308 – The Adderbury Wassail

A couple of people have asked me recently if there were any Wassail songs collected in Oxfordshire. A quick search of the VWML catalogue brings up 10 records, but most of these actually refer to the same song – the two verse fragment collected by Janet Blunt from William ‘Binx’ Walton of Adderbury in December 1917. Of the others, none can definitively be said to be an Oxfordshire song:

In his book Village Song & Culture: A Study Based on the Blunt Collection of Song from Adderbury North Oxfordshire, Michael Pickering writes

Binx tried hard to remember this song for Blunt in December 1917, but could remember only two of the three verses in their entirety. Of the first verse, only the opening came back to him: ‘Good mortal man, remember…’
This is a familiar wassail song line, and we can safely assume that the nature of those following was didactic.

In looking for additional verses to add to the two which Walton did remember, I came across this nice version by former Adderbury Morris Squire Tim Radford. But noting that he’d got a couple of the verses from the Albion Band, I thought I’d choose some others, just to be different. The “mortal man remember” phrase I associate with the Hampshire Mummers’ Song ‘God Bless the Master’, and it turns up also in this Sussex Mummers’ Carol. I’ve borrowed my first couple of verses from there (verses which I think can fairly be categorised as “didactic”); added a generic “God bless the master…” verse as verse 3; and then I finish off with William Walton’s two verses. This means I get to sing the splendid line “A bit o’ your good vittles ma’am” at the end of the song, finishing off, appropriately enough with

We wish you a Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year.

Sentiments which I heartily endorse.

William Walton's Wassail Song, from the Janet Blunt MSS.

William Walton’s Wassail Song, from the Janet Blunt MSS.

The Adderbury Wassail

Andy Turner – vocal, G/D anglo-concertina

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

 

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

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

December 29, 2012

Week 71 – The Gower Wassail

Wassailing Bowl, mid-nineteenth century, made at the Ewenny Pottery, Bridgend. Image copyright Swansea Museum.

Wassailing Bowl, mid-nineteenth century, made at the Ewenny Pottery, Bridgend. Image copyright Swansea Museum.

Here’s a song for Twelfth Night from the great Phil Tanner (1862-1950), the “Gower Nightingale”. Phil Tanner carried on the wassailing tradition throughout his life; an informative Mudcat thread reports:

Mr Eric Gibbs, of Llangennith, remembers Phil Tanner carrying out the wassail ceremony with his friend Billy Bond, always on January 5, the eve of Twelfth Night. Phil would prepare the wassail a week before… a blend of home-brewed brown ale, elderberry wine, fruit cake, ginger and spices. The wassail would be carried in a large tin can holding about a gallon and a half. After a while, the wassail would have been enhanced with brandy, whisky, rum, anything donated by the villagers – and there would still be 12 pints of it. Phil and Billy used to retire to the Picnic Room at the King’s Head, Llangennith, where straw would thoughtfully have been provided by the landlady. They would not be seen again for a couple of days.

I first learned the song from the Steeleye Span album Ten Man Mop with reference at some point to the version printed in A.L.Lloyd’s Folk Song in England. The words of most folk revival performances (mine included) appear to derive from the verses given in Lloyd’s book, which he introduces – with typical sleight of hand – thus:

roistering carols of wassailing still survive as happy reminders of the luck perambulations of unchristian ceremony, with such melodies as the one recorded from grand old Phil Tanner before he died in a Gower workhouse in 1947, and with verses like the following.

The key word here is “like”, as the verses he prints are not necessarily those sung by Phil Tanner! (the sentence is doubly misleading since Phil Tanner actually died in 1950, not 1947). The Mudcat thread linked to above provides Tanner’s words, and those of other versions of the song collected in Gower in 1928 and 1884. It is only comparatively recently that I actually got to hear any recordings of Phil Tanner, and it’s too late to consider relearning the words I’ve been singing for more than 30 years.

The Gower Wassail