Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday 18 November 2011

Toast of the week - Ilkley edition

Three cheers this week for Gordon Eddison, leader of Otley Brass Band.

Mr Eddison is dismayed at the decline of the iconic Yorkshire song 'On Ilkley Moor baht 'at'. Shocked at the realisation that only a tiny minority of his school music pupils know the song, he has decided to do something about it.

It's an issue dear to our hearts at the Tavern because it enshrines one of our founding principles - there's nothing like a good song set to a well-known tune. A picturesque tale is told that the first line originated at a Wesleyan picnic, when a knowing question to a courting couple caught the imagination of one of the choir.

This choir member, who should also be included in today's toast  (though as a Methodist he - or she - would certainly not have approved), then went home and - here's the clever bit - set to a well-known hymn tune the now-familiar tale of the young man who goes courting sans headgear and meets a nasty end.

The tune chosen was one widely used for the Christmas carol 'While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night'. A stroke of genius inspired the lyricist to replace the repeated triumphal line 'And glory shone around' with the refrain 'On Ilkley Moor baht 'at', a marriage of memorable imagery and euphonious articulation that was a joy to sing.

The result was a resounding success - not least because local choirs could immediately perform it with the harmonies familiar from their Sunday services. I'm inclined to think that, addictive as the practice is, those choristers probably made a habit of such compositions and this particularly ingenious example is the only survivor of a larger repertoire.

I have no personal claim on this song - though my sister, as an honorary Yorkshirewoman, has sung it many times - but I heartily support Mr Eddison's campaign to save from oblivion one of the classic examples of its type. Though his preoccupation is with the borrowed tune rather than the words, the whole deserves to be preserved as a model of the art.

Wheear 'ast tha bin sin' ah saw thee?
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at
Wheear 'ast tha bin sin' ah saw thee?
Wheear 'ast tha bin sin' ah saw thee?
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at

Tha's been a cooartin' Mary Jane
Tha's bahn' to catch thy deeath o` cowd

Then us'll ha' to bury thee
Then t'worms'll come an` eyt thee up

Then t'ducks'll come an` eyt up t'worms
Then us'll go an` eyt up t'ducks

Then us'll all ha' etten thee
That's wheear we get us ooan back


  1. Ah, Skelmanthorpe, there is an interesting railway viaduct there and used to be a decent pub or two.

  2. It's not a part of the world I know, though I have heard it's attractive country.

    I'm most impressed, though, that such a small place can muster a quality choir.


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