6 Greatest British folk songs

To celebrate the upcoming release of their album The Last Rose of Summer, the members of the group The Queen’s Six tell us all about their favourite British folk songs

 


The Raggle Taggle Gypsy
 (arr. Daniel Brittain)

The Raggle Taggle Gypsy is a recording of my own six-part arrangement of a ballad from the Scottish borders. It's a compelling story, boasting a number of thrilling twists and cinematic moments.

A young nobleman returns to his country estate to find his servants gossiping hysterically, and his newlywed wife gone, apparently kidnapped by a troop of gypsies. He saddles his pony and rides after them only to discover that, far from being taken by force, his renegade wife has no intention of returning to her caged former existence, preferring a life with her wild new companions, in a cold open field under the stars

—Daniel Brittain, countertenor

Sûo Gan (arr. Ruairi Bowen)

Sûo Gan is a beautiful Welsh lullaby and the most poignant folk song on our new album. It features a stunning solo by our second tenor, Dominic, and utilises some wonderfully subtle and radiant harmony. 

It was arranged by a good friend of ours, Ruairi Bowen, who was once a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral under Organist John Scott. Very sadly, John unexpectedly passed away in 2015, leaving behind a pregnant wife, Lily. This lullaby is dedicated to the memory of John, to Lily, and to their son Arthur. 

—Simon Whiteley, bass

 

Brigg Fair (arr. Percy Grainger)

Although difficult to choose, Percy Grainger’s Brigg Fair would have to be my favourite folk song on our new disc. I have had the pleasure of performing the florid tenor tune on this recording and many times in performance, and for me there is really nothing quite like it in any repertoire.

Collected by Grainger in 1905, it recalls a forgotten pastoral idiom, specifically that of the Lincolnshire countryside. Percy Grainger adds beautiful bohemian harmonies that could be interpreted as pseudo-erotic expressions of his eccentric personality and behaviours. As far as 20th-century a cappella arrangements of British song are concerned, I feel this is among the very best.

—Nicholas Madden, tenor  

 

O Waly Waly (arr. Richard Bannan)

O Waly Waly (possibly better known as “The Water Is Wide”) is a stunning Scottish folk song collected by Cecil Sharp in 1916, and arranged for us by Richard Bannan, a colleague and friend in the choir at St George's Chapel.

The arrangement gives the solo to our Kiwi tenor Nicholas Madden, who soars above the harmony during the long lines with effortless beauty. The lyrics talk about how wonderful love is when it is new, but disappears with age, apparently referring to the unhappy marriage of James, 2nd Marquess of Douglas. Richard’s setting culminates in a wonderful key change, fading to nothing, much like the above mentioned marriage.

—Dominic Bland, tenor


 

My Sweetheart’s Like Venus (arr. Gustav Holst)

We’re delighted with the new arrangements on this disc and hope they will contribute something substantial to the canon. However, it was always important to acknowledge the originators of the great folk revival, and so I have chosen Holst’s rendition of the Welsh folk song, My sweetheart’s like Venus. As a native of Cheltenham, I am proud of our greatest composer. His simple and sweet arrangement, written a year before his death, shimmers in its high tessitura. It is one of the few songs on the album on which I don’t sing. Perhaps this explains why I enjoy it so much!

—Andrew Thompson, baritone

 

The Last Rose of Summer (arr. Alexander L’Estrange)

As the title track on our new release, it would be remiss not to mention Alexander L'Estrange's wonderful arrangement of The last rose of summer. Folk song melodies are such clever tunes – they're usually highly memorable and leave themselves open to, almost beg for, treatments with beautiful lush harmonies which really bring out the often heart wrenching emotion of the songs. We commissioned Alex to write three arrangements for this disc, and he did not disappoint. With his evident background in jazz and obvious knowledge of the voice, it really feels that he has created a masterpiece!

—Tim Carleston, countertenor

 

The Queen’s Six are a group made up of six Lay Clerks at St George’s Chapel, singing in the Chapel Choir for services regularly attended by the Royal Family. They are releasing an album of British folk songs on September 20, called The Last Rose of Summer

 

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