Monday, June 20, 2016

Midsummer's Morn

I like to share the odd song on here, usually tree related if I can find one ( I'll give Tie A Yellow Ribbon a miss for now if you don't mind) so I present Oak and Ash and Thorn, written by Rudyard Kipling. Yes I know about the criticisms of Kipling; that he was an Imperialist cheerleader, a freemason etc. but he plays a part in our inherited culture whether we like it or not, and these poems  are neatly tucked away in his books for us to happily ignore if we choose to but some of them are pretty good. This one is from Puck Of Pook's Hill, written for children as an introduction to British history. I showed a copy to my Mother, who remembered reading it as a schoolchild herself.

Of course the next difficult subject is English folk music, and I have to admit I came to it fairly late, possibly because it gets such a bad press in this country, with it's visions of morris dancing and tankards of ale, though it's actually a broadish church, encompassing both the left and the right of politics and with most of it written and originally sung by working class people. I grew up listening to plenty of folk music; largely Irish, Breton, French and to a degree Scottish, but remained generally ignorant of my own musical traditions. I still wonder about how old a song has to be before it becomes "traditional".

Oak and Ash and Thorn is sung here by Peter Bellamy with Royston Wood and Heather Wood, known collectively as The Young Tradition, though this was on a solo album in 1970. He said of the song; "Kipling entitled this poem A Tree Song, and it is to be found in the story Weland's Sword. Both the tale and the song set the mood and pattern for all the stories and poems which follow. The tune is intended to recall those of some of the old wassail and ritual songs."

Bellamy had a distinctive singing style. In a cartoon of 1980, he was given the anagrammatical name "Elmer P Bleaty", a humorous comment on the nasal vibrato of his voice. In fitting music to many of Kipling's poems Bellamy would try and figure out which tunes Kipling might have had in mind when writing, and does a very good job of matching old tunes or tunes he wrote himself to the works. Like a lot of folk songs it's much easier to sing along with after a few beers. I'll put the words underneath for you to enjoy.

Of all the trees that grow so fair,
Old Engerland to adorn,
Greater are none beneath the Sun,
Than Oak and Ash and Thorn.
Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn, good Sirs
(All of a Midsummer's morn)!
Surely we sing of no little thing,
In Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Oak of the Clay lived many a day,
Or ever Aeneas began;
Ash of the Loam was a lady at home,
When Brut was an outlaw man;
Thorn of the Down saw New Troy Town
(From which was London born);
Witness hereby the ancientry
Of Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Yew that is old in churchyard mould,
He breedeth a mighty bow;
Alder for shoes do wise men choose,
And beech for cups also.
But when ye have killed, and your bowl is spilled,
Your shoes are clean outworn,
Back ye must speed for all that ye need,
To Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Ellum she hateth mankind, and waiteth
Till every gust be laid,
To drop a limb on the head of him
That anyway trusts her shade:
But whether a lad be sober or sad,
Or mellow with ale from the horn,
He'll take no wrong when he lieth along
'Neath Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
Or he would call it a sin;
But—we have been out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!
And we bring you news by word of mouth—
Good news for cattle and corn—
Now is the Sun come up from the South,
With Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn, good Sirs
(All of a Midsummer's morn)!
England shall bide till Judgement Tide,
By Oak and Ash and Thorn!

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