On a blustery morning in January, here's a parcel of winter songs for you to drive away the wind and cold....
Above: a spoken word introduction to A Winter Miscellany by Ashley Hutchings, with Becky Mills and Blair Dunlop: a wonderful album of winter songs, both old and new (2020). "This album was recorded in Ashley's Derbyshire home, deep in the countryside," explains Mills, "each song recorded between tractors clattering up and down the lane and Ashley looking out of the door shouting 'do it quickly, there’s nothing coming!' "
Below: "Animals Carol" from A Winter Miscellany. "The words," says Mills, "are from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In the Willows, newly set to music which I composed specially for this album. It is a song to remind us to be kinder to our animal friends in the winter months because after all, it was them who were the first to bid Noel all those years ago in the stable."
Above: a short clip from Here We Come a-Wassailing, a programme on winter folk rituals broadcast on the BBC 1977, with music by Ashley Hutchins and The Albion Band.
Below: a wassailing song sung by The Watersons, the great folk music family from Yorkshire. This song was traditionally sung in apple orchards to ensure a good harvest in the new year.
Above: "The Wren, The Wren" performed by Irish singer/songwriter Lisa O’Neill. The Hunting of the Wren is folk tradition "celebrated on St. Stephen's Day (26 December) in a number of countries across Europe. The tradition consists of 'hunting' a fake wren and putting it on top of a decorated pole. Then the crowds of mummers, or strawboys, or wren boys, celebrate the wren by dressing up in masks, straw suits, and colourful motley clothing. They form music bands and parade through towns and villages."
Below: "The King," a traditional wren boy blessing song performed by Lady Maisery (Hazel Askew, Hannah James, Rowan Rheingans), Jimmy Aldridge, and Sid Goldsmith. It's from their absolutely gorgeous winter album, Awake Arise (2019), which I just can't get enough of.
Above: "Hope Is Before Us" from Awake Arise. The song, composed by Hazel Askew, is based on the words of William Morris (from his 1885 collection Chants for Socialists).
Below: "A Winter Charm of Lasting Life" performed by the Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningam (1957-2003) and Irish singer Susan McKeown, accompanied by guitarist Aiden Brennan, on their collaborative album A Winter Talisman (2009).
Above: Steve Ashley's "Fire and Wine," performed by Yorkshire folk duo O’Hooley & Tidow. The song appeared on their fine winter album WinterFolk, Vol. 1 (2019).
Below: Richard Thompson's "We Sing Hallelujah," performed by O'Hooley & Tidow.
Vintage photographs above: a mummer's group, and Irish wren boys. See the International Mummer's Festival page for more on mumming, historic and contemporary.