Friday, 1 May 2009

Rise Up, Mrs Johnson, All in Your Gown of Green

...for summer is a-comin’ today! Yes, it is the only true and authentic May Day, and the thorn-blossoms are bursting forth in bubbly white sprays to salute lovely Lady Maia in her sunniest of moods. Let there be drinking! Let there be uninhibited dancing about inappropriately phallic totem poles! Let there be a great riding of hobby-horses - that branch of chivalry at which I chiefly shine! And above all, let there be singing!

Which brings me neatly back to the title of this post, and the fantastical mystery behind it.

Perhaps the merriest song to which I have ever stamped my big hobnail boots is the May Song of Padstow, a small but energetic fishing community on the west coast of Cornwall. Its memorably excellent rendition by Steeleye Span hooked me instantly on my first encounter many a year ago, and to this day I can never come over all spring-feverish without the tune’s dancing through my head, and compelling me to the most reckless snapping of fingers. I reproduce a version of the traditional lyrics here in full, with a bit of broad context:

[Gaily and gladly, as the mighty Padstow ‘Obby ‘Oss parades rambunctiously through the town]:


Unite and unite, and let us all unite
For summer is a-comin' today.
And whither we are going we all will unite
In the merry morning of May.

The young men of Padstow, they might if they would,
For summer is a-comin' today.
They might have built a ship and gilded it with gold
In the merry morning of May.

The young women of Padstow, they might if they would,
For summer is a-comin' today.
They might have built a garland with the white rose and the red
In the merry morning of May.

Rise up, Mrs Johnson, all in your gown of green
For summer is a-comin' today.
You are as fine a lady as waits upon the Queen
In the merry morning of May.


[The ‘Obby ‘Oss sinks down as in death. Dirge]:


Oh where is King George?
Oh where is he-O?
He's out in his longboat, all on the salt sea-O.
Up flies the kite, down falls the lark-O.
Aunt Ursula Birdwood, she has an old ewe,
And she died in her own park-O.


[The ‘Oss springs up into life again. With redoubled joy]:


With the merry ring and with the joyful spring,
For summer is a-comin' today.
How happy are the little birds and the merrier we shall sing
In the merry morning of May.

Oh where are the young men that now do advance
For summer is a-comin' today.
Some they are in England and some they are in France
In the merry morning of May.


Two words occur. One is ‘Magnificent!’ The other is ‘WHAT?!?’

Even for a folk-song, the core section of these lyrics is a little bit mysterious, isn't it?

If this were a fantasy novel, here would lie the anciently-encoded clues to some quest of world-shaking importance. Is this the riddle we must read, if great Albion is ever to break free of its surly bondage in the Dungeon of Dole? After far-flung adventures and trials of which it ill behoves me to boast, I have obtained some intriguing hints from the Oracle of the Hamburgers, to whom I am also indebted for the details of the ritual.

But what is to be our plot? What coupons must we collect? Do we have to sign up for the trilogy?

The Council of the Good Guys is now open to suggestions.

I like saving the world by magic. It is ever so much simpler and more satisfying than the other way, and it comes with all that added non-faily goodness.

Meantime, a merry Maying to you all!

1 comment:

  1. Please excuse me for inadvertently posting a link to a rather crappy Steeleye Span session. The 'rendition' link now points to a performance which better justifies my capering enthusiasm.

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