Sunday morning music


We’ve had several sessions with old English folk songs (and their modernized folk rock versions) over the years.  I like the genre, and it seems many of you do too.  I’ve always been fascinated to learn more about how a really old folk song developed.  What were its roots?  How did they become the inspiration for music?  How did they reflect the era or culture or environment that gave rise to them?

One of the oldest English folk songs is simply called “Padstow”, after the town where it originated.  It’s part of the ancient history of Cornwall, dating back to near-Roman times.  Part of its heritage, still celebrated today, is the so-called ‘Obby ‘Oss Festival, which takes place every May Day.

It involves two separate processions making their way around the town, each containing an eponymous hobby horse known as the ‘Obby ‘Oss.

The festival starts at midnight on May Eve when townspeople gather outside the Golden Lion Inn to sing the “Night Song”. By morning, the town has been dressed with greenery and flowers placed around the maypole. The excitement begins with the appearance of one of the ‘Obby ‘Osses. Male dancers cavort through the town dressed as one of two ‘Obby ‘Osses, the “Old” and the “Blue Ribbon” or “Methodist” ‘Obby ‘Osses; as the name suggests, they are stylised depictions of horses. Prodded on by assistants known as “Teasers”, each wears a mask and black frame-hung cape under which they try to catch young maidens as they pass through the town. Throughout the day, the two parades, led by the “MC” in his top hat and decorated stick, followed by a band of accordions and drums, then the ‘Oss and the Teaser, with a host of people, the “Mayers” – all singing the “Morning Song” – pass along the streets of the town. Finally, late in the evening, the two ‘osses meet, at the maypole, before returning to their respective stables where the crowd sings of the ‘Obby ‘Oss death, until its resurrection the following May Eve.

You can read more about the Festival and its history at the link.

Recently I came across this video clip from 1953, explaining more about the town, its history, and the Festival.

And here’s a live performance of “Padstow” in folk rock style from Steeleye Span.

I hope you enjoyed the background story of one of England’s oldest folk songs.



  1. I went to Padstow in the 70's for the Mayday fun.
    It is a bit eerie, as if more was being unsaid than said.
    There's a bunch of these primordial festivals all across the British Isles, (including Ireland).
    I've been to a few and they, mostly, seemed to have the same vibe.

  2. The old roots are still there if you care to look. My aunt and uncle, now departed, were country people and devout Christians but still took care not to offend 'the little folk', the Tuatha and firmly believed in the Banshee as a sign of an imminent death. YMMV.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *