City Waites, Thomas D'Urfey's Pills to Purge Melancholy
Baltimore Consort and Merry Companions, The Art of The Bawdy Song (Dorian, 1992)
Blowzabella, me bouncing Doxie
Come let's trudge it to Kirkham Fair,
There's stout Liquor enough to Fox me,
And young Cullies to buy thy Ware.
(Here are the complete lyrics to 'Blowzabella, my Bouncing Doxy')
Having an abiding interest in all things bawdy, I was rather interested in hearing these two releases. Now do keep in mind that there's a very thin line between bawdy and filthy. If you doubt that, go check out the Green Man review of Ed Cray's The Erotic Muse: American Bawdy Songs in which Brendan Foreman notes 'Anyone who remembers anything of their childhood will recall how important those dirty words and dirty jokes were to their very existence. Without the ability to transgress society's boundaries simply by uttering a phrase like 'Fuck you!' or 'Shit!' or 'Goddamn it!' life would have been a dreary succession of bus rides and school days. I personally remember the first day I heard the 'F'-word: a friend of mine took me aside to tell me that 'they invented a new curse word: 'fuck.'' Neither of us had any idea of what it meant (we were in first grade at the time), and I really don't know whether I had heard the word before or not, but the thrill of learning that there was one more word that I wasn't allowed to say was delicious.'
If you are now offended by the language here, please go to
our Tea Room for the remainder of this review. The Earl Grey and scones with
Cornish strawberry preserves will cool your now fevered brow.
Still here? Shall we continue? Grab a tankard of that fine English ale as this will be thirsty work
Mad poet Oscar Wilde once said that 'we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.' Humph. He may be looking upwards, but we're definitely looking elsewhere on these CDs; both are far more interested in looking up the skirts of a blowsy lady to see if she's wearing knickers with her garter belt. In the case of one CD, 'tis fair to say that the garter and the knickers got, errr, lost; on the other CD, me wee mam would not be offended in the slightest by what the buggers are singing 'bout. On one, there is enough fucking and general cavorting going onto keep a company of actors in material for seasons to come; on the other, that same company would be stifling their yawns from the very first cut. By the time that CD was finished, they'd be far too sleepy to give a fuck about what happened after the first song had been sung.
So it must be The Art of The Bawdy Song, given the boring title of the other, that has the really good stuff? Not at all -- you're looking up the wrong skirt, me friend. If you can look up that skirt at all... Thomas D'Urfey's Pills to Purge Melancholy is subtitled 'Lewd Songs and Low Ballads from the 18th Century'. And they do mean lewd! The City Waites, as they are now known, take their name from the often rowdy musicians who were employed by towns and cities to provide music for festivals and civic celebrations. This company specializes in English popular music from the 16th and 17th centuries -- not so much the bleedin' Court music of the time but the music of the common man as written by composers such as D'Urfey. These are the songs, country dances, and ballads that were heard in theatres and Great Halls, taverns and village greens, and even in the bawdy houses, between the time of William Byrd and Purple. Chasing that not so reluctant lady, catching her, and topping her are the primary themes of these songs.
The current incarnation of City Waites is made up of Lucie Skeaping, Douglas Wootton, Roddy Skeaping and Michael Brain. Instruments for this group are thusly: Lucie Skeaping, soprano/violin/rebec; Douglas Wootton, tenor/lute/cittern/drums; Roddy Skeaping, viol/violin/rebec/voice; and Michael Brain, curtal/recorders/crumhorn/shawm/voice. They've made well over a dozen CDs, done numerous BBC broadcasts and a C4 documentary, given concerts for the National Trust, Barbican Centre and South Bank, and participated in collaborations with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre. They were featured in the film Elizabeth and provided the music for As You Like It at the Globe. I don't know what they are like live as I've never seen them in performance, but the CD's quite a howl in and of itself.
Much of the materials are taken from Thomas D'Urfey's Wit
and Mirth: Pills to Purge Melancholy, a collection of songs that
would much later give birth to a tune with the name of Blowzabella, later
taken as a name by the great English neo-traditional band of the 1980s. The
sound here is sparser than Blowzabella, as most bands are, but it's quite
the perfect match for the voices of Lucie and Roddy Skeaping! Be advised that
you'll likely be both laughing your silly heads off and being amazed
by the colourful language on this album, which includes the full words to
'Blowzabella, my Bouncing Doxy'!
How bawdy? Just consider these lyrics from 'As Oyster Nan stood by her tub':
As Oyster Nan stood by her Tub,
To shew her vicious Inclination;
She gave her noblest Parts a Scrub,
And sigh'd for want of Copulation...'
or the chorus from 'Blowzabella':
Free and Frolick we'll Couple Gratis
Thus we'll show all the Human Race;
That the best of the Marriage State is,
Blowzabella's and Collin's Case.
All of these lovely lyrics are, for the most part, sung by Lucie and Roddy in a lively, silly manner that makes the music come alive! If Willie Shakespeare had decided to write comedies and written the music too, he might have come up with something close to this. Or if you prefer, think of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera which does use Wit and Mirth: Pills to Purge Melancholy as its source material. Be it Shakespeare in Much Ado About Nothing, Gay in The Beggar's Opera, or the City Waites on their Thomas D'Urfey's Pills to Purge Melancholy CD, all are doing a form of English bawdy theatre. And doing it extremely well!
Alas, I can't say that the Baltimore Consort and the Merry Companions on The Art of The Bawdy Song will get much play here in me Green Man office; it bored me silly. No, that's wrong. When our kind Editor suggested I take a listen to it, he noted that I liked bawdy songs and therefore might find this interesting. I should've known better that trust that bugger as when he uses the word 'interesting' it usually means it's awful. And this is truly awful.
Now we have reviewed the Baltimore Consort and their lead vocalist Custer LeRue before, and reviewers have liked them. Indeed Jo Morrison noted of The Ladyes Delight that 'for those that enjoy the popular music of the Renaissance era, The Ladyes Delight will delight gentlemen and ladies alike.' The problem for me is that if the City Waites can be said to have done to early music what Bela Bartok did to classical music (in turning what was conventionally proper on its frelling head), the Baltimore Consort hews tightly to the conventions -- calm voices, tasteful playing, and not 'nough life to make a cat wake from a nap. Indeed none of the cats who were napping in me office in the sunlight even bothered to twitch an ear or stir a whisker while this played. Now I don't doubt that The Baltimore Consort, which was founded in 1980 to perform the repertory for Elizabethan consort (which has a specific instrumentation of treble viol, flute, lute, cittern, bandora and bass viol) is good in their proper place, but playing bawdy songs is not their forte. No need to look up the skirts on this lady -- she's got her knickers on and her legs shut tight. Very, very tight; she's a proper lady, thank you. The sheets on this bed will not need to be remade after a good topping, as these lads and lassies are far too proper for their own good.
To wash me mouth of the taste of this CD, I've got Steeleye
Span's 'Two Magicians' on right now. Now that's more like it. OK, City Waites'
Thomas D'Urfey's Pills to Purge Melancholy is long out of print, but
Berkshire Records Online
has copies, and many of their CDs should be available in England these
days. The Art of The Bawdy Song, on the other hand, is as useful
an introduction to bawdy songs of that era as a lecture from a Public Health
nurse on the virtues of chastity for the young-- and about as much fun.