Monday 24 December 2012

63: Birkenhead Wassail Song

A "wassail" song - that is, a song for door to door carol singing. The term wassail comes from an Anglo Saxon toast meaning "be in good health", and this is quite simply a song wishing good health to the people of the house you're knocking the door of (and then trying to extract a small amount of money from them). This song was collected by Janet Blunt from Mrs Haigh and Miss Kelk of Birkenhead in 1921. (Those who've been following my blog for a while may recall Mrs Haigh as the source of the Birkenhead version of The Bitter Withy.) This was one of the songs they remembered carol singers performing in their youth. I got the words and tune off the English Folk Dance and Song Society's "Take Six" site.

Matthew Edwards (now resident on the Wirral and a fount of knowledge about all manner of songs) has done a bit of additional detective work:
I've managed to trace the two sisters who gave this song, and two others (The Bitter Withy and Christ Was Born In Bethlehem), to Janet Blunt in 1921. They were Annie Beatrice Haigh and Rosamond Kelk, daughters of a bank accountant, who lived in Claughton, Birkenhead in the 1870's. Their father, John William Kelk, was originally from Brigg in Lincolnshire, but both daughters were born in the Wirral.

They told Janet Blunt that they remembered the songs being sung by child waits at Christmas in the streets of Birkenhead 30 or 40 years earlier. Where the songs might have originated is now almost impossible to tell since the population of Birkenhead at that time had grown very rapidly in a short time with the new inhabitants coming from many different parts.

The photo is of carol singers on the wirral from the Bay TV Liverpool site. Haven't heard any carol singers coming to the door in Bootle for a few years - is carol singing door to door something that's been discouraged these days? If so, it's a bit of a shame.

The Roud folksong index lumps this in with other Wassail songs as #209

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday 18 December 2012

62: The World Was In Darkness

An advent song... but the usual questions come up: is it really a Liverpool song? Is it a folk song? Hard to say, but this was a big part of my childhood growing up in the 80s and 90s. I learned this as a kid at St Monica's Church, Bootle, where we used to sing it when lighting the candles on the advent wreath. It's been synonymous with this time of year ever since.

I've recently been passing the song on by singing it with my son as we light the candles on the advent wreath at home, and I was pushed by the rest of the household to include it on the blog on the grounds that it easily fitted within my loose rules for inclusion as it was a song I'd 'collected' in Liverpool. A bit of googling later, I could find only a few scattered references to the song or its words - and in fact one of the tiny number of places the song was quoted was quite local, up in Formby.

So in the absence of any other records of this song as I heard it sung, and in the joint spirit of archiving and nostalgia, I'm recording this as a tiny little memento of the Bootle Catholic advent traditions from my own childhood. And if anyone has any information about the source, or other places where this is sung, I'd be glad to hear it. The image above of the wreath above is taken from the website of the Parish of St Giles, Aintree.