Friday, November 27, 2015

  Drive the Cold Winter Away   is a song from England with a lot of verses.  Most of them were written before 1625.  During a cold winter night, folks would sit around a fire and keep busy by making up verses and singing them. The lyrics tell about the many different ways to get your mind off the cold winter days and nights.  

There is a great arrangement of this wonderful piece in The Harper's Accomplice: English Country Dances and Waltzes from the 17th and 18 Centuries - for all harps and recorders by Ellen Tepper.

It is neat to explain the history and recite a few of the humerous verses before playing!

Listen to the music! Click on the link under Harp Demo on right.

Drive The Cold Winter Away 

The First Part

1. All hail to the days that merit more praise
Than all the rest of the year,
And welcome the nights that double delights
As well for the poor as the peer!
Good fortune attend each merry man's friend,
That doth but the best that he may;
Forgetting old wrongs, with carols and songs,
To drive the cold winter away.

2. Let Misery pack, with a whip at his back,
To the deep Tantalian flood;
In Lethe profound let envy be drown'd,
That pines at another man's good;
Let Sorrow's expense be banded from hence,
All payments have greater delay,
We'll spend the long nights in cheerful delights
To drive the cold winter away.

3. 'Tis ill for a mind to anger inclined
To think of small injuries now;
If wrath be to seek do not lend her thy cheek
Nor let her inhabit thy brow.
Cross out of thy books malevolent looks,
Both beauty and youth's decay,
And wholly consort with mirth and with sport
To drive the cold winter away.

4. The court in all state now opens her gate
And gives a free welcome to most;
The city likewise, tho' somewhat precise,
Doth willingly part with her roast:
But yet by report from city and court
The country will e'er gain the day;
More liquor is spent and with better content
To drive the cold winter away.

5. Our good gentry there for costs do not spare,
The yeomanry fast not till Lent;1
The farmers and such think nothing too much,
If they keep but to pay for their rent.
The poorest of all now do merrily call,
When at a fit place they can stay,
For a song or a tale or a cup of good ale
To drive the cold winter away.

6. Thus none will allow of solitude now
But merrily greets the time,
To make it appear of all the whole year
That this is accounted the prime:
December is seen apparel's in green,
And January fresh as May
Comes dancing along with a cup and a song
To drive the cold winter away.

The Second Part

7. This time of the year is spent in good cheer,
And neighbours together do meet
To sit by the fire, with friendly desire,
Each other in love to greet;
Old grudges forgot are put in the pot,
All sorrows aside they lay;
The old and the young doth carol this song
To drive the cold winter away.

8. Sisley and Nanny, more jocund than any,
As blithe as the month of June,
Do carol and sing like birds of the spring,
No nightingale sweeter in tune;
To bring in content, when summer is spend,
In pleasant delight and play,
With mirth and good cheer to end the whole year,
And drive the cold winter away.

9. The shepherd, the swain do highly disdain
To waste out their time in care,
And Clim of the Clough hath plenty enough
If he but a penny can spare
To spend at the night, in joy and delight,
Now after his labour all day;
For better than lands is the help of his hands
To drive the cold winter away.

10. To mask and to mum kind neighbours will come
With wassails of nut-brown ale,
To drink and carouse to all in the house
As merry as bucks in the dale;
Where cake, bread, and cheese is brought for your fees
To make you the longer stay;
At the fire to warm 'twill do you no harm,
To drive the cold winter away.

11. When Christmas's tide come in like a bride
With holly and ivy clad,
Twelve days in the year much mirth and good cheer
In every household is had;
The country guise is then to devise
Some gambols of Christmas play,
Whereat the young men do best that they can
To drive the cold winter away.

12. When white-bearded frost hath threatened his worse,
And fallen from branch and briar,
Then time away calls from husbandry halls
And from the good countryman's fire,
Together to go, to plough and to sow
To get us both food and array,
And thus will content the time we have spend
To drive the cold winter away.

Sunday, October 4, 2015


An earthly nourris sits and sings,
And aye she sings, "Ba lilly wean,
Little ken I my bairn's father,
Far less the land that he staps in."

Then ane arose at her bed fit,
And a grumly guest I'm sure was he,
Saying "Here am I, thy bairn's father,
Although I am not comely."

I am a man upon the land,
I am a silkie in the sea,
And when I'm far frae every strand,
My home it is in Sule Skerry."

“It was na weel”, the maiden cried,
“It was na weel, indeed” quo she,
“For the Great Silkie of Sule Skerrie,
To hae come and aught a bairn to me!”
Then he has taken a purse of gold,
And he has laid it on her knee,
Saying, "give to me, my little young son,
And take thee up thy nouriss fee.
It shall come to pass on a summer's day,
When the sun shines hot on every stone,
That I shall take my little young son,
And teach him for to swim the foam.
And thou shalt marry a proud gunner,
And a very proud gunner I'm sure he'll be,
And the very first shot that e're he shoots,
he'll kill both my young son and me."
An interpolated 5th stanza has also been heard:
'Twas weel eno' the night we met,
When I'd be oot and on my way,
Ye held me close, ye held me tight,
 "Just ane mair time ere the break o' day!"

The Great Selkie o' Suleskerry - or Grey Selkie of Suleskerry, as it is also known - is one of Orkney's best-known and most haunting ballads.

It was first written down in 1938 by one Dr Otto Andersson, who had heard the song sung on the island of Flotta.

It recounts the tale of a young Orcadian maiden who falls in love with an elusive selkie-man. She has a child by him but, shortly after, the selkie-man disappears, leaving her alone with her baby son.

Some years later the maiden comes across a grey seal by the shore. The seal says to her:

"I'm a man upon the land, I'm a selkie in the sea; and when I'm far frae every stand, my dwelling is in Suleskerry."

She realises the creature before her is none other than her selkie lover, but he once again vanishes beneath the waves, only to return again seven years later. After giving his son a golden chain, the boy leaves his mother and goes with father to the sea.

The woman marries and some time later, when her husband is out hunting, he shoots two seals - one old and grey, the other younger. Around the neck of the young seal was a gold chain, which the hunter takes home to give his wife.

Upon receiving the gift she realises her son is dead.

Some of the verses of the ballad are still remembered in the islands but the tune was very nearly lost. As with all folk ballads there are various versions.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Eleven harpers help Edward Bunting save music of Ireland. 

Who was Edward Bunting?

The  1792 Belfast festival honoring Ireland’s national heritage was organized to augment the celebrations surrounding the 3rd anniversary of the fall of the Bastille (July 14, 1789). The venue of the contest was in The Assembly Room, of the now unoccupied and until recently, Northern Bank building on Waring Street in Belfast (which was opened as a market house in 1769). The festival was held 11-14th July 1792.

Henry Joy, an uncle of Henry Joy McCracken, and Dr James McDonnell, invited harpers from across Ireland to come to Belfast and play their music. Edward Bunting, a young organist of 18, was appointed to note down the tunes.

The festival attracted ten Irish harpers and one Welshman. The harpers ranged in age from a venerable ninety-seven to a youthful fifteen.  Six of them – in true Irish tradition – were blind. Prizes of ten, eight and six guineas were awarded to Fanning, O'Neill and Rose Mooney respectively. Charles Fanning winner of the first prize played An Chuilfhionn, better known to us as the Coolin. This tune was composed by Thomas Connellan, an Irish Harper born in 1640 at Cloonmahon Co Sligo and died in Edinburgh around 1700.  (Carolan was born in 1670 and died in 1738.)

The names of the harpers are: 

James Duncan
Charles Byrne
Dan Black
_____ Williams
Paddy Quinn
Arthur O'Neill
Rose Mooney
Hugh Higgins
Denis Hemson
Charles Fanning 
William Carr

(More about these  harpers in future posts)  

From Wikipedia: 
Bunting was born in County Armagh, Ireland. At the age of seven he was sent to study music at Drogheda and at eleven he was apprenticed to William Ware, organist at St. Anne's church in Belfast and lived with the family of Henry Joy McCracken. At nineteen he was engaged to transcribe music from oral-tradition harpists at the Belfast Harp Festival in 1792. As Bunting was a classically trained musician, he did not understand the unique characteristics of Irish music, such as modes, and when transcribing tunes he 'corrected' them according to Classical music rules. One proof of this is that some tunes published by him were in keys that could not have been played by the harpists. His notes on the harpists, how they played and the terminology they used is however invaluable, and also many tunes would have been lost if he had not collected them. 
Bunting went on a number of collecting tours between 1792 and 1807, and was the first to transcribe music 'in the field' as played by the musicians. He realised the importance of the Irish words to the songs and Patrick Lynch was employed to collect these. Bunting, who lived in Belfast with the McCrackens until his marriage in 1819, moved to Dublin where he held the post of organist at St. George's Church. He died in Dublin on 21 December 1843 and is buried at the Cemetery of Mount Jerome, Dublin.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

1 Down by the Salley Gardens is a poem published in 1889 by Irish poet, William Butler Yeats (Yates) (13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939). Yeats indicated in a note that it was "an attempt to reconstruct an old song from three lines imperfectly remembered by an old peasant woman in the village of Ballisodare, Sligo, who often sings them to herself." The composer John Ireland earlier set the words to an original melody .
Salley in Irish means Willow.

 Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white
She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish, with her would not
In a field by the river my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder she laid her snow-white
She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

    Morning Has Broken.  

    This traditional folk tune was popularized by Cat Stevens (now Yusf Islam).  The melody that is anonymous. Its origins, which probably date back several centuries are Gaelic.  The lyrics were written in 1931 by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965), English poet, journalist, broadcaster and writer of children’s stories. The text consists of three verses and speaks of the beauties of nature with a deeply spiritual sense. 

        Before Eleanor Farjeon's words, the tune was used as a Christmas carol, which began Child in the manger, Infant of Mary, translated from the Gaelic lyrics written by Mary MacDonald. The English-language Roman Catholic hymnal also uses the tune for the hymn, This Day God Gives Me.  The Unitarians and Lutherans also sing this tune.

Morning Has Broken

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word

Sweet the rains new fall, sunlit from Heaven
Like the first dewfall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where His feet pass

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God's recreation of the new day

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

O’ROURKE’S FEAST takes its name from a song composed by Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738). 

One of Carolan's earliest friends was Hugh MacGauran, a gentleman of the county Leitrim, who had a happy poetical talent and excelled particularly in writing humorous poetry.  He wrote the original Irish lyrics to commemorate a remarkable banquet given by O’Rourke who was a powerful chieftain of Ulster during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Hugh MacGauran then prevailed upon Carolan to put his verse to music -- the only poem written by another person that Carolan ever put to music

The original Irish words were translated to English by Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, in 1721.  It is almost a literal translation. You can find an arrangement of this song in Sylvia Woods'  book, 40 O’Carolan Tunes For All Harps.

O'ROURKE'S noble fare Will ne'er be forgot,
By those who were there, Or those who were not.

His revels to keep, We sup and we dine
On seven score sheep, Fat bullocks, and swine.

Usquebaugh to our feast In pails was brought up,
A hundred at least, And a madder our cup.

O there is the sport! We rise with the light
In disorderly sort, From snoring all night.

O how was I trick'd! My pipe it was broke,
My pocket was pick'd, I lost my new cloak.

I'm rifled, quoth Nell, Of mantle and kercher,
Why then fare them well,The de'el take the searcher.

Come, harper, strike up; But, first, by your favour,
Boy, give us a cup: Ah! this hath some savour.

O'Rourke's jolly boys Ne'er dreamt of the matter,
Till, roused by the noise, And musical clatter,

They bounce from their nest, No longer will tarry,
They rise ready drest, Without one Ave-Mary.

They dance in a round, Cutting capers and ramping;
A mercy the ground Did not burst with their stamping.

The floor is all wet With leaps and with jumps,
While the water and sweat splish-splash in their pumps.

Bless you late and early, Laughlin O'Enagin!
But, my hand, you dance rarely. Margery Grinagin.

Bring straw for our bed, Shake it down to the feet,
Then over us spread The winnowing sheet.

To show I don't flinch, Fill the bowl up again:
Then give us a pinch Of your sneezing, a Yean.

Good lord! what a sight, After all their good cheer,
For people to fight In the midst of their beer!

They rise from their feast, And hot are their brains,
A cubit at least The length of their skeans.

What stabs and what cuts, What clattering of sticks;
What strokes on the guts, What bastings and kicks!

With cudgels of oak, Well harden'd in flame,
A hundred heads broke, A hundred struck lame.

You churl, I'll maintain My father built Lusk,
The castle of Slane, And Carrick Drumrusk:

The Earl of Kildare, And Moynalta his brother,
As great as they are, I was nurst by their mother.

Ask that of old madam: She'll tell you who's who,
As far up as Adam, mShe knows it is true.

Come down with that beam, If cudgels are scarce,

A blow on the weam, Or a kick on the a----se.