When we combined our first three LP recordings onto a CD (GHM-202 The Best of Nowell Sing We Clear, 1975-1986), some songs were not included. A few omissions (such as “Green Grow the Rushes-O”) left behind disappointed, even irritated, fans. This recording began as an effort to take a fresh look at some of these missing songs, but we also included a lot of other material, both traditional and newly composed.
Carol for Christmas Eve
We’ve recently taken a careful look at one of the important 19th century collections: Christmas Carols New and Old, Second Series edited by Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer (London: Novello, Ewer and Co., 1871). “Listen, Lordings Unto Me” is #28 from page 40.
From Far Away
Also from Bramley & Stainer (#40, pp. 86-87) is “From Far Away” with lyrics by William Morris and a setting by Rev. J.B. Dykes. As John Roberts questioned at a Nowell rehearsal: “How have these carols with such great choruses escaped notice for more than 130 years?”
The Twelve Days of Christmas
This version is from the Copper family of Rottingdean in Sussex with our own arrangement inspired by a treatment on John Kirkpatrick’s 1997 “Wassail” tour of Northern England (see Fellside Recordings FECD125).
Six Jolly Miners
Recorded at the Black Bull in Ecclesfield in 1973, it is sung in the Sheffield pub-caroling tradition. Children used to go in for “Jolly Minering,” with costumes decorated with “motties” (numbered metal pierced tallies which colliers exchanged for their coal allowance). The song has also turned up in Pennsylvania and Nova Scotia.
Sherburne (“While Shepherds Watched”) and Milford are from the Original Sacred Harp.
I Heard From Heaven Today
From Ruth Crawford Seeger, American Songs for Christmas, Garden City, NY, Doubleday, 1953.
The Shepherds Amazèd
We use a setting by Andy Davis of an 18th century “West Gallery” hymn learned from the Mellstock Band’s CD, Tenants of the Earth (1996, WGS281). They report it was found in church band manuscripts from Marsh Baldon, Oxfordshire, and Bridport, Dorset.
Keith Kendrick blended his own tune to a set of verses culled from the Oxford Book of Carols, edited and arranged by Percy Dearmer, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Martin Shaw, first published in 1928. Learned from Keith’s CD, Well Seasoned, Wild Goose Studios WGS317. Used by permission.
The Oxford Book of Carols has been an indispensable source for us from the beginning, and is where we found this version of “The Joys of Mary.”
Also from the OBC, this carol was collected by Cecil Sharp ca. 1908 from wassailers in Drayton, Somerset in what the English call the “west country.” Going out on a limb, Sharp speculated that the “Great Dog” referred to a Danish invasion of nearby Langport which would have happened one thousand years earlier.
The Derby Ram
Another version of the Christmas visiting custom invoking the image of an enormous ram. Guisers go out with a mock ram, an animal figure created by someone covered with a blanket while holding a ram’s head on a stick. John’s text is culled from multiple sources.
Beautiful Star of Bethlehem
We took this American country/gospel/bluegrass “oldie” by A.J. Phipps from an unlikely source: the BACCApella singers of the BACCApipes Folk Club in Haworth, near Keighley, Yorkshire. Our setting is by Andy Davis.
For many, Christmas is not an easy time. Ian Robb wrote this carol capturing the plight of the homeless in the season of plenty. Used by permission.
Bring the New Year In
“The rich take all the money for the poor will take the earth.” Pete Coe perfectly represents the theater and politics that have often been part of many kinds of folklore and, perhaps, the mummers plays especially. Words & Music by Pete Coe, Backshift Music, PRS/MCPS. Used by permission.
Green Grow the Rushes-O
This widely known secular carol about the twelve days of Christmas may have been primarily responsible for re-recording songs missing from our Best of Nowell Sing We Clear, 1975-1986 CD. One Philadelphia radio host was so distressed that “Green growsÉ” was left off that John made him his own one-song CD for use on-air in December.
Song for the New Year
Another of Ian Robb’s politically astute new carols, this one with a strong anti-war message. We took the liberty of re-writing Ian’s reference to a “life free from classes” so American audiences might not take it as a request for an easier time in college. Used by permission.