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Lyr Add: Orkney New Year's Song (Wassail)

*#1 PEASANT* 11 Dec 00 - 07:11 AM
GUEST,Sarah 11 Dec 00 - 12:02 PM
Mrrzy 11 Dec 00 - 01:23 PM
Hotspur 11 Dec 00 - 03:16 PM
Malcolm Douglas 11 Dec 00 - 05:27 PM
Malcolm Douglas 11 Dec 00 - 05:29 PM
KathyW 18 Dec 10 - 11:32 AM
Reinhard 18 Dec 10 - 11:41 AM
KathyW 18 Dec 10 - 01:14 PM
Reinhard 18 Dec 10 - 02:17 PM
Joe Offer 12 Jul 15 - 02:43 AM
bradfordian 28 Dec 16 - 07:05 AM
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From: *#1 PEASANT*
Date: 11 Dec 00 - 07:11 AM


Many years ago the late Patrick Shuldam-Shaw taught me the "Orkney New Year's Song which seems to parallel English Wassail Songs

This is guid New Year Even's nicht
  We are a' Queen Mary's men
    And we've come here to claim oor richt
      And that's afore oor Lady

Auld man gae tae yer ale-in-vat.  We are a'…
  And hand us here twa pints o' that.  And that's afore…

Guid wife gae tae yer pork ham
  And cut it large and cut it roond
 Be sure ye cut na your big thoom     [repeat tune for line three]

Here's tae the ane wi' the yellow hair
  She's in the hoose an' we maun hae her

I wish yer kye may a' weel thrive
  And everane a guid calf

I wish yer mares weel in their boal
  And every ain a stag foal

I wish yer hens may a' weel thrive
  And every ain lay three times five

I wish yer geese weel fae the hill
  And everane twelve at her heel

Be ye maids or be ye nane
  Ye'll a' be kissed ere we gang hame

I am no musician, so the only way I can give you the tune is in Tonic Solfa

t t t s t l d* -    [*this is the higher doh, the rest are low]
  m m m r d r m
s t s m r d r m
  s l s m s t r

the first two lines have a ta-ti ta-ti ta-ti taaa  rhythm
the second two go ti-ta ti-ta ti-taaa  (ti)
-Source: Ron  Shuttleworth

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Orkney New Year's Song (Wassail)
From: GUEST,Sarah
Date: 11 Dec 00 - 12:02 PM


What a neat song! And don't apologize for your TS tune: it's probably the most universal way to pass on a melody, 'specially for computer illiterates (i.e., moi) who can't figure out that midi and abc stuff...THIS, I can follow.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Orkney New Year's Song (Wassail)
From: Mrrzy
Date: 11 Dec 00 - 01:23 PM

I also like the way you explain the beat!

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Orkney New Year's Song (Wassail)
From: Hotspur
Date: 11 Dec 00 - 03:16 PM

Do Queen Mary and our Lady refer to Mary Queen of Scots?

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Orkney New Year's Song (Wassail)
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 11 Dec 00 - 05:27 PM

The Mary referred to would be the Virgin Mary, not the unfortunate (and not terribly popular in Scotland for most of her short reign) Mary Stuart.  Ernest Marwick (The Folklore of Shetland and Orkney, Batsford 1975) gives two variants of the verse; one from Shetland:

Göd's wife, geng ta your butter-kit,
Sant Mary's men are we,
And gie's a spön or twa o hit
Before Our Ladye.

And another from Orkney:

Guidwife, go tae your butter ark,
We're a' Saint Mary's men
An' weigh wis oot o' that ten mark,
'Fore wur Lady.

It's worth bearing in mind, though, that at the time Shuldham-Shaw would have heard the version quoted above, there was a current Queen Mary (wife of George V); it's not impossible that that might perhaps have had some bearing on the change of words.  Marwick has more to say on the custom:

"In some parts of the islands, until the First World War or even later, certain festivals -in particular New Year's Day- were held on dates which accorded with the Old, or Julian, Calendar, allowing 12 days for the calendar change.  (After 1900 the difference is 13 days, but this was not taken into account.)  Thus "Aald Neuerday" (Old New Year's Day), as it was called, was 13 January...

The New Year's Song ["Neuer Sang"] was not native to Orkney or Shetland -there are memories of it in Aberdeenshire, and in several versions were interpolated six or eight verses concerning Henry II and his mistress Rosamond- but it became so much part of the life of the islands that both groups had their distinctive renderings.

On New Year's Eve, the song was sung at each principal house of district or parish by a group of young men.  These were refreshed with bread and cheese and a cog of ale.  One of their number, the Kyerrin Horse, carried a kaisie or kishie (creel), into which were popped whatever dainties the family could spare.  Some verses of the song would seem to indicate that it is of medieval origin, and in his book The Isle of Foula [1938], Professor Holborn hazards the opinion that it is the surviving part of a medieval mummers'play.

At the outset, the singers evoked blessings on the house itself:

Guid be tae this buirdly bigging...
Fae the steethe stane tae the rigging...

then, verse by verse, they included in their benediction the guidwife and guidman, along with their cows, mares, sheep, geese, and hens.  In the North Ronaldsay (Orkney) "Neuer Sang", of 50 verses, the old English ballad comes next:

King Henry he is no' at hame...
But he is tae the greenwids gane...

Wi' him are baith his hawk and hound...
An' the fair Lady Rosamond...

Thirty verses of interrogation and exaction follow, with a few grandiloquent assertions:

We ha'e wur ships sailin' the sea...
An' mighty men o' lands are we...

In modern times , the singers usually broke off at the end of the "blessing" verses.  A much attenuated version, with neoteric overtones, is sung year after year by the boys and girls of Burray (Orkney), whose demands are not, as of old, for butter, bacon and ale, but for cakes, scones and money.

It does not appear that the Orkney singers wore fancy dress, but in the Shetland parish of Walls, where the song was called "Da Huggeranonie Sang" and sung on the evening of 12 January, the boy wassailers (as the poet T.A. Robertson remembered) had guizing suits and masks: "We tried to get things that were brightly coloured."  In Foula (Shetland), the guizers ended their performance by dancing around the fire, which in the older houses was in the middle of the floor."

Marwick is referring to the practice as it existed in the 19th century, and I'd add the usual caveat about "guessing" at medieval origins for things like this; without evidence (and supposed references to Henry II are hardly that), guesswork is all it can be.  Interesting, though.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Orkney New Year's Song (Wassail)
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 11 Dec 00 - 05:29 PM

Seem to have gone down with a nasty case of italics this evening.  Overwork I expect...

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Subject: Wassail 'If you don't open up your door'
From: KathyW
Date: 18 Dec 10 - 11:32 AM

This article about punch on ( quotes the lyrics of a wassail song: "If you don't open up your door, we'll lay you flat upon the floor." I was intrigued and went looking for more information. I've found other references to it around the web, including one here ( which claims that the lyrics are:
"We have come to claim our right…
And if you don't open up your door,
We'll lay you flat upon the floor."

However, I can't seem to find any references that actually include information on the *source* or any more of the song. Can anyone here shed any light on this?

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From: Reinhard
Date: 18 Dec 10 - 11:41 AM

This is "An Orkney New Year's Carol" from Nowell Sing We Clear:

This is New Year's Even Night,
We are all Queen Mary's Men,
And we've come here to claim our right:
And that's before our lady.

The morning, it is New Year's Day,
And we've come here to sport and play:

And if you don't open up your door,
We'll lay it flat upon the floor:

Master, get your ale vat,
And give us a couple of pints of that:

Mistress, get your pork ham,
And cut it large, and cut it round,
Be sure you don't cut off your thumb:

We wish your cattle all may thrive,
To every one, a goodly calf:

We wish your mares, well fare they all,
To every one, a stag foal:

We wish your hens all well may thrive,
And every one lay three times five:

We wish your geese may all do well,
And every one, twelve at her heel:

God bless the mistress and her man,
Dish and table, pot and pan:

Here's to the one with yellow hair,
She's hiding underneath the stair:

Be you maids or be you none,
Although our time may not be long,
You'll all be kissed ere we go home:

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Subject: RE: Wassail 'If you don't open up your door'
From: KathyW
Date: 18 Dec 10 - 01:14 PM

Thanks, that's got to be it! (Why didn't Google find that for me?) It seems less threatening than described in the Slate article.

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Subject: RE: Wassail 'If you don't open up your door'
From: Reinhard
Date: 18 Dec 10 - 02:17 PM

Of course. Journalism won't let facts stand in the way of a scary or sensational line.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Orkney New Year's Song (Wassail)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 12 Jul 15 - 02:43 AM

Click here for a recording of the song by the Big Orkney Song Project.

The Orkney Singers page gives this information about the song:

    The New Year Song

    The Sanday New Year Song recording found by BOSP was sung by James Fotheringham, Templeha, Sanday, and it was recorded by Ernest Marwick a short time before Mr Fotheringham died in 1969 (D31/TR/133). James also sang a version of the Greenland Whale Fisheries, different to those found in South Ronaldsay and Stromness.

    The New Year Song is the oldest preserved song in Orkney. Other versions of the song have been collected in Yorkshire, Aberdeenshire, Shetland and Fair Isle. Although the song was not native to Orkney, it became an integral part of community life in the islands, in no small part due to its association with New Year Customs, and over the years distinctive renderings developed in the various island communities. Several of these versions were recorded in the twentieth century, in a variety of media, and are preserved in the Orkney Library and Archive. We have versions from Rousay (late 1800s), Sanday (c.1836 and 1967), North Ronaldsay (1967), Stromness (1890), Burray (early 1980s), Long Hope (1893) and Firth (late 1800s).

    The song accompanies a New Year's custom that took place widely throughout Orkney until the last century. The song was traditionally sung on Old New Year's Eve, at the principal houses of the districts by a group of young men. The group were given refreshments at each house and one of the band, known as the "Carrying Horse" carried a caisie (creel) on his back into which goods were placed.

    The song comprises a blessing (the first verse and the verses blessing various animals) and a demand for gifts. In most versions there is reference made to "St Mary" (rather than Queen Mary) and "Our Lady" which indicate a pre-reformation origin to the song. The mention of King Henry in various versions has been taken along with the reference to "the fair Lady Rosamond" to indicate a twelfth century origin.

    Ernest Marwick suggested that "Saint" was replaced with "Queen" in the refrain to "calm uneasy Presbyterian ministers with uneasy consciences" (Orkney Archive Reference D31/1/2/5).

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Orkney New Year's Song (Wassail)
From: bradfordian
Date: 28 Dec 16 - 07:05 AM


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