The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #137760 Message #3153030
Posted By: Little Robyn
12-May-11 - 06:57 PM
Thread Name: Padstow May Song query
Subject: RE: Padstow May Song query
I've just consulted my Inglis Gundry 'Canow Kernow', printed in 1966.
He gives 5 older versions (from 1860, 1891, 1912, 1914, 1928) and the 2 variants as sung and played by 'the Blue Ribbon team and the Old Oss team (Red ribbon) in 1962.
There seem to be only minor variations, perhaps relating to the ability of the musicians of the time and the instruments they played - drums, melodeons, concertinas, banjos, flute/fife/whistles etc. The piano accordion is a more modern introduction and doesn't show up in the photos from 100 years back, tho' today they seem to dominate.
Every version EXCEPT the 1962 Red Oss (Charlie's team) has the note on "...all unite" falling to E. Charlie played the G.
Gundry says "The variants E and G at the beginning of the fourth bar, which were first noticed by Cecil Sharp in 1914, seem now to have been adopted by the Blue and Red teams respectively.
Also, in the previous bar, "..let us all.." the 1860, 1912, and 1962 Red Oss all sing G A G F, the 1914 tune has G F G F, and the others, including the 1962 Blue Oss team have G G G F.
The "unto day" sung an octave higher is only in the 1962 version and Gundry calls it "...the sensitive spot where modern boys have raised the tune an octave to suit their treble voices..."
Gundry comments on the melody:
"The above chart shows that the Padstow May Day, or 'Obby 'Oss song is an example of a living folk tune, still in process of evolution. The children's innovation in bars 6-7, backed by the high-shouted "UNTO DAY" on the part of the unofficial dancers, points to what might happen in the future if these boys refuse to fall in line with their leaders when their voices break! The melody has changed considerably during the last hundred years, so it is difficult to imagine what it might have been like in medieval or ancient British times, if we are right in believing that it dates from the days of pagan Britain and was not introduced by pagan Anglo-Saxon invaders."
He also notes "...an interesting divergence between the two versions in the link between melody and repeat at the end of the line. The Old 'Oss Party return to duple time as soon as the words are finished, while the Blue Ribbon team take an extra three-four bar before coming back to the duple time. The former method is more precise, but the latter is more subtle and haunting, so that you are swept into the repeat of the tune before you know what is happening."
In most of my recordings, that bar is filled with the drummers adding their Ba boom boom boom!
The young boys mentioned above would now all be in their 60s or older. John Buckingham, who helps publish the Padstow Echo, had his own Wee Oss when he was a lad in the 50s so presumably he was one of the boys who sang higher.
In 1972, when I took part in the Blue Oss team, I noticed that many of the followers were only singing one mutated verse over and over, tho' both teams had issued word sheets:
'With a merry ring, adieu the merry spring
For summer is acome unto day
And give to us a cup of ale and the merrier we shall sing
In the merry morning of May.'
That seemed to be the mood of the day but I didn't notice it in 1990 when I visited Padstow again.
Now that the drums and accordions are so abundant, the tune is practised well before the day and hopefully singers practise the words as well.
The 'Padstow Echo' is a lovely little magazine edited by Sue Norfolk with assistance from John Buckingham and Barry Kinsmen and copies are available from Sue. Letters to the editor could possibly find answers to some of these questions - direct from the source.