Nortonbury Recordings 1999
NORT MC003 / NORT CD001
Andy: solo vocals, vocal accompaniments
Béla: guitar, recorder, vocal accompaniments, computer arrangements
A big Thank You to our friends Gizella Udvardy and Zoltán Bókai, who enriched our Christmas offering with their oboe and keyboard skills, and to Amy, Holly and Martyn Tillier and Jamie and Esztella Rouse for reciting the little verses.
All songs from the vernacular tradition, arranged by Simply English.
Whether you're Christian or not, if you live in England it is well nigh impossible to ignore Christmas. There were winter celebrations long before the birth of Christ: there was little to do but survive the long winter prior to sweating out the next exhausting agricultural year in the hope of producing enough food to survive the next long winter. When it's cold and wet, one's spirits can be raised in song and one's body warmed by dance, and English carols are characterized by an uplifting atmosphere, both in the words and in the music. A very high proportion contain a thrilling mixture of the old, pagan ways, the newer Christian religion, and down-to-earth secular first-hand experience, showing how the practical peasant could combine all the elements of his life.
The fifteen carols and seasonal songs on this, Simply English's third solo album and second CD, stretch from the early medieval period with echoes of Gregorian chant in Down in Yon Forest and of the saucy student celebrations of The Boar's Head Carol, to the Victorian music hall, with the melodramatic tale of the betrothed Goslings served up together on a platter for Christmas dinner. Here it is preceded by a whimsical rhyme written by Andy many years ago, read by Martyn. The Wassail, of which there are two versions on this recording, was a door-to-door carolling song which requested entrance to the homes of the well-to-do, accompanied by some refreshment. It was also a cider-apple tree blessing song. The rhyme preceding the first of our wassails, Christmas Is Coming, is a children's rhyme intended to elicit cash for Christmas from passers by. There are also two separate versions of The Holly and the Ivy, where the holly bush, an object of druidic worship, is parallelled with the life of Christ. The Joys of Mary is similar in its construction, associating and rhyming the joys with various numbers. The Months of the Year takes us through the activities of the agricultural year, culminating in the celebration of Christmas, while The Sailor's Christmas Day, collected or perhaps written by Richard Cotton in or around 1883, tells of a Christmas on the ocean, far from one's loved ones - but not lacking in refreshment! The universally-known Cherry Tree Carol and the less-familiar Bitter Withy show how the ordinary people have connected their own lives to that of the Holy family, depicting a jealous and suspicious Joseph, a Mary with pregnancy cravings, and a badly-behaved boy Jesus being beaten by his mother for supernatural misbehaviour! Joy, Health, Love and Peace, an otherwise enigmatic carol of travellers and blessings, is set firmly in the English countryside. Among the other eternally popular favourites are The Twelve Days of Christmas and the tale of the saintly deeds of Good King Wenceslas.
Whatever time the songs originate from, they all carry the same essential message; a message that Simply English gives to you all in song and here: A very merry Christmas to you all!