Mistletoe Bough


I agree with Jon when he calls this, “A brilliantly gruesome number, sung by the wonderful Will Noble at the Royal. We also did this with Bellowhead for the BBC 4 Christmas show – may be still on i-player?” Not on the i-player, but some naughty person seems to have put the whole thing on YouTube in six segments and you’ll find the first of them here, which will then give you the rest of it as well.  You can of course watch it on BBC4 this Friday evening as Muzza has already pointed out. I went, all dressed up, but was clearly deemed too ugly for the cameras.  Anyway, this Wiki page seems to be quite specific about a song sheet (or broadside) from the 1830s and the link at the bottom of the page would suggest a match. I note that this looks like one of those popular tales that’s done the rounds, with lots of venues claiming the true event that inspired it.


39 Responses to “Mistletoe Bough”

  1. John Burton says:

    The BBC4 Christmas Special on You Tube is well worth watching, I came across it about a month ago. I actually prefer the Bellowhead version over this one. It works better for me, as does the Will Noble version available here
    I love the total honesty in his performance, sorry Jon you can’t win em all.

  2. John Burton says:

    Another version here;
    Sung by Ron Hartley in The White Hart, Oughtibridge 1973-12-15
    There are several field recordings of the “Yorkshire” Carols there.

  3. muzza says:

    Old Will Noble has a distinctive voice….but his version + orchestra plods along. Jon sings it sensitively, like a minstrel telling a sad tale. Now which is best ..Will Plodding or Jon minstreling…only one way to find out………Fiiiiight! (shades of Harry Hill)

  4. Shelley says:

    This one rather took me by surprise the first time I heard it (at the Royal in Dungworth a year ago, possibly even sung by Will Noble) and ever since, it keeps cropping up! Rather macabre, but a great one for joining in.

    I’ve also come across a French song (can’t remember what it’s called) in which a young women hides her lover in a chest when she hears her father coming home. She forgets about him for several weeks, but when she does finally remember him, uses bits of his skeleton as household implements!

  5. Nick Passmore says:

    I’ve been looking forward to this one. DND (Does Not Disappoint)

  6. Dave Eyre says:

    Some background from Ian Russell.

    Words by Thomas Haynes Bayly, music by Sir Henry R. Bishop. Several suggested sources for the legend. One is ascribed to Constance Seymour of Marsden Castle, Northumberland, engaged to Henry Lovell, who wore her bridal gown […] before the ceremony ‘thus invoking bad luck’.

  7. John Bryson says:

    Back from my hols and catching up – there are so many great midwinter and Christmas folk songs around.I find this a a great version of this song – love it

  8. Jan says:

    My good friend Len Rout used to sing this before he retired from folk club well into his eighties. I like Jon’s singing of it.

  9. Liz B says:

    Oh that was really good…just love the gruesome ones…bit like horrible histories! Great tune helps too. Just going to listen again.

  10. Jane Ramsden says:

    That’s horrendous! Ee, you do do misery well, Jon! I don’t like to think about it though… I’ve seen that film with Ray Milland… Premature Burial… shuddering….

  11. muzza says:

    I watched Jon perform this on Fire&Ice 10Nov…excellent..a new one to me.
    Another for the personal repertoire..Thanks again AFSAD

  12. Jon Copping says:

    I have original sheet music. A3 Issued by W Paxton, 19 Oxford Street, London.

  13. muzza (Surrey) says:

    Drat………….I have been practising this for ages to put up on my site but Jon has beaten me to it again…must get it up before Christmas……so sad and so concise and poetic…….Hey…..I like a “Grim” one!..don’t tell Admin Simon!

  14. John Biggs (Welsh Marches) says:

    Completely new one to me this. At half past midnight last night, with the last embers of the fire in the grate and the wind howling around the chimney, I turned on the computer to see what todays song was, and it quite gave me the heeby-jeebies.
    Even this morning after a couple more hearings it is still chilling. As you say muzza, the lyrics are sad and poetic, yet they tell the story in a matter of fact way that gives it authenticity. And of course, Jon’s singing is superb.
    Do give it a try muzza !

  15. Most of the stuff I know about it appears to have been said, but I can add that several stately homes have said “That’s our ghost story, not theirs”. Lost the source for that though.

  16. Diana says:

    Another sorrowful tale. How horrible to be suffocated in a locked chest. The women in those days could not have been very inquisitive if they never tried to open a locked chest.

  17. Jane Ramsden says:

    Taphephobia is the irrational fear of vivisepulture – being buried alive… Nowt irrational about it from my point of view! Seems perfectly normal to me, and it is one of the most widespread of human fears. You can see why it would therefore be a powerful subject for a folk song in times when certainty of death might have been more difficult to establish.

    If it makes anyone feel any better, unconsciousness would occur in a couple of minutes after 1-2 hours, depending on body metabolism/oxygen consumption, and thence death in a matter of minutes, say quarter of an hour. The poor lass would need to have been saved early on, in order not to have brain damage. Must have been a very big house for no-one to hear owt, or notice the process of decay over many months to become a skeleton.

    I am thankful not to be a transgressing vestal virgin. This was their punishment if caught, but with access to air, so the process was designed to be lengthy and tortuous… shuddering…

    I could have done without returning to this, given the missing cat, presumably shut in somewhere afore its demise. WE ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT IT THOUGH! *Sighs*

    I am going away now, as have many songs to catch up on, yet again! Thanks for all good wishes in my absence, and very glad to see you back in one piece, Muzza!

    PS I don’t like carols! Save ‘Whilst Shepherds Washed Their (or Muzza’s) Socks By Night,’ which I note Jon has not done a version of to the tune of ‘Ilkla Moor Baht ‘At’… works very well!

  18. Diana says:

    Welcome back Jane.

  19. John Biggs (Welsh Marches) says:

    I thought Taffyphobia was an irrational fear of the Welsh. (Well if I had not said it, muzza would have done so!)
    Good to have you back again Jane, you have been sadly missed. Sorry to hear about the cat.

  20. Jan says:

    Jane, I loved the shepherds washing their socks to Ilkley Moor – I’ll take that notion to our singaround on Sunday!

    Sorry to hear the fate of the cat who shall not be mentioned, though.

  21. muzza (Surrey) says:

    @John B…………..Taffyphobia………..I would never have thought of that!….If you called me a wit……..you’d only be half right…now must get back to my village before they miss me!

  22. Muzza+399days (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Another year has passed and I still haven’t done Mistletoe bough..
    I know all the words..can’t find my camera since I tidied up when had half hour notice of a visitor…and worse than that…..as I re-read the comments I was prompted to make the Taffy phobia joke and then found that the old John B had already cracked it!
    I must start reading the comments from the bottom up!

  23. Diana says:

    A sad tale.

    Muzza pull your socks up, another year gone and still you have not got round to doing this one.

  24. Old Muzza(NW Surrey UK) says:

    Nobody will read this……………….but……………..I’m gonna make a special effort to get my version on by the end of the year……..
    .Did I say that I’m on the ‘short/er’ list (10 of 20) of the Islington Folk competition…I think they felt sorry for the poor old fella!………..results on 18th December….can’t believe that the Bailey sisters or Jan(folk nan) didn’t enter.

  25. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

  26. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    Well would you believe it……see previous post November 1st…..had a malfunction and the following text got lost:-I wrote that I had finally got round to entering this for the Islington Folk Club Trad2Mad 2015 competition….in a panic on the evening before closing 31October’
    As usual, loads of things went wrong and this was the seventh try to get through it.
    Trapped my fingers in the bally ‘oak chest’ on effort No4 !
    I suspect that the poor old judges’ hearts drop when they see my theatrical efforts

  27. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    No news yet of a short list for Islington Folk club competition…..perhaps they have discontinued that…….winner should be announced by 20th Dec

  28. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    Drat……..didn’t make the shortlist this year….hey ho…………..there’s always next year!

  29. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    I’m sure I would have got on the short list if only I had borrowed Jane’s BIG RED HAT to match my cloak for mistletoe bough

  30. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Ref my efforts above…..I changed the words around at the start….I claim .folky poetic licence!
    Looking forward to the day I can afford to get the electric put back on.

  31. Even olderMuzza(NWSurrey) says:

    Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh the Mistletoe bough!!!!
    What a chorus!!!!!

  32. Rahere says:

    That and the rest of the tradition are alive and kicking, and soon to be heard again,

    http://www.localcarols.org.uk/ for the Yorkshire home

    and http://www.londoncarols.co.uk/page2.htm for those in exile

  33. Linda says:

    Beautifully sung and a timely reminder of the Bellowhead Christmas show…..

  34. Old Muzza (NW Surrey UK) says:

    Aint it great to be reminded of these songs at least once a year…and relearn the words

  35. Linda says:

    Nowt on telly last night so watched the BBC Christmas Session on YouTube which included this ( also managed to get it on the Smart TV which was even better)

  36. OldMuzza (NWSurrey UK) says:

    Ref Linda’s comment above….here is the link…..to the BBC Christmas session from a few years ago Mistletoe Bough is about 19 minutes in.

  37. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Ha…..look at that dear old Thespian gesticulating through his version in 2015.
    I grimaced again (and chuckled) whilst watching it as I really did get a finger caught in that bally chest snapping shut…..the hat is a bit strange as well…..hey….I nearly remembered all the words!

  38. OldMuzza (NWSurrey UK) says:

    Ha….couldn’t resist having a early peek as I think I might quickly relearn the words to sing on zoom session this friday…it really is a sad song…very scary…but so well written to get the story across so succinctly!…..I’ll say it again” Lordy, Lordy,…old Muzza admits he has found a grim one that he likes!”

  39. OldMuzza(NW Surrey UK) says:

    Just checked the laundry basket and recycling bin….
    no sign of any bridal stuff….phew!

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