Hymns Ancient and Modern

Watching Belshazzar’s Feast last Saturday evening in Bradford (they were the support band at the Bellowhead concert) I was struck by what an easily overlooked resource the hymn book is.

The pair played an old Welsh Hymn by the name of Ebenezer ( or Ton-Y-Botel), quoting the hymn number.  I checked  when I got home in the very tatty old book that I own and had a go myself.  It sounded great- even more so, I thought, when played in 3/4.

Now my preferred definition for Folk Music is something like this one I just found on the web :

the traditional and typically anonymous music that is an expression of the life of people in a community

and of course, hymns were an example of just that in the past for large parts of the community .

Of course, tunes travel both ways.  A quick scan through the hymn book showed many folk tunes appropriated by the church: Londonderry Air, Scarlet Ribbons even Scarborough Fair.  A quick scan through my records and CDs threw up such gems as John Renbourn’s excellent version of Monk’s Gate (which I remember singing as a child to the words “He who would valiant be”) and Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s Travellin’ on For Jesus, and an awful lot of Christmas Carols (I found at least five versions of While Shepherds Watched, including the local one which is sung to the tune of Jackson).

Anyway, I’ve been playing through the hymns, some of them sound very nice (at least, the ones written before 1950 do).  Definitely something to look at in order to increase your repertoire.  (Have you learnt the Valeta yet?)

By the way, I enjoyed Belshazzar’s Feast.  Accordion and Fiddle:  a classic combination.  I’m not so sure about the slide whistle though…

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