FS17: In Dessexshire as it befell

Also known as “On Christmas Day”, but why use that title when you can use this one?

A curious song in many ways (from the title on down), this has only ever been collected from three people, two of whom (Esther Smith and May Bradley) later turned out to be mother and daughter. It seems to be of Traveller origin, which may explain the hazy geography and the lack of sympathy for someone with a lifestyle rooted in the soil. The Christianity is a bit on the idiosyncratic side, too, although it’s true that ploughing is traditionally verboten from Christmas Day until the first Monday after Twelfth Night (Plough Monday).

I got this one from James Yorkston’s recording on the “Someplace Simple” EP (which was also my introduction to Rosemary Lane); his arrangement features harmonium drones and two-part harmony, and makes the song sound so peculiar that Robert Sandall on Mixing It confidently labelled it as a modern pastiche. On this recording you can hear one voice, one instrument (the trusty melodica), self-written three-part harmonies and multi-tracking out the wazoo; I knew it was finished when the last verse started making my flesh creep. And a merry fifth day of Christmas to one and all. (Easy on the farm labour, though.)


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