Birds in Yon Grove
CD brings you songs and tunes mainly from ancient times. Some
of these songs tell of women's issues which are still relevant
today, or are about feisty women who challenged expectations.
We hope you will enjoy the liveliness and energy which reverberates down the ages through tune and song.
air was made famous when irish poet Samuel Ferguson (1810 –
1886) added words to it. The original tune appears to be
have originated from one called “The Tailors Son”.
about a Moorhen, this song has little to do with the
'Gamebird'. Moorhen was a pseudonym for Bonnie Prince Charlie
when he was evading capture by the English after Culloden.
He walked the West Highland hills seeking support for a further attempt to regain the throne, but received short shrift from battle weary Scots whose homes and livelihood had been destroyed.
have is a fragment of the song which was written shortly after
the events of 1745. Bonnie Prince Charlie sailed from the West
Coast of Scotland to France and Italy where he spent the
remainder of his days living in luxury.
He died, an alcoholic, in Rome. One verse mentions Glenduich and Kinclaven on the river Tay which runs round Scone – the ancient place for Scottish coronations.
This may have referred to the earlier march to Edinburgh when the Jacobites won a significant victory at Prestonpans.
the year 1539. Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries
aimed to remove power and wealth from the Church to the Crown.
Protestants rose particularly against the Roman Catholic
belief in purgatory by which priests earned enormously from
praying for the dead.
Lutheran dissent was convenient to Henry in his quest to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn.
The people of Whitby had been heavily influenced by St. Cuthbert and the Irish monks, who were more humble and philanthropic than priests of the hierarchical Church of Rome.
revered the iconic abbey and were unwilling to give up the
abbey bells to be melted down by the king. They probably
sabotaged transporting the bells to London, when on a calm sea
the ship carrying the bells sank outside the harbour to the
wild cheers of Whitby folk.
An uneven weight distribution? There are many tales of bells ringing from beneath the waves. This is one of them.
time when Britain's roads were virtually impassable, most
transport took place by sea. The seas were crowded with
sailing ships. Life for sailors was treacherous with long
voyages under the threat of drowning or capture by pirates or
Women left at home had no wage while their men were at sea and no compensation if men were lost. This song is a lament by a woman left with another mouth to feed, yet she dandles the child lovingly on her knee whilst despairing of her situation.
The music was chosen aptly for Wolf Hall as the song depicts a young man who is uncertain whether his sweetheart (leman) has another lover, but isn't telling him – as was the case with Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn.
Birds (and flowers) played an important role in Mediaeval imagery, the robin portraying constancy. The under-sung verse states:
'My lady is unkind, alac, why is she so?
She lov'th another better than me and yet she will say no.
I cannot think such doubleness for I find women true.
In faith my lady lov'th me well, she will change for no new.'
Women's duplicity was clearly a different matter from that of men.
Written in 1650 by Leonard Wheatcroft of Ashover, Derbyshire, about the Nottinghamshire lace makers.
from writing songs he was the village publican, tailor, parish
clerk and fought for both sides in the Civil War. Bone-lace
weaving (lace making) was an ancient art often accompanied by
were able to be financially independent by earning their own
living instead of being dependent on marriage. Lacemakers
could move into town from small villages where choices were
limited, to change their circumstances and hope for a better
They presented as a formidable group, working and singing for long hours outside in the street or at their windows - at night by candlelight enhanced by globes of water. They earned very little for their pains. Flanders lace was the finest lace with a complex design made to order.
In Twelfth Night – written between 1598 and 1601, the Duke calls on the Clown to sing:
'O fellow, come, the song we had last night.
Mark it Cesario, it is old and plain,
The spinsters and the knitters in the sun
And the free maids that weave their thread with bones
Do use to chant it.' (Act II Sc. iv.)
The line: 'We'll wear brave laces on our heads, we scorn as yet a beaver,' we think refers to a fashion that married women wore beaver hats whilst young girls wore ribbons and lace in their hair.
The tune was adapted from Ewan McColl's Swiftly flows the Thames
This relaxed meandering lullaby was written by Billy Pigg (1902 to 1968). He played the Northumbrian smallpipes and wrote many fine tunes for the instrument including this cheerful air which we play on flute and violin.
A song of the different chimes of the bells at Christchurch, Oxford, calling people to prayer - but the students are loathe to get up until the Great Tom rings. Great Tom hangs in a tower built by Sir Christopher Wren:
Great Tom is cast
And Christ Church bells ring
One, two, three, four, five, six
And Tom comes last.
Without clocks and watches people relied on the sounds of the bells to tell the time.
Houseman's poem evokes a happy youth in the Shropshire countryside. The ravages of time, age and war prevent his return to his idealised early life. Only the 'blue remembered hills' remain unchanged.
Bluecap was a famous hunting dog that gave its name to a pub in Sandiway, Cheshire. His portrait appears on the inn sign there and his magnificent tombstone is nearby. The song tells of a run made by the hounds round the Cheshire villages of Judith's family home.
11. When I Was a Young Girl (Slovak trad. melody with words and arr. Graham Pratt) violin - Heather Ashton, flute - Judith Reading
A beautiful evocative Slovak tune set to words by Graham Pratt. The song evokes sadness brought by increasing age and the tedium of married life – a woman's tragedy!
12. The Bells of Aberdovey (Welsh trad., arr The Gamebirds ) bells - Judith Reading
Welsh folk song was sung to us by Carol, Harry Secombe's
sister. It was also used in the opera 'Liberty Hall' by
Charles Dibdin (1745-1814). Our version of the song tells of a
young man trying to persuade his girlfriend, Bess, to marry
him – and anticipates happy 'wedding bells'.
Other versions describe the ringing of the bells as part of the valley scenery, welcoming friends to the town of Aberdovey.
13. 'Twas on One April Morning (English trad., arr. Sarah Morgan)
to Roud, Upton and Taylor 2003, Cecil Sharp collected this
song from Ellen Carter of Cheddar in 1906 and 1908 when Ellen
was 70 / 72 years of age.
However, the verses which tell of a young woman slighted in love and determined never again to be deceived by a young man, were collected from R. Bryant of Devon. It reflects the problem of young women accepting a promise of marriage, only to be jilted once her favours were given.
14. Bonnie North Tyne (Billy Ballantine, arr. Derek Hobbs) violin - Heather Ashton, flute - Judith Reading
Billy Ballantine was a piccolo player from Simonburn in the North Tyne area of Northumberland and was recorded in 1954. Many of his tunes are popular with fiddlers and are in the charming Kennedy’s Fiddlers Tune Books.
a very ancient song probably originating during or before the
mediaeval period. At that time marriage was accepted by the
verbal agreement of a couple alone, without the need to ask
permission or make any public statement.
gave a young man the possibility of deceiving a woman into
marriage to take advantage of her, revoking the marriage
afterwards. Unless a woman had a witness, she had no way of
proving that a marriage had taken place.
Hence, the later move towards church weddings where witnesses were essential and the ceremony was public.
this song the young woman is perhaps pregnant, then deserted
by her blacksmith who has been 'gathering primroses' – a
metaphor for being unfaithful.
hears that he is to be married to someone else, she realises
that without a witness she cannot challenge the marriage, but
hopes that he will be punished by God for slighting her.
Such songs were often sung to warn young women of the dangers of being led astray by dishonourable young men.
16. In the Fields of Frost and Snow (mediaeval version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm but not a children's song!, arr. Gail Randall)
Whilst look after animals was the main role of young women living on farms, this song also implies that 'wooing' – which may eventually become quite tedious – was also part of the everyday life of country folk!
A song likely to have been written by or for Henry VIII suggests that young men should actively participate in dance and sport to keep themselves out of trouble! A wise suggestion. Graham's harmonies bring the mediaeval period to life.
A mediaeval drinking song suggesting that spices are the cause of the red nose of drinkers rather than alcohol. Mention of the owl could be an allusion to the wisdom of this idea, or it may just be the bird seen by a drunken man on his way home from the pub.
Partners who leave the home to go out to work have been known to question how much work is done by the partner who is left behind at home. This song settles the question for one old couple.
20. Sally Gardens (Irish trad.) harp - Heather Ashton
This is a poem by W.B.Yeats who was inspired by a handful of lines from an old song “imperfectly remembered by an old peasant woman” in a Sligo village. “Sally” is a form of the word “sallow” referring to willow trees.
The tune also caught the imagination of classical composers who made this tune very popular e.g. John Ireland and Benjamin Britten. The poem is moralistic, sending a warning to young men not to move too fast in a romantic relationship.
very ancient song from Thomas Ravencroft's collection about
a knight who has been killed and about to be devoured by
ravens. In this version his wife rides to find his body and
hopes the murderer will be punished,
but in other versions she is thought to be implicated in the murder and, heavily pregnant, she carries his body home. On the current CD, we fade out this song before the end, but if you would like to hear the full Alison Burns arrangement – come and hear us sing it!