Tag Archive for: Vivien Ellis

Bartholomew Fair 1808

The Clerkenwell Ballad Walk for Baroque At The Edge Festival

This is a short film trailer of The Clerkenwell Ballad Walk for Baroque At The Edge Festival, January 2021:

This trailer was used to advertise a podcast of The Clerkenwell Ballad Walk (which I did for) Baroque at the Edge Festival, which was online in January 2021.

In this short film, I am walking up Cowcross Street in London, which runs east-west, from St John Street in the east, to Farringdon Road in the west. Farringdon Tube Station is behind me, as I walk towards old Smithfield Market. I am singing a street ballad about Bartholomew Fair, dating from the early 1800’s. This important fair took place every year from 1133 until 1855, when it was suppressed by the authorities for encouraging debauchery and public disorder. I end my walk at the priory church of St Bartholomew The Great. the oldest parish church in the City of London.

Bartholomew Fair 1808: Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827) and Augustus Charles Pugin (1762–1832) (after) John Bluck (fl. 1791–1819), Joseph Constantine Stadler (fl. 1780–1812), Thomas Sutherland (1785–1838), J. Hill, and Harraden (aquatint engravers)

I made a podcast for Baroque At The Edge Festival 2021. You can listen here

It’s a musical guided walk around the streets and open spaces of LSO St Luke’s, the festival venue. I am joined by Fiona Talkington, and London Blue Badge tourist guide Dafydd Wyn Philips. I found ballads from the C17th to the C19th revealing the history of Clerkenwell, telling stories about remarkable events, and exploring themes of poverty, drink, crime & punishment, and the work of Charles Dickens and William Morris.

I thoroughly enjoyed researching and arranging these songs. I found some of them in them in Ballads Online, and some in the English Broadside Ballad Archive. I did a bit of detective work to provide tunes for some of them.

You can read an interview I did with Festival director Lindsay Kemp here

Dafydd and are planning another ballad walk, a virtual guided tour through the City of London, on Wednesday 26th January 2022, for Dragon Cafe In the City which runs as a fortnightly programme of events for those who wish to release the pressure, break the stress cycle, and build resilience, free and open to all. Check their website for joining details.

Beverley Early Music Festival: Alva Online!

Our forthcoming concert “Angels in The Architecture’ for Beverley Early Music Festival, Saturday 29th May 2021 will be filmed and available to watch online here:


Premiere: Sunday 6 June 3.30pm, on sale until: Friday 25 June 5.00pm, view on demand until: Friday 2 July 5.00pm. Tickets £10

Image origin: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SaintJohnofBeverley.png.

Link to Soundcloud recording: https://soundcloud.com/vivienellis/gaude-mater-ecclesia_st-john-of-beverley-chant

Welcome to the second song in our series ‘Angels in the Architecture’ for The Beverley Early Music Festival, celebrating St Mary’s Church, Beverley and its curious carvings.

For this project Alva have teamed up with medieval harpist, singer and musicologist Leah Stuttard, and Dr Jennie England, St Mary’s Heritage Learning Officer.

St John of Beverley, founding father of the town, features in several carvings and roof bosses at St Mary’s. In 2021 Beverley celebrates the 1,300th anniversary of the Saint’s death (May 721). A good time to sing Gaude Mater Ecclesia (Rejoice Mother Church), a C15th chant for the feast day of St John of Beverley (9 May), transcribed, edited and translated by Leah Stuttard. This is the first performance in modern times.

The chant tells of the saint’s miracles, but the fact that this fragile piece of music has survived at all is a kind of miracle. It was written down in the middle of the fifteenth century, in a chant book known as The York Gradual, from the parish church of East Drayton, Nottinghamshire, in the archdiocese of York. A century later, King Henry VIII dissolved over 800 monasteries, and many precious libraries were destroyed. The new owners of these former religious houses saw no value in old manuscripts, except as raw material for scouring candlesticks, cleaning their boots, or even as loo paper!:

A great nombre of them whych purchased those supertycyous mansyons, resrved of those lybrarye bokes, some to serve theyr jakes [toilets], some to scoure candelstyckes, and some to rubbe their bootes. Some they solde to the grossers and soapsellers…’ – John Bale, 1549

Leah has written a fascinating blog post about our chant here

and you can have a close look at the York Gradual here.

We think this chant is likely to have been sung by men. We know it was sung each year on the saint day of St John of Beverley.

Image origin: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Manuscript_Illumination_with_Singing_Monks_in_an_Initial_D,_from_a_Psalter_MET_sf12-56-4s1.jpg

Here Dr Jennie England introduces the Heritage Lottery funded project to preserve more than 600 remarkable medieval roof bosses at St Mary’s.

St John features in at least two of the bosses, together with Æthelstan, one of the first kings to adopt John as his special saint, a theme explored here by Jennie. After Aethelstan, many kings visited John’s shrine, including King Henry V in 1421. He attributed victory at Agincourt to St John, and made him one of the patron saints of the royal family.

We know that St John was especially venerated in the North of England. He is often associated with the victory of British kings in battle, but less well-known is that St John is the earliest recorded teacher of a deaf person. His student, the Venerable Bede, tells us that John taught a deaf-mute boy from Hexham to read and speak, and is the patron saint of teachers of the deaf. More stories of John’s life, works and legacy can be found here.

Little Mousgrove and The Lady Barnet

The Carnival Band

Between 2014 and 2018 I was privileged to take part in a project with The Carnival Band, to record 100 of the most popular ballads of the C17th for a project led by Dr Chris Marsh of Queen’s University Belfast.

The Carnival Band are releasing some of these recordings in ‘A New Bag of Old Ballads’, and I sing the third in the series, ‘Little Mousegrove & The Lady Barnet’ (AKA ‘Little Musgrave’ or ‘Matty Groves’). The song tells of an adulterous & passionate tryst between a young man and a noblewoman, ending in betrayal and murder. Andy Watts from the Carnival Band introduces the project here.

‘A lamentable ballad of the little Musgrove’ . A seventeenth century broadside held in the Bodleian Library

Check the bag to hear ‘The Delights of the Bottle’, sung by Giles Lewin, and ‘I’ll Never Love Thee More’, sung by Jub Davis, and keep visiting for more treasures.

If you’re interested in finding out more about these ballads, watch ‘The Woman to the Plow and the Man to the Hen-Roost’: Wives, Husbands, & Best-Selling Ballads in Seventeenth-Century England, a lecture given by Dr Chris Marsh to the Royal Historical Society in 2018, with illustrations sung by me.

Angels in the Architecture – a concert for St Mary’s, Beverley

Part of Beverley Early Music Festival 2020, postponed until 2021 – shared online, one song at a time!

With my friend and colleague Giles Lewin of Alva, & joined by wonderful medieval harpist & blogger Leah Stuttard, we have created Angels in the Architecture, a concert for St Mary’s in Beverley, thought to be one of the finest parish churches in England, and currently undergoing restoration. We were looking forward to performing at the Beverley Early Music Festival on Saturday 30 May 2020, but this is now postponed until 2021, like all live music events in the current crisis. In the meantime, we’ve decided to share some of the songs online, in a series of blog posts and recordings. Our songs feature angels and devils, dragons and other mythical beasts, famous people with local connections such as St John of Beverley and King Athelstan, and dramatic retellings of bible stories  – all inspired by the heritage of St Mary’s, and its unique collection of misericords, carvings, and over 600 carved roof bosses. This short video trailer for Angels in the Architecture showcases the musicians of Alva, and some of our site-specific performance and education work in other venues such as the V&A, The Geffrye Museum and The Globe, as well as evoking the special atmosphere of St Mary’s, with its exquisite bosses and sculptures

We have enjoyed collaborating with Dr Jennie England, Heritage Learning Officer of St Mary’s, who has helped us to understand more about this unique building, and we’re so thankful for her contributions to enrich these posts. In the first of a series of video podcasts, with some stunning aerial footage of the church and Beverley, she tells the story of the dramatic fall of St Mary’s tower in 1520, the tragic consequences, and subsequent remarkable rebuilding.

Jennie introduces her work as a heritage officer, and provides an insight into the cultural heritage of St Mary’s and its unique roof bosses.

Our first song is Sir Eglamore & The Dragon, a broadside balled printed in 1672.  You can see a copy here at the wonderful online resource of the English Broadside Ballad Archive, University of Santa Barbara:

Here is our version, sung and played on fiddle by Giles, and featuring Leah’s sonorous bray-harp:

Sir Eglamore & The Dragon

Courage Crowned with Conquest; OR, A brief relation, how that Valiant Knight, and Heroick Champion Sir Eglamore, bravely fought with, and manfully slew, a terrible, huge great Monstrous Dragon

To a Pleasant new Tune
Sir Eglamore that valiant knight,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
He fetched his sword and he went to fight,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
As he went over hill and dale,
All clothed in his coat of mail
Fa la la la, la la la, lanky down dilly.

A huge great dragon leapt out of his den,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
Which had killed the Lord knows how many men,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
But when he saw Sir Eglamore,
Good lack had you seen see how this dragon did roar,
Fa la la la, la la la, lanky down dilly.

This dragon, he had a plaguy hide,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
That could both sword and steel abide,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
He could not enter with hacks and cuts
Which vexed the knight to the very hearts blood and guts,
Fa la la la, la la la, lanky down dilly.

All the trees in the wood did shake,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
Stars did tremble and men did quake,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
But had you seen how the birds lay peeping,
‘Twould have made a man’s heart to fall  a-weeping,
Fa la la la, la la la, lanky down dilly.

But it was too late to fear,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
For now it was come to fight dog, fight bare,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
And as a yawning he did fall,
he thrust his sword in hilt and all
Fa la la la, la la la, lanky down dilly.

But now as the knight in choler did burn
Fa la lanky down dilly,
He owed the dragon a shrewd good turn,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
In at his mouth his sword he bent,
The hilt appeared at his fundament,
Fa la la la, la la la, lanky down dilly.

The sword that was a right good blade,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
As ever Turk or Spaniard made
Fa la lanky down dilly,
I for my part do forsake it
And he that will fetch it, let him take it,
Fa la la la, la la la, lanky down dilly.

When all this was done, to the ale-house he went
Fa la lanky down dilly,
And by and by his two pence he spent,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
For he was so hot with tugging with the dragon,
That nothing would quench him but a whole flaggon.
Fa la la la, la la la, lanky down dilly.

Now God preserve our King and Queen,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
And eke in London may be seen.
Fa la lanky down dilly,
As many knights, and as many more
And all so good as Sir Eglamore.
Fa la la la, la la la, lanky down dilly.

Millions of such ballads were printed cheaply on one side of paper, with a picture or two, tune-name and lyrics, and hawked on the streets for a penny by ballad sellers. The catchy chorus of our ballad in the middle and end of verses, makes this ideal for communal singing, perhaps over a flagon or two. We are intrigued by the reference to swords, and wonder about the significance of this. According to wiki, they became something of a fashion accessory for the well-dressed gentleman during the C17th and C18th centuries, after which canes, and then eventually umbrellas, became a Victorian gentleman’s wardrobe essential.

Watch this space for more songs, recorded remotely by the members of Alva, in France, Oxford and Chorleywood, all inspired by the architecture of the beautiful church of St Mary’s in Beverley, featuring angels, devils, wily foxes, pilgrim rabbits and the blessed St John of Beverley!

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to my blog! This is my first entry – thanks for visiting!

I’m a community choir leader and singer specialising in early music. I research the history of songs, and the role of the arts in health and wellbeing.  I make performances which engage & include audiences and link to closely to communities, places & history. In this blog I have loads I’d love to share: thoughts and discoveries about songs, singing and the arts, and aspects of my work. I’m planning to share something every week.

This first post is about a choir I lead called The Dragon Café Singers, and our most recent performance on December 5th 2019 in Concert for Winter, at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. CFW is the Globe’s free annual showcase and celebration of the past, present and future of Southwark. This is us on stage in December, with amazing tuba player Oren Marshall, & instrumentalists from The Globe.

The theme of the concert was Roots. We wrote a new song, and we’re recording it soon.

We’ve performed annually in CFW since 2014, and this has inspired us to write original songs, which form most of our repertoire. Last year we recorded a CD of our music.

This is the first track ‘Drive the Cold Winter Away’, written for Concert for Winter in 2017. We’ve used the melody of a sixteenth century English ballad, with new words about love, food and community, and a samba rhythm. https://soundcloud.com/vivien-keiles/drive-the-cold-winter-away

The Dragon Café is a place of wellbeing which pops up every Monday from 12 midday in the Crypt of St George the Martyr Church, opposite Borough Tube Station. Activities are free and open to all. Fresh low-cost vegetarian food is cooked on site, with produce from nearby Borough Market. I lead a drop-in singing group at 1pm every week, which I’ve done every Monday since January 2013. The Dragon Café Singers songwriting and performing group meets on Mondays at 3pm. Everyone is welcome to both groups!

In this video, Jacqui, a member of our singing group, shares her story. Jacqui has several long-term conditions, including Parkinson’s. Jacqui became a patron of The Dragon Café in 2016, on the advice of her GP, and comes nearly every week. She enjoys singing, dancing, visual art and many other activities. In the video, Jacqui explains how singing has brought her speech back. https://vimeo.com/283913323/2f718c6952

My work at the cafe is at the heart of the new Arts for Health training I have designed for General Practitioners. The experience and co-production of people who use services is central to this training.

The cafe was founded by Sarah Wheeler, a visionary arts activist, who lived locally, and was a long-time user of mental health services. She envisioned a creative cafe in the crypt of St George’s, a place to ‘create, relate. integrate’. Sarah passed away in 2016, but her legacy lives on in Mental Fight Club, the charity she founded, the aim of which is:

“The promotion of social inclusion amongst people who are socially excluded from society or parts thereof as a result of mental ill-health, through the provision of creative events which foster social connection and allow for the exploration of mental illness, recovery and well-being for all”.

This is an image of our first performance at The Globe in December 2014, with Sarah Wheeler standing on the right, in a black beanie. This first post is dedicated to Sarah, Mental Fight Club, and all who help to make The Dragon Café a creative place to be, for everyone. With gratitude.