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The Topping Tooters of the Town: Music of the London Waits 1580-1650
The City Musick
rec. St. George’s Church, Chesterton, Cambridge, UK, 2015
Sung texts included.
AVIE AV2364 [49:32]

The word ‘wayte’ is derived from the Old French gaite – a watchman. Until relatively recently the received opinion was that musicians referred to as ‘waytes’ or ‘waits’ were essentially watchmen who were also amateur – and probably amateurish – musicians. Modern research has, however, shown that the City waits were men employed primarily, or only, as musicians – the English equivalent of, say, the civic pipers of many an Italian city. In England, such bands of professional musicians seem to have come into existence during the fifteenth century. They were employed to perform at various civic events – such as accompanying the mayor at official ceremonies; they also undertook ‘independent’ paid work (at gild dinners, for example), sometimes beyond the boundaries of their ‘own’ city. There were bands of such waits in, for example, London, Norwich, Lincoln, Bristol, Coventry, Beverley, Nottingham, Cambridge, Leicester and Exeter. There is much information to be found in the essays (particularly those by Richard Rastall) posted at The best of these bands of waits were clearly made up of thoroughly accomplished musicians.

As Peter Holman puts it (in his essay ‘Private and Public Music’ in Companion to Baroque Music, ed. Julie Ann Sadie,1990): “The waits of London and Norwich, were literate and highly accomplished musicians who played lutes, viols and violins as well as the traditional ‘wait pipe’ (the shawm) and other wind instruments. The London waits, for instance, provided music at the Blackfriars Theatre for the King’s Company (Shakespeare’s troupe) and employed a number of prominent composers such as John Wilson, Robert Taylor and Simon Ives.” The London waits also provided music for some of the masques and other festivities at the Inns of Court and played at some of the City churches. We can add to that what William Lyons, director of the City Musick tells us in his (all too-brief) booklet essay for this CD, that “from 1571 [the London Waits gave] a regular public performance on Sundays at the Royal Exchange, constituting perhaps the first public concerts in England”.

Much of the music on this disc (save the Psalm settings) might have been played in one of those Sunday concerts at the Royal Exchange. Of the composers represented here, Anthony Holborne – usually at his best in dances – and the Catholic exile Peter Philips, who spent pretty well all of his musical life on the continent, are perhaps the best-known names. The less well-known John Adson had close links with the City Waits – he is known to have been a cornett player in the service of Charles III, Duke of Lorraine in 1604 and may have stayed in Nancy for some years (perhaps until Charles’ death in 1608); after Adson’s return to England he joined the City Waits in 1613 (it may have been on the strength of regular work with the London Waits that he married in 1614), working with them until at least the late 1620s; perhaps even until 1633 when he became a royal wind musician. His one substantial publication appeared in 1621; this was Courtly Masquing Ayres, a collection of 31 dances (though not all 31 can be attributed, with confidence, to Adson). The Waits would surely have played some of Adson’s Ayres, as The City Musick do here. The three ‘ayres’ recorded here are attractive and sprightly dances; No. 21 (track 3) is especially successful and benefits from a very well-judged performance.

The instrumentation of The City Musick, made up of instruments of the time, or at any rate copies thereof, enables the creation of as ‘authentic’ a sonority as we are ever likely to hear; but there is nothing of the dutiful historical recreation about this music-making. The music here is often inventive (and catchy) and the playing is always appropriately full of vitality. The dominant mood is celebratory. I enjoyed every minute of this CD, so much so that my one disappointment is that there isn’t more of it – at under 50 minutes room might surely have been found for more music. Of what is here, my own favourites included the opening track Anthony Holborne’s ‘The Night Watch’ – this title was surely a knowing nod to the earlier meaning of waits (as watchmen), even a kind of in-joke. Elsewhere Holborne’s ‘The Lullabie’ and his pavan ‘Paradizo’ are delightful pieces, consort music which is both sophisticated and yet essentially simple. The inclusion of music from John Playford’s The English Dancing Master (1651) might seem to take us beyond the time-span (1580-1650) indicated in the album’s sub-title but, there’s every reason to believe that most of these tunes were known much earlier – of the four ‘Playford’ tunes played here at least two (‘Half-Hanikin’ and ‘Sellengers Rownde’) were certainly known nearer the beginning of the century. It is a shame that the booklet provides no information on the individual pieces. The Pavane and Galliard by Phillips are to be found in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book; tracks 15-17 are arrangements of three of Morley’s Canzonets or Little Short Songs (1593/1602); all four of the Psalm settings come from Thomas Ravenscroft’s Whole Book of Psalmes (1621). I would have appreciated information on the sources of some of the other music. More positively, I was thoroughly taken by William Lyons’ arrangements, convincingly idiomatic and very colourful, of seven anonymous melodies (tracks 7-12 can be happily listened to straight through, as a kind of medley) and of the ‘Playford’ dance tunes. I particularly enjoyed ‘Turkeyloney’, a tune known (under several slight variants of title) from several sources, such as William Ballet’s Lute Book of 1594. It was clearly a popular tune in the years either side of 1600; one version is known as ‘The God of Love’ and another sets a naively optimistic and politically incorrect text explaining why a ‘simple’ maid makes a better wife than a widow does. I quote the first two stanzas in slightly modernized spelling and punctuation:

If ever I marry, I’ll marry a maid:
To marry a widow, I’m sore afraid
For maids they are simple and never will grutch [grouch],
But widows full oft, as they say, know too much.

A maid is so sweet, and so gentle of kind,
That a maid is the wife I will choose, to my mind.
A widow is forward and never will yield;
Or, if such there be, you will meet them but seld.

The four Psalm settings, especially those by Dowland and Ravenscroft himself (not for the first time I find myself if Ravenscroft doesn’t deserve better than New Grove’s dismissal of him as a composer of “great versatility, though of modest talents”) have a pleasing dignity and unpompous gravity the mixing of voices and instruments very effective and beguiling.

Every track here prompts reflects on aspects of cultural and social history. But, above all, The City Musick and their leader William Lyons are effecting an important act of reappraisal demonstrating, by their research and their playing, that by the late Sixteenth Century the waits were far more than, as it were, the Dogberry and Verges of the Renaissance musical world. They were an important force in taking music beyond royal and aristocratic courts and making it more widely available. Now their work is getting a ‘modern’, respectful on a disc that will be found entertaining by more than just specialists in the music of the English Renaissance, especially since the recorded sound is very sympathetic, with enough (but not too much) space around the instruments.

Glyn Pursglove

Anthony HOLBORNE (c.1545-1602)
1.The Night Watch [1:19]
John ADSON (c.1585-1640)
2. The Bull Maske (Courtly Masquing ayre 18) [1:22]
3. Courtly Masquing Ayre 20 [1:27]
4. Courtly Masquing Ayre 21 [1:04]
Peter PHILIPS (c.1560-1628)
5. Pavane Dolorosa [3:37]
6. Galliard Dolorosa [1:41]
ANON. arr William LYONS
7. The Quadran Pavan [1:15]
8. Turkeyloney [1:28]
9. The Earl of Essex Measures [1:25]
10. Tinternell [1:17]
11. The Old Almain [1:36]
12. The Queen’s Alman [1:08]
13. The Cecilia Almain [1:32]
ANON. arr William LYONS
14. The Black Almain [1:47]
Thomas MORLEY (c.1557-1602)
15. See, see, myne owne sweet jewell [1:35]
16. Hould out my hart [1:44]
17. Crewell you pull away too soone [1:43]
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
18. Psalm 100: All people that on earth do dwell [2:27]
Richard ALLISON (c.1560-c.1610)
19. Psalm 68: Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered [2:51]
Simon STUBBS (fl.1616-21)
20.Psalm 149: Sing ye unto the Lord our God [1:52]
Thomas RAVENSCROFT (1590-1633)
21.Psalm 117: O praise the Lord, all ye nations [1:21]
22. Paradizo [2:18]
23. The Lullabie [2:29]
24. The Cradle [1:14]
John PLAYFORD (1623-1686/7)
25.Pauls Wharf [1:39]
Valentin HAUSSMANN (c.1560-c.1614)
26. All ye who love [1:52]
John PLAYFORD (1623-86) arr. LYONS
27. Lilliburlero [0:58
28. Maiden Lane [1:02]
29. Halfe Hannikin [0:55]
30. Sellingers Rownde [1:23]

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