Annotation:Helston Furry Dance

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X:1 T:Hal-an-tow T:Helston Furry Dance M:C L:1/8 R:County Dance and Air B:Baring-Gould - Songs of the West vol. 1 (1891, No. 24, p. 48) Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:F F2 (FG) A2 (AB)|c2c2c2 (de)|f2 c2 (cd) cB|A4 F2z2| F2 (FG) A2 AB|cBcd c2 de|f2 c2 cdcB|A4 F2z2| d4 d2 cB|A2c2 c2 de|f2 c2 cdcB|A4 F2B2| d2d2d2 cB|AGAB c2 de|f2c2 cdcB|A4 F2|| P:Chorus C2|F2 FG A2 AB|c2 cc c2 de|f2c2 cecB|A4 F2C2| F2 FG A2 AB|c4 c2 de|f2c2 cdcB|A4 F2z2!d.c.!||

HELSTON FURRY DANCE. AKA - "Hal-an-tow," "Helston Foray/Forey." AKA and see "Cornish May Song (The)." English, Morris Dance Tune (4/4 time). F Major (Karpeles, Raven): G Major (Carlin): D Major (Barnes). Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. The tune and its variants are widespread over England and Wales. Baring-Gould calls it "a relic of part of the Old English May Games" and it was published by Edward Jones in his Bardic Museum, vol. ii (1802) as "Cornish May Song (The)," and George Johnson in his Welsh Airs, vol. ii (1811).

The name Helston, referring to a town in Cornwall, comes from a Celtic root, henlis, meaning 'old court', coupled with and Old English ending, 'ton' (tun), meaning an enclosure, farm or village. It is an ancient market town and was first granted its charter in the year 1201. Helston was one of the ancient coinage towns where ingots of Welsh tine were assayed and stamped to assess the duty to be paid to the Duke of Cornwall (during the process a corner, or coign, was cut off to be tested for quality). In early times Helston was a port town at the head of the Cober estuary, but around the 13th century it began to silt up until nowadays a great shingle bank has formed across the estuary making the largest freshwater lake in Cornwall. The Furry Dance takes place on the 8th of May, when the first greenery of spring appears and the town is decorated with bluebells and hazel, among others. It takes the form of a dignified procession with separate dances for adults and children. The dancers dress in top hats and tails and their finest dresses, and the procession follows a traditional route, even passing through people's homes, shops and gardens. As with many morris dances, pagan origins are ascribed to the ritual that "welcomes in the spring." See "Processional Morris (2)", and a variant of the Helston tune, "Nobody's Jig."

John M. Ward[1] quotes Edward Jones's 1802 description of the Helston pageant extensively:

[The performance] involved the whole community, "the commonalty" being first to "go into the fields and woods to gather all kinds of flowers, to decorate their hats and bosoms" and, on their return, to "jig it, hand in hand, all over the town, claiming a right of dancing through any person's house, in at one door, out at the other, and so through the garden..." In the afternoon, "the gentry of the place" took "their May excursion" and afterwards returned "to the Town in a a Morrice-dance; both the Ladies and Gentlemen elegantly dressed in their summer attirement, and adorned with nosegays, and accompanied by minstrels" who played the "traditional May Tune." Lastly, according to Jones, "the inferior classes of the people" passed their evening "in similar merriment at the public houses, and at other places." Not only is the tune of the "Furry Dance" remarkably close to the one in Weelkes's Ayres (1608, modal version), so are the first words of the verses sung to it in Helston.

The melody also is mentioned by Davies Gilbert[2] in 1823 as having been sung as part of 'guise' or 'geese' festivities in Cornwall (i.e. where participants performed rudimentary plays and songs in disguise, going from home to home). The title is given as "Helston Forey", and, while rhythmically different the melody is recognizable from the version that has become popular today.

Baring-Gould, in Songs of the West (1892, p. 48) prints words sung to the tune, beginning:

Robin Hood and little John
They both are gone to the fair, O!
And we will to the merry green-wood,
To see what they do there O!
And for to chase, O, to chase the buck and doe!
With Hal-an-tow, jolly rumble, O, to chase the buck and doe!
And we were up as soon as the day,
For to fetch the Summer home, O!
The Summer, and the May,
Now the Winter is a gone, O!

Where are those Spaniards,
That make so great a boast, O!
Why, they shall eat the grey goose feathers,
And we will eat the roast, O!
In every land, O, the land where'er we go,
With Hal-an-tow, jolly rumble O, the land where'er we go.

Additional notes

Printed sources : - Baring-Gould (Songs of the West), 1892; No. 24, p. 48. Barnes (English Country Dance Tunes, vol. 2), 2005; p. 57. Carlin (Master Collection), 1984; No. 55, p. 40. Karpeles & Schofield (A Selection of 100 English Folk Dance Airs), 1951; p. 39. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 75.

Recorded sources : - Topic TSCD607, Billy Cooper, Walter & Daisy Bulwer - "English Country Music" (2000. Originally recorded 1962).

See also listing at :
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [1]

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  1. John M. Ward, "The Morris Dance", Journal of the American Musicological Society, (1986) 39 (2): p. 316.
  2. Davies Gilbert, Some ancient Christmas Carols with the tunes to which they were formerly sung in the west of England, J. Nichols and Son: London, 1823. See the appendix.