Archivi tag: Shirley Collins

Brigg Fair to meet love

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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

Donnybrook Fair 1859 by Erskine Nicol 1825-1904


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)


Concealed death: Clerk Colvill & Georges Collins

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Concealed death


In The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, in Child ballad # 42 Clerck Colven (other titles Clerck Colvill or Earl Colvin) we find the same medieval ballad focused on the meeting between a knight about to marry and a fairy creature (or a jealous lover)


The ballad begins with a quarrel between boyfriends: the future bride beseeches him not to visit his lover, a washerwoman, just on the eve of their wedding!
The knight denies any sexual involvement (normal administration!) but he is anxious to meet his lover again.
For a comparison between the versions A, B, C see the analysis by Christian Souchon (here)

Clerk-Colvill-ArthurRackhamThey have an obvious sexual relationship (in the coded language of the time), but then the man complains about his headache, she gives him a strip of fabric (poisoned) and announces his imminent death (or poisoning him by giving him one last kiss). The woman is clearly a water nymph and in fact as soon as the young man draws his sword to take revenge, she turns into a fish and dives into the water.

Frankie Armstrong from Till the Grass o’ergrew the corn 2006, ♪
The melody is an arrangement by Frankie from the one heard by Mrs. Brown from Falkirk, Stirling County.
Kate Fletcher & Corwen Broch from  Fishe or Fowle 2017, ♪
“One of many ballads from across Europe in which a man is doomed to death by his Other-Worldly lover.
We have used the words of Child 42 version B and the only existing melody for them from Mrs Brown (Anna Gordon) of Falkland. The transcribed melody has given rise to endless debate about how the words should fit to the refrain line of the music. We have chosen to sidestep the argument and sing the verses as given omitting the problematic line of melody.”

Clerk Colven (1) and his gay (2) lady
Were walking in yon garden green,
A belt (3) around her middle so small
Which cost Clerk Colven crowns fifteen.
“O harken to me, my lord,” she says
“O, harken well to what I do say:
If you go to the walls of Stream (4),
Be sure you touch no well fair’d maid.”
“O, hold your tongue,” Clerk Colven said,
“And do not vex me with your din.
I never saw a fair woman
But with her body I could sin.” (5)
He’s mounted on his berry-brown steed
And merrily merrily rode he on,
Until he came to the walls of Stream,
And there he spied the mermaiden (6).
“You wash, you wash you mermaiden”,
“O, I will wash your sark of the silk (7).
It’s all for you, my gentle knight,
My skin is whiter than the milk(8).”
He’s taken her by the milk white hand
And likewise by the grass-green sleeve,
he’s laid her down all on the grass,
Nor of his lady need he ask leave (9).
“Alas! Alas!” says Clerk Colven,
“For oh so sore is grown my head.”
Merrily laughed the mermaiden,
“Aye, even on, till you be dead.”
“But you pull out your little pen-knife,
And from my sark you shear a gore,
And bind it round your lovely head,
And you shall feel the pain no more.”
So he’s took out his little pen-knife,
And from her sark he sheared a gore,
He’s bound it round his lovely head;
But the pain it grew ten-times more.
“Alas! Alas!” cries Clerk Colven,
“For now so sore is grown my head.”
Merrily laughed the mermaiden,
“’twill I be away and you’ll be dead.”
So he’s pulled out his trusty sword,
And thought with it to spill her blood;
But she’s turned to a fish again
And merrily sprang into the flood.
He’s mounted on his berry-brown steed,
And drear and dowie rode he home,
Until he’s come to his lady’s bower
And heavily he’s lighted down.
“O, mother, mother, make my bed,
O, gentle lady, lay me down(10);
O brother, brother, unbend my bow(11),
It’ll ne’er be bent by me again.”
His mother she has made his bed,
His gentle lady laid him down,
His brother he unbent his bow,
It ne’er was bent by him again.

1) according to the Danish folklorist Svend Grundtvig the name Colven is a corruption of Olafur in “Olvill” from the Faroese language (the Norse has long been spoken in the islands of Scotland). Also Clerck is a mispronunciation of Herr for Lord, in the stanza V the siren calls him “gentle knight”
2) as Giordano Dall’Armellina observes, the lady in other versions is defined lusty, that is greedy and ultimately possessive.
3) the belt is clearly a love token, it was customary, in fact, to exchange the promise of engagement, giving a “trinket” to the lady, not necessarily a diamond ring as we use today, but a hair clip or belt (obviously not less expensive)
4) in version B it is “Wells of Slane” misunderstood as “Wall of Stream” in version A; it could refer to the “Loch o ‘Strom” on the Mainland the largest of the Shetland Islands. The sacred well is generally a cleft in the earth in which the magical and healing water flows from the mother goddess’s womb, but if the spirit of the place is not placated it becomes deadly water. But here it represents the erotic energy that attracts the knight
5) translated into simple words: “do you think I’m the kind of man who goes to bed with every woman he meets?”
6) mermaiden is the siren, but he could be a nymph or an undine, the term with which the magical creatures of the inner waters are classified (see more). In Scotland and especially in the islands it is identified with a selkie
7) the beautiful girl is depicted as a washerwoman washing clothes by beating them on a marble stone (variant C and D). The image recalls the girl of the ford of the Irish tradition that is a harbinger of imminent death (banshee)
8) it is known that a snow skin was a fundamental requirement for the sexual excitement of the medieval knight
9) the whole stanza is a coded language to say that they have had a sexual intercourse
10) death in this case is not concealed and even the girlfriend immediately learns the news
11) in other versions says “O brother, take my sword and spear” to indicate that he will be buried with the warrior’s set as it was the custom in burials for people of rank in ancient European civilizations.


Published in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs it is the D version collected by George Gardiner in 1906 from the voice of Henry Stansbridge of Lyndhurst, Hampshire. The version, however, is very corrupt and diversified compared to the ballad of Norse origins.
It is the version on which American variants are modeled, almost transformed into a murder ballad.

Sam Lee The Ballad of George Collins from ‘Ground of its own’ 2012 (winner of the Barclaycard Mercury Prize 2012 see more) : amazing video clip

Shirley Collins from The Sweet Primroses 1967Alan Moores in a folk-country arrangement by Spud Gravely  version (in Ballads and Song of the Blue Ridge Mountains) also known as George Allen

 Sam Lee Version ( da qui)
George Collins walked out one may
morning, when may was all in bloom
and who  should he see but a fair pretty maid, washing her white marble stone (1)
She whooped she hollered she called so loud,
she waved her lilly white hand
“Come hither to me George Collins -cried she- for your life it won’t last you long”
He put his foot on the broad water side,
across the river sprung he,
he gripped his hands round her middle (2) so small and he kissed her red ruby lips (3)
Then he road home to his father’s old house, loudly knocked with the ring
“arise, arise my father- he cried-
rise and please let me in”
“Oh arise, arise dear mother -he cried-
rise and make up my bed”
“arise, arise dear sister -he cried-
get a napkin (4) to tie round my head.
For if I should die tonight
As I suppose I shall
Please bury me under that marble stone
That lies in fair Ellender’s hall(5)”
Fair Ellender sat in her hall
weaving her silk so fine
who should she see but the finest corpse(6) that ever her eyes shone on
Fair Ellender called unto her head maid
‘Whose corpse is this so fine?’
she made her reply “George Collins is corpse an old true lover of mine”
“Oh put him down my brave little boys
and open his coffin so wide
but I may kiss his red ruby lips
ten thousand times he has kissed mine”
This news been carried to fair London town
And wrote on London gate(7),
“six pretty maids died all in one night
‘twas all for George Collins’ sake”

1) It is the stone on which the washerwoman beats and rubs her clothes. Another “marble stone” returns cited in the VI stanza, the marble slab in the hall or hill of Ellender
2) in the modest language of ballads it indicates a sexual relationship. Despite the jealous lover threatened him with death, George kisses her and embraces her: he probably does not consider her a danger
3) it is the deadly kiss of the nymph, (or the kiss of the plague) the woman is never described as a supernatural creature
4) the poisoned cloth that we saw in version A and B of Clerck Colven still comes back to wrap the sufferer’s head, but this time it’s a normal bandage
5) elsewhere written as hill. George is in his father’s house announcing his imminent death and asking to be buried in Ellender’s property. Shirley Collins sings
Bury me by the marble stone
That’s against Lady Eleanor’s hall.”
6) 6) the coffin was brought into the house of the lady who asked to remove the lid so that she could still kiss the lips of her lover. The sentence is a bit to be interpreted, it is the lady-in-waiting (or the housekeeper) to ask who is the corpse in the coffin. And it is Ellender who answers that he was her lover.
7) The final stanza seems to be a nineteenth-century addition in an ironic key, the six women died because of the venereal disease of George

french and breton versions 


Cambridgeshire & Hertfordshire may day carols

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The tune is known as “Arise, arise” and the carols of Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire are very similar, even in the lyrics.

Ruth Barrett & Cyntia Smith from  “Music of the Rolling World” (1982) I really like the processional gait cadenced by the drum

Arise, arise, you pretty fair maids
And take your May Bush in
For if it is gone before tomorrow morn
You would say we have brought you none.
All through the night before daylight
There fell the dew and rain.
It sparkles bright on the May Bush white;
It glistens on the plain.
Oh, the hedges and fields are growing so green,
as green as grass can be.
Our Heavenly Mother watereth them
With her heavenly dew so sweet (1).
A branch of May we’ll bring to you
As at your door we stand.
It’s not but a sprout, but ‘tis well budded out,
The work of Our Lady’s hand.
Our song is done,
it’s time we were gone
We can no longer stay.
We bless you all, both great and small
And we send you a joyful May.

1) This carol lets us glimpse, among the tributes paid to the Virgin Mary, some pre-Christian rituals practiced in May Day: in addition to the May branch also the bath in the dew and in the wild waters rich in rain. The night is the magic of April 30 and the dew collected was a real panacea able to awaken the beauty of women!

Shirley Collins, Cambridgeshire May Carol

Arise, arise, you pretty fair maids,
And take your May bush in,
For if that is gone before tomorrow morn/ You would say we had brought you none.
Oh, the hedges and fields are growing so green,
As green as grass can be;
Our heavenly father watereth them/With his heavenly dew so sweet..
I have got a little purse in my pocket
That’s tied with a silken string;
And all that it lacks is a little of your gold
To line it well within.
Now the clock strikes one,
it’s time we are gone,
We can no longer stay;
So please to remember our money, money box
And God send you a joyful May.



Collected in 1900 in the Peterborough area
Mary Humphreys

Good  morning, lords and ladies,
It is the first of May;
I hope you’ll view the garland,
For it looks so very gay.
To the greenwood we will go.
I’m  very glad to spring as come
The sun is shine so bright
The little birds upon the threes
Are singing with delight
The  cuckoo(1) sings in April,
The cuckoo sings in May,
The cuckoo sings in June,
In July she flies away.
The  roads are very dusty
The shoes are very thin
We have a little money-box
To put a money in

SOURCE: Fred Hamer: Garners Gay (1967)
“Mrs. Johnstone [Margery” Mum “Johnstone] learned this carol from her grandmother who came from Carlton and seems to have been popular in some villages close to the Northamptonshire border.The same melody with similar words is spread throughout the south-east of the Midlands ”

Lorraine Nelson Wolf (Bedford carol) 

Good   morning lords and ladies
it is the first of May,
We hope you’ll view our garland
it is so bright and gay
For it is the first of May,
oh it is the first of May,
Remember lords and ladies
it is the first of May.
We gathered them this morning
all in the early dew,
And now we bring their beauty
and fragrance all for you
The cuckoo comes in April,
it sings its song in May,
In June it changes tune,
in July it flies away
And now you’ve seen our garland
we must be on our way,
So remember lords and ladies
it is the first of May


Also known under the title “The Sweet Month of May” is a popular song in Cheshire. The text presents many similarities with the Swinton May song to which reference is made for comparison see more

The Wilson Family

All on this pleasant morning, together come are we,
To tell you of a blossom that hangs on every tree.
We have stayed up all evening to welcome in the day,
Good people all, both great and small, it is the first of May.
Rise up the master of this house, put on your chain of gold,
And turn unto your mistress, so comely to behold.
Rise up the mistress of this house, with gold upon your breast,
And if your body be asleep, we hope your souls are dressed.
Oh rise up Mister Wilbraham, all joys to you betide.
Your horse is ready saddled, a-hunting for to ride.
Your saddle is of silver, your bridle of the gold,
Your wife shall ride beside you, so lovely to behold.
Oh rise up Mister Edgerton and take your pen in hand,
For you’re a learned scholar, as we do understand.
Oh rise up Mrs. Stoughton, put on your rich attire,
For every hair upon your head shines like the silver wire.
Oh rise up the good housekeeper, put on your gown of silk,
And may you have a husband good, with twenty cows to milk.
And where are all the pretty maids that live next door to you,
Oh they have gone to bathe themselves, all in the morning dew.
God bless your house and arbour, your riches and your store.
We hope the Lord will prosper you, both now and ever more.
So now we’re going to leave you, in peace and plenty here,
We shall not sing this song again, until another year.
Good people all, both great and small, it is the first of May.


So many carols have been Christianized, shifting the homage to the ancient deities to God and Our Lady, as in the next examples. These verses were also documented in the newspapers of the time, for example in the parish of Debden and in the village of Saffron Walden in Essex it was sung:
‘I been a rambling all this night,
And sometime of this day;
And now returning back again,
I brought you a garland gay.
A garland gay I brought you here,
And at your door I stand;
‘Tis nothing but a sprout, but ‘tis well budded out,
The works of our Lord’s hand.
So dear, so dear as Christ loved us,
And for our sins was slain,
Christ bids us turn from wickedness,
And turn to the Lord again.’

Each verse was sometimes also interspersed with a refrain::
‘Why don’t you do as we have done,
The very first day of May;
And from my parents I have come,
And would no longer stay.’

Jean Ritchie

I’ve been a-wandering all the night
And the best part of the day
Now I’m returning home again
I bring you a branch of May
A branch of May,
I’ll bring you my love,
Here at your door I stand
It’s nothing but a sprout, but it’s well budded out
By the work of the Lord’s own hand
In my pocket I’ve got a purse
Tied up with a silver string
All that I do need is a bit of silver
To line it well within
My song is done
and I must be gone
I can no longer stay
God bless you all both great and small
And send you a joyful May

1) la strofa è a volte preceduta da questa
Take a bible in your hand
And read a chapter through
And when the day of judgment comes
The Lord will think of you

In the “Nooks and Corners of English Life, Past and Present”, John Timbs, 1867: “At Saffron Walden, and in the village of Debden, an old  May-day song is still sung by the little girls, who go about in parties carrying garlands from door to door. The garlands which the girls carry are sometimes large and  handsome, and a doll is usually placed in the middle, dressed  in white, according to certain traditional regulations : this doll represents the Virgin Mary, and is a relic of the ages of Romanism.”


William Hone in his “The Every Day Book”, describes in a letter dated May 1, 1823 the mummers of May Day to Hitchin who cheer the passers-by with their dances: they are “Moll the crazy” and her husband (with the face blackened by smoke and clothes of rags, “she” holding a big ladle and he a broom), “the Lord and the Lady” (dressed in white and decorated with ribbons and gaudy handkerchiefs, with the gentleman holding a sword) and five/six others  couples of dancers and some musicians- they are all men because the ladies were not allowed to mummers mix: they dance grimaces, chase people with the broom and make the audience laugh.

Always William Hone tells us that the Mayers went from house to house to bring May already at the first light of the day (starting at 3 am) singing “Mayer’s Song” and William Chappell in The Ballad Literature and Popular Music of the Olden Time, 1859 also transcribes the melody, more or less the same as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman.”

Hitchin May Day Song

‘Remember us poor Mayers all,
And thus we do begin
To lead our lives in righteousness,
Or else we die in sin.
We have been rambling all this night,
And almost all this day,
And now returned back again,
We have brought you a branch of May.
A branch of May we have brought you,
And at your door it stands;
It is but a sprout, but it’s well budded out
By the work of our Lord’s hands.
The hedges and trees they are so green,
As green as any leek,
Our Heavenly Father he watered them
With heavenly dew so sweet.
The heavenly gates are open wide,
Our paths are beaten plain,
And, if a man be not too far gone,
He may return again.
The life of man is but a span,
It flourishes like a flower;
We are here to-day, and gone to-morrow,
And we are dead in one hour.
The moon shines bright, and the stars give a light,
A little before it is day;
So God bless you all, both great and small,
And send you a joyful May!’

Sedayne, live The Heavenly Gates (a may carol)

not exactly the same verses, some stanzas are missing
We’ve been rambling all the night, the best part of this day,
we are returning here back again to bring you a garland gay.
A bunch of May we bare about, before the door it stands;
it is but a sprout but it’s well budded out; it is the work of God’s own hands.
Oh wake up you, wake up pretty maids, and take the may bush in –
for it will be gone e’er tomorrow morn and you will have none within.
The heavenly gates are open wide to let escape the dew;
it makes no delay, it is here today & it forms on me & you.
The life of a man is but a span, he’s cut down like the flower;
he makes no delay, he is here today & he’s vanished all in an hour
And when you are dead & you’re in your grave, all covered with the cold cold clay,
the worms they will eat your flesh good man & your bones they will waste away.
My song is done I must be gone, I can no longer stay;
God bless us all both great & small & wish us a gladsome May.

LINK NonChristmas/bedfordshire_may_day_carol.htm 7/73/1908_32_Bedfordshire_May_Day_Carol.pdf

Staines Morris to the Maypole haste away

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In the TV series “The Tudors” an outdoor May Day has been set up, with the picturesque dancers of the Morris Dance, their rattles and handkerchiefs, the archery, the fight of the roosters, the dances with the ribbons around the May pole, performed by graceful maidens with flower crowns in their hair. The background music is titled “Stanes Morris”, in the video follow two reproductions, the first of  Les Witches group, the second a little slower of The Broadside Band.

The May poles in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were very tall and decorated with green garlands, ribbons or two-color striped paintings: the tradition is rooted in England, Italy, Germany and France, a real focal point of the rousing activities at his feet , symbolic fulcrum of the group of dancers.

John Cousen: Ballando intorno al palo del Maggio in epoca elisabettiana


The melody is a dance reported in “The English Dancing Master” by John Playford, first edition of 1651, but already danced at the court of Henry VIII or in the Elizabethan era. In the video it is a Morris Dance while Playford describes it as a country dance (for instructions see)
Morris Dance version
It was William Chappell in his “Popular Music of the Old Time” of (1855-56) to combine the Tudor melody with the text “Maypole song” written in 1655 by Robert Cox for the comedy “Actaeon and Diana” . So Chappell writes “This tune is taken from the first edition of The Dancing Master. It is also in William Ballet’s Lute Book (time of Elizabeth); and was printed as late as about 1760, in a Collection of Country Dances, by Wright.
The Maypole Song, in Actæon and Diana, seems so exactly fitted to the air, that, having no guide as to the one intended, I have, on conjecture, printed it with this tune.

The text invites young people in following Love to dance and sing around the May Pole.
Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick from ‘Prince Heathen.’ 1969 (simply perfect!)

Shirley Collins from Morris On, 1972, the folk rock experiment of a group of excellent trad musicians John Kirkpatrick, Richard Thompson, Barry Dransfield, Ashley Hutchings  and Dave Mattacks.

Lisa Knapp & David Tibet from Till April Is Dead ≈ A Garland of May 2017  (amazing version with a further step ahead of the 70s rock rework)

Come, ye young men, come along
with your music, dance and song;
bring your lasses in your hands,
for ‘tis that which love commands.
Then to the Maypole haste away
for ‘tis now a holiday,
Then to the Maypole haste away
for ‘tis now a holiday
‘Tis the choice time of the year,
For the violets now appear:
Now the rose receives its birth,
And pretty primrose decks the earth.
Here each bachelor may choose
One that will not faith abuse
Nor repay, with coy disdain
Love that should be loved again
And when you are reckoned now
For kisses you your sweetheart gave
Take them all again and more
It will never make them poor
When you thus have spent your time,
Till the day be past its prime,
To your beds repair at night,
And dream there of your day’s delight.

second part: JOAN TO THE MAYPOLE

Traditional Music (con spartito)

Bedfordshire May Day carols

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The Lord and the Lady and the Moggers
On 1st May several customs were observed. Children would go garlanding, a garland being, typically, a wooden hoop over which a white cloth was stretched. A looser piece of cloth was fastened at the top which was used to cover the finished garland. Two dolls were fastened in the middle, one large and one small. Ribbons were sewn around the front edge and the rest of the space was filled with flowers. The dolls were supposed to represent the Virgin Mary and the Christ child. The children would stop at each house and ask for money to view the garland.

Another custom, prevalent throughout the county if not the country, was maying. It was done regularly until the outbreak of the First World War and, sporadically, afterwards. Young men would go around at night with may bushes singing May carols. In the morning a may bush was attached to the school flag pole, another would decorate the inn sign at the Crown and others rested against doors, designed to fall in when they were opened. Those maying included a Lord and a Lady, the latter the smallest of the young men with a veil and bonnet. The party also included Moggers or Moggies, a man and a woman with black faces, ragged clothes and carrying besom brushes. (from here)

VIDEO Here is a very significant testimony of Margery “Mum” Johnstone from  Bedforshide collected by Pete Caslte, with two May songs

Maypole dancers dance during May Day celebrations in the village of Elstow, Bedfordshire, in 1952 (Edward Malindine/Getty)

From the testimony of Mrs Margery Johnstone this May Garland or “This Morning Is The 1st of May” was transcribed by Fred Hamer in his “Gay Garners”

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

This morning is the first of May,
The prime time of the year:
and If I live and tarry here
I’ll call another year
The fields and meadows
are so green
so green as any leek
Our Heavenly Father waters them
With His Heavenly dew so sweet
A man a man his life’s a span
he flourishes like a flower,
he’s here today and gone tomorrow
he’s gone all in an hour
The clock strikes one, I must be gone,
I can no longer stay;
to come and — my pretty May doll
and look at my brunch of May
I have a purse in my pocket
That’s stroll with a silken string;
And all that it lacks
is a little of your money
To line it well within.

* una trascrizione ancora parziale per l’incomprensione della pronuncia di alcune parole


The carol is known as “The May Day Carol” or “Bedford May Carol” but also “The Kentucky May Carol” (as preserved in the May tradition in the Appalachian Mountains) and was collected in Bedfordshire.
A first version comes from  Hinwick as collected by Lucy Broadwood  (1858 – 1929) and transcribed into “English Traditional Songs and Carols” (London: Boosey & Co., 1908).

Lisa Knapp & Mary Hampton from “Till April Is Dead – A Garland of May”, 2017

I’ve been rambling all the night,
And the best part of the day;
And now I am returning back again,
I have brought you a branch of May.
A branch of May, my dear, I say,
Before your door I stand,
It’s nothing but a sprout, but it’s well budded out,
By the work of our Lord’s hand (1).
Go down in your dairy and fetch me a cup, A cup of your sweet cream, (2)
And, if I should live to tarry in the town,/I will call on you next year.
The hedges and the fields they are so green,/As green as any leaf,
Our Heavenly Father waters them
With His Heavenly dew so sweet (3).
When I am dead and in my grave,
And covered with cold clay,
The nightingale will sit and sing,
And pass the time away.
Take a Bible in your hand,
And read a chapter through,
And, when the day of Judgment comes,
The Lord will think on you.
I have a bag on my right arm,
Draws up with a silken string,
Nothing does it want but a little silver
To line it well within.
And now my song is almost done,
I can no longer stay,
God bless you all both great and small,
I wish you a joyful May.

1) the hands become those of God and no more than Our Lady, as in Cambridgshire, the contaminations with the creed of the dominant religion are inevitable
2) this sweet and fresh cream in a glass is a typically Elizabethan vintage-style drink-dessert still popular in the Victorian era, the Syllabub. The Mayers once offered “a syllabub of hot milk directly from the cow, sweet cakes and wine” (The James Frazer Gold Branch). And so I went to browse to find the historical recipe: it is a milk shake, wine (or cider or beer) sweetened and perfumed with lemon juice. The lemon juice served to curdle the milk so that it would form a cream on the surface, over time the recipe has become more solid, ie a cream with the whipped cream flavored with liqueur or sweet wine (see recipes) 

Philip Mercier (1680-1760) – The Sense of Taste: in the background a tray full of syllabus glasses

3) the reference to the dew is not accidental, the tradition of May provides a bath in the dew and in the wild waters full of rain. The night is the magic of April 30 and the dew was collected by the girls and kept as a panacea able to awaken the beauty of women!! (see Beltane)

Shirley Collins  live 2002, same tune of Cambridgeshire May Carol (not completely transcribed)

A branch of may, so fine and gay
And before your door it stands.
It’s but a sprout, it’s well-budded out, for the work of our Lord’s hand(1).
Arise, arise, you pretty fair maid
And take the May Bush in,
For if it is gone before morning come
You’ll say we have never been.
I have a little bird(?)
If not a cup of your cold cream (2)
A jug of your stout ale
And if we live to tarry in the town
We’ll call on you another year.
For the life of a man it is but a span
he’s cut down like the flower
We’re here today, tomorrow we’re gone,
We’re dead all in one hour.
The moon shine bright,
the stars give a light
A little before this day
so please to remember ….
And send you a joyful May.

1) the hands become those of God and no more than Our Lady..
2) Syllabub (see above)
3) the stanza derives from “The Moon Shine Bright” version published by William Sandys in Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (1833) see


Magpie Lane from “Jack-in-the-Green” 1998 ( I, II, III e IX) with The Cuckoo’s Nest hornpipe (vedi)  
The song is reproposed in the Blog “A Folk song a Week”   edited by Andy Turner himself in which Andy tells us he had learned the song from the collection of Fred Hamer “Garners Gay”
Fred collected it from “Chris Marsom and others” – Mr Marsom had by that time emigrated to Canada, but Fred met him on a visit to his native Northill, Bedfordshire. Fred’s notes say “The Day Song is much too long for inclusion here and the Night Song has the same tune. It was used by Vaughan Williams as the tune for No. 638 of the English Hymnal, but he gave it the name of “Southill” because it was sent to him by a Southill man. Chris Marsom who sang this to me had many tales to tell of the reception the Mayers had from some of the ladies who were strangers to the village and became apprehensive at the approach of a body of men to their cottage after midnight on May Eve.”

Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick from “Because It’s There” 1995, ♪ (track 2 May Song)
Martin Carthy writes in the sleeve notes “May Song came from a Cynthia Gooding record which I lost 16 years ago, words stuck in my head.” (from II to VIII)

Arise, arise, my pretty fair maids,
And take our May bush in,
For if it is gone by tomorrow morrow morn,
You’ll say we have brought you none.
We have been rambling all of the night,
The best(and most) part of this day;
And we are returning here back again
And we’ve brought you a garland gay (brunch of May).
A brunch of May we bear about(it does looked gay)
Before the (your) door it stands;
It is but a sprout and it’s all budded out
And it’s the work of God’s own hand.
Oh wake up you, wake up pretty maid,
To take the May bush in.
For it will be gone and tomorrow morn
And you will have none within.
The heavenly gates are open wide
To let escape the dew(1).
It makes no delay it is here today
And it falls on me and you.
For the life of a man is but a span,
He’s cut down like the flower;
He makes no delay he is here today
And he’s vanished all in an hour.
And when you are dead and you’re in your grave
You’re covered in the cold cold clay.
The worms they will eat your flesh good man
And your bones they will waste away.
My song is done and I must be gone,
I can no longer stay.
God bless us all both great and small
And wish us a gladsome May.
The clock strikes one, it’s time to be gone,
We can no longer stay.
God bless you all both great and small
And send you a joyful May.

1) according to the previous religion, water received more power from the Beltane sun. Celts made pilgrimages to the sacred springs and with the spring water they sprinkled the fields to favor the rain.

Kerfuffle from “To the Ground”, 2008

ARISE, ARISE (Northill May Song)
Arise, arise, you pretty fair maid
And bring your May Bush in,
For if it is gone by tomorrow, morrow morn,
You’ll say we have brought you none.
We have been wandering all this night
And almost all of the day
And now we’re returning back again;
We’ve brought you a branch of May.
A branch of May we have brought you,
And at your door it stands;
It’s nothing but a sprout but it’s well budded out
By the work of our Lord’s hand.
The clock strikes one, it’s time to be gone,
We can no longer stay.
God bless you all both great and small
And send you a joyful May.



The Cold Coast of Greenland 

The Spermwhale Fishery (o più correttamente The Cold Coast of Greenland)  è una variante di una canzone molto popolare nelle Isole Britanniche con il titolo “The Low Lands of Holland“: là  è la storia di una donna che la notte stessa delle nozze è abbandonata dallo sposo, il quale si arruola in marina per andare a combattere nelle “Lowlands of Holland”; qui lo sposo viene ingaggiato per andare in Groenlandia a caccia di balene. Ciò che non si evince direttamente in questa variante è la morte del giovane mentre è intento alla caccia: il suo corpo resterà per sempre in Groenlandia sepolto dal mare o dai ghiacci.

Il canto è infatti un lament in cui la giovane sposa  dichiara il suo eterno amore per il marito morto in mare in cui afferma che mai più si risposerà.

ASCOLTA Shirley Collins in False True Lovers 1959 (strofe I, VI, V)

ASCOLTA Ewan MacColl in Whailing Ballads (su Spotify)

Last night I was a-married
and on my marriage bed;
There came a bold sea-captain
and he stood at my bedhead,
Crying, “Arise, arise, you married man, and come along with me
To the cold, cold coast of Greenland
to the spermwhale  fishery.”
She held her love all in her arms,
a-thinking he might stay
Till the cruel captain came again;
he was forced to go away.
“It’s many a bright and bold young man must sail this night with me
To the cold, cold coast of Greenland and the sperm whale fishery.”
Her love he went on shipboard
and a lofty ship was she,
With a score of bold young whalermen to bear him company,
But the mainmast and the rigging they lie buried in the sea (1)
Off the cold, cold coast of Greenland in the sperm whale fishery.
Said the father to the daughter,
“What makes you so lament?
There’s many a lad in our town
can give your heart content.”
“There is no lad in our town, no lord nor duke,” said she,
“Can ease my mind now the stormy wind has twined my love from me.”
No shoes nor stockings I’ll put on,
no comb go in my hair(2)
Nor any lamp or candle burn in my chamber bare.
Nor shall I lie with any young man
until the day I die
Now the cold, cold coast of Greenland lies between my love and me.
Now Greenland is a dreadful place (3)
a land that’s never green;
It’s a wild inhabitation for a lover to be in.
Where the keen winds blow
and the whalefish go and daylight’s seldom seen;
And the cold, cold coast of Greenland lies between my love and me.
Traduzione italiano di Cattia Salto
La sera che mi ero appena sposata
accanto al mio letto di nozze
venne un coraggioso capitano
e stava ritto al capezzale
dicendo: “Alzati alzati, giovane sposo
e vieni con me
nelle fredda, fredda terra della Groenlandia  a pesca del capodoglio”.
Lei afferrò il suo amore tra le braccia
sperando che potesse restare, ma il capitano crudele ritornò e lui fu costretto ad imbarcarsi “Più di un forte e coraggioso giovanotto deve salpare questa notte con me, per la  fredda, fredda terra della Groenlandia  a pesca del capodoglio”.
Il suo amore salì a bordo
su una nave maestosa
con una ventina di balenieri giovani e coraggiosi ad accompagnarlo,
ma l’albero maestro e il sartiame finirono sepolti in mare
al largo della  fredda, fredda terra della Groenlandia  a pesca del capodoglio
Disse il padre alla figlia
“Perchè ti lamenti così?
Ci sono molti giovani nella nostra città
che possono farti felice”
“Non c’è uomo, in città, ne gransignore o duca – disse lei- che possano farmi cambiare idea, il vento di tempesta ha legato il mio amore e me”
Nè scarpe, nè calze metterò, non mi pettinerò i capelli
e nemmeno lampada o candela brucerà nella mia spoglia stanza.
Non dormirò con un altro uomo fino al giorno della mia morte
la fredda, fredda terra della Groenlandia sta tra il mio amore e me.
La Groenlandia è un posto terribile,
una terra che mai fiorisce;
un posto selvaggio perchè ci resti un innamorato.
Dove i venti spietati soffiano
e va la balena e la luce del sole è vista di rado
e la fredda, fredda terra della Groenlandia sta tra il mio amore e me.

1) la descrizione del naufragio viene dalle versioni scozzesi della storia
2) per il lutto
3) la descrizione è un topico del genere e compare in  molte canzoni sulla caccia alle balene vedi



La festa di Samain (il Capodanno dei Celti) si concludeva l’11 novembre una festa pagana ancora sentita nell’Alto Medioevo, a cui la Chiesa sovrappose il culto cristiano di San Martino.
Nel calendario cristiano l’11 Novembre fu consacrato a San Martino e rimase tradizione il macello del bestiame. Sangue era versato dal capofamiglia sulle soglie di casa, forse in ricordo degli antichi sacrifici invernali. La gente si nutriva con la carne del toro, del cinghiale e del cavallo (ma anche dell’oca) e si vestiva con i teschi e le pelli per condividerne la forza. (continua prima parte)


Per i Celti era un animale sacro, simbolo della regalità e attributo di varie divinità in particolare delle dee-giumente.
Simbolo di ricchezza e seppellito insieme al suo padrone (o degno di una sepoltura rituale se caduto in battaglia) era allevato se di manto bianco dai druidi e utilizzato per i vaticini  e i riti propiziatori (animale sacrificale).
Animale totemico per molte tribù celtiche che ne riprendono il nome, la sua carne era tabù tranne che in particolari momenti rituali. continua


I soulers e i wassailers o più in generale le bande di giovani che giravano per le fattorie come questuanti nelle feste dell’inverno erano un tempo (e ancora oggi) accompagnati dall’hobby horse.
Gli spiriti della Terra che governano la fertilità erano raffigurati in guisa di cavallo e associati con le portatrici della fertilità, le giovani donne non ancora sposate. Una connotazione ancor più prettamente celtica è l’identificazione del “cavallino” con la Dea Giumenta (la Dea Terra): la ritroviamo nel mito della dea gallese Rhiannon e della Dea nord italica Epona.


obby_oss_sRiferimenti storici all’hobby horse risalgono al tardo Medioevo (inizi del 1500) con tracce ancora in epoca vittoriana: nel 1803 è documentata la presenza di un cavallo fabbricato con la pelle di uno stallone con un uomo all’interno che spruzzava acqua sulla folla.
Nel Medioevo il “cavallino” era un personaggio  dell’allegra brigata di Robin Hood ed era connesso con i rituali della fertilità propri durante la festa di primavera e le danze del Maggio, ma anche nei festeggiamenti del Natale.
Alcuni studiosi fanno risalire il rituale a celebrazioni precristiane, connesse con la festa celtica di Beltane. Ma altrettanto numerosi sono i riferimenti ai rituali invernali di Samain che iniziavano alla fine di ottobre e si concludevano dopo circa dodici giorni.
Nel rituale dell’hoodening un uomo indossa una coperta o un lenzuolo bianco che lo ricopre interamente e porta una testa di cavallo su un bastone, più comunemente una testa di legno munita di mascelle con cardini in modo che possa essere manovrata per aprire e chiudersi (un tempo un vero teschio di cavallo). A volte nel cranio è collocata una candela accesa con effetti molto inquietanti.


A Samain in Irlanda delle parate spaventose avevano luogo nelle campagne e nei villaggi medievali,  capitanate da Láir Bhán (la cavalla bianca)  seguita da una banda di giovinastri che agitavano delle corna e chiedevano delle offerte per Muck Olla.
Così riporta William Hackett (1853) ‘It is not many years since on Samhain’s eve, 31st October, a rustic procession perambulated the district between Ballycotton and Trabolgan, along the coast. The parties represented themselves as messengers of Muck Olla, in whose name they levied contributions on farmers; as usual they were accompanied by sundry youths, sounding lustily on cows’ horns; at the head of the procession was a figure enveloped in a white robe or sheet, having, as it were, the head of a mare, this personage was called the Láir Bhán, “the white mare,” he was a sort of president or master of ceremonies. A long string of verses was recited at each house. (continua)

by Niamh Ní Ruairc


Paul Bommer: Calendario dell’Avvento

Mari Lwyd, o anche “Y Fari Lwyd” (in inglese “Grey Mare“= cavalla grigia) è la versione gallese dell’hooden horse. Tradizione ancora praticata nel Galles centrale e meridionale, in particolare a Llantrisant e Pontyclun a Capodanno. La maschera consiste in una testa di cavallo (un teschio vero) con la mascella movibile e degli inquietanti occhi ricavati da due pezzi di bottiglia verde, addobbata con nastri colorati e portata su un palo da una persona celata sotto un ampio mantello bianco. I questuanti si fermano a cantare davanti all’uscio delle case e chiamano la padrona e la sfidano in un pwnco una sorta di botta e risposta in versi spesso insolente. La vittoria della sfida canora consente ai questuanti di entrare in casa per mangiare i dolci e bere birra.
Come si vede nell’illustrazione la padrona di casa tiene in mano una scopa e non vuole far entrare il gruppo perchè portatore di disordine. Infatti non appena entrata la cavalla girerà per la stanza cercando di prendere le donne, è chiaramente una creatura mostruosa e ultraterrena che deve essere rabbonita con offerte. Talvolta un bambini piccolo si frappone con un dolcetto e riesce a calmare la bestia.

Gaelico gallese
Wel dyma ni’n dwad
Gyfeillion diniwad
I ofyn am gennod i ganu
Os na chawn ni gennad
Rhowch wybod ar ganiad
Pa fodd mae’r ‘madawiad, nos heno
‘Does genni ddim cinio
Nac arian iw gwario
I wneud i chwi roeso, nos heno

Here we come
Dear friends
To ask permissions to sing
If we don’t have permission,
Let us know in song
How we should go away tonight
I have no dinner
Or money to spend
To give you welcome tonight
Traduzione italiano di Cattia Salto
Siamo qui
cari amici
a chiedervi il permesso di cantare
Se non abbiamo il permesso
ditecelo con il canto
che dobbiamo andarcene stasera
Non ho cena (1)
o soldi da spendere
per darvi il benvenuto stasera

1) se la gente della casa restava sconfitta nella tenzone poetica, la Mari Lwyd rivendicava il diritto di restare a cena con tutto il suo seguito. In alternativa era offerto un glennig, (una piccola mancia), un bicchiere di glaster, (acqua e latte) o di birra.


Nel Kent sono ritornati i gruppi dell’Hoodening (nei paesi di San Nicola-a-Wade, Nether Hale, Sarre) in particolare la tradizione è molto radicata a San Nicola-a-Wade dove l’hooden horse si chiama Dobbin, un vecchio povero cavallo stremato dalla fatica del lavoro: è messa in scena una sorta di “sacra rappresentazione” con vari personaggi e canzoni; un tempo i gruppi dell’hoodening andavano di casa in casa con tanto di musici e fracasso di campanelli: il cavallo era accompagnato da un gruppo di contadini, chi tiene le redini (il domatore), chi porta un cesto di frutta, chi lo cavalca sulla schiena, c’è anche “Mollie” o la “vecchia dama” che porta una scopa di saggina. Ecco che il capo bussa e appena la porta si apre il cavallo scalcia e spaventa spalancando la bocca, mentre Mollie scopa i piedi di chi ha aperto. (vedi)
The Horse regularly appeared through the year at, especially in Midwinter (Hallowtide, the Twelve Days of Christmas, et al). The Horse was a man dressed as an animal, covered in blanket and carrying a horse’s head, with reins, on a pole. The head was sometimes wooden but usually a real horse skull – hinged jaws allowed the mouth to snap open and shut. Along with other young men the horse ‘galloped’ and visited hoses as a ‘lick-bringer’. This was not always successful and in 1839 at Broadstairs a woman was so terrified coming face-to-face with the ‘horse’ she died of fright. The custom was subsequently forbidden by local magistrates.
In East Kent Hoodening took place at Christmas. The Horse had a wooden head and sometimes a lighted candle was placed in the mouth. Farmworkers walked with the horse, one leading it by the reins or a rope and carrying a whip, and another worker light enough to ride on the horse’s back. A third known as Mollie or Old Woman was in female attire and carried a broom or besom.
In Reculver, only men who had worked with horses during the year were allowed to partake.  (in “A Dictionary of British Folk Customs” di Christina Hole, 1995 tratto da qui)
Probabilmente un tempo solo le gilde dei cavallanti potevano partecipare all’hoodening, nel Cheshire il teschio del cavallo era seppellito secondo uno scherzoso servizio funebre.
Oggi l’Hoodening o Souling play è messo in scena nei pub, vedasi questa spassosa Comberbach Souling Play


Frank Kidson declared in his usual categoric way, that Poor Old Horse is a purely humanitarian view of the fate of old worn-out horses. But in fact, in at least three counties, in Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, and Wiltshire the song was an integral part of the Christmas Ritual performed by parties of mummers, with one of their number disguised roughly as a horse. Celebrated in Kent is the Hooden Horse, banned in 1834 for creating havoc among the elderly people, but now resurrected, (it accompanies the East Kent and Ravensbourne Morris Men). The notion of the sacred luck-bringing, even world-creating horse (or bull, ram or billy-goat) is spread throughout the primitive world. In Britain, the ancient Celts had their horse-rituals, and the idea was reinforced by invading Norsemen. There are still plenty of evidences to be seen, from the great Uffington White Horse to the fiery, fecund, May-day Padstow ‘oss in Cornwall. Minehead has its town hobbyhorse, and in Wales at Midwinter the baleful Mari Llwyd appears with the dancer carrying a beribboned horse’s skull. In Cheshire, the mild-eyed souling horses of Antrobus are famous. Not forgetting the horse-headed man engraved on a bone, found in Pinhole Cave, Derbyshire, the only palaeolithic representation of a human figure discovered in England. (note in album The Lark in the Morning di Dave&Toni Arthus 1969)

Esistono molte versioni della canzone, la quale era una parte della rappresentazione dei Mummers, che mettevano in scena la morte e resurrezione del cavallo “In South Yorkshire, North Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire there’s a Christmas play “The Old Horse”. It’s a brief, riotous visiting ceremony, the horse often being made from the skull of a real horse painted red and black, killed and brought back to life. The song also circulated independently from the ritual, and this version is based on the one collected by Cecil Sharp in 1904 at Langport, Somerset, from C. Shire who appropriately, was a blacksmith.” (note nel Cd Blackbone di Pete Coe 2010)

ASCOLTA Shirley Collins in “False True Lovers” 1959

la versione è solo un frammento e manca la parte iniziale in cui i mummers/soulers chiedono di essere accolti in casa

My clothing was once of a linsey-woolsey fine,
My mane it was sleek and my body it did shine.
But now I’m getting old and I’m going to decay,
Me master frowns upon me and thus they all do say, “Poor old horse.”
My living was once to the best of corn and hay
As ever grew in England, and that they all did say.
But now there’s no such comfort as I can find at all.
I’m forced to nab the short grass that grows against the wall,
“Poor old horse.”
Traduzione italiano di Cattia Salto
I miei drappi erano un tempo di fine lino,
la mia criniera era lucida e il mio corpo era uno splendore,
ma ora mi sono fatto vecchio e discendo la china,
il mio padrone mi guarda male e così tutti dicono “Povero vecchio cavallo”.
Vivevo un tempo del miglior grano e fieno
che mai crescesse in Inghilterra così tutti dicevano.
Ma ora non riesco a trovare un simile conforto.
Sono costretto ad afferrare l’erba corta che cresce contro il muro “Povero vecchio cavallo”

ASCOLTA Kate Rusby in Sweet Bells 2008

We’ve got a poor old horse,
He’s standing at your door,
And if you’ll only let him in,
He’ll please you all I’m sure (x2)
Now that he’s grown old
And nature doth decay,
My master frowns upon him now,
These words I’ve heard him say (x2)
Now that he’s grown old
And scarcely can he crawl,
He’s forced to eat the coarsest grass
That grows against the wall (x2)
This poor horse was once young,
And in his youthful prime
My master used to ride on him,
He thought him very fine (x2)
Traduzione italiano di Cattia Salto
Abbiamo un povero vecchio cavallo che sta alla vostra porta,
e se soltanto lo lascerete entrare,
vi ricompenserà di certo (1).
Adesso che è diventato vecchio,
nel suo naturale decadimento,
il mio padrone lo guarda male
e questo gli ho sentito dire:
“Ora che lui è invecchiato,
e a malapena si regge in piedi,
dovrà mangiare l’erba più ruvida
che cresce contro il muro”
Questo povero cavallo una volta era giovane, e nel fulgore della sua giovinezza il mio padrone lo usava per cavalcare e pensava molto bene di lui

1) nel verso si evidenzia il canto come canto di questua con rituale propiziatorio

La versione sea shanty  “Paying off the dead horse.


Per le strade di Padstow, un piccolo porto di pescatori della Cornovaglia settentrionale sulla foce del fiume Camel ora a vocazione turistica ogni Calendimaggio è festeggiato con l’Obby Oss Festival (continua)




Il cuculo arriva dall’Africa tra la fine di marzo e i primi d’Aprile e inizia subito il corteggiamento innalzando il suo caratteristico canto . Nell’Europa Settentrionale arriva un po’ più tardi, all’incirca a metà aprile. In ogni caso il canto del cuculo è foriero di Primavera.(continua prima parte)
E’ anche il protagonista di molti canti dedicati all’arrivo della bella stagione.


Una vecchia melodia dall’Irlanda del Nord trascritta da Edward Bunting in occasione del festival bardico che si tenne nel 1793 a Belfast (il brano giunge da Henry Joy di Ballinascreen, Co. Londonderry o dall’arpista Arthur O’Neill). L’originale era in gaelico irlandese ma Bunting ne trascrisse una versione  “.. a close translation from the original Irish
Sicuramente il bardo Turlough O’Carolan nel 1691 prese ispirazione da questa melodia per comporre “Sí bheag Sí mhor” .


La melodia riprende il verso del cuculo, di cui ne modula il canto, proprio in questi giorni sto leggendo “Il pozzo” di Chaterine Chanter e a pg 129 leggo ” Mi fermai per ascoltare il cuculo, il primo di quest’anno.  Poi il suo richiamo ipocrita fu ripreso da un canto. Quella sera c’era una calura umida e le note si appiccicavano alle nuvole basse come un profumo. Era una salmodia, più che una canzone, e le pause e i crescendo suggerivano un solista, che quasi non riuscivo ad udire, e un coro, come in un responsorio. Mentre il cuculo si alzava in volo verso est, il canto sembrò crescere e spostarsi dalla valle verso il lato sinistro del sentiero; i bassi allungavano le pliche fin tra le radici degli alberi, gli acuti si arrampicavano sul pentagramma fin dove l’usignolo sfarfalla come un tremolo. Le note si gonfiavano con l’alzarsi della brezza e calavano, sempre invisibili, muovendosi all’unisono con l’orzo.

ASCOLTA Simon Chadwick

ASCOLTA Shirley Collins 1959

My bonny cuckoo,
I tell you true
That through the groves
I’ll rove with you;
I’ll rove with you
until the (next) spring
And then my cuckoo
shall sweetly sing
The ash and the hazel
shall mourning say,
“Oh bonny cuckoo, don’t go away;
Don’t go away, but tarry here,
And sing for us throughout the year.
Cuckoo, cuckoo, pray tarry here,
And make the spring last all the year.”
Traduzione italiano di Cattia Salto
Mio bel cuculo,
ti dico la verità,
per i boschi
andrò con te;
andò in giro con
te fino alla prossima primavera
e allora il mio cuculo
canterà soave.
Il frassino e il nocciolo
si lamentano e dicono
“Oh bel cuculo non andare via
non andare via, ma resta qui,
e canta per noi per tutto l’anno
cuculo, cuculo ti prego resta qui
e fai durare la primavera tutto l’anno”

E’ una “modern english country dance” ideata da Gail Ticknor  nel 1986 da ballarsi sulla melodia omonima ma anche su “Sí bheag Sí mhor

continua terza parte


Brigg Fair per incontrare l’innamorato

Read the post in English

Le Lammas Fairs (come si dice nelle isole britanniche o le country  fairs come sono più comunemente chiamate in America) si svolgono dopo il raccolto del grano: sono un mercato del bestiame (in particolare cavalli) dove gli agricoltori si ritrovano per vendere e comprare i prodotti dell’estate, ma anche un importante evento di socializzazione per le fattorie isolate.
Nella stagione dell’abbondanza si ringrazia la terra per i suoi frutti, e si condivide la gioia con musica, danze, giochi. Nella tradizione celtica era Lughnasad, una festa dedicata al corteggiamento e a combinare i matrimoni (sotto i buoni uffici del dio Lugh).
Così nelle ballate quando è tempo di fiera gli innamorati si incontrano per scambiarsi le promesse matrimoniali

Donnybrook Fair 1859 by Erskine Nicol 1825-1904


Questa canzone appartiene alla tradizione folk inglese ed è stata riportata su cilindro di cera agli inizi del 900 da Percy Grainger che la raccolse da Joseph Taylor (primi due versi ascolta); lo stesso Grainger ne fece un arrangiamento per coro a 5 voci aggiungendo ulteriori versi. Il brano vanta anche un arrangiamento classico essendo stato d’ispirazione alla “English raphsody” composta sempre in quegli anni da Frederick Delius (ASCOLTA)

Prima di tutto la versione strumentale del supergruppo The Full English che prendono le mosse proprio dalla registrazione su cera degli inizi 900

The Queen’s six l’arrangiamento per corale di 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.
traduzione italiano di Cattia Salto
Era il 5 di agosto
il tempo bello e mite
alla fiera di Brigg mi recavo
perchè dall’amore ero attratto
Mi alzai con l’allodola al mattino
e il mio cuore era pieno di allegria
al pensiero di incontrare là il mio amore
che da tanto tempo desideravo vedere
Le presi in mano la sua mano bianco giglio e allegro era il suo cuore
“Adesso che ci siamo incontrati
spero che non ci separeremo più”
Perchè incontrarsi è un piacere
e separarsi è un dolore
ma un amore insincero è peggiore
di un ladro
Le foglie verdi appassiranno
e le radici marciranno
se mai io mi dimostrassi falso con lei
la ragazza che mi ama.

1)  Glanford Brigg nel Lincolnshire al guado del fiume Ancholme : già il nome è sintomatico di un posto per tradizione luogo di raduni dove si tengono fiere di bestiame e competizioni sportive
2)”mirth, joy, rejoicing; una vivace sensazione di gioia causata da circostanze particolari e che trova espressioni con gesti e sguardi appropriati. “Nel vecchio e medio inglese è principalmente una parola poetica, che significa ” intrattenimento, piacere, sport “e in particolare” intrattenimento musicale, musica, melodia ” . I poeti anglosassoni hanno cantato “glees” (gleow) con le loro arpe, e una parola comune in lingua inglese per il menestrello è “gleeman”


Martin Carthy  definisce la melodia “un po’ meditabonda ma molto allegra“: ” Quando Percy Grainger andò per la prima volta nel Lincolnshire nei primi giorni della registrazione sul campo (fu uno dei primi in Inghilterra a utilizzare le tecniche di registrazione nella raccolta di canzoni popolari) uno degli uomini che registrò fu un bellissimo cantante dal nome di Joseph Taylor . Tra le tante canzoni prese sui cilindri di cera c’era Brigg Fair, un po’ meditabonda ma molto allegra. Successivamente Taylor divenne uno dei primi cantanti tradizionali (o “sul campo”) ad avere incisioni discografiche da una società di registrazione commerciale; ha una grande delicaterzza, un tempismo bellissimo e, nonostante la sua vecchiaia, una bella voce chiara. (tradotto da qui)

Martin Carthy in Byker Hill; 1967

Jackie Oates 2011

Shirley Collins 1964

June Tabor “Quercus” (2013) anche su 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)
traduzione italiano di Cattia Salto
Era il 5 di agosto
il tempo bello e mite
alla fiera di Brigg mi recavo
perchè dall’amore ero attratta
Mi alzai con l’allodola al mattino
con il cuore pieno di allegrezza
nell’attesa di incontrare il mio amore
che da tanto tempo desideravo vedere
Guardai oltre la mia spalla sinistra
per vedere colui che avrei rivisto
e là vidi il mio vero amore
che veniva verso di me
Gli presi la mano bianco giglio
e allegramente cantava il mio cure, perchè adesso eravamo insieme
e non ci saremmo più separati
Perchè le foglie verdi appassiranno
e le radici marciranno
prima che io mi mostri falsa con lui
l’uomo che mi ama veramente (sinceramente)



La ballata “Polly on the Shore”, anche conosciuta con il titolo di “The Valiant Sailor”,  è una popolare sea song al tempo di Orazio Nelson; la sua prima comparsa su una raccolta risale al 1744 (in “The Irish Boy’s Garland”) 16_ Morland, George - The Sailor's Farewell, c_1790: è il lamento (ovvero l’addio) di un giovane marinaio arruolato a forza sulla British Royal Navy che finisce ferito a morte; il suo pensiero tra il boato delle cannonate, il lamento dei feriti e l’odore del sangue misto alla polvere da sparo e al puzzo della morte, si perde nell’immagine di Polly dagli occhi scuri, la sua Polly alta e snella sulla spiaggia della loro terra.


Ai tempi di Orazio Nelson si faceva ricorso a metodi brutali per l’arruolamento nelle Forze Navali Britanniche con il sistema detto “impressment” ossia l’arruolamento forzato ad opera di una “press-gang” nel corso di retate di massa o con il pretesto dell’arresto per reati minori in cui il malcapitato anche solo perchè vagabondo e ubriaco finiva legato come un salame e imbarcato (spesso privo di sensi). L’arruolamento poteva avvenire anche in mare e “per causa di forza maggiore” dopo aver abbordato una nave mercantile!

Nella versione di Trevor Lucas (nell’album Nine dei Fairport convention) il capitano di mare responsabile dell’impressment è nientemeno che un corsaro

When I, as pressed by a sea captain,
a privateer to trade
To the East Indies we were bound
to plunder the raging main
And it’s many the brave and a gallant ship
we sent to a watery grave
Ah, for Freeport we did steer,
our provisions to renew
When we did spy a bold man-of-war
sailing three feet to our two
Appena arruolato da un capitano, un corsaro dei commerci,
eravamo diretti per le Indie Orientali come predoni del vasto oceano
e più di una nave di prodi e coraggiosi
abbiamo seppellito sott’acqua:
a Freeport ci dirigemmo
per rinnovare le provviste
quando spiammo una nave da guerra
che salpava, tre piedi contro i nostri due. 

L’avvertimento espresso nella ballata è quello di stare alla larga dalla guerra e negli anni del folk revival e dell’intervento americano nella guerra del Vietnam questo divenne ovviamente un gettonato brano anti-militarista.

ASCOLTA John Jones in Risin Road (il primo singolo della voce degli Oysterband) 2009

ASCOLTA Trembling Bells & Alasdair Roberts 2010

ASCOLTA The Trees 1970

Le versioni si rifanno al testo registrato da Shirley Collins nel 1970, (ASCOLTA) nelle note di copertina dell’album Love, Death & the Lady Shirley dice di averla ripresa dall’ottantenne George Maynard Copthorne, Sussex.

Come all you wild young men
And a warning take by me,
Never to lead your single life astray
And into no bad company.
As I myself have done,
It being in the merry month of May,
When I was pressed by a sea-captain
And on board a man-o-war I was sent.
We sailed on the ocean so wide
And our bonny bonny flag we let fly.
Let every man stand true to his gun
For the Lord knows who must die.

Oh our captain was wounded full sore
likewise were the rest of his crew
Our main mast rigging(1)
it was scattered on the deck
So that we were obliged to give in.
Our decks they were all spattered with blood
And so loudly the cannons did roar
And thousands of times(2) I wished meself alone,and all alone with me Polly on the shore
She’s a tall and a slender girl
She has a dark and a-roving eye
And here am I lie a-bleeding on the deck
And for her sweet sake(3) I will die
Farewell, to my parents and my friends,
and farewell to my dear Polly too
I’d never would crossed the salt sea so wide
If I’d have been ruled by you
Venite tutti, voi ragazzacci
e date retta al mio avvertimento
non perdete mai la retta via per le cattive compagnie come io stesso ho fatto!
Era il mese del bel maggio, quando fui “arruolato” da un capitano di marina e a bordo di una nave da guerra fui mandato.
Navigammo sul vasto oceano
e la nostra bella bandiera sventolava
e ogni uomo si aggrappava al suo fucile, che solo Dio sa chi morirà.
Il nostro capitano fu ferito in pieno
come pure accadde al resto della ciurma, il sartiame(1) del nostro albero maestro era sparpagliato sul ponte, così fummo costretti ad arrenderci.
Tutto il ponte era cosparso di sangue
e così forte i cannoni ruggivano
e mille volte avrei voluto essere solo,
tutto solo con la mia Polly sulla spiaggia
lei è una ragazza alta e snella
e ha occhi scuri e vivaci
e qui giaccio esangue sul ponte
e per il suo dolce amore io morirò
Addio ai genitori e agli amici
e addio anche alla mia cara Polly
non avrei mai voluto attraversare il vasto mare salato
se fossi stato sotto il tuo comando

1) tra le tecniche di guerra navale del Settecento c’era quella preferita da Spagnoli e Francesi di fare fuoco con i cannoni nel sartiame per abbattere gli alberi delle navi nemiche. Impossibilitate a fare manovre queste potevano essere abbordate e conquistate in un combattimento corpo a corpo. Nella tattica inglese invece si sparava con i cannoni direttamente allo scafo.
2) oppure “many’s the time have I”
3) sake vuol dire anche a causa di , ma in questo contesto è per amore di, nel senso che la ragazza non è responsabile del suo arruolamento in marina.