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Penny Merriments – Street Songs of 17th Century England
The Courtiers Health, or The Merry Boys of the Times [2:40]
The Country Lass [4:07]
The Crost People, or A Good Misfortune [7:12]
The Countryman’s Joy [2:44]
Seldom Cleanly [3:38]
A Merry Jest of John Thomson and Jakaman His Wife [4:45]
The Seven Merry Wives of London, or The Gossips Complaint [4:01]
Old England Grown New [2:50]
Good Advice to Batchelors, How to Court and Obtain a Young Lass [3:07]
Neptune’s Raging Fury [3:13]
The North Country Lovers [4:18]
The Lunatick Lover [4:08]
The Downfall of Dancing [6:14]
The Saint Turn’d Sinner [3:51]
And Old Song on the Spanish Armada [2:07]
The Female Captain, or The Counterfeit Bridegroom [4:25]
London Mourning in Ashes [4:07]
The Famous Ratcatcher [2:57]
The City Waites
Recorded at St Paul’s Church, Southgate, London, 5th-6th September 2004
NAXOS 8.557672 [70:25]

The City Waites here present a selection of simple but enjoyable streets songs from the seventeen century. The soloists are all experts in their fields – Lucy Skeaping, Douglas Wootton and Roderick Skeaping as vocalists, and Robin Jeffrey, Michael Brain, Roderick Skeaping again and Nicholas Perry on a wide range of instruments from the cittern and viol to the bass curtal and bagpipes.

The songs are all Broadside Ballads – a kind of musical newspaper, printed in large quantities, cheap, easily available and ubiquitous. The texts deal with a range of subjects from current affairs – including songs on historical events such as the fire of London and the Spanish Armada - to comedy (such as traditional country bumpkin jokes), and love songs – the latter often remarkably crude. I was interested to come across Old England Grown New – a song to the tune of Greensleeves, but the words of which are remarkably relevant today.

The City Waites present what one imagines might be very authentic-sounding performances of these songs. The men have rough, raw, lusty voices that bring the songs to life, and Lucy Skeaping has a pretty, sweet voice that would not go amiss on a Restoration maid – listen to her aptly dulcet tones in Country Lass, for example. Sometimes the singers half speak, half sing – as Lucy Skeaping does in Seldom Cleanly, and Wootton in Good advice to Bachelors – which is very effective and tends to give a good flavour of the period. The local accents occasionally adopted are excellent, too, such as by Roderick Skeaping in The Countryman’s Joy.

I particularly enjoyed Neptune’s Raging Fury - a lovely nautical song from all voices, as well Roderick Skeaping’s beautifully dark, deep, black voice in The Lunatick Lover, and the concluding lively The Famous Ratcatcher.

These songs are great fun, and all the performers seem to thoroughly enjoy themselves, with energetic and vivacious renditions. Interesting and informative notes from Lucy Skeaping about the history, use, popularity and performance (and so on) of these songs add to the pleasure of listening to the disc. I did, however, find towards the end of the disc that it was getting a bit too much… these songs are better in smaller bites than in over an hour’s worth’s concentrated listening. And a final warning - the words could cause offence!

Em Marshall

see also review by Jonathan Woolf



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