A Beginner’s Guide to Welsh Trad Music

Have you ever wondered why there seems to be loads of Irish and Scottish music, but nothing from Wales?

Did you know that Deck the halls is a Welsh tune? And did you know that it comes from an ancient Celtic bardic tradition? In fact we have a whole ton of music, songs, and traditions that have ancient origins, including the Mari Lwyd and the world’s oldest harp music. So why has no-one heard it before? In this video we’ll be looking at the past, present and future of traditional music and customs in Wales, and where you can find the good stuff.

A very special thanks to Phyllis Kinney, Harri Llewelyn, Gerard Kilbride, Gwen Màiri, Jordan Price Williams, Welsh Whisperer, Calan, Angharad Jenkins, Patrick Rimes, Gwilym Bowen Rhys, and Emily Jane Coupland for your knowledge and your support! Ffwrnes Gerdd clips by Gethin Scourfield-Gerard KilBride for S4C

Hal-An-Tow

Hal-An-Tow is a processional song traditionally sung to usher in the summer.  And so we encounter, in the lead solo… two of the most distinctive voices in English music; the unarguably great husky-grey voice of Norma and the undeniably arguably great voice of Mike! I won’t say that ‘you either love it or hate it’ because, trust me, if you’re listening to the voice of Mike Waterson for the first time and finding it mannered, even ridiculous, there’s a very good chance that, in the fullness of time, you too will come to acknowledge Mike as every bit as great a singer as his sisters. An acquired taste, if ever there was one.

Source: Toppermost

From Glasgow Madrigirls summer concert ‘In the Greenwood’. Performed at St John’s Church in Keswick on Saturday 22 June 2013. Filmed by Harry Campbell. Conducted by Katy Lavinia Cooper

Traditional Lyrics

CHORUS

Hal-an-Tow, jolly rumble-o,
We were up long before the day-o,
To welcome in the summer,
To welcome in the May-o –
For summer is a-coming,
And the winter’s gone away-o!

Since man was first created
His works have been debated
And we have celebrated
The coming of the spring

Take no scorn to wear the horns,
It was the crest when you were born;
Your father’s father wore it,
And your father wore it too.

CHORUS

Robin Hood and Little John
Have both gone to the fair-o,
And we shall to the merry green wood,
To hunt the buck and hare-o!

CHORUS

What happened to the Spaniards
That made so great a boast, oh?
They shall eat the feathered goose,
And we shall eat the roast, oh!

CHORUS

And as for that good knight, St. George
St. George he was a knight o
Of all the knights of Christendom
St. George is the right o

CHORUS

God bless Aunt Mary Moses
With all her power and might-o;
Send us peace in England,
Send us peace by day and night-o!

Lankum “Katie Cruel”

More Lankum on The Hobbledehoy

Katie Cruel is a traditional American folksong, likely of Scottish origin. As a traditional song, Katie Cruel has been recorded by many performers, but the best known recording of the song is by Karen Dalton on the album In My Own Time. The American version of the song is said to date to the Revolutionary War period. The song is Roud no. 1645.

The American lyrics appear to contain an oblique story of regret. As given in Eloise Hubbard Linscott’s The Folk Songs of Old New England. The opening verse of the song bears a strong resemblance to the Scottish song, Licht Bob’s Lassie, whose opening verses mirror the song in both notional content and form.

First when I cam’ tae the toon
They ca’d me young and bonnie
Noo they’ve changed my name
Ca’ me the licht bob’s honey

First when I cam’ tae the toon
They ca’d me young and sonsie
Noo they’ve changed my name
They ca’ me the licht bob’s lassie

Wikipedia

Lankum are a contemporary Irish folk music group from Dublin, consisting of brothers Ian and Daragh Lynch, Cormac MacDiarmada and Radie Peat. Their music has been characterised as “a younger, darker Pogues with more astonishing power”. Reviewing their third album The Livelong Day for The Guardian, Jude Rogers described it as “a folk album influenced by the ambient textures of Sunn O)) and Swans, plus the sonic intensity of Xylouris White and My Bloody Valentine”. In 2018 they were named Best Folk Group at the RTÉ Folk Music Awards, while Radie Peat was named Best Folk Singer.

“Nottamun Town”

Performed by Davy Graham and Shirley Collins

In Nottamun Town not a soul would look up,
Not a soul would look up, not a soul would look down,
Not a soul would look up, not a soul would look down,
To show me the way to fair Nottamun Town.Met the King and the Queen, and a company more
Come a-walking behind and a-riding before
Come a stark naked drummer a-beating the drum
With his hands on his bosom, come marching along.Sat down on a hard, hot cold frozen stone,
Ten thousand stood ’round me, yet I was alone
Took my hat in my hands for to keep my head warm,
Ten thousand got drownded that never was born.In Nottamun Town not a soul would look up,
Not a soul would look up, not a soul would look down,
Not a soul would look up, not a soul would look down,
To show me the way to fair Nottamun Town.