Helston Flora Day (Cornwall)

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In Helston, Cornwall it takes place every year on 8 May the Furry Dance (Flora or Floral dance) in the Feast of St. Michael. The meaning of Furry is found in the root of the gaelic  fer = fair. Inside the program of the tipical dance there is a sacred representation with historical and mythical theme, which unfolds in a procession that starts from the church: the characters are Robin Hood and his brigade, Saint George and Saint Michael, which announce the arrival of Spring.
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THE FURRY DANCE

The dance is a very long promenade of young couples (and not really young) parading behind the band: they are for the most part walking (or hopping step) alternating a couple of turns with their partner. There are two shows, one in the morning and the second in the midday with more formal dresses (long dress and elaborate hat for ladies, tight and top hat for gentlemen: of British origin, the tight or taitè also called morning dress because worn during the day, it is the male dress in public ceremonies and for all occasions concerning the English royal family.)


THE GAMES OF ROBIN HOOD

In the late Middle Ages the “Robin Hood Games” were practiced during the May Day. It began with a parade of the various characters of the legendary Robin Hood, the masks of the horse and the dragon and the May pole brought by the oxen. The May pole was then raised and a dance took place around it. After the buffoon performances of the horse and dragon masks the competition began: the challenge of archery.
At the end people dancing around the May pole until late. Tradition has lasted until the end of the nineteenth century

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LINK
http://www.thebookofdays.com/months/may/1.htm
http://hesternic.tripod.com/robinhood.htm http://www.boldoutlaw.com/robages/robages3.html http://www.roccadellecaminate.it/archi/encicopedia.html

THE HELSTONE FURRY-DAY SONG

More commonly known under the title “Hal an tow” is the main song in the representation of mummers at Flora Day in Helston.
The Watersons live (I, II, VII)

Shirley Collins & The Albion Country Band from ‘No Roses’ 1971( (III, IV IV, V)
Oysterband from Trawler 1994 (II, III, IV, VII) arranged in rock version has become very popular among the groups of the genre celtic-rock


CHORUS

Hal-an-Tow(1), jolly rumble-O
We were up long before the day-o
To welcome in the summertime
To welcome in the May-o
For summer is coming in
And winter’s gone away
I
Since man was first created
His works have been debated
We have celebrated
The coming of the Spring
II
Take the scorn and wear the horns(2)
It was the crest when you were born
Your father’s father wore it
And your father wore it too
III
Robin Hood and Little John
Have both gone to the fair-o
We shall to the merry green wood
To hunt the buck and hare-o (3)
IV
What happened to the Spaniards(4)
That made so great a boast-o?
They shall eat the feathered goose
And we shall eat the roast-o (5)V
As for Saint George(6), O!
Saint George he was a knight, O!
Of all the knights in Christendom,
Saint George is the right, O!
In every land, O!
The land where’er we go.
VI
But for a greater than St. George
Our Helston has the right-O
St. Michael with his wings outspread
The archangel so bright-O
Who fought the fiend-O
Of all mankind the foe
VII
God bless Aunt Mary Moses(7)
With all her power and might-o
Send us peace in England
Send us peace by day and night-o

NOTES
1)  The translation of Hal an tow could be “May day garland” (halan = calende) and the same name was attributed to the groups of youths who, early in the morning, went into the woods to cut the branches of the May and brought them to the village dancing and singing for the arrival of Spring.
But many scholars tend to refer to the meaning of “heel and toe,” referring to the dance step of the Morris dancing.
Another interpretation translates it as “pulling the rope” (from the Dutch “Haal aan het Touw” derived from the Saxon) referred to the work of the sailors on the ships but also to the game of tug of war, one of the few survivors from the May Games by Robin Hood. Some interpret all the stanzas in a seafaring key, as if the song were a sea-shanty and explain the term “rumbelow” as the rum in the vessel at the time of the pirates!
What shall he have that kill’d the deer? His leather skin and horns to wear. Then sing him home; Take thou no scorn to wear the  horn; It was a crest ere thou wast  born: Thy father’s father wore it, And thy father bore it: The horn, the horn, the lusty horn Is not a thing to laugh to scorn.How do you deny the reference to the deer god and, more generally, to the symbolism of the deer as a sacred animal, the bearer of fertility? see more
3) Shirley Collins:
To see what they do there-O
And for to chase-O
To chase the buck and doe
4) What happened to the Spaniards: the image is ironic about the Spaniards who eat goose feathers by english arrows to whom the roast goose is mockingly due as the winners
5)  Shirley Collins:
And we shall eat the roast-O
In every land-O
The land where’er we go
6) St George day in many populations of the Mediterranean rural world, represents the rebirth of nature and the arrival of Spring, the Saint has inherited the functions of a more ancient pagan deity associated with solar cults: St. George defeating the Dragon became the solar god who defeats the darkness. see more
7) Aunt Mary Moses: Our Lady  Originally, therefore, the invocation was a prayer referring to the goddess of spring. In other versions the sentence becomes”The Lord and Lady bless you” 

Lisa Knapp from Till April Is Dead ≈ A Garland of May 2017

LINK
http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=40451
http://www.mudcat.org/Detail.CFM?messages__Message_ID=160194
http://mainlynorfolk.info/watersons/songs/halantow.html

PADSTOW May Day Songs

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On May 1, in Padstow, a characteristic event called “Obby Oss Festival” is celebrated, centered on the Hobby Horse dance; Padstow is a small fishing port of North Cornwall on the mouth of the river Camel, now a tourist destination. (first part)

In this second part I’m going to bring back a couple of songs incorporated in the Padstow Oss tradition but that have been written more recently in the 20th century!

HAIL! HAIL! THE FIRST OF MAY

Dave Webber, founder with his wife Anni Fentiman of the Beggar’s Velvet group, wrote a May Song inspired by the oss tradition for their debut album “Lady of Autumn” released in 1990. The song was so convincing that it was adopted among the celebrations for the Padstow May, also known as the “Drink To The Old ‘Oss” (see more)
Magpie Lane from Jack in the Green 1998

HAIL! HAIL! THE FIRST OF MAY
by Dave Webber 1990
I
Winter time has gone and past-o,
Summer time has come at last-o.
We shall sing and dance the day
And follow the ‘obby ‘orse that brings the May.
Chorus:
So, Hail! Hail! The First of May-o!
For it is the first summer’s day-o!
Cast you cares and fears away,
Drink to the old horse on the First of May!
II
Blue bells(1) they have started to ring-o,
And true love, it is the thing-o.
Love on any other day
Is never quite the same as on the First of May!
III
Never let it come to pass-o
We should fail to raise a glass-o!
Unto those now gone away
And left us the ‘obby ‘orse that brings the May!

NOTES
1) The Hyacinthoides of Spanish origin is sometimes called Spanish Bluebells to distinguish it also in the vulgar name from the Hyacinthoides non-scripta, known as English Bluebells.

QUEEN OF THE MAY

In 1982 Larry McLaughlin dedicated this song to his wife Maureen on their silver wedding! Here is a tasty anecdote about it told by Larry McLaughlin’s son: “Dad and I were playing in Padstow one night and, inevitably, we did ‘Queen of the May.’ Afterwards, a woman of middle years and a rich Cornish accent came up to us and said to Dad, ‘’Ere boy, you got the words wrong.’ ‘Oh really,’ Dad replied, ‘But I wrote it.’ ‘So you’re the bugger,’ she replied. “But her husband shouted across, ‘’E didn’t write that, I remember my father singing it.’ To which some else joined in with, ‘You don’t even know who your [bleep]ing father was.’ And such was a typical evening in Padstow. “And in many ways the song has been absorbed into the traditions of Padstow. But we should never forget that it is Mum’s song; its original title is ‘Maureen’s Song.’ A treasured gift from Dad to celebrate their Silver Wedding Anniversary, as he says—without having to spend any money!”

QUEEN OF THE MAY
by Larry McLaughlin 1982
I
Winter is over and summer has come
And the Obby Oss waits in his stable for dawn
Rise up my love early and deck yourself gay
And I’ll take you to Padstow today
Chorus: And put your arms round me. I’ll dance you away
For you are my Queen of the May
II
Skip out o’er the fields and the woods and the dells
Pick primroses, daises, cowslips and bluebells
And from the green woods cut a sycamore spray
And I’ll take you to Padstow today
III
We’ll breakfast on ale and an old chorus song
Musicians will come with accordion and drum
We’ll meet the old Oss and we’ll welcome the May
When I take you to Padstow today
IV
When the years have rolled on love and we are both old
And the stories of May day and Padstow are told
And though I’m old and feeble you’ll still hear me say
I’llt take you to Padstow today

LINK
http://mainlynorfolk.info/steeleye.span/songs/padstow.html http://celtic.org/hobby.pdf http://www.padstowlive.com/events/padstow-may-day http://grapewrath.wordpress.com/2010/05/01/chris-wood-andy-cutting-following-the-old-oss/ https://mainlynorfolk.info/folk/songs/hailhailthefirstofmay.html http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=46931#698474 http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=60993 http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=46931
http://www.sffmc.org/archives/may09/QueenOfMay.pdf

Obby Oss Festival

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On May 1, in Padstow, a characteristic event called “Obby Oss Festival” is celebrated, centered on the Hobby Horse dance; Padstow is a small fishing port of North Cornwall on the mouth of the river Camel, now a tourist destination.

padstow oss
Oss and his teazer

The Oss are two, one of the Red group(the old horse) and the other of the Blue group (a more recent addition of the Victorian era): the masks are identical, looking fierce and black dressed , which emerge from a characteristic round shape (a circle of 2 meters) edged to the ground by the black fabric: the horses are led by their “teazers” a jugglers with a characteristic stick followed by a cortege of dancers and musicians (mostly drums and accordions): the dominant color in the parade is the white with red or blue depending on the group.

The Oss during his dance – revolving on himself and kicking – seems to war with the teazer or he is courting the young women, who if dragged under the mantle of the oss will become pregnant within the year (or they will get married by the year if they are still young maids)!

Alan Lomax and Peter Kennedy and filmmaker George Pickow collected footage at Padstow in 1951

AT THE BEGINNIG

It is not easy to find the origins of the ritual that is celebrated in Padstow, some indications come from the history of the village: the first settlement was the monastery built by St. Petroc in his mission of evangelization (VI century), but it was destroyed by a Viking raid in 981. Thus the monks moved further inside to Bodmin. Some hypothesize that the ceremony took place on that occasion as an extreme attempt at defense.
obby_oss_sHistorical references of the Oss date back to the late Middle Ages (early 1500) with traces still in the Victorian era: in 1803 is documented the presence of a horse made with the skin of a stallion with a man inside who sprinkled water on the crowd.

Some scholars trace the ritual to pre-Christian celebrations, connected with the Celtic festival of Beltane. Donald R. Rawe compare the oss to thehobby  horses of the Morris dances that are associated with the May fertility rites. (see also the Robin Hood games for the May day). The branches of the May brought into the village, the symbolic coupling with the young women kidnapped under the skirts by the oss, the death and rebirth of the same oss are clear references to fertility that are part of the May Celtic celebrations. However little else can be affirmed with certainty and the verses of the “daytime” singing are rather obscure.
Equally numerous are the references to the winter rituals of Samain that began at the end of October and ended after about twelve days. During the Christmas period the disturbing mask of a horse (hodden or hooden horse), is led through the streets of the village by a “tamer” who held it by the bridle: the children tried to mount the horse and people throw sweets or coins into the mouth of the animal as propitiatory offers. see more

SPRING RITE OF DEATH-REBIRTH

In the singing the Padstow May Song (mostly they repeats the first verse) at some point the music stops the Oss collapses to the ground, the teaser caresses him with his characteristic bat and they sing a kind of dirge funeral
Oh where is Saint George? Oh where is he-O?
He’s out in his longboat, all on the salt sea-O.
Up flies the kite, down falls the lark-O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood, she had an old ewe,
And she died in her own park-O.
The oss dies then the “teaser” screams “Oss Oss” and the crowd answers “We Oss” thus the Oss comes back to life and gets up again to resume the dances..

Death-Resurrection of the Oss

Once between the two Oss was engaged a dance-fight, now the two parades march through the streets without ever meeting until late in the evening around the May Pole, before returning to their respective stables.

VIDEO
1930: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFW3xlSn3Ow
1932: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdDvOfUCfXk
1953: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GA_e3LV6z0E
2012: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-17911942

THE FAREWELL

The parade lasts all day from the morning around 11 am until evening and obviously several men alternate to play the Oss. At the end of the festival the Farewell to the Oss is sung with the phrase:
Farewell farewell my own true love
Farewell farewell my own true love

FAREWELL
I
How can I bear to leave you
One parting kiss I’ll give you
I’ll go what ‘ere befalls me
I’ll go where duty calls me
II
No more will I behold thee
Nor in my arms enfold thee
With spear and pennant glancing
I see the foe advancing
III
I think of thee with longing
Think though while tears are thronging
That with my last faint sighing
I whispered soft whilst dying

NIGHT SONG : Drink To The Old ‘Oss

The ritual of the oss begins, however, the night of May 1, at the stroke of midnight and until about two o’clock, with the Night Song, a clear song of begging, in which the youngsters are alerted to go into the woods to cut the branches of May: whoever sings asks in exchange for good phrases (prosperity, health, happiness) a little beer!

NIGHT SONG
I
Unite and unite and let us all unite,
For summer is a-come unto day,
And whither we are going we will all unite,
In the merry morning of May.
II
I warn you young men everyone
For summer is a-come unto day,
To go to the green-wood and fetch your May home
In the merry morning of May.
III
Arise up Mr. —- and joy you betide
For summer is a-come unto day,
And bright is your bride that lies by your side,
In the merry morning of May.
IV
Arise up Mrs. —- and gold be your ring,
For summer is a-come unto day,
And give to us a cup of ale the merrier we shall sing,
In the merry morning of May.
V
Arise up Miss —- all in your gown of green
For summer is a-come unto day,
You are as fine a lady as wait upon the Queen,
In the merry morning of May.
VI
Now fare you well, and we bid you all good cheer,
For summer is a-come unto day,
We call once more unto your house before another year,
In the merry morning of May


Steeleye Span live (they have recorded the song several times)

DAY SONG
I
Unite and unite, and let us all unite
For summer is a-comin’ today.
And whither we are going we all will unite,
In the merry morning of May.
II
The young men of Padstow, they might if they would,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
They might have built a ship and gilded it with gold
In the merry morning of May.
III
The young women of Padstow, they might if they would,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
They might have built a garland with the white rose and the red
In the merry morning of May.
IV
Oh where are the young men that now do advance
For summer is a-comin’ today.
Some they are in England and some they are in France
In the merry morning of May.
V
Oh where is King George? Oh where is he-O?
He’s out in his longboat, all on the salt sea-O.
Up flies the kite, down falls the lark-O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood, she had an old ewe,
And she died in her own park-O.
VI
With the merry ring and with the joyful spring,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
How happy are the little birds and the merrier we shall sing
In the merry morning of May.

Lisa Knapp from Till April Is Dead ≈ A Garland of May 2017

PADSTOW MAY SONG
I
Unite and unite
For summer is a-come unto day,
Unite and unite,
In the merry morning of May.
II
With the marry ring
For summer is a-come unto day
Adieu the marry spring
In the merry morning of May
III
Arise up Mr. …
In the merry morning of May.
IV
Unite and unite and let us all unite,
For summer is a-come unto day,
And whither we are going we will all unite,
In the merry morning of May.
V
Oh where is King George?
Oh where is he-O?
He’s out in his longboat,
all on the salt sea-O.
Up flies the kite,
down falls the lark-O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood,
she had an old ewe,
And she died in her own park-O.

TEXT MEANINGS

The May branches brought into the village, the symbolic coupling with the young women kidnapped under the skirts from the oss, the death and rebirth of the same oss are clear references to fertility that are part of the May Celtic celebrations. However little else can be affirmed with certainty and the verses of the “daytime” singing are rather obscure.
The young people who build a ship and cover it with gold, could symbolize the solar ship, and the theme of rebirth in a new afterlife it is the journey of purification of the soul of the deceased to the Hereafter.
The garland of red and white roses of young women (the colors of Beltane) symbolizes the union of the masculine principle with the feminine one and takes up again the theme of fertility propitiation. Even the last stanza is a clear reference to the lark, a messenger between the human and the divine, representation of youthful exaltation, a sacred and solar bird, symbol of good luck.
The interpretation of the verse already mentioned on the occasion of the funeral dirge in which the apparent death of the Oss is represented is very problematic!
Oh where is King George? Oh where is he-O?

oldossWHICH KING GEORGE?
The reference to the Hanover dynasty would start any historical dating to 1700, but on closer inspection the king is actually Saint George: it is precisely at this point when the Oss is about to die killed by the jester, that is Saint George who defeats the dragon, he is the solar god, who defeats the darkness, the Spring that defeats Winter.
But the most enigmatic of all is Aunt Ursula Birdhood with her old sheep! And here is the fantasy gallops and a local legend recalls an old woman who brought together the women of Padstow to drive away the Viking raiders (in another version become French) while the men were all out to sea to fish: disguised with the Obby Oss and guiding the women in a dancing procession to the beach Orsola has managed to get rid of the marauders convinced to see a monster!!
Some scholars see Birdwood as a mispronunciation of Birdwood and then link it to the figure of Robin Hood extensively connected to the celebration of May since the Middle Ages. Others recall the pagan myth concerning the goddess Freyja (or Sant’Orsola) who, with the name of Horsel or Ursel, welcomed the dead girls into the aftermath.

 second part

LINK
http://mainlynorfolk.info/steeleye.span/songs/padstow.html
http://celtic.org/hobby.pdf
http://www.padstowlive.com/events/padstow-may-day http://grapewrath.wordpress.com/2010/05/01/chris-wood-andy-cutting-following-the-old-oss/