Doleful Dance of Death


Jon picked this up from Tim Healy of The Oxford Waits and says, “Tim performs the original C17th version of this with a skull mask over his face: pretty scary stuff. I used to have to play the recorder solo which was also pretty scary…” You’ll find a version on Spiers & Bodens Songs CD, where the notes refer to Jon having “doctored the lyrics drastically,” and the source being the Oxford University Broadside Collection. The alternate title is Shaking Of The Sheets and Mudcat suggests it’s somewhat older being C16th and is referred to in a play of around 1560. There are quite a few additional verses and the lyrics are, as suggested above, very different from the version Jon gives us here. Mainly Norfolk also covers Steeleye’s version.

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16 Responses to “Doleful Dance of Death”

  1. Shelley says:

    Love the fiddle accompaniment in this one – it reminds me of the fiddle intro to Saint-Saens’ “Danse Macabre” and fits the subject matter perfectly.

  2. Jane Ramsden says:

    Nice fiddle… miserable as sin… hahahaha!

  3. John Biggs says:

    I have just started a cold, drank too much red wine last night and now, this morning, I feel like …oops! Yep, nice fiddle playing.
    Not many comments on this one so far are there.

  4. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ John: Few comments ‘cos it’s miserable as sin! I think it is very like, but not as good a song as ‘Death and The Lady,’ which is what I felt like a couple of weeks ago with the upper respiratory tract infection, so I sympathise. I have to lay off the red wine then, as it only makes a head cold feel worse. It is too late though when you didn’t know it was coming on! And, of course, you can’t even sing-alonga-AFSAD when you have no voice!

  5. Linda says:

    Colds seem very popular at the moment. Can anyone tell me how they manage to read all the comments, listen to the song and read all the links and fit other things in? I would really love to read more but can’t seem to keep up, By the way admin could we have Jon’s June album photo?

  6. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Linda: Well, speaking for myself, I don’t sleep much!… and relegate other necessary tasks to lower priority, on the grounds that this is a living project that won’t last forever in its current form. Hence, I try to put some added value in where possible, in recognition of Jon’s original great effort, ably assisted by trusty admin! I’m not a folk practitioner myself, so try to flesh out the songs with other interesting & pertinent information, and links for those who don’t have time to research, but might have time to look & listen. I don’t manage to read everything thoroughly myself either, but remember, you can always dip into the archives if you have a spare moment!

  7. Jan says:

    Previously I’d only come across the Steeleye Span version – I like this much better, and the fiddle accompaniment suits it really well. As for the subject matter – it comes to us all in the end!

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

    The tune is quite Jolly. It is put in its place by being matched with “Death lyrics”.
    If it was matched with JOLLY words…I would happily dance round the Maypole to it (provided I was not in the throes of an upper respiratory tract infection!)

  9. kamama says:

    Is that a commom metaphor “to hear the piper play” ? I think I heard that a couple of time as a reference to approaching death. Does anyone know where that comes from? Maybe a story or superstition? Unfortunately I’m not an english native speaker so maybe I’m missing some underlying meaning here…

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

    @Kamama………..yes…that’s what it means….we must all dance when the grim reaper plays his pipe……….my goodness you write very good English.
    Oh in case I have confused you further -“Grim Reaper” means deathe has come to collect you….cut you down like ripe corn!

  11. kamama says:

    @ muzza thanks a lot for the nice compliment and the explanation. I read English literature at the Uni, so well known metaphors like the grim reaper can’t defeat me:o)

    The piper bit reminded me of a line in “Stairway to heaven”: ” And it’s whispered that soon if we all call the tune Then the piper will lead us to reason.”

    I always wondered about that piper and what kind of symbolism is behind it. Thanks for pointing in the right direction!

  12. Diana says:

    What will be will be as the expression goes – it doesn’t do to dwell on it. Some wiser soul than I said “live each day as it it were your last”. Certainly a doleful song but the fiddle was nice,

  13. Linda says:

    Five years on (see comment 2011) still reading comments and song histories and still enjoying it!

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

    thinking about it…..some folk don’t like the bagpipes….so hearing the piper play could be punishment / hell for them!

  15. OldMuzza(NWSurreyUK) says:

    Apologies to all Scots folk and pipers for my unseemly comment above
    I dunno……everybody jumps on the cliche bandwagon …sigh!

  16. OldMuzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    It’s bodhran players that usually come in for the flack rather than pipers!

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