Helston Furry Dance
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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."
The melody also is mentioned by Davies Gilbert 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.
- 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.