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Lyke Wake Dirge

[ Roud 8194 ; TYG 85 ; Ballad Index OBB033 ; trad.]

This is probably the Young Tradition's best-known song. It is from their eponymous debut album of 1966, The Young Tradition. It was also included in quite a lot of anthologies, among them Karl Dallas' famous anthology The Electric Muse, and The Acoustic Folk Box. They also sang it on November 17, 1968 at their concert at Oberlin College, Ohio, that was published in 2013 on their Fledg'ling CD Oberlin 1968. The original album's sleeve notes comment:

The dirge as we sing it is an adaptation of [John] Aubrey's manuscript version of 1686. Descriptions of the song have come from Scotland and from the north of England as far south as Yorkshire, and the idea of the departed soul going on a hazardous journey to Purgatory has its parallels throughout Indo-European lore. Widespread too is the belief that alms given by the living will be given back to the donor at the beginning of the soul's journey, so that a pair of shoes given away during the subject's lifetime will enable his soul to cross prickly Whinny Moor without injury. Whether the dirge was sung, chanted or recited over the corpse is not clear; there is no evidence of an air to the dirge in the tradition. The tune used here was given to us by Hans Fried, who heard it long ago from an old Scots lady, Peggy Richards.

And Hans Fried wrote in the comments section of the YouTube page of the Young Tradition's recording in ca. 2012:

I got this from my stepmother Nan (nee Spence) who heard it from an old Scots lady, Peggy Richards. The tune she sang was probably printed in Songs of the North by [Harold] Boulton in [1895] and unconsciously changed by me into a more folk like tune. I taught it to The Young Tradition claiming no copyright. Subsequently sung by Pentangle etc.

Pentangle sang Lyke Wake Dirge in 1969 on their third Transatlantic album, Basket of Light, which reached #5 in the UK album charts.

In the 1970s, Steeleye Span used the Lyke Wake Dirge in their live sets as Maddy Prior reminisced in the Spanning the Years sleeve notes, though they didn't record it before 2002 for the double CD Present accompanying their Winter 2002 reunion tour:

Five nights at the LA Forum with Jethro Tull, 18,000 seats [July 18-22, 1973]. We were opening our set with the Lyke Wake Dirge, a grim piece of music from Yorkshire concerning purgatory and we all dressed in dramatic mummers ribbons with tall hats. The effect was stunning. Five gaunt figures in line across the front of the stage, lit from below casting huge shadows, intoning this insistent dirge alarmed some members of the audience whose reality was already tampered with by 70s substances. It was most satisfying.

Home Service sang Lyke Wake Dirge in the National Theatre production of Doomsday. They recorded it for their 1985 theatre music album The Mysteries.

Blowzabella played the Lyke Wake Dirge as a funeral march from the Yorkshire Dales in 1986 on their CD The Blowzabella Wall of Sound.

Alasdair Roberts sang A Lyke Wake Dirge in 2005 on his album No Earthly Man. He commented in his liner notes:

From the singing of Peter Bellamy, Heather Wood and Royston Wood, recorded in 1966. The text is based on one in [John] Aubrey's 1686 manuscript The Remains of Gentilisme and Judaisme.

“This is a sort of charm sung by the lower rank of Roman Catholics in the north of England, while watching a dead body, previous to interment.” (Walter Scott, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border)

Martin Green, Becky Unthank, Inge Thomson and Niklas Roswall performed the Lyke Wake Dirge in 2014 on their album Crows' Bones. Martin Green commented in his liner notes:

This tune I got from the fiddle playing of David Shepherd of Blowzabella. The song of the same name is a well known; both originate from Yorkshire.

Lyrics

The song is written in an old form of the Yorkshire dialect of Northern English.

The Young Tradition sing the Lyke Wake Dirge

This ae nighte, this ae nighte
    Every nighte and alle
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte
    And Christe receive thy saule

When thou from hence away art past
    Every nighte and alle
To Whinny-muir thou com'st at last
    And Christe receive thy saule

If ever thou gavest hosen and shoen
    Every nighte and alle
Sit thee down and put them on
    And Christe receive thy saule

If hosen and shoen thou ne'er gav'st nane
    Every nighte and alle
The whinnes sall prick thee to the bare bane
    And Christe receive thy saule

From Whinny-muir when thou may'st pass,
    Every nighte and alle
To Brig o' Dread thou com'st at last
    And Christe receive thy saule

From Brig o' Dread when thou may'st pass,
    Every nighte and alle
To Purgatory fire thou com'st at last
    And Christe receive thy saule

If ever thou gavest meat or drink
    Every nighte and alle
The fire sall never make thee shrink
    And Christe receive thy saule

If meat or drink thou gav'st nane
    Every nighte and alle
The fire will burn thee to the bare bane
    And Christe receive thy saule

This ae nighte, this ae nighte
    Every nighte and alle
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte
    And Christe receive thy saule

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