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The English Stage Jig
The Black Man (probably before 1633) [21:45]; The Merry Wooing of Robin and Joan (before 1656) [6:21]; The Bloody Battle at Billingsgate (c.1665) [6:10]
Will KEMP (d.1603?)
Singing Simpkin (before 1595) [9:17]
Thomas JORDAN (1612?-1685)
The Cheaters Cheated (publ. 1664) [34:22]

The City Waites/Lucie Skeaping
rec. St Paul’s Church, New Southgate, London, April 2008
English texts included
HYPERION CDA67754 [78:17] 


Experience Classicsonline

The word “jig” nowadays is used normally to refer to a dance. However in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it also referred to a short musical farce which might include singing and slapstick comedy as well as dance. These “jigs” were often performed at the end of tragedies or at feasts and other functions. They survive today in various collections and as broadsheets, in either case with only the words given although sometimes with indications of the tunes to which they were to be sung. This disc contains a variety of “jigs” ranging from Singing Simpkin, first published in 1656 but probably dating from much earlier, to The Cheaters Cheated performed at the Mansion House “to the Sheriffs of London” sometime in the early 1660s. To the general listener, however, there is no sense of a developing or even changing style. Rather, we have a series of brief interludes or playlets, most featuring a set of stock characters including various kinds of confidence tricksters, gullible countrymen and street traders.

As usual with Hyperion, the presentation is immaculate, with a lengthy general introduction by Lucie Skeaping - from which much of the above is obtained - notes about the individual pieces, a list of characters, and the text including a note as to the tunes used and why they have been chosen. Without being able to see the action, especially for “The Black Man”, the notes and synopsis are very helpful, indeed probably essential. This is not to criticise the performers in any way – their diction and characterisation are admirable throughout. Perhaps subtlety is not required to any significant degree but the ability to interest and hold an audience is, and this is something that the City Waites have achieved through long experience. Their choice of tunes and instruments is always guided by the nature of the piece and how it might be put across best. I cannot imagine these pieces being better or more convincingly performed. 

Clearly if you have an interest in the byways of theatre and performance in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries this is an essential purchase, bringing to life something often referred to in theatrical and other histories but which is not often performed. However whether you enjoy it or not is perhaps another matter. Humour is a very personal thing. I was often told when young that “ITMA helped us win the war”, but listening to it with my parents it seemed almost unbelievably unfunny. I dare say the same kind of thing applies to more recent shows where what I find comic will strike others as laboured and vice versa. I will admit to finding few of Shakespeare’s comic scenes funny – think of the Gobbos in “The Merchant of Venice” or of the Porter in “Macbeth”, but they are the purest gold compared with the crude and obvious plots and doggerel found in these pieces. Yes, there is some enjoyment to be had here but whether you would want to repeat the experience often is another matter. Whilst I have listened to earlier discs by the City Waites frequently and with increasing pleasure I am doubtful about whether I will often want to return to any of these “jigs”. Try this as a sample (from the end of Singing Simpkin):

            Husband (who has just caught Simpkin with his wife):
                        O sirrah, have I caught you-
                        Now do the best you can!
                        Your schoolmaster nere taught you
                        To wrong an honest man –
                        Good sir, I never went to schole
                        Then why am I abused?
                        The truth is I am but a foole
                        And like a fool am used
                        Yet sirrah, you had wit enough
                        To think to cuckold me.
                        I jested with him husband,
                        His knavery to see
            Simpkin (who had earlier asked the Husband to buy him a quart of sack):
                        But now you talk of knaverie,
                        I pray where is my sack?
                        You shall want it in your belly, sir,
                        And have it on your back!

If this is for you then there is plenty more like it on this disc.

John Sheppard


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