I began research into old folk carols quite a few years ago, mainly because I was fed up with Christmas and with the same tired old songs coming around and around again. I wanted to put some magic back into midwinter and Christmas and make it meaningful for myself.
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Winter Fields: A wintery backing for improvising over. Based on the poem Winter Fields by Colin Richmond. Sung by Sarah Pennington. Click the play button to listen.
So what are Forgotten Carols?
Forgotten Carols is my name for the collection of Christmas and New Year songs, wassails, and ballads – secular and holy – that make up the performances of the same name that I do every year. I also run Forgotten Carols workshops – see Diary page – and have published many of the songs in books or you can purchase them individually – Buy Songs. Some of the songs are very old with versions winding back hundreds of years; some are new but based on old text found along the way as part of my research and hunting out of old carols and some I’ve written specifically for workshops and performances as ‘opening’, ‘closing’ and processional carols. Sometimes I write new tunes for old texts that are missing music.
“Christmas is like an enclosing wall. A fold. We’re inside it, eating and drinking and keeping warm and singing, but we know all the year’s hungers and terrors and lessons and anxieties and opportunities and sorrows are still there on the outside… Christmastide is the one and only stopping-place in the long dance of the year.” The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland,
Songs for celebration
What strikes me as I teach these songs in workshops is how much we love to sing and to celebrate in winter and that no matter what your religious beliefs or lack of belief, what sparkling metaphors Solstice, Christmas and New Year bring us: light in darkness; birth and new life in the middle of winter; new beginnings and fresh resolve; being together as families and communities and of taking stock of what’s real and important in our lives.
“What strikes me as I teach these songs in workshops is how much we love to sing and to celebrate in winter” Alison Burns
Since I began Forgotten Carols performances in 2002 we’ve had some outstanding folk singers and readers have joined the performances as soloists and to read the contemporary poems and readings that make weave through the programme.
Clockwise from above: Richard Trethewey sang with us in 2011; Tom Pow who’s one of our favourite readers; Mercury Prize Nominated Sam Lee – singer in 2007 and 2008; Emily Smith – soloist in 2009; Polly Bolton, soloist in 2010; Janet Russell, soloist in 2004; Caroline Pugh, singer in 2012