The Sheffield CarolsIt is a tradition in the outskirt villages of Sheffield to meet in the local pubs once a week from the second week in November until the end of December to sing locally composed carols.
The mass singing in some of the pubs in North Sheffield and North Derbyshire, which takes place in the second half of November and all December, and which is often referred to as ‘The Sheffield Carols’, has been described as one of the most remarkable instances of popular traditional singing in the British Isles.
Local compositions, and Christmas songs that have been pushed out of the mainstream of our national carol repertoire with the adoption of the sanitised and limited group of ‘standard’ carols that now pours from our radios, tv, cd players, shopping malls and churches, have survived in these unofficial places, kept alive by the sheer love of singing of the participants.
The tradition dates back over 200 years when the local carols attracted much criticism from the church on the grounds that they were frivolous and decadent. They were systematically ousted from the church, but such was their popularity, people went to the pub instead and sang with gusto there instead.
Certainly, there are some people for whom the singing of these carols is a part of a Christian faith; but for the large majority of singers of the Sheffield Carols, it is the sheer love of singing, in the company of others, that attracts them. Packed in closer than an old-style football crowd, and with pint glasses in hand, singers roar out the unique repertoire of Christmas songs, sacred and profane, that have become such an essential part of Christmas for many people in the Sheffield area, and for many regular visitors from around the country and abroad.
These are not really for listening to – they are for singing. However, new visitors will not find themselves left out in the cold; many of the songs, though unfamiliar at first, are easy to pick up. At many places, books of words and music are available for purchase, and at the Travellers Rest at Oughtibridge, the words are put up on a flipchart at the front! A knowledge of the first three and last verses of ‘While Shepherds’ will give anyone a good start, since these words are regularly sung to about a dozen different tunes, and I believe that more than thirty tunes have been used to the words over the past forty years. Very occasionally, a ‘standard’ carol will creep in: there is an affection for in some places for ‘O Come All ye Faithful’, and ‘Silent Night’ is occasionally heard. Other songs however, are more idiosyncratic, and will take several visits to master: the obscure Victorian syntax of some still leaves puzzled looks around the room.
One of the chief characteristics of many of the tunes is the pattern known as ‘fuguing’ – a kind of call-and-answer repetition pattern towards the end of the verses, where the bass line answers the melody, and usually builds up a fair head of steam. ‘Mount Moriah’, ‘Old Foster’ and ‘Egypt’ are just three popular and spectacular examples. ‘Cranbrook’, which also shows this feature is a tune that is still heard for ‘While Shepherds’ – it is far more widely known to the world with the words of ‘Ilkley Moor B’aht At’ – words which hi-jacked the tune nearly a century after it was written for ‘While Shepherds’!
Another widespread feature is the ‘Symphony’, an instrumental part played as an introduction and between verses; these range from basic to elaborate. Most sessions are accompanied, typically by a piano or electric organ, although Grenoside has a string quartet; but several of the sessions are unaccompanied.
The Stannington sings are quieter, but good, and might interest those who don’t feel up to the rigours of Dungworth or Worrall.
There are many others, but many are informal and unpredictable and sometimes one-offs.
two clips of local pub carol sings -
And an interesting clip from the BBC - http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningzone/clips/sheffield-folk-carols-from-church-to-pub/6609.html