And Food Did I Have and Plenty: A Cornucopia of Feast Folk for your Thanksgiving Comedown

Posted by Kells, November 30, 2014 12:52pm | Post a Comment
I can't imagine everyone is pumped to jump right into all things Christmas before the Thanksgiving leftovers have cooled or even ceased to provide soup and sandwich solutions aplenty. This is especially true, for me, when it comes to accepting the inevitable aural advent of Holiday Music, a sonic offense that can sometimes begin as early as weeks prior to Black Friday. As a sentimental hoarder enthusiast of Holiday tunes, I relish the reason for the season and all the weird and wonderful music that comes with it, but I feel it's in poor taste to unleash the likes of "Last Christmas" too soon. And given that Thanksgiving music thankfully isn't a thing, the lack of any bankable November music tradition leaves the door wide open for folks like McCartney to simply have their "Wonderful Christmastime" as prematurely as they please. I feel an intervention is in order.

Thus I spent the last four weeks exploring possible playlists that might adequately satisfy the season-specific music void that exists Halloween and Christmas, something like a dignified tribute to noble November. Enter the notion of Feast Folk -- a seasonal buffet of harvest-inspired "folk rock" mainly adapted from or informed by ye olde English Roots music as exhumed by many a new age troubadour in the British Isles of the late 1960s (the likes of which is surveyed at length in Rob Young's exemplary book Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music). Here is some food for thought:

Tim Hart and Maddy Prior - "Bring Us In Good Ale"

This song, appearing on Hart and Prior's on their third duo album Summer Solstice (1971), is purportedly a wassail dating from about 1460. Because it eschews all food on favor of good ale and good ale alone, it's a perfect tune for those seeking a mostly liquid repast this holiday season.

"Bring us in no brown bread, for that is made of bran,
   Nor bring us in no white bread, for therein is no grain.
Bring us in no beef, for there are many bones,
   But bring us in good ale, for that goeth down at once.
Bring us in no mutton, for that is seldom lean,
   Nor bring us in no tripes, for they are seldom clean.
Bring us in no eggs, for there are many shells,
   But bring us in good ale, and bring us nothing else."

Shelagh McDonald - "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme"

"Come all you fair and tender girls,
   That flourish in your prime, prime.
Beware, beware, keep your garden fair,
   And let no man steal your thyme, thyme,
Let no man steal your thyme."

This song, from Shelagh McDonald's first album, the aptly titled, Album, is said to date from as far back as 1689 and is included here because I'd rather not roast without it, thyme that is. Bonus fun fact: on January 16th 2013, McDonald made her first official public appearance after having "disappeared" more than forty years ago. Performing half hour set at the Green Note in Camden, London, her set consisted of previously unrecorded material as well as her marvelous version of this song, captured in the video below.

Pentangle - "The Hunting Song"

"Wearily I crossed the stream to the castle
    Where I found shelter from the cold wintry wind
And food did I have and plenty
    But the Lord and Lady seemed so sad"

Running nearly eight minutes, this groovy yarn concerning a king, a queen, a princely knight and a lady with magic horn of truth, or something, appears on Pentangle's third album Basket of Light (1969). Though a cursory search yielded little information about the song's genesis (other than it seems no one in the band penned it), the song itself sounds hundreds of years old. Indeed, during their 1970 BBC special, Pentangle guitarist Bert Jansch introduces the song saying, "it's a sort of 13th century rock n' roll song, that's the only way I can explain it."

Steeleye Span - "King Henry"

"Some meat, some meat you King Henry,
   Some meat you give to me,
Go kill your horse you King Henry
   And bring him here to me"

I owe the cover art to Steeleye Span's excellent 1972 album Below the Salt for imbuing me with the idea that British Folk Revival might be a simple solution to my seasonal rock in a hard place. That is, all I really wanna do is rock and I find that time of the year when folks play Christmas music too early to be a hard place for me, emotionally. Anyway, this song features a ton of food imagery, almost all of it brutal in the extreme, but that probably has everything to do with the origin of the ballad having been traced back to a Scottish adaptation of a 13th century Norse saga.

 Martin Carthy - " Lord Randall"

“What did she give you for your supper,
   my own dear darling boy?
What did she give you for your supper,
   my own dear comfort and joy?”
“I got fish and I got broth,
   oh make my bed mummy do,
Make my bed mummy do.”

This well known child ballad appears on Martin Carthy's 1972 album Shearwater and tells the story of a boy poisoned by a bowl seafood served to him by his (evil?) step-mother, the details of the deadly encounter revealed to his true mother in lyrical dialogue. Carthy mentions in the liner notes that the common plot of the song "must be among the more widespread story-ideas in the folk consciousness." Again, brutal.

Forest - "Famine Song"

This little dirge-y ditty, from pagan folk trio Forest's second LP, Full Circle (1970), is all about the food that isn't -- perfect subject matter for a band that routinely explores the darker aspects of traditional English folk themes. The perfect three part harmony of this song, bereft of instrumental accompaniment, seems to suggest a chorus of voices gathered at an empty table:

"Oh I wish that we were geese, night and morn
 Oh I wish that we were geese, night and morn
 Oh I wish that we were geese,
'Til the hour of our release
When we'd live and die in peace,
stuffing corn, stuffing corn"

 Paul Giovanni feat. Magnet - "Corn Rigs"

This opening tune from the film The Wicker Man is a delightful romp of an arrangement taken from Robert Burns' "Rigs O' Barley". It's so good it almost made me want to change Feast Folk to Lammas Rock.

"It was upon a Lammas night, when corn rigs are bonnie,
Beneath the moon's unclouded light, I held awhile to Annie
The time went by with careless heed,
   'til 'tween the late and early
With small persuasion she agreed,
   to see me through the barley.

Corn rigs and barley rigs and corn rigs are bonnie
I'll not forget that happy night among the rigs with Annie"

Vashti Bunyan - "Rose Hip November"

Welcoming in and celebrating November's earthy delights, this simple song written and performed by Vashti Bunyan, appearing on her 1970 gem of a debut album Just Another Diamond Day, is as elegant an ode to the eleventh month as an exquisite mid-autumn nights' dream.

"Rose hip November - Autumn I'll remember
 Gold landing at our door, catch one leaf
   and fortune will surround you evermore.
Pine tree very tall, waiting for snow to fall.
Mist hangs very still, caught by dawn
   in castle moats around the sleeping hill.
Now a pipe is heard, happy is the shepherd
Shepherdess and dog, father of the pastureland
   and mother of the flock."

Sandy Denny - "Late November"

Well, as it happens, today is the last day of November and the by-the-calendar actual advent of Christmas and, as such, here is a song with which to bid a fond adieu to this most excellent and bountiful November. Who better to take this parting to task than the incomparable Sandy Denny? And what better, more appropriately titled tune, than the opening song from her 1971 solo album The North Star Grassman and the Ravens? Winter has only just begun, and heady sugarplum distractions only hours abut the dream that was November lingers.

"The wine it was drunk, the ship it was sunk
The shot it was dead, all the sorrows were drowned
The birds they were clouds, the brides and the shrouds
And as we drew south the mist it came down..."

The Young Tradition with Shirley and Dolly Collins -  "The Boar's Head Carol"

I give up, it's Christmas. But that doesn't mean we gotta make do with modern offal when it comes to holiday music enjoyment. Why not keep it fifteenth century conventional with The Young Tradition and Shirley and Dolly Collins' rendition of "The Boar's Head Carol" -- a song that commemorates the ancient tradition of sacrificing a boar and presenting it's head at a Yuletide feast? Yes, please! Let's make this a merry medieval Christmas to remember.

"The boar's head in hand bear I
Bedecked with bay and rosemary;
So I pray you my masters be merry,
Quot estis in convivio (as many as are at the feast)."

Relevant Tags

Shirley Collins (1), Sandy Denny (3), Wicker Man (2), November (2), Magnet (2), Shelagh Mcdonald (1), Martin Carthy (3), Vashti Bunyan (7), Forest (1), Pentangle (4), Steeleye Span (2), Tim Hart (1), Folk Rock (3), Thanksgiving (21), Dolly Collins (1), Maddy Prior (1), The Young Tradition (1)