This album is a Celtic Mid-Winter Celebration. We take you
wassailing from house to house, on "waits", or with a Mari Lwyd group,
to coax ale and cakes from the neighbors. (Wassail, by the way, from a
Saxon(!!) phrase meaning "be well", is a potent warm drink of spiced
ale.) We soothe you with lullabies, get you dancing, and even singing
along - on strange ancient carols, or with some of the old familiar
So join us by the fire, with a cup of wassail, spiced with nutmeg & ginger!
The complete lyrics may be viewed here.
Please to See The King is the tune of a carol from Pembrokeshire,
South Wales. It commemorates an ancient ritual in which boys hunt a
wren, the King of all birds, on St. Stephen's Day (Dec. 26). They then
carry it from house to house as a token of good luck. Since we are not
into dead birds, especially the day after Christmas when we've probably
got a hangover from all that wassail, we don't do the words.
The Gower Wassail, from the nearby Gower Peninsula, is another carol for bringing in the luck. Collected by the Welsh folksinger, Philip Tanner, it contains a great wassail recipe using elderberry, nutmeg and ginger... Bernard - Flute, C whistle; Diana - Mandolins; Barbara - Lead guitar, vocals, tambourine; Mike Melchione - Tremolo guitar. lyrics
The Christ Child's Lullaby was collected by Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser on the Isle of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides, and translated from Gaelic by Seamus Ennis. Barbara, the mother of two sons, believes that every mother relates to the sentiments. To keep everyone from dozing off, we follow it with the stunning boating song, Mist Covered Mountains of Home, played as a slow march. Barbara - Lead and harmony vocals, guitar; Diana - Cello; Bernard - Flute. lyrics
'Ma Grun War 'N Gelynen, the Sans Day, or St. Day, Carol was collected at St. Day, Cornwall, by one of the first Cornish bards. A traditional Welsh carol tune provides a melodic transition into the Holly & The Ivy which was first printed as an 18th Century broadside ballad. The words we use in our version date from the 14th Century and reflect the Celtic roots of the song. Rumor has it that the song originated from a dance between lads (holly) and maids (ivy), as they intertwined one with t'other — probably one of those Celtic fertility things! Bernard arranged a choral treatment here as might be heard in a Welsh chapel on Christmas morn. Barbara - Lead &, tenor vocals, guitar; Bernard - Bass vocals, flute; Diana - Cittern; Elke Baker - Fiddle lyrics
We confess to including a medieval (14th Century) French chanson from the Beaune area, but it fit in so well with these traditional dances of the Pays Vannetais (S.E. Brittany), that we couldn't resist. We follow the song with an An Dro in the Kan ha Diskan fashion (literally Song & Unsong) and part of a Laridé à Six Temps. The reprise of the song is sung against another variation of the An Dro, carried by the flute. The words - I saw the wolf, the fox & the hare 1)Getting drunk, and I shouted back at them 2)I heard them sing, and I grimaced at them 3)I saw them dance, and I myself turned them around - prove that no nation has a corner on the market for silly drinking songs. Barbara - Vocals, guitars, bodhrán; Diana - Mandolin, cittern; Bernard - Flute, D whistle, doumbek lyrics
Tra Va Ruggit Creest, an ancient carol, traditionally had unending verses and was sung on Christmas Eve. We play it as a short instrumental, seguéing seamlessly into the best known of Manx lullabies. Bernard unearthed this version in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library in London. The words here are a combination of versions culled from many variants. Sing along on those choruses! Bernard - C whistle, flute; Diana - Cittern, cello; Barbara - Vocals, guitar lyrics
Depending on the Welsh dialect, Mari Lwyd may mean either "Holy
Mary" or "grey mare" (one of those linguistic subtleties which might
get one into big trouble). In the Mari Lwyd tradition, a horse figure
was carried from door to door by wassail singers during the Christmas
season. The group would sing prescribed stanzas, asking permission to
enter the house. Next followed the "pwnco" or versifying contest with
an opponent within the house, describing each other's singing,
drunkenness, stinginess, etc. Victory ensured that the singers were
offered cakes, ale and perhaps a cash contribution. Our intrepid Welsh
advisor, Cheryl Mitchell says both the songs in this set are in little
known dialects. Barbara apologizes if her pronunciation has
inadvertently insulted anyone's mare.
Cwrw Da (Fine Ale) is a slip jig in 9/8 time. On a visit to Wales, we were gratified to see a sign stating "Cwrw Da" outside a pub in Bala. Of course we had to verify the claim personally!
As per usual, Y Wassael praises both the ale and the wassailers, before ending with good wishes and seasonal greetings to all. Barbara - Tambourine, lead and harmony vocals, bodhrán, guitar; Bernard - D whistle, harmony vocals, flute; Diana - Mandolin, cello lyrics
Christmas carols in Irish Gaelic are scarce (something to do with the English, no doubt). This one tells the traditional Nativity story, closing with seasonal wishes of peace on Earth. We follow it with the tune from a Galician carol (out of the Cancionero Musical by Pedrell.) Bernard - flute; Diana - Cello; Barbara - Vocals, guitar lyrics
There was a Pig is an old agrarian mummers' carol from Bedfordshire, linking the Christmas season with the cycle of planting and harvesting. Such carols were mimed, often in wicker headdress or costume, by the men of the village. This time we follow on with another of those wassail songs, this one from Yorkshire, expressing many of the same sentiments that we've sung before...Barbara - Lead and harmony vocals, guitar, bodhrán; Bernard - Harmony vocals, doumbek, flute; Diana - Cittern lyrics
We precede this Breton carol with an air from the Lié district of the Côte d'Armor, which just seems to want to go with it. Nolwenn Monjarret, an outstanding Breton chanteuse, helped us with the pronunciation and translation of the words of this lovely carol, which tells of the joyful singing in Heaven and Earth on the night of the first Christmas. Our sprightly interpretation the second time around is a departure from the more stately Breton approach, and suggests that the tune might originally have been a dance. Bernard - flute; Diana - Cello, cittern; Barbara - Vocals, guitar lyrics
This secular carol is the Welsh inspiration for the better known Deck the Halls. Those who are cold, whether from loneliness, poverty or the snows on Mount Snowdon, are exhorted to enjoy the warmth of the holidays. Y Gelynnen, a holly kind of tune from Anglesey, leads into a thumping rendition of Deck the Halls as most of us know it. Barbara - lead vocals, guitar, bodhrán; Bernard - flute, D whistle, harmony vocals; Diana - mandolin, cello, harmony vocals lyrics
While the song is often attributed to Rabbie Burns, he only claimed authorship of the 3rd and 4th verses. Burns, Scotland's greatest poet, was also a passionate Scottish folklorist. He collected Auld Lang Syne "from an old man's singing" and submitted it to the British Museum. We use his original tune, an old drinking song, ending with a chorus of the more modern and better known melody. Elke's fiddles echo Rabbie's version as we bid our listeners Auld Lang Syne. Diana - Cello; Elke Baker - Fiddle; Barbara - Vocals, guitar; Bernard - Flute lyrics
Total Running Time - 49:11
Produced by Barbara Ryan & Bernard Argent
Sound Engineering & Mixing - Scott Shuman & Mike Melchione
Recorded at - Shuman Recording, Inc., Falls Church, VA (703) 237-5677
Mastering - Lee Anne Sonenstein & David Glasser, Airshow Inc.,
Art Direction &Design - Steven Parke, WHAT? design (410) 327-9363
Photography - Bryan Burris, Studio 3C; Joyce Parke
Photo of Callanish, Isle of Lewis, Scotland - Barbara Ryan
Liner notes by Bernard & Barbara
All tracks traditional, arranged by IONA © 1996, Barnaby Productions, Inc
With special thanks to Cheryl Mitchell, Nolwenn Monjarret, Katell Thielemann, Betsy O'Malley, Grace Griffith (for help with Auld Lang Syne), our patient and supportive families, Betsy McFadden, Argus Tresidder, Chris & Mark Ryan (and in memory of Joyce Argent and Nancy Tresidder who died before they could hear this album), friends and loyal fans of IONA.
And, of course, to Barnaby!
Also to Mary Cliff and Tony Sica without whose dedication to folk music, musicians like us could not be heard.
Instruments: Barbara plays an Ovation Legend guitar and beats a Charlie Byrne bodhrán. Bernard's flute was made by Eugene Lambe, whistles by Glen Schultz of Thin Weazle. Diana's cello is by Weaver, 5 course cittern by Nathan Sweet, and mandolin by FlatironBack
Document last modified on March 16, 2012 - IONA.