James Merryweather, of York Waits fame, has compiled a great collection of (mostly) British songs, part-songs and catches, ranging over time from Tappster! Fille Another Ale (c.1450) to Auld Lang Syne at the end of the 18th century. The focus of the anthology lies between about 1550 and 1750, with favourites such as Greensleeves, The Three Ravens, The Boar's Head Carol, The Roast Beef of Old England, The Vicar of Bray, and the Old Hundredth (to name but a few). There are less familiar pieces too, the majority of them catches, canons and rounds that would originally have been sung in convivial (that's to say drunk) male gatherings; fumes of alcohol and tobacco pervade the pages. Merryweather writes 'Most of the songs were originally composed by men and written for male voices. Therefore, the book inevitably has a male bias. Ladies must not take offence, but take charge of the songs and modify them.'
A do-it-yourself approach is the key to using the book. 'Please Make The Songs Work For You!' Merryweather exhorts, and the arrangements encourage one to do this. Greensleeves, for example, comes not only with tune, bass, chord symbols and intermediate parts that may be sung or played, but also with versions of the original passamezzo antico on which it is based. And if you don't read music easily, there's a CD-Rom included, from which you can hear and learn the parts, separately or together.
Another important practical aspect of the book is that it comes in a ring binder, so that it lies flat wherever you open it, and will not disintegrate with use. So, turn to page 22, Fill ev'ry Glass, and enjoy.
Dr Merryweather's Song-Booke, Ruxbury Publications, tel 01422 882751, ISBN 1-904846-11-4, £22.50.
Early Music Today September/October 2005