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.)

1 Comment

Filed under folk song, traditional

One response to “FS17: In Dessexshire as it befell

  1. 1867…
    On the Mudcat thread http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=55114#3759756 I notice Jim Dixon has added reference to the words being in a story of 1867 :
    “…An excerpt from
    “Rather Suspicious: A Story of Some Christmas Minstrels”
    by Robert Hudson,
    in London Society: The Christmas Number for 1867, page 652: (https://books.google.com/books?pg=PA652&dq=%22what+is+this%22&id=mDUFAAAAQAAJ)
    ‘Eh, what is this?’ said he; ‘a carol? Pray begin again, and let me take it down.’ For Mr. Sebright was busy just then on an article for the ‘Oxbridge Review’ on this special subject of Christmas carols, upon which he held himself specially great.
    Then having got ‘The Sunny Bank’ into his note-book, ‘Now, boy,’ he asked, ‘have you any more?’
    ‘Oh yes, sir,’ said Jemmy, ‘as many as ever you like. Will you have John Collier?’
    ‘By all means,’ said Sebright, ‘whatever it may be.’ And the piping trebles began—
    ‘One Christmas Day it did befel.’
    ‘Stop a minute,’ said Sebright; ‘is not it “did befal?” ‘
    ‘No,’ said Jemmy, decisively, ‘befel;’ for which a reason was soon apparent in the ensuing rhyme:—
    … “
    It goes on to print the rest of the song, with some variations of course.

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