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Bawdy Ballads of Old England – 17th Century Songs & Dances
The City Waites/Lucie Skeaping (soprano, violin)
rec. August 1995, London
ALTO ALC1382 [74:25]

It is always amusing (and shocking?) to see how open and plain sexual allusions have been at certain times in history, and the 16th and 17th centuries were clearly very advanced in this respect. However, the modern listener might not even get all of the bawdy references that would have induced larks rather than blushes in their heyday.

This compilation of nearly lost ballads – usually sold as broadsheets on the streets of London – gives a glimpse of what treasures of literature have (nearly) been forgotten. Ballad pedlars would often travel the country with their sheet music and perform snippets of the ballads to incite curious customers to buy the product. Unsurprisingly, especially bawdy lyrics that remained unfinished during performance, were a guarantor for sales. Sources for this recording include Pepys Ballad Collection and Playfords Dancing Master among others.

The City Waites were founded in 1973 and focus on bringing back to life the English broadside ballad repertoire of the 17th Century. They have produced many a recording over the last 46 years – thus counteracting the demise of this old tradition, especially by enticing other ensembles to follow their lead. Despite good diction, they have made the texts available online for added clarity. The notes give a very short insight into the history of broadsheet ballads and the background of some of the songs, but a bit more detail would have been desirable.

Lucie Skeaping is a BBC broadcaster and author, as well as director of the City Waites. On this recording, she also sings the soprano parts and plays the baroque violin. Her clear and straight-forward voice, which seems to overflow with cheekiness, suits perfectly. Douglas Wootton is the tenor and also plays the lute, bandora, cittern and tabor. His exaggerated rendition is thorough but sometimes a bit over the top. Roddy Skeaping plays the baroque violin, bass viol; Michael Brain is on the baroque bassoon and recorders. Robin Jeffrey plays the baroque guitar and cittern; Mike Sargeant early Northumbrian bagpipes and Flemish bagpipes and David Chatterley’s responsibility is the hurdy-gurdy. The musical quality is good throughout but I cannot help thinking that their rendering of the ballads includes some of the re-enactment charm of the decade the City Waites were founded in, i.e. the 1970s. Albeit being a venerable venture this does spoil the effect for me a bit, be it bawdy or not. Yet, listening to this recording is jolly good fun, and an even better pastime if there be good company to enjoy it!

Maximilian Burgdörfer


Diddle Diddle of The Kind Country Lovers [3:22]
The Fair Maid of Islington [4:09]
Green Stockings [2:21]
The Jovial Lass or Dol and Roger [4:19]
Mundanga Was [2:49]
Lady of Pleasure [1:37]
The Old Wife [2:06]
The Beehive [2:33]
Blue Petticoats or Green Garters [2:02]
The Gelding of the Devil [6:54]
The Maid’s Complaint for Want of a Dil Doul [5:27]
Oyster Nan [2:20]
The Frolic [2:06]
The Husband who met his Match [5:27]
The Jovial Broom Man [2:56]
The Disappointment [3:49]
The Lusty Young Smith [2:28]
Greensleeves and Yellow Lace [2:31]
The Jolly Brown Turd [1:37]
Two Rounds: Tom Making a Manteau; When Celia was Learning [3:16]
Lady Lie Near Me [1:31]
Oh how you Protest [1:33]
A Ditty Delightful of Mother Watkin’s Ale [3:41]
Miss Nelly [2:30]

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