Adapted from booklet note to the new York Waits CD
GUY Fawkes was not the instigator of the Gunpowder Plot, nor its leader. But as the 'very bad and desperate fellow' caught with piles of faggots and barrels of gunpowder in a rented cellar beneath Parliament he would be branded 'the devil of them all' and eventually become the pantomime villain of English history. Born in York in 1570, close to the parish church of St Michael-le-Belfrey, he was educated at St Peter's School, along with two other future plotters, Christopher and John Wright.
It is fairly safe to assume that as a boy, Guy would have heard the city's waits as they went about their musical and ceremonial duties. In Fawkes's boyhood the waits would still have played shawms - loud reed instruments heard in several tracks on this recording - and Guy might have heard them at the spectacular Midsummer marching watches which all York parishioners were obliged to attend, festooned in armour. These events, which took place during the last quarter of sixteenth century, might have been the occasions at which the young Fawkes, later a successful mercenary soldier in the Catholic cause abroad, first got his hands on some weaponry. He had long left York by 1603, when James I, journeying south to take up his new kingdom, sojourned for three days in the city. He had been greeted at both Micklegate and Bootham Bar by the Waits, five of them, probably playing cornetts, sackbuts and curtal. By now they had begun to undergo a musical transition, seeking a more varied and subtle range of sounds. When a long-serving wait died in 1640 he left instruments which included cornetts, a sackbut, recorders, a violin and a bandora.
It seems certain that the London Waits were able to muster the instrumentation of the English mixed or 'broken' consort of the period, for which a great deal of music was written. It consisted of violin, flute, lute, bandora, cittern and bass viol. English musicians at this period seem to have been adventurous in their exploration of new sonorities - the German musicologist Praetorius remarked on it - and perhaps in other centres ensembles such at the waits of York devised their own combinations, using resources at hand, as we have done on this recording.
Despite, or perhaps because of the turbulence of the times - with their pestilence, poverty and plots - English theatre, poetry and high art music touched some of its greatest ever heights in the late Elizabethan and Jacobean period. But it was also a golden age of popular music. Not until the 1960s would England again export so many of its tunes and songs, which became a staple of Continental collections of instrumental music. There are many examples on the new York Waits recording.
Within England, many melodies of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century remained popular for decades (some, such as 'Greensleeves' to the present day). In 1728 John Gay's 'The Beggar's Opera' used several tunes, such as 'Packington's Pound', which would by then be well over 100 years-old. Their use in a ballad opera was highly appropriate, for these tunes had been recycled over and over again for broadside ballads and for generations they would have been almost universally known.
The title track of the CD is of the best known of English ballad tunes. The mournful 'Fortune My Foe' was current by 1589 and appears in numerous sources in England and abroad. Continental composers, including Sweelinck, made elaborate settings of the tune under names such as 'English Fortune'. It was sometimes known as the "Hanging Tune"….
Full track listing:
Tim Bayley (bass curtal, shawm, recorder, flute, harp, pipe and tabor, hurdy gurdy, low C bagpipes); William Marshall (sackbut, recorder, flute, renaissance guitar, cittern, double bagpipes, high C bagpipes); John Peel (lute, D bagpipes, recorder, pipe and tabor, cittern); Ian Richardson (recorder, shawm, schreierpfeife, pipe and tabor); Roger Richardson (recorder, shawm, tenor curtal, schreierpfeife); with Anthony Barton (percussion, cittern) and Susan Marshall (renaissance violin and viola, rebec)
Beautiful Jo Records www.bejo.co.uk.