The Lammas Fairs as they say in the British Isles or the Country fairs as they are more commonly called in America are the big fairs that take place after the wheat harvest: a livestock market (especially horses) where farmers gathered to sell and buy summer products, but also an important socialization event for isolated farms.
In the season of abundance, the earth was thanked for its fruits, and joy was shared with music, dance and games. In the Celtic tradition it was Lughnasad, a fair dedicated to courtship and combining marriages (under the good offices of the god Lugh).
So in the ballads when it’s time for the fair the lovers meet to exchange their marriage vows
The song Brigg Fair belongs to the English folk tradition and was reported on wax cylinder in the early 1900s by Percy Grainger who picked it up from Joseph Taylor(first two verses here); Grainger himself made an arrangement for a chorus of 5 voices adding further verses. The song also boasts a classic arrangement having been inspired by the “English raphsody” always composed in those years by Frederick Delius (here)
First of all, the instrumental version of The Full English, supergroup that starts with the wax recording of the early 1900s
The Queen’s six (arrangement by Percy Grainger)
|La versione di Percy Grainger
It was on the fifth of August-
er’ the weather fine and fair,
Unto Brigg Fair(1) I did repair,
for love I was inclined.
I rose up with the lark in the morning,
with my heart so full of glee(2),
Of thinking there to meet my dear,
long time I’d wished to see.
I took hold of her lily-white hand, O
and merrily was her heart:
“And now we’re met together,
I hope we ne’er shall part”.
For it’s meeting is a pleasure,
and parting is a grief,
But an unconstant lover is worse
than any thief.
The green leaves they shall wither
and the branches they shall die
If ever I prove false to her,
to the girl that loves me.
1) Glanford Brigg in Lincolnshire at the ford of the river Ancholme: already the name is symptomatic of a traditional place of gatherings where cattle fairs and sporting competitions are held
2)”mirth, joy, rejoicing; a lively feeling of delight caused by special circumstances and finding expression in appropriate gestures and looks”. In Old and Middle English it’s chiefly a poetic word, meaning primarily ‘entertainment, pleasure, sport’, and especially ‘musical entertainment, music, melody’ (this is how we get musical glees and glee clubs and a current popular television series). Anglo-Saxon poets sang ‘glees’ (gleow) with their harps, and a common Middle English word for ‘minstrel’ is gleeman.
Martin Carthy writes” When Percy Grainger first went up to Lincolnshire in the early days of field recording (he was one of the first in England to use recording techniques in the collection of folksong) one of the men he recorded was a beautiful singer by the name of Joseph Taylor. Among the many songs taken down on the wax cylinders was Brigg Fair, slightly pensive but very happy. Mr Taylor subsequently became one of the first of the traditional (or “field”) singers to have recordings issued by a commercial recording company; he has great subtlety, beautiful timing, and, despite of his old age, a fine clear voice. (from here)
Martin Carthy from Byker Hill; 1967
Jackie Oates 2011
Shirley Collins 1964
June Tabor “Quercus” (2013) Spotify ♪
It was on the fifth of August
The weather fair(hot) and mild
Unto Brigg Fair I did repair
For love I was inclined
I got(rose) up with the lark in the morning/with my heart full of glee(1)
Expecting there to meet(see) my dear(love)/Long time I’d wished to see
I looked over my left shoulder
To see what I might see
And there I spied(saw) my own true love/ Come a-tripping down to me
I took hold of his(her) lily-white hand
And I merrily sang my heart
For now we are together
We never more shall part
For the green leaves, they will wither
And the roots, they’ll all decay
Before that I prove false to him(her)
The man(lass) that loves me well(true)