Since I'm having trouble getting a whole out of the bits and pieces here, here's the lyric and notes that Michael Hurwicz points to:
THE WHITSUN DANCE (DANCING AT WHITSUN)
Lyric by Austin John Marshall
Melody: The False Bride (Trad.) / Staines Morris (Trad.)
It's fifty-one springtimes since she was a bride
And still you may see her at each Whitsuntide
In a dress of white linen and ribbons of green
As green as her memories of loving
The feet that were nimble tread carefully now
As gentle a measure as age do allow
Through groves of white blossom, by fields of young corn
Where once she was pledged to her true love
The fields they stand empty, the hedges grow free
No young men to tend them, nor pastures to see
They have gone where the forests of oaktrees before
Had gone to be wasted in battle
Down from their green farmlands and from their loved ones
Marched husbands and brothers and fathers and songs
There's a fine roll of honor where the Maypole once was
And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun
There's a row of straight houses in these latter days
Are covering the Downs where the sheep used to graze
There's a field of red poppies and wreath from the Queen
But the ladies remember at Whitsun
And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun
(Come you young men come along
With your music, dance and song
Bring your lasses in your hand
For 'tis that which love commands
Then to the Maypole haste away
For 'tis now a holiday)
© 1982 Austin John Marshall
The Whitsun Dance: Notes
Whitsun: A traditional British spring holiday, on or near Pentacost, but deriving its name from the white outfits of Morris dancers, for this was the official start of the Morris Dancing season - usually about the third week in May.
The First World War had a devastating effect on the village tradition of Morris Dancing, and what had once been an extremely vigorous, bucolic and rich part of country life became widely regarded as a quaint and rather ludicrous relic. The Maypole, centre of village springtime celebrations, was replaced by a war memorial, containing in many cases the names of most of the young men of the village.
The English Folk Dance and Song Society is an institution in London alternately loved and derided. I often used to wonder why there always seemed to be so many middle-aged and elderly ladies there, joining in the country dancing. I was told that there was an unofficial "club" of First World War widows, who danced in memory of their lost loves, Morris Dancers. The song was written in early '67. The date of composition takes "fifty-one springtimes" (not fifty "long") back to 1916.
The song first appeared on an album called "Autumns in Eden" by Shirley and Dolly Collins, issued in '69. The track was axed by the U.S. publishers, arbitrarily removing the climax of a suite of traditional songs intending to tell the story of the broken tradition of England. Tim Hart of Steeleye Span made a version of the song on "Summer Solstice." Priscilla Herdman, Jean Redpath and Gordon Bok have all recorded the song over here in the U.S., but all learned from the Hart version. I am grateful to the Folk Co-op for letting me have the chance to put on record the complete version, with the hopeful segue into the "Staines Morris" ending, pointing to the resurrection of that lost spirit of England.
[Note: There are a couple peculiar errors in these notes that I take to be problems of whoever typed up the newsletter in reading Marshall's handwriting. I have made these fixes: changed Shirley "A." Dolly Collins to "and"; Tim "Harb" to "Hart".]
These are from the record notes published in The CooP, The Fast Folk Musical Magazine, June 1982 vol. 1, #5 (now available from Smithsonian Folkways, where you can you can download the song sung by author John Marshall for $0.99). (More on Fast Folk.)
Elsewhere in the notes:
AUSTIN JOHN MARSHALL: As "John the Angel Fish," John Marshall has been reading poetry at the Folk Co-op since February of this year. Before that in the U.K. he had been a writer and producer of albums, notably for his first wife, Shirley Collins, and Steve Ashley. In addition, he as produced films of both Jimi Hendrix and The Incredible String Band.
Since coming to the States in early '81, he has mounted a radio production of his ballad-play "The Great Smudge: A Romance for Street-Organ" for WBAI, and started a religious satire series "Heaven's Kitchen."
This is his debut as a singer, and whilst he has no immediate plans to further a career in this field, remains open to offers.