A List of Reasons to Sing …

#16 To mark the end.

It’s my last post for The Human Seasons, and what a year it has been. I’ve published some posts under the influence of morphine, some under the influence of singing induced endorphins, and now I can happily say I’m writing under the heady influence of spring.

Thank you for having me, and here’s a gorgeous spring filled song with Sussex connections (collected by Bob Copper from “Jim” Swain in 1954). I learnt it from Shirley Collins’ album ‘Adieu to Old England’. It transpires that I misheard one of the lyrics but I’m keeping it in – it’s the folk process, after all. The Dovetail Trio do a stunning rendition of this song, there’s a link to a video of them performing it on the Mainly Norfolk page for this song (and a comprehensive recording history).

Adieu winter!

And for the hell of it, here’s a quick recap:

#1 The birth of a new family member

#2 Because it is finally May

#3 Because is night time in the woods, and the owls are out

#4 To ease pain

#5 For unity

#6 To give warnings

#7 Because you’re on a family car journey

#8 To release endorphins

#9 Because the bells are ringing

#10 For heritage

#11 Because the seasons are changing

#12 To rehearse

#13 To embrace failure

#14 To accompany

#15 To learn something



A List of Reasons to Sing …

#12 Because you’re rehearsing 

Lewes, 26th Oct, 2016

Derrick is tuning the serpent, the heckling from the tenors has begun, and it’s cold enough to have coats to hang on the back of our chairs in the village hall. This can only mean one thing – rehearsals for Shepherds Arise!  have reprised once more.

This gathering of Sussex folk, meeting over the past three years to sing old Sussex carols, was occasioned by a chance remark during a singaround in Lewes, 2012. The subsequent discussion sparked a revival based on a group Dr Vic Gammon assembled in the 1970s, Hope in the Valley, to accompany a lecture on old Sussex carols, which grew into regular performances over a ten-year period. Steered by director Stuart Walker’s steady hand, a number of local singers and musicians were assembled, and rehearsals for Shepherds Arise! commenced in 2013.

I joined the choir last year and have become an enthusiastic member ever since, particularly as it brings into harmony the three joys of singing, social research, and historic buildings.  We have performed in various beautiful Downland Sussex churches, and the magnificent Elizabethan Great Barn at Michelham Priory. In 2015 we were invited to perform at St Laurence Church, Falmer, singing The Falmer Carol (See Seraphic Throngs) as part of our concert. We believe this is the first time that this piece of music has been sung at that venue in many decades, and leaving my questioning, performance researcher brain behind, that is simply an extraordinary feeling.

The carols are sourced variously from village church manuscripts, collected folk carols (arranged both by Vic Gammon, and Stuart Walker), and tunes from traditional Sussex musicians. Our repertoire includes carols such as Blow ye the Trumpet, an anthem from a book belonging to John Bailey of Ringmer (1842), Shepherds Arise, from The Copper Family of Rottingdean, The Ditchling Carol, written by Peter Parsons, shoemaker of Ditchling (1825 – 1901), and the aforementioned Falmer Carol ( c 1860s), communicated by Frederick Jones to the Rev. K H Mc Dermott (published in The Church Gallery Minstrels of Old Sussex [1922]). The first half finishes with a performance of the ever-popular (and evolving) Ovingdean Mummers’ play (1870). Our merry band is currently formed of twenty-three singers and seven instrumentalists, comprising flute, fiddle, clarinet, English concertinas, bassoon and last but by no means least, the serpent (one of a kind in Sussex).

Akin to the first glass of mulled wine of the season, Shepherds Arise!  provides both a warming and cheering link to the past (with some ingredients unearthed at the back of the cupboards thrown in), and a treat for the audience and members alike to look forward to the following year when ‘the trees are all bare’ (Christmas Song, The Copper Family). As Frederick Jones remarks in his reminiscence A Church Choir Visits the Gentry Christmas Eve (1847),it is difficult to say who has the greater pleasure, the hosts or the guests’ (McDermott, 1922). I’m popping a link to our rehearsal from this evening, and also the performance dates below – come, crush a cup of wine!

Sunday 27th November  – All Saints Church, Grange Road, Eastbourne. BN21 4HE1.30 pm,
Sunday 11th December – St John the Evangelist, Lower Church Road, Burgess Hill, RH15 9AA. 2.30pm
Sunday 18th December – St Laurence Church, Falmer, BN1 9PG  2.30pm.
Tuesday 27th December (Bank Holiday) – St Michael’s Church, High Street, Lewes. TBC
Saturday 7th January, Lewes Saturday Folk Club, 8pm.

A List of Reasons to Sing …

#11 Because the seasons are changing 

This one came to me as I was walking the dog amongst the leaves. It’s a bit higgidly piggidly from sources, and I go wrong, but perhaps that shows a sense of the folk process.

The tune is from The Copper Family of Rottingdean, they sing ‘lad’ rather than ‘lass’ and a few less verses.

The lyrics are the ones collected in Sussex from three separate sources, I’m popping them all below.

Having a tough time today feeling rooted in my community and landscape, but at odds with the ruling classes, and the idea that these autumnal pleasures belong more to me than to anyone else. Does folk music contribute to nationalism? I hope not. I hope it’s about intention. I hope it merely serves to remind us that we do indeed have ‘far more in common with each other than that which divides us’ (Jo Cox, Maiden Speech)

Shoreham, Sussex http://www.vwml.org/record/RoudFS/S141364

Heyshott, Sussex http://www.vwml.org/record/RoudFS/S299994

Cuckfield, Sussex http://www.vwml.org/record/LEB/2/77/8

The Coppers https://mainlynorfolk.info/folk/songs/briskandbonnylad.html