Friday 20 December 2019

Carols: Some Music And Memories

My mother was a great singer. I don't mean she was famous or that she sang beautifully (though she did have a good voice and an ear for a tune) but that she sang at every opportunity, particularly as she did the cleaning, cooking and washing, of which there was plenty when she had two small boys and a husband who did farm work. She had a song for every occasion but at this time of year it was often carols. This was her all time favourite and in later years she would always watch the TV broadcast from King's College Chapel.....

…..and jolly cross she'd get if they sang it to a different tune!

I suppose we sang carols at school though I don't really remember. I recall playing the part of Joseph in the Nativity play though - the highlight of my acting career! When I was a teenager some of us joined our fellow villagers singing carols door-to-door. We were accompanied on these jaunts by the village policeman with his accordion and we'd end up singing in the pubs, which explains why the under-age members of the community were so keen to join in.

The Red Lion in Grantchester

Years later I was a walks leader for HF Holidays and spent my Christmases leading walks in the hills. One Christmas Eve we were tramping back through the Derbyshire village of Hathersage just after dusk when we got talking about the carol-singing tradition in that area. Someone said you can sing "While Shepherds Watched" to the tune of "On Ilkley Moor baht 'at" and within seconds thirty or so tired and hungry walkers were singing it at the top of our voices as we proceeded through the village streets.

But that's just one of the tunes used in the villages around Sheffield for those words. Here's another sung in the bar of the Royal in Dungworth...

There's a lot of singing of carols in pubs in that area. It came about when the Church Of England decided that certain tunes were not suitable to be sung in church. No one was going to be told what they could or could not sing, even by the parson (especially perhaps by the parson) so they decamped to the nearest pub and sang them there.

You can hear all about this tradition on this excellent podcast if you're interested. There's a video clip which accompanies the podcast, it features the Melrose quartet and shows some scenes from the podcast being recorded.....

Yes, another tune for the same carol!

To bring things up to date I'd better tell you where I spent Wednesday night. I was at an event described as "half music gig, half dance show and half pantomime"! It featured a group of people known as the Demon Barbers, a motley collection of folk musicians, clog dancers, actors, sword dancers, acrobats, break dancers, singers and all-round lunatic entertainers.....

They kept up that level of energy for two hours!

Take care.


  1. My singing voice would crack glass, but I remember as a kid doing a little carol singing door to door. It was a good way to earn a few bucks quickly and some people even invited you into the house and gave you some kind of Christmas treat. Others of course didn't even answer the door. I can't imagine children today entering a stranger's house. Times (and trust) have changed.

  2. Sweet memories about your mother. She looks lovely on that photo.

  3. Hi John - yes lovely memories of your mother and those early days. I remember carol singing - but not 'acting' in a nativity play ... the video clips are fun to see ... especially Kings College and the last one The Lock in Christmas - amazing to see ... cheers and have a peaceful and happy festive time - Hilary

  4. What fun times...and I used to love singing carols. My voice now is only heard in the bath or the car in solitude.

  5. I love the remembrance of your mom and her singing. Ah, the Christmas spirit, I love how much it is full of music and celebration like this.

  6. I enjoyed your memories of singing carols door-to-door, and ending up in the pubs! I saw my granddaughter singing in her Christmas play yesterday. Nothing will lift your spirits more than seeing a bunch of first-graders singing Christmas carols!

  7. The bar music was quite enjoyable. It’s great everyone could sing their hearts out!

  8. Sounds like lots of fun, John. The memories of your mom singing is priceless. A wonderful memory to have.

  9. Last time I sung carols was at the carol service we had a work

  10. Oh, what fun the Lock in Christmas was! After two hours of such energy output, they must collapse. I never got the coveted role of Mary in our church Christmas program. I was always relegated to the ranks of the angel choir!

  11. Your Mother had an appealing face--one that suggests a joy in living.
    I listen to the Dungworth carolers each year since you first posted them. I wonder if that jolly tenor is still part of the group.
    I sometimes look for the old hymns in Common Meter and swap the words--or How about Little Town of Bethlehem to 'Forest Green' or 'Kingsfold?'

    1. If you look on Dave Burbidge's YouTube channel you'll find lots more of the Dungworth carollers. Your "jolly tenor" was certainly still there on the recordings made last year.

  12. Thats a lot of Christmas tradition in your area. The last crew really threw themselves into the entertainment.

  13. Wonderful memories of your mother. I enjoyed the stories too of the pub singing. Merry Christmas!

  14. My mother was not a singer but the times she did, it was very lovely! Myself, I have a terrible voice that only a screeching cat would love. These English villages sound like great fun!

  15. I do not know where to begin...the King's College one. Oh, their voices so beautiful I think I could listen to them sing anything. I really enjoyed all, and would have loved to witness the last. I really enjoyed this post.


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