> Steeleye Span > Songs > Padstow

Padstow May Song

[ Roud 305 ; Ballad Index K086 ; trad.]

A 1945 BBC original recording of the Padstow May Day Song sung by a crowd with accordion and drum has been included in the Alan Lomax collection CD World Library of Folk and Primitive Music: England. The liner notes say:

When the town clock of Padstow strikes midnight on April 30th, there begins a ceremony which is one of the most remarkable pagan survivals in England. Between 12 and 2 a.m. the hobby horse committee walk through streets and gardens singing the May Day Song. Then, next day, the hobby horse dancer appears. He wears a six-foot hoop skirt, painted shiny black and reaching to the ground. This hoop rests on his shoulders, and his head is covered in a conical black mask on which a sinister face is painted in black and white.

At about 11 a.m. this rather terrifying creature emerges from the Golden Lion Inn, accompanied by the “Old 'Oss Committee,” generally in sailor costume, an orchestra of drums and accordions, a man with a box for voluntary collections, and the teaser, who dances nimbly in front of the horse, directing his movements with the manipulation of a phallic club. All day this strange procession roves through Padwtow, singing:

Unite and unite, and let us all unite
For summer is a-comin' today.
And whither we are going we all will unite
In the merry morning of May.

The hoss visits the sick. Children come shyly to touch the skirt for luck. Young married women, caught up under the hoss's shirt, will, according to old Padstonians, give birth within the year. And then, every so often, the surging dance rhythm ceases with a sudden bang of the drum. The hoss bows down motionless to the ground, and, while the teaser makes caressing movements with his symbolic club, the crowd sings a solemn dirge, in which some scholars have found a garbled reference to the Norse goddess, Freya, and her long ship.

Oh where is King George? Oh where is he O?
He's out in the longboat, all on the salt sea O.
Up flies the kite, down falls the lark O.
Aunt Ursula Birdwood she has an old ewe,
And she died in her own park O.

With a thwack of the club and a crash of the drums the hoss suddenly leaps up, revived; and the singing throng moves on beneath the springtime blossoms.

Folklorists Alan Lomax and Peter Kennedy and filmmaker George Pickow collected footage at Padstow in 1951, producing a pioneering work in the use of sound, low-light photography, and conversational presentation of narrative:

Another recording from the Padstow May festivities by Peter Kennedy can be found on the Saydisc LP All Round England & Back Again. Unfortunately, the sleeve notes don't say when this recording took place. And the Hobby Horse Party sang The Padstow May Song on 4 June 1965 in an EFDSS sponsored concert at the Royal Festival Hall. This was published in the same year on the LP Folksound of Britain.

Steeleye Span: Padstow (Flutterby FLUT 3)

Padstow / The First House in Connaught / Sailor's Bonnet
Steeleye Span

Flutterby FLUT 3 (single, p/s, UK, April 1989)

Steeleye Span recorded Padstow in 1989 for their album Tempted and Tried. It was also released as a single with the reels The First House in Connaught / Sailor's Bonnet. The album sleeve notes commented:

The Cornish village of Padstow celebrates May Day each year with an extraordinary festival. There are two hobby horses (the red or old 'oss and the blue or temperance 'oss) that dance through the streets led by a “teaser” surrounded by the whole village and onlookers. All day they dance with short breaks for refreshments with mesmeric drums beating the winter out and the spring in.

At least three live recordings of Padstow with several Steeleye Span line-ups are or were available:

  1. from the Beck Theatre on 16 September 1989 on the video A 20th Anniversary Celebration,
  2. from Steeleye Span's 1991 tour on the CD Tonight's the Night... Live,
  3. from St. David's Hall, Cardiff on 6 December 1994 on the video 25 Live: The Classic Twenty Fifth Anniversary Tour Concert.

A further live recording from the Maddy Prior, Family & Friends Christmas tour of 1999 was released on the CD Ballads and Candles.

Lisa Knapp sang the Padstow May Song on her 2017 CD Till April Is Dead. She noted:

[…] I had the pleasure of visiting Padstow to see the May Day Obby Oss's parade around the town accompanied by troupes of accordionists and drummers and a great chorus of townsfolk singing their May Song, powerful stuff! There is some extraordinary Pathe footage of this tradition from 1932 and 1953 and I have some footage of my own trip [on May 1, 2012] up on the great tubes of you which also plays out the end of my version here. It was actually Malcolm Taylor, long time head librarian at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, who first showed me a documentary about this before I'd ever heard of it. I was so struck to see anything like this existing in England and I think seeing that is a huge reason as to why I am still mystified by these things. So, thanks Malcolm.

Lyrics

The Padstow May Night Song (unaccompanied)

Unite and unite and let us all unite,
    For summer is a-come unto day,
And whither we are going we will all unite,
    In the merry morning of May.

I warn you young men everyone
    For summer is a-come unto day,
To go to the green-wood and fetch your May home
    In the merry morning of May.

Arise up Mr. —— and joy you betide
    For summer is a-come unto day,
And bright is your bride that lies by your side,
    In the merry morning of May.

Arise up Mrs. —— and gold be your ring,
    For summer is a-come unto day,
And give to us a cup of ale the merrier we shall sing,
    In the merry morning of May.

Arise up Miss —— all in your gown of green
    For summer is a-come unto day,
You are as fine a lady as wait upon the Queen,
    In the merry morning of May.

Now fare you well, and we bid you all good cheer,
    For summer is a-come unto day,
We call once more unto your house before another year,
    In the merry morning of May.

The Padstow May Day Song

Unite and unite and let us all unite,
    For summer is a-come unto day,
And whither we are going we will all unite,
    In the merry morning of May.

Arise up Mr. —— I know you well afine,
    For summer is a-come unto day,
You have a shilling in your purse and I wish it was in mine
    In the merry morning of May.

All out of your beds,
    For summer is a-come unto day,
Your chamber shall be strewed with the white rose and the red,
    In the merry morning of May.

Where are the young men that here now should dance,
    For summer is a-come unto day,
Some they are in England and some they are in France
    In the merry morning of May.

Where are the maidens that here now should sing
    For summer is a-come unto day,
They are in the meadows the flowers gathering,
    In the merry morning of May.

Arise up Mr. —— with your sword by your side,
    For summer is a-come unto day,
Your steed is in the stable awaiting for to ride
    In the merry morning of May.

Arise up Miss —— and strew all your flowers,
    For summer is a-come unto day,
It is but a while ago since we have strewed ours
    In the merry morning of May.

O! where is St. George,
O, where is he O?
He is out in his long-boat all on the salt sea O.
Up flies the kite and down falls the lark O,
Aunt Ursula Birdhood she had an old ewe
And she died in her own park O.

With the merry ring, adieu the merry spring,
    For summer is a-come unto day,
How happy is the little bird that merrily doth sing
    In the merry morning of May.

The young men of Padstow might if they would,
    For summer is a-come unto day,
They might have built a ship and gilded her with gold
    In the merry morning of May.

The young women of Padstow might if they would,
    For summer is a-come unto day,
They might have made a garland with the white rose and the red,
    In the merry morning of May.

Arise up Mr. —— and reach me your hand,
    For summer is a-come unto day,
And you shall have a lively lass with a thousand pounds in hand
    In the merry morning of May.

Arise up Miss —— all in your cloak of silk,
    For summer is a-come unto day,
And all your body under as white as any milk,
    In the merry morning of May.

O! where is St. George,
O, where is he O?
He is out in his long-boat all on the salt sea O.
Up flies the kite and down falls the lark O,
Aunt Ursula Birdhood she had an old ewe
And she died in her own park O.

With the merry ring, adieu the merry spring,
    For summer is a-come unto day,
How happy is the little bird that merrily doth sing
    In the merry morning of May.

Now fare you well and bid you all good cheer,
    For summer is a-come unto day,
We call no more unto your house before another year
    In the merry morning of May.

Steeleye Span sing Padstow

Unite and unite, and let us all unite
    For summer is a-come unto day.
And whither we are going we all will unite,
    In the merry morning of May.

The young men of Padstow, they might if they would,
    For summer is a-come unto day.
They might have built a ship and gilded it with gold
    In the merry morning of May.

The young women of Padstow, they might if they would,
    For summer is a-come unto day.
They might have built a garland with the white rose and the red
    In the merry morning of May.

Rise up, Mrs Johnson, all in your gown of green
    For summer is a-come unto day.
You are as fine a lady as waits upon the Queen
    In the merry morning of May.

Oh where is King George? Oh where is he O?
He's out in his longboat, all on the salt sea O.
Up flies the kite, down falls the lark O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood, she has an old ewe,
And she died in her own park O.

With the merry ring and with the joyful spring,
    For summer is a-come unto day.
How happy are the little birds and the merrier we shall sing
    In the merry morning of May.

Oh where are the young men that now do advance
    For summer is a-come unto day.
Some they are in England and some they are in France
    In the merry morning of May.

Lisa Knapp sings the Padstow May Song

Unite and unite, and let us all unite
    For summer is a-come unto day.
And whither we are going we all will unite,
    In the merry morning of May.

With the merry ring, adieu the merry spring,
    For summer is a-come unto day,
How happy is the little bird that merrily doth sing
    In the merry morning of May.

O rise up Mrs Lean all in your gown of green
    For summer is a-come unto day,
You are as fine a lady as waits upon the Queen,
    In the merry morning of May.

O rise up Mrs. Bling and gold be your ring,
    For summer is a-come unto day,
How happy is the little bird that merrily doth sing
    In the merry morning of May.

Unite and unite, and let us all unite
    For summer is a-come unto day.
And whither we are going we all will unite,
    In the merry morning of May.

O where is St George? O where is he O?
He's out in his long-boat all on the salt sea O.
Up flies the kite, down falls the lark O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood, she has an old ewe,
And she died in her own park O.

O fare you well I bid you all good cheer,
    For summer is a-come unto day,
We'll call once more unto your house before another year,
    In the merry morning of May.

Acknowledgements and Links

See the Mudcat Café thread Origins: Oh Where Is King George/John?.

Compare to this Tony Deane's song Following the Old 'Oss as sung by e.g. Tony Rose.