The York Waits

Fortune My Foe: Popular music from the period of the Gunpowder Plot

Beautiful Jo Records BEJOCD48

I've been a sucker for the sound of the shawm and sackbut ever since I saw Elizabeth R back in the early seventies and encountered the work of David Munrow and the Early Music Consort. The York Waits were formed slightly later but their name harks back to the original city band, the earliest evidence for which appears in fourteenth century records and which endured until the mid-nineteenth century. Tim Bayley, William Marshall, John Peel, Ian Richardson and Roger Richardson (joined here by Anthony Barton and Susan Marshall) also play a bewildering array of other ancient instruments.

The Waits can't be accused of giving short measure: there are twenty-six tracks and over thirty tunes, beginning with the popular melody 'The Hunt is Up' and concluding with 'Kemp's Jig', to which in 1600 Will Kemp danced the 125 miles from Norwich to London, the original 'nine days's wonder'. Along the way there are compositions by Praetorius, Dowland, a number of more obscure contemporaries and the ubiquitous 'anon'. Tim Bayley produces and Oliver Knight (son of the late Lal Waterson) engineers. The whole is an absolute delight, a project of which Beautiful Jo's Tim Healey can be justifiably proud.

As William Marshall points out in his fascinating inlay notes, Guy Fawkes would probably have heard the waits of his time on their ceremonial rounds. He resists conjecture that the title piece might have been played at the execution of Fawkes and his co-conspirators, although he notes that 'Fortune My Foe' was sometimes known as 'the hanging tune'. Generally, though, the variously serene and rumbustious pieces here performed with dazzling skill contrast bizarrely with the violent times in which they were written, when torture was routine and the human rights of minorities were routinely flouted. Thank goodness that sort of thing could never happen now.

Dave Tuxford

The Living Tradition (issue 68)

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