Hail, Hail The First Of May



Jon knows this one as “A song by Dave Webber that has been, as I understand it, adopted into the Padstow May morning celebrations. In fact there is a story that Dave was down at Padstow for May morning and started singing this, only to be told off for starting a Padstow song when he was a visitor. In a way that’s the biggest complement he could have been given! Happy May morning everyone, particularly everyone who was up early for the choir in Oxford, or dancing in Newcastle / Dungworth.”

Having talked about the May Day celebration usurping St. George this seems an appropriate celebratory song and I too should wish you all well, although I don’t know what the greeting should be and Happy May Day seems a bit naff. Still, it’ll have to do. I love the optimism of this and the sense of young love’s blossoming. It’s a fine tune too and deserves to be taken up and used wherever it can be regardless of who starts singing it. I can say with some certainty that the bluebells were early this year and arrayed in all their splendour along the Greensand Way last weekend. I was out for a ramble myself, the weather was glorious and nature itself seemed brimful of purpose – not just the bluebells, but the blossoms and primroses, the birdsong, the lambs and all. Had I lodged this song in my brain before setting out, I might well have skipped the entire 12.5 (or more!!) miles. Absolutely lovely stuff.


68 Responses to “Hail, Hail The First Of May”

  1. Dave Knibb BA says:

    Wonderful – I’m ashamed to say that this is the first time I’ve heard this song.
    Thank you, Jon.

  2. Jane Ramsden says:

    First time I’ve heard it too, Dave, but a grand tune and rendition, Jon! If it’s the merry month of May, can’t we say Merry May Day?

  3. Reinhard says:

    I first heard this beautiful song a few weeks ago when I bought Magpie Lane’s album Jack-in-the-Green after Jon mentioned this group as his source so many times.

    Dave Webber’s song seems to be called May Song originally. He recorded it with his group Beggar’s Velvet for their 1990 LP Lady of Autumn which is available as an MP3 album on Amazon.

  4. Vivien says:

    Delightful. Merry May Day to you all.

  5. Rosie says:

    Lovely. I know it but can’t remember from where. (I’ll need to dig deep or it will bug me all day.)
    Happy May day everyone.

  6. Suz says:

    Thanks for posting this – a favorite song of mine. Happy May Day!

  7. Hannah says:

    1st of May is Beltane – which celebrates the coming of summer, fertility, fecundity and purification.

    Love the song :~)

  8. Simon Dewsbury says:

    I’m another who’d never heard it before. A real spirit lifter – and I may just go and have a drink to the horse a bit later

  9. Kate Flatt says:

    This is beautiful. Cast your cares and fears away. oh yes

  10. Dark Rosaleen says:

    hello everyone
    this song is beautiful, must aim to learn it 😀
    May flower is out in Ireland and surprisingly it is sunny :O
    Happy May Day everyone 😀

  11. Jan says:

    I’m with Jane – a Merry May Day to one and all!

  12. Jane Ramsden says:

    Here’s some Beltane info:

    Beltane is a Celtic word which means ‘fires of Bel’ (Bel was a Celtic deity). It is a fire festival that celebrates of the coming of summer and the fertility of the coming year.

    Celtic festivals often tied in with the needs of the community. In spring time, at the beginning of the farming calendar, everybody would be hoping for a fruitful year for their families and fields.

    Beltane rituals would often include courting: for example, young men and women collecting blossoms in the woods and lighting fires in the evening. These rituals would often lead to matches and marriages, either immediately in the coming summer or autumn.

    Other festivities involved fire which was thought to cleanse, purify and increase fertility. Cattle were often passed between two fires and the properties of the flame and the smoke were seen to ensure the fertility of the herd.

    Today Pagans believe that at Beltane the God (to whom the Goddess gave birth at the Winter Solstice) achieves the strength and maturity to court and become lover to the Goddess. So although what happens in the fields has lost its significance for most Pagans today, the creation of fertility is still an important issue.

    Emma Restall Orr, a modern day Druid, speaks of the ‘fertility of our personal creativity’. (Spirits of the Sacred Grove, pub. Thorsons, 1998, pg.110). She is referring to the need for active and creative lives. We need fertile minds for our work, our families and our interests. (I particularly like this idea and thank you, Jon et al, for this creative project! – Jane.)

    Fire is still the most important element of most Beltane celebrations and there are many traditions associated with it. It is seen to have purifying qualities which cleanse and revitalise. People leap over the Beltane fire to bring good fortune, fertility (of mind, body and spirit) and happiness through the coming year.

    Although Beltane is the most overtly sexual festival, Pagans rarely use sex in their rituals although rituals often imply sex and fertility. The tradition of dancing round the maypole contains sexual imagary and is still very popular with modern Pagans.

    The largest Beltane celebrations in the UK are held in Edinburgh. Fires are lit at night and festivities carry on until dawn. All around the UK fires are lit and private celebrations are held amongst covens and groves (groups of Pagans) to mark the start of the summer.

  13. Jane Ramsden says:

    Wheatley, Oxfordshire 2008, May Pole Dancing:


    Wicker Man May Pole:


    La Fille Mal Gardeé May Pole Dance:

  14. John Bryson says:

    A most glorious way to welcome may, many thanks Jon.
    A slight digression here, but Jon does mention May Day celebrations – I have just returned from Leicestershire, where I hail from, and on May morning at 7.00 a.m. the Leicester Morris Men dance at Old John, which is the second highest point of the county, in Charnwood Forest. Yesterday was cold and windy, but gloriously sunnny as the Morris Men welcomed May. I have been going there for a few years now and I find it quite special. It is well supported, and if anyone is in the area and fancies a glorious start to May morning then I can thoroughly recommend this

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

    Sounds like the Leicester Morris are a bunch of layabeds!!!!! Yateley Morris are out at 5:15am and we have been singing this fine song for some time now……..mind you…I was under my duvet for the first time in 33years!

  16. Annabell says:

    Hello, I’m happy to hear this song to welcome may. Thanks, Jon.

  17. Annabell says:

    Hello Jane,
    Thank you very much for detailled description of “Beltane”

  18. John Bryson says:

    Hello Muzza,

    I was with the Leicester Morris Men a few years back May Day and I was told that one of their members was dancing on Plymouth Hoe that morning at 5am – I think that a bit too early for me!

  19. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Annabell: You’re welcome!

    @ Muzza: It’s a special Beltane tradition that Morris Men are allowed a lie-in, once every 33 years… May maid optional, but not obligatory… hahahahaha!

  20. John Bryson says:


    I’m on here for a third time! I have – just read your entry about Beltrane, and a big thank you, I found it most interesting.

  21. Anthea Rutherford says:

    This one’s quite popular with morris sides hereabouts and all over the US. (No longer a dancer m’self, alas, but I bang a formidable drum these days.) Worked up a nice version (along with a batch of other May carols and good old Morley, falalalala) with a group of singers and went about all day with the morris, massed accordions, concertinas, fiddles, and the occasional banjo, to the befuddlement of most of our audience. I was indeed up all night, although I’d gathered in the May (such as it is, there being no blooms on the hawthorn yet in this year’s miserable weather) the previous night for the Bealtaine feast and frolicking. Appropriately, we had the first lovely day of the year (we’re back to rain again), although I missed the second half of it as I was verging on 40 hours without sleep and tipped over sideways…

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

    Blimey boys and gals….we had to sing this song at 5:15am this morning through gritted teeth….it was chucking it down. Today was the first time we have been forced to dance in wproof jackets as there was no sign of a let up in the deluge….
    One member of the public braved the weather to join us….so we took her back for a free brekky in the church hall as a reward…..(some reward…a room full of steamin’ morrismen!)…roll on summer.

  23. Diana says:

    What can I say that has not already been said. A lovely one to cheer everyone up especially on such a miserable day – weather wise that is.

    Muzza poor you I know your region is short on water but this ridiculous – from one extreme to the other. All you morris men in your waterproof jackets with water running down your neck I expect – you were certainly courageous to brave the elements as was your supporter- she deserved her brekky. Well done the lot of you.

  24. John Biggs (Welsh Marches) says:

    It was the same up here Muzza. At 5.40 a.m. when Foxwhelp Morris began their first dance, around some ancient stones overlooking the Welsh border, the rain was coming down like stair rods, and it continues to do so now. So, yes, the dancers were in waterproofs, and my job was to hold the brolly over the fiddle player.
    Tonight we have our May Day sing around session so we hope that the rain and floods do not deter too many people.
    At least, if this is the first day of summer, it can only get better from here on. Please ?

  25. John Bryson says:

    May Day Greetings – I had to miss out on the early celebrations with the Leicester Morris Men today , dental repairs here in Sawbridgeworth took priority – mind you, from the comments above everyone had a good soaking!
    Just to repeat my comments of a year ago – what a glorious way, musically, to launch May. This is a great song, which I am learning and is super to sing – my wife jane and I have just been belting it out along with Jon.
    Once again, many thanks to Jon for this project (not forgettting Simon of course)

  26. Diana says:

    Well all you good morris men have been out and about already but cannot say the same for Saddleworth’s morris men – they don’t seem to do anything until the 7th of May – lazy lot!

    There seems to be a plethora of John B’s these days (at least 3 or 4) so John I shall now put “of WM” to choose you from the others.

  27. John Bryson says:

    As for me Diana, I live in Sawbridgeworth but moving back to Leicestershire in the Autumn, where I hail from, when my wife retires

  28. Diana says:

    That certainly is a mouthful John, it is longer than Saddleworth – so should you choose to send me a message I should have to reply John “of SBW”. We certainly are a lot of movers aren’t we? South to North or East to West changing counties each time.

  29. John Bryson says:

    I saw the Saddleworth Side at Thaxted Morris Ring in 2011 Diana, very impressive

  30. Diana says:

    Yes John of SBW (it works I hope) Saddleworth Morris Men have quiite a good reputation. They are well known for the Rushcart which takes place in August.

  31. Jane Ramsden says:

    BelaTed Beltane Blessings! I am a day late, but sounds like all the Morris men deserve an accolade for their sterling cultural efforts in inclement weather. You all sound like knights anyway – Sir John of Sawbridgeworth, Sir John of the Welsh Marches and Sir Muzza of Surrey! Diana, you remain Lady Hamilton… hahahaha!

    And wonderfully belted out for Beltane, Jon!

  32. Diana says:

    Really excellent Jane – now what title can we bestow on you. I shall go away and ponder on that. They were all good men and true and the weather was abysmal wasn’t it? Have had high winds for three days now, but it is calmer today. Dustbins down, flower pots all over the place. Summer if and when it comes cannot be any worse/

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

    Oh what a beautiful mornin’………….out at 5:15am to dance in the dawn…….weather beautiful..hallo birds…..hallo sky….. and all this on top of a riotous, late night ‘end of winter practise’ curry night………….and me in my Tiger onesy!…Bliss

  34. John Bryson says:

    A glorious morning, 7am on Old John. the second highest point of Leicestershire and part of Bradgate Park. The Leicester Morris Men were in fine form as they celebrated May 1st in their diamond jubilee year

  35. John Bryson says:

    And to top it off, glorious to hear this sung by Jon on May day once again – roll on May 10th to see John and Jon in concert

  36. Jane Ramsden says:

    Man flu clearly gone, Muzza? That’ll be the Tiger-onesy!

    Roll on May 11th to see John and Jon in concert!

  37. Diana says:

    Not too long to wair Jane, You will enjoy

  38. OldMuzza (N.W Surrey-UK) says:

    Happy May Day everybody……………….I woke briefly at 5:30am and my thoughts were with Yateley Morris Men as they danced in the May yet again in heavy rain…but my little body stayed snugly under the duvet as I retired from YMM on Boxing Day…..OOOHHH….I think I’ll have another 10 minutes and I might get up…..Where’s that sunshine….it ain’t here for sure!

  39. John Bryson says:

    May Day greetings to one and all, up at 5.30 am for my leisurely breakfast before 7.00 am at Old John in Newtown Linford.

    Weather was misty on way there, then some sun, then fog set in.

    Leicester Morris Men in form.

    This is one of my favourite AFSAD songs, superbly performed here (in my humble opinion) by Jon

  40. Jane Ramsden says:

    Merry Morris May Day and Beltane Blessings! 1st May sure gets some of you out of bed! I have some May and some Morris stuff to post later on, but no time just now as scanning some very, very old family photos into my pc.

    However, I note Bellowhead’s new album Revival is out on 23 June. 1000 pre-signed copies already sold out in a day, so others will have to be obtained on the 10th anniversary tour. From their email newsletter: “Chris Evans gave our new single ‘Gosport Nancy’ its first airplay on his Radio 2 Breakfast Show this morning [30th]. If you missed it you can listen again on iPlayer. Why not text into 88291 and let us know what you think of it?

    And we also have some exciting TV news for you – we’ll be making our ITV debut this week, performing another album track, Roll Alabama, on the Paul O’Grady Show. Be sure to tune in this Friday 2nd May, 5-6pm to see the very special performance. ”

    I love Roll Alabama, & the album must be good ‘cos it’s got a track called Moon Kittens on it!

  41. Jane Ramsden says:

    Andy Turner is still doing his Folk Song A Week and today it’s week 141, Good Morning Lords and Ladies, It Is The First Day Of May:


    There’s an interesting video of a traditional singer, the late Margery ‘Mum’ Johnstone from Bedfordshire, who died in the 1990s. Note the posting is by Pete Castle, a singer I mentioned once on here before for his 1978 cassette tape Tales of the Land & Songs of the Sea. He can be found on FaceBook where he has a number of videos, including this one – hope the link works – of his rendition of May Song from an album he made in 1982 called Rambling Robin:


    I just missed seeing Pete Castle at our Topic Folk Club in Bradford recently, so bought a copy of his Mearcstapa CD which opens & closes with Buckworth May Song, & many a good thing inbetween! He’s recorded lots of the songs covered on AFSAD across his albums.

    I played Mearcstapa for the first time yesterday and absolutely loved it. Highlights for me are The Cuckoo, The Irish Girl, the darkly interesting Fanny Blair (see the reviewer Tony Grist’s note), Rosebud In June (different words from the Steeleye version) & The Trees They Grow So High.

    Special mention goes to Maramures Lullaby with Lucy Castle-Hotea’s haunting, talented, mesmerising fiddle-playing.

    This album goes into my folk top twenty and I am returning to buy more, notably Xtracted and The Outlandish Knight, which is a track coming up on here again soon, I think.

    To avoid the need for my comments awaiting moderation due to too many weblinks, I will post the one to Pete’s own website separately below.

  42. Jane Ramsden says:

    Pete Castle’s website can be found here:


    Note in particular, he edits Facts & Fiction Storytelling Magazine. An extract from the link below reads: “Facts & Fiction aims to reflect the whole world of storytelling so although it is rooted in traditional oral storytelling for adults it also covers, to a greater or lesser degree, storytelling in education; in libraries; for health and personal development; reminiscence/oral history work; and where storytelling overlaps with other art forms. It’s a very wide brief so no two editions are ever the same.” There’s a facility on site to pay for a sample download of the latest edition and see for yourself.


  43. Peter Walsh says:

    Great to hear Jon’s vocal talents getting another go-around!

    @Janie: your 2011 link to the Wicker Man May Pole song is no longer working due to copyright problems, but I’ve just watched the whole film anyway on Blu-ray – after all it is the 1st of May, when the film is set!

    @OldMuzza: I return to find you retired from Morrising; flabbergasted, shock, horror!!!

    Happy May Day to all from Pierre.

  44. Linda says:

    Chris Evans 30th May on iPlayer roughly 1hour 5 mins into the programme for Bellowhead .

  45. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Linda: Thanks for pointing that out about Bellowhead on Chris Evans being so far into the programme as that wasn’t mentioned in their newsletter, unless I just missed it, but a long wait if you don’t know!

    @ Pierre Walsh: I know some of my links on here will have ‘fallen over’ – lol – but hopefully they may still serve as interest markers. Did I not tell thee Muzza had retired from the Morris? – Since which time he will insist on calling himself Old Muzza instead of promoting his ever-youthful playful self, which must be coming to the fore again as he has sent me a link to the Islington Folk Club Trad2Mad Competition for unaccompanied, relatively unknown singers as follows:

    “Entry is free and the videos of the performance, we do like to see the singer, should be posted to YouTube and the URL sent to trad2mad@islingtonfolkclub.co.uk by 31 October 2014. Former TRAD2MAD contestants have already been booked at the club this year.

    1st prize £100, 2nd prize £50, 3rd prize £25.

    1. Singers must be solo and unaccompanied.
    2. The song should be introduced with the singer’s name, the song title, and the words ‘This is my entry for the 2014 Islington Folk Club TRAD2MAD competition’.
    3. The complete performance, including introduction, should last no more than 4 minutes. This limit will be strictly enforced.
    4. The file name should include singer’s name, song title and ‘TRAD2MAD’. Some indication of source – i.e. the person, event, recording, broadcast or book from which the singer learned the song – should be given in the YouTube description field.
    5. Only one song may be entered per person.
    6. No electronic artificial manipulation of the solo voice is allowed (i.e. electronic reverb, multi tracking or Xfactor nonsense). Keep it real!
    7. The TRAD2MAD e-mail address (trad2mad@islingtonfolkclub.co.uk) will be available up to the closing date, 31 October 2014.
    8. The results will be announced at the Islington Folk Club Christmas party on Thursday 18 December 2014,.and posted on the internet the day after.
    9. Entry is free.
    10. Prizes will be paid by a sterling cheque drawn on a British bank.
    11. The TRAD2MAD competition is intended to encourage new and un-established performers although all are welcome to enter. The judges may reflect the spirit of this rule in their choices.
    12. The judges’ decision is final.

    Muzza has no doubt sent me this to encourage my long-promised debut singing event, but as I can’t work YouTube, let alone produce a decent sound in my ‘recording studio’ (aka the cellar) success is seriously in jeopardy!

    Sorry if I have advertised the competition even wider, Muzza, thereby jeopardising yer chances of winning but, correct me if I’m wrong, weren’t you disqualified on a technicality last year?!! Hahahahahaha!

    See below for more info, including YouTube links to previous entrants singing their chosen songs. Most links still work (including those of Muzza and Patrick Rose, who has oft posted on here) & the top two 2013 winners – very good! – though the third is not available. I note the 2009 winner was Maz O’ Connor, whose first CD I now have, & she is performing locally to me at the LiveRoom in Saltaire later this year. See, it can lead to great things!


    Off to Hal and Tow now!

  46. OldMuzza (N.W Surrey-UK) says:

    Blimey you lot…………..haRDLY A WORD OVER THE LAST FEW MONTHS AND NOW A DELUGE……lovely to know that you are all out there.
    Janey….ref ‘technical disqualified last year from TRAD2Mad……
    they have noted in this year’s rules that ‘They like to see the singer’…and me with a face that only a mother could love!

  47. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ YoungMuzza: You could wear a mask… Hahahahahaha! However, I suppose that could lead to another technical disqualification…. unless you whip it off periodically in song… and the mask. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  48. Linda says:

    Happy May day all . Nice start to May Day,Fay and Martin Simpson on Womans Hour radio 4 this morning…
    @Muzza were u out with Yardley Morris or did you surrender to the duvet….

  49. John Bryson says:

    May Day Greetings to one and all, hardly seems 12 months since listenting to Jon’s fine rendition of this lovely song.

    As before, up at 5.30 a.m., breakfast and then to the top of Old John in Newtown Linford, one of the highest points in Leicestershire, to welcome May with the Leicester Morris Men.

    The sun shone, the wind blew, and it was cold! I had to have a second breakfast afterwards – well that was the excuse to my wife Jane.

    Incidentally, this is Jane and mine’s favourite month of the year, the days gaining in length, the weather becomes warmer (hopefully!), and it’s both of our birthdays in the month! I reache the big 6-oh this month, mental age probably at least 30 years younger.

    Looking forward to Jon’s selection for the month

  50. Linda says:

    Last day of Bellowhead Farewell Tour… sad but looking forward to some solo projects.

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