May Fair

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MAY FAIR. AKA and see "Grief Alamode," "Willoughby Whim (The)," "Golden Slumbers Kiss Your Eyes," "O Jenny o Jenny where hast thou been" "Oh Polly you might have toyed and kissed." English, Country Dance and Air (3/4 time). B Flat Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB. The air appears in Tom D'Urfey's Pills to Purge Melancholy (vol. 1, 1719), The Second Volume of the Dancing Master (1710, p. 351, and all subsequent editions through the 4th and final edition of 1728, printed by John Young, London), and Walsh & Randall's New Country Dancing Master, 2nd Edition (London, 1710, later printed in Walsh & Hare's Second Book of the Compleat Country Dancing-Master, 1719).

The alternate title given in the Dancing Master, "Grief Alamode", comes from a comic play called The Funeral, or Grief A-la-Mode, by Sir Richard Steele, 1701). John Walsh and John Hare (publishers mentioned above) issued a publication that year, entitled: “Mr. Crofts his new Musick in the Comedy, call’d the Funeral, or Grief Allamode." Whether the melody printed later in the Walsh and Young publications as "May Fair" has anything to do with Steele's comedy is unknown. However, "May Fair" was vehicle for songs in period ballad operas such as John Gay's The Beggar's Opera (1728, as "Oh Polly you might have toyed and kissed") and The Grub Street Opera, Potter's The Decoy (1733) and others. Chappell (1859) reports it is sometimes called "O Jenny, Jenny where hast thou been?" from a Thomas D'Urfey song called "Willoughby Whim (The)." By Kidson's (1922) time English schoolchildren sang the tune as the song "Golden slumbers kiss your eyes."

May Fair, 1716

May Fair takes its name from the May Day fair that was held in Greenwich until its suppression in the 18th century, that coincided with the Easter season. It was held every year on May 1st for 15 days, but ended when it descended into general bad behavior. A London newspaper reported in May, 1702:

Whereas on Tuesday the 12th of this instant May, a riot was committed in May Fiar, in which (amongst other disorders) John Cooper of St. James Parish, Constable, being with other Constables and Officers, employed in putting in execution Her Majesty's Proclamation for the Encouragement of Piety and Virtue, and for the Preventing and Puniching of Vice, Prophaneness, and Immorality, he (amongst others) was dangerously wounded, whereof he is since dead.

Ned Ward (1667-1731), in his book The London Spy (1703, derived from his earlier periodicals), describes a visit to May Fair, and mentions "a parcel of Scandalous Boosing Kens [ale houses], where Soldiers and their Trulls were Skipping and Dancing about to most Lamentable Music, perform'd upon a Crack'd Crowd by a Blind Fidler."

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Chappell (Popular Music of the Olden Times), vol. 2, 1859; p. 113.

Recorded sources:




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