A Week Before Easter


Once again Jon confesses “This is one of those tunes you assume you know, until you try to sing it. It took a bit of learning this, but it’s a great song though.”

I should have known… This all starts so well with the woods, the flowers, the birds and the sense of spring in the air, but finishes with a lovelorn wish for death. You may like a look at this Mudcat thread as there seem to be a number of different versions of this. There seems to be some speculation about the age of this song too and you’ll pick that up at Mainly Norfolk in Bert Lloyd’s notes. As far as I’ve been able to see, the 1670s/80s seems to be the earliest acknowledged record of this. It’s also in The Copper Family collection and a fine tune it is too.



32 Responses to “A Week Before Easter”

  1. SRD says:

    A lovely start to Easter week.

  2. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    The fans of the TV series “Lark rise to Candleford” will recognise this as the tune to which the young hero mimed on his melodeon! The tune has a very distinctive first line which, if not adhered to, slips into the tune of “Whitsun Dance” by Austen John Marshall..another lovely song.

    It’s many long spring times since she was a bride
    And yet you may see her at each Whitsun tide
    In a dress of white linen with ribbons of green
    As green as her memories of loving

    The feet that were nimble tread carefully now
    As gentle a measure as age will allow
    Through groves of white blossom , through fields of green corn
    Where once she was pledged to her true love

    The fields they stand empty, the hedges grow free
    No young men to trim them, no pastures go see
    They’ve gone where a forest of oak trees before,
    Have gone to be wasted in battle

    Down from their green farmlands and from their loved ones
    Came husbands and brothers and fathers and sons
    There’s a fine roll of honour where the Maypole once stood
    And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun

    There are straight rows of houses in these latter days
    All covering the fields where the sheep used to graze
    There’s a field of red poppies, a wreath from the queen
    And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun

    And the ladies remember at Whitsun

  3. Simon Dewsbury says:

    particularly fine singing.

  4. Jan says:

    Glad you mentioned Dancing at Whitsun, Muzza – I had that very problem when I was learning A Week Before Easter! Both fine songs, and well sung, Jon.

  5. Phil says:

    Marshall wrote Dancing at Whitsun to the tune of A Week Before Easter, so I wouldn’t worry too much about keeping the tunes separate!

    And I have to mention the sad story of the lady whose husband was run over by a Japanese car, leaving her with an irrational prejudice against all such makes of vehicle. Eventually she managed to overcome this, but she couldn’t help wincing at Datsuns.

  6. Jane Ramsden says:

    Oh, you are a card, Phil! Hahahaha!

    And thanks to you and Muzza for the information on both songs. I am a tadge disappointed to learn that the song is being mimed in Lark Rise. There I was, thinking what a fine voice that actor has, and enjoying it as such!

    Both excellent songs though, and this one beautifully sung by Jon, as ever. (Jealous Jane)

  7. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    Just home from hospital and it reminded me that I had written the following words to fit the tune……the old urban myth story has been circulating for years…..I just put them into “Song Order”

    Window View

    Two men in a hospice both in a room lay
    One bed by the window, one bed far away
    One fought for each breath
    if to sleep down he lay
    And the other could move not a fraction.

    Each day was a trial in pain without end
    And they spoke of their lives, of their families, their friends
    One man could sit up for an hour in each day
    And tell what he saw through the window.

    The greenfields, the river, the trees and the sky
    The lovers, the children and all that passed by
    The birds swooping low over far distant hills
    The church spire and roofs of the village.

    The man on his back just stared day after day
    From a patch on the ceiling, his gaze could not stray
    His life was enriched by the voice of his friend
    As he told of the view through the window.

    One morning the nurse came and to her dismay
    The man by the window, in the night, passed away
    The man on his back mourned the loss of his friend
    As he stared at the patch on the ceiling

    Now time is a healer and painfully slow
    And the man on his back some improvement did show
    He struggled and pulled himself up to the cill
    And he took his first look through the window.

    No greenfields, no river, no trees and no sky
    No lovers, no children, no folk passing by
    Just plain bricks and mortar was all he could see
    As blank as his patch on the ceiling.

    He slumped on his pillow to sob and to curse
    His friend had deceived him: he asked of the nurse
    ‘Why tell all those stories, why tell all those lies
    When- there –was- nothing to see through the window.’

    The nurse took his hand, some compassion to find
    ‘Did you know that your friend by the window was blind
    He helped you grow stronger and ease pain away
    How he envied your patch on the ceiling.

  8. Diana says:

    Such a sad song but beautifully sung.

    Muzza that was a lovely poem, so poignant, just glad that you recovered but so sad for your companion.

  9. Muzza(N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    @Diana…bless your little cotton socks…from reading the above comments I can see why you have misunderstood the situation…
    for clarification:-
    The words I put together to match the tune, were from an urban myth that has been circulating for years as a straight forward story……I reshuiffled the prose into a poem/song format.
    My trip to hospital on 18th last year was for a hip replacement…….no blind companion died as a result of my visit!
    (mind you- I don’t know how many other patients I bored to death)

  10. Muzza(N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    @Phil……….”but she couldn’t help wincing at Datsuns.” (What are you like!)
    @Jane….Fine voice actor probably singing ..it was his melodeon playing that he was miming.

  11. Muzza(N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    @Mainly Norfolk…….lovely version by Olivia Chaney. (distinctive tune)
    On the video, I wonder if the statue behind her was about to hit her or was covering its ears to block out the sound of the birds in the garden.

  12. Diana says:

    @Muzza you can always rely on me to get hold of the wrong end of the stick. It doesn’t change anything though, I still find the poem sad even if not true. But you must admit your introduction was a little ambiguous.

  13. John Biggs (Welsh Marches) says:

    The title was unfamiliar to me, but when I started to listen, I realised that it is a variant of ‘I once loved a lass’ and of course, reference to Mainly Norfolk makes it all clear. Like Muzza, I enjoyed the singing of Olivia Chaney and the accompaniment of guitar and bird song.
    All the versions make good songs, but for me the one sung by Sandy Denny has it.

    Muzza, I loved your poem and tried it to the same tune. Do I have your permission to learn it and try it at one of our singing sessions ? There will be, not a dry eye in the house, but then my singing often has that effect.

  14. Muzza(N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    @Ol’John B…………..sing away John Boy……I had “whitsun Dance “tune in mind when I composed the words…..let me know how you get on.

  15. Jan says:

    Oh Muzza, you are a poet!

  16. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: Ref fine-voiced Larkrise actor, you have made me feel so much better… that I am confident I would not expire in the bed next to thee! Of course, the same might not be able to be said the other way around… but I can guarantee you, it wouldn’t be from boredom! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  17. Diana says:

    @ Jane: “Oooh you are awful, but I like you” as a certain character used to say. I wait with bated breath for a response from Muzza.

  18. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana: His breath may be too bated for a response… HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  19. muzza(N.W.Surrey,UK) says:

    @Jane……………..wow………..I could show you my cigarette card collection!
    That is the ace in my seduction techniques since Mother Nature flipped the switch….
    anyway……..they don’t allow mixed wards these days.(fell asleep at theatre…ferocious,bony elbow spoiled my slumber)

  20. Diana says:

    @Muzza ……..cigarette cards be blowed! Surely you can come up with something more original than those. I can’t see Jane showing much interest in picture cards. Glad you had a bony elbow waking you up – serves you right.

  21. Jane Ramsden says:

    I only meant you wouldn’t be bored intellectually… HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    Ted says: A good laugh can ripple over many a flipped switch.

  22. Muzza(N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    @Jane….so that’s Diana and now ME getting the wrong end of the stick! I retire from this thread, gracefully and well beaten by the ladies.

  23. Jane Ramsden says:

    I meant it to be taken both ways, Muzza. Diana realised this, so you were well and truly caught! Hoist by your own petard… But that is part of your charm… your innuendo… There need be no answer to that!

  24. Jane Ramsden says:

    Hellooo, All!

    And an accolade to Skyman for his assiduous production of Prop magazine, but I quote from the latest issue:

    “After 25 issues, it has sadly become necessary for us to cease publication of Properganda magazine. We are grateful to all the contributors, labels, artists, venues, clubs, retailers, festivals & readers that have supported Properganda over the years, but publishing and distributing 75,000+ copies of a free magazine has become financially untenable. Special thanks of course go to the editor Simon Holland who steered the ship through the tempestuous seas of the ever-changing specialist music landscape.”

    ‘Hear, hear,’ says I, tho’ sorry to see the mag go. However:

    “For news and info on what’s going on at Proper, http://www.propergandaonline.com will continue to shout about great music.”

    As coincidence would have it, I recently purr-chased a That’s Proper Folk 13-track sampler CD from 2008 for the princely sum of £1(!) at Leeds Feline Friends Spring Fayre fundraiser. What a corker! Bellowhead are Hauling Away on it, but Eliza Carthy opens with Mr Magnifico, followed by Karine Polwart’s absolutely stunning track ‘Sorry.’ This has become my fave album of the moment & one to keep!

    And thanks to Muzzy Muzzanda, who keeps sending me cheer-up email funnies and pics, in case I were in danger of slipping into the Slough of D! Here’s a link to the latest and last Prop magazine in-depth article on Nic Jones, complete with his rendition of ‘Little Musgrave,’ (great!) plus some other songs. Enjoy!

  25. Jane Ramsden says:

    PS Tickets for Spiers & Boden’s Saltaire gig in May also purr-chased… but Show of Hands at Bradford Playhouse on 27 April first. And I was first to buy a ticket, which is just as well ‘cos sold out!

  26. Muzza (N.W Surrey-UK) says:

    Aha …the old catbotherer…..still on form.
    had to give my Fay ticket away last Nov and would you believe I can’t make Bracknell to see S & B in September….aaaarrrghh
    @Janey-Thanks for the Properganda/Nic Jones link…you can hear every word that lad sings…..I learned ‘Little pot stove’ from his record and it was good to hear again what I could have been up to with Lord Barnard’s wife- only a vowel away!

  27. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzzy Muzzanda: You change your name so much on here that the old ‘one vowel’ difference does not wash any more than your missing sock! (You know I have a loooong memory! Hahahahaha!)

    Cat botherer is right… I have bin to the vet’s today… at 2.40pm… at 4.30pm… & at 5.50pm! Cat molester’s hat-trick, or how to demolish the pensioner’s paycheck in an afternoon! That was over £100 in one fell swoop. And I even took 2 bottles of wine for the vet ‘cos he is retiring the end of this month. Lucky man! I’ve been going there since afore he started, still going after he’s left, and have more animals that he does. One dog and one cat? Lightweight! Lol.

    PS Less of the old… Not many wimmin of my age can heft cat provs at 2 shops afore hefting 3 heavy cats to the vet, then come home and heft 13 litter trays, aside from owt else!

  28. Diana says:

    You are right there Jane as usual. Anything to do with cats is hefty work.

  29. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    It’s only on AFSAD that I suffer from a lack of cat news (mews!)………Whereas on FACEBOOK…..it would appear that every catbotherer north of Watford has invested in a digital camera and pictures of pussies are in abundance

  30. old Muzza(N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    Cor Blimey boys and gals..how the time flies by…..still love re reading the old comments and it reminded me that I’d entered the Islington Folk club annual unaccompanied song competition back in 2013 with the song ‘ wot I rote’ with words above……and I’d even managed to put the entry onto Youtube. Closing date for this year’s competition is the usual 31st October…..Check their website for examples of past entries and .start thinking about your entry now….you can do it

  31. David says:

    I have 2 fine versions of this on vinyl one by Dave Burland and one by TonyCapstick

  32. OldMuzza NW Surrey UK) says:

    Ha….really love all the memories that this site holds as it reminds us each year.

Your Reply

Warning: Undefined variable $user_ID in /customers/a/0/f/afolksongaday.com/httpd.www/wp-content/themes/comment-central/comments.php on line 121