Gloucestershire wassail

Wassail, wassail all over the town

Music: Trad. arr. Paul Ayres. Words: Trad. English
performance time approx 2m 15s
Range S: c' – f'' / A: c' – c'' / T: f – g'; / B: F – c'
Price code: D
Complexity: **

See a perusal copy of the music.
Hear a synthesized rendering
A great concert opener or closer, this wassailing carol comes from Gloucestershire in the west of England. The custom of wassailing, or going from door to door in the holiday season, singing and asking for food and drink, has ancient roots. The word “wassail” comes from Old English “wes hal”, or “good health” (lit. “be well”) and the wassail cup or bowl, often decorated with ribbons, was a receptacle for sharing whatever drink the home-owner cared to give the singers.

Paul Ayres' engaging arrangement features constant motion in the accompaniment and a turn for everyone at singing the words. Written in 9/8 rather than in the 6/8 which is usual for this song, the phrases take on a lurching (and quite possibly drunken!) quality. Enjoy!

See also Paul's Yorkshire Wassail song and Peter Hill's arrangement of the French luck visit song Guillaneus.


Wassail, wassail all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown,
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree,
With the wassailing bowl we’ll drink to thee!

And here is to Cherry and to his right cheek,
Pray God send our master a good piece of beef,
A good piece of beef that we may all see,
With the wassailing bowl we’ll drink to thee!

And here is to Dobbin and to his right eye,
Pray God send our master a good Christmas pie,
A good Christmas pie that we may all see,
With the wassailing bowl we’ll drink to thee!

Come butler, come fill us a bowl of the best,
We hope that your soul in heaven may rest,
But if you do draw us a bowl of the small,
Then down will go butler, bowl and all!

Then here’s to the maid in the lily-white smock
Who tripped to the door and pulled back the lock,
Who tripped to the door and pulled back the pin
For to let these jolly wassailers in.


Cherry and Dobbin — horses (some sources of the carol left the names blank, to be filled in as appropriate)

Christmas pie — game pie

The small — small beer, a weak beer generally reserved for women and children

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