BRYONY GRIFFITH & ALICE JONES – Wesselbobs (Selwyn Music SYNMCD0010)

WesselbobsGetting into the seasonal mood early on, combining  fiddle, harmonium, tenor guitar and body percussion, produced by Joe Rusby the duo, generally on alternative lead vocals, offer up a wintery collection of  traditional Yorkshire tunes, Wesselbobs referring to a West Yorkshire pastime of the late 1800s whereby decorated, evergreen boughs, variously known as Wessel-bobs, Wassail-bobs or Wesley-bobs, were carried door to door by wassailers as well as to decorated fabric or glass baubles sold in the mid-1900s

They kick off with a reprise of their jaunty, dancing fiddle 2022 Christmas charity single ‘Early Pearly’, the title a reference to the white camellia which flowers from autumn to mid-winter, sung by children who went door to door looking for charity, the version here a hybrid of Dave Hillery and Harry Boardman’s Haley Paley’ from 1971’s Transpennine and Hull singer Margaret Gardham’s ‘Early Pearly’ on the Yorkshire Garland website, plus their own added chorus.

Griffith on lead, that’s followed with a decidedly Yorkshire dialect twist to a familiar evergreen, ‘The ‘Ollins And The Ivin’, set to a waltzing tune based around ‘The Holly Bears A Berry’, written, guessingly in the early 1900s, as a 4-part piano arrangement by Huddersfield-based piano teacher Lillian Haworth.

Jones taking lead, ’I Traced Her Little Footmarks In The Snow’, derived from Harry Wright’s 1876 Music Hall number ‘Footmarks In The Snow’, written for his wife Nellie, who gets namechecked in the lyrics and first performed by Witty Watty Walton, wherein the narrator follows the footsteps to rescue his lost lover, the song popularised in the 1946 bluegrass version by Bill Munroe but the duo’s version based on recordings by Walter Pardon, Frank Hinchcliffe and George Belton.

The sole a capella number, the title a variation of Hagemena or Hogmanay,  ‘Hagman-Heigh’ is a New Year’s Eve house visiting song, the origins of which, as hagnonayse,  trace back to 1443 West Yorkshire but, doubtless unruffling  Scottish feathers, the tune is adapted here from ‘Hoggeranonie Song in David Buchan’s ‘Scottish Tradition’. There’s little doubt as to the roots of ‘Ripon Sword Dance’, Griffith singing lead with harmonium underpinning on the opening song from the Ripon Sword Dancers’ Mumming play, the lyrics here, which involve the characters of General Washington, Tom The Tinker, the Hieland Laddie and even Old Beelzebub, taken from those written in 1920 again from The Yorkshire Garland, the duo adding music to what were originally the spoken final two verses. The play’s apparently still performed on Boxing Day in Ripon, but sans sword dance.

Griffith on tenor guitar, Jones takes over the vocals for the sprightly ‘The Tailor’s Britches/New Year’s Day’, the first part, reputed to have been a traditional number rewritten by Arthur Wood about the true story of a drunken sailor being duped and robbed by a wily lass, with the play out being a tune taken from the collection of 19th century Yorkshire fiddler Joshua Jackson.

Harmonium drone anchors ‘The Yorkshire Wassailing Song’, the fragment learnt from the singing of one Mrs. Highstead of Bradford fleshed out by verses from 1892’s Holroyd’s Collection Of Yorkshire Ballads, the first part of the tune sounding like a slowed down ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’. Wheezing harmonium also colours ‘Time To Remember The Poor’, a Victorian broadside ballad of fairly obvious sentiment included in Frank Kidson’s 1891 Traditional Tunes.

‘Hark, How All The Welkin Rings/The Spinning Wheel’, the latter also taken from the Jackson manuscript while the song, welkin being an archaic term for the sky, is recycling of the arrangement they created for ‘Tarry Wool’, collected in North Yorkshire by Vaughan Williams and taken from Everyman’s Book Of English Country Songs, from a project celebrating Kirklees’ textile heritage, the tune being John Wesley’s setting of the original version of ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’.

Another lively fiddle bouncing number and again learnt by Jones from the Kidson collection with the playout another from Jackson, ‘Change For A Guinea/The Christmas Tale’ is, the comedic tale in which the change turns out to be a child by the woman at the inn the traveler  impregnated the previous Christmas, based on ‘The Butcher and the Chambermaid’, an early comedic 19th century broadside, reworked as ‘The Christmas Goose’ with a Manchester setting but a staple  in the carolling tradition around the Holme Valley.

It ends with a couple of obscurities given their musical premiers, the first the nostalgic ‘Christmas’, a guitar-setting (based on Yorkshire dance tune ‘The Tumbler’s Hornpipe’) by Griffith  of a poem about coming together in the sacred season by little known Wakefield  poet George. W. Moxon, and, finally, with its harmonium and gentle pizzicato fiddle, the similarly-themed ‘King Christmas’, written in Keighley in the late 1800s, never previously published and the composer’s name lost to time, with the parting wish that “when our time is ended/Our last year we have seen/Let’s try and leave a mark behind/Of honour and esteem”.

Accompanied by a full colour, illustrated book of lyrics, annotations and pithy quotes, Wesselbobs is an absolute delight to ease you gently into the real Christmas spirit.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website:

‘I Traced Her Little Footmarks In The Snow’ – official video: