On the fourteenth day of Xmas . . .
14 Joy to the World Kate Rusby
The words were adapted, by Isaac Watts from five verses of Psalm 98. Watts (1674-1748), a Southampton grammar school boy, has been referred to as ‘the father of English hymnody’. Son of a preacher man — whose nonconformity took him to jail not once but three times — he became a minister himself, till illness forced him into early retirement.
He lived, till his death, in Abney House, Stoke Newington. The grounds have long been a cemetery. My grandfather is there. Though Watts isn’t — he’s in the next borough, Islington, at Bunhill Fields (just south of Old St), with those other renowned nonconformists John Bunyon, Daniel Defoe, William Blake and the inventor of life insurance, Richard Price.
It is no longer sung to Watts’ tune, though. The one now used was written in the early 19th century, by Lowell Mason who was to American Presbyterian hymnody as Watts had been to its English predecessor. This was published in 1836.
I’m not sure this version uses either of them, as it happens. Like a lot of Kate Rusby’s seasonal songs, it takes its own course. Often, she uses variants from her local area, south Yorkshire.
In an interview, she said: ‘There is a tradition round these parts of congregating in certain pubs on Saturday and Sunday and singing these glorious carols, with a pint in hand of course, that's a must to lubricate the vocal chords of course... kinda like medicine really, you understand.
‘It begins every year on the first Sunday after Remembrance Day and continues until New Year's Day and is a tradition going back many, many years. The carols are passed down the generations, and as a child you kind of just soak them up as you sit with your pop and crisps, every year knocks them a bit further into the brain and then all of a sudden you find yourself singing along to songs you weren't aware you had learnt, quite strange. Some of the carols have the same words as carols you may have learnt at school or church, but the tunes are usually different.’
She’s made two albums of Christmas songs. This is from the second, While Mortals Sleep (2011).
Sometimes described as The Barnsley Nightingale, she’s actually from Penistone, eight miles or so to the west, along the A268. Details are important to Rusby herself. She corrected the birthdate on her Wikipedia entry, from December 1 to December 4, and pointed out that she had divorced the man it had her married to.
Next Coventry's second most famous woman — ie after Lady Godiva. This one keeps her clothes but has troubles all her own.