Saturday 5 December 2015

Getting with the Christmas Spirit - Steeleye Span The Boar's Head Carol

This begins as a really wonderful bit of un-accommpanied singing by a line-up of Steeleye Span (not the one depicted) containing three of the premier vocalists of the British folk scene - Maddy Prior, Martin Carthy (providing a rock solid bass - sounding rather like a human Crumhorn); and John Kirkpatrick as tenor - not quite of the god-like status of Prior and Carthy, but probably the best-ever anglo-concertina/ melodeon player. 

Plus the excellent Tim Hart and Rick Kemp to make an exceptionally rich sound (I'm guessing the drummer Nigel Pegrum didn't sing).

But Kirkpatrick had a considerable gift for harmonization - and my assumption is that it was he who made the exceptionally varied and evolving vocal arrangement.

Anyway, this is one of those pieces that when I hear it 'the centuries roll back'.

Interestingly, I believe I was at the first public perfomance of this piece by the new Steeleye line-up of 1977 - somewhere (I have forgotten where) in rural mid-Somerset.


Leo said...

"sounding ... like a human Crumhorn"

I enjoyed that phrase almost as much as I enjoyed the music.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Leo - Excellent - I hoped someone would get-it.

For those who don't know the sound (or appearance) here is a bass crumhorn for comparison:

An alternative comparison is with a rackett:

Note - Thee are 'medieval' wind instruments. The crumhorn resembles a bagpipe chanter with an enclosed double reed contained inside the upper part of the tubing and blown via a mouthpiece - the rackett resembles a bassoon with a double reed held in the mouth, but with the considerable length of the instrument's tubing folded up and down inside the visible cylinder.

Some schoalrs believe these ancient instruments (also the rebec, a violin like thing) tell us how humans used to sing - since they are almost all raspy and penetrating - which is how people seem to sing spontaneously in folk traditions, when much musical is outside.

These women are of course geniuses - and probably few people could ever match this (and the harmonies are complex and composed) - but note the tone of voice (open throated production) - and also note the way they sometimes let teh voices slide down at the end of a cadence - which is similar to what spontaneously happens with bagpipes.