In November, very close to the fifth, I had the pleasure of seeing The York Waits perform from Fortune My Foe, which is a collection of popular music from the time of the Gunpowder Plot. The tunes in the live set are interwoven with story and narrative, making for a dramatic and moving evening’s entertainment; on the CD, however, the music by itself is able to tell a good story, bringing us close to events which we are increasingly revisiting and reassessing. Yes, say some, the plotters were terrorists—but wait, say others: at least they were seeking to annihilate their oppressors, not innocent passers-by.
2005 marked the 400th anniversary of the attempt to blow up Parliament, part of an unhappy time of suspicion and repression, culminating not in revolution but capture, torture and death. The music accompanying this is, however, often enchanting, beautiful and life-affirming. The play-list includes pieces that will be familiar to those who follow their traditional tunes right back to the Renaissance, and here they are played, of course, on the traditional instruments of the time. We have stirring tunes for outdoor playing, quieter, more delicate and intimate sounds and some that are plangent and truly haunting in the sense that the melodies really will stay in your head.
There are no less than twenty-six tunes on this excellent CD, including the exquisite Packington’s Pound and a reminder of why Greensleves is considered the quintessential English melody. The title track dates from 1589, the version here based on a setting by John Dowland. Sometimes known as “the hanging tune”, its mournfulness would seem appropriate, but then we are reminded that executions were occasions of public entertainment, and the Waits maintain the tradition by finishing the CD with Kemp’s Jig.