DID THE WELSH THROW IN THE TOWEL WITH THE BRITS?

The title of this essay may arouse some question.  This essay is about the Welsh people who are my fellow Celts.  It is also about a boxing term having to do with throwing in the towel.  When there are two fighters involved in a boxing match, there are occasions when one fighter may have beaten his opponent thoroughly.   His handlers in the corner should recognize this in an effort to avoid permanent damage, perhaps to the brain.  Once the beating becomes so thorough, his handlers in the corner will take a white towel and throw it into the ring.  This is the signal for the referee to stop the match.  I am not a fan of boxing because of the brutality involved.  Throwing in the towel is one attempt to make the sport slightly more humane.

Now for the rest of the title.  You may recall that England occupies the prime place on the island that we have come to call Great Britain.  But there are other peoples involved here.  There are the Scots, who reside in the northern part of England, and the Welsh, who reside in the southern part.  For many years, the English have dominated the lives of the Scottish people and the Welsh people, as well as the Irish people.  The fact is that the English are of Saxon heritage, while the Scots, Welsh, and Irish belong to a group called the Celts.

A good many wars have been fought between the Saxons and the Celts.  It was in the year 1250 that treaties were entered into in the case of Scotland and Wales which have been modified over the years.  During these years, the Scots have managed to free themselves of English rule to a large degree.  The Irish finally concluded their wars with the Brits in 1922.  Ireland is free of British rule except in six counties in Northern Ireland.  But the Welsh do not seem to be putting up a battle these days.  In this regard, they are distinctly different from the Scots and the Irish, their fellow Celts.

My attraction to the Welsh people has to do with their songs.  As a matter of fact, Wales is called “the land of song.”  In all the world, there are no better choruses than male voices in Wales.  Perhaps the Russians may dispute that statement, and I will grant to them that their male choirs are superb.

Now that we have established that Wales is “the land of song,” let us shift gears to my school years in the 1930s in Missouri.  As far as I know, none of the teachers of music in the Clayton public school system which I attended, were of Welsh origin.  None the less, two of the staples of the music department in the Clayton public schools involved Welsh songs.

The first is the widely known “All Through the Night.”  You may remember the first lines are:

Sleep, my child, may peace attend thee

All through the night.

I have been so attracted to the use of the phrase “attend thee” that for years I have been trying to work it into one of these essays.  Now that is one of the songs that were sung happily by the choruses at my school.

The second Welsh tune was called “Men of Harlech.”  This is a lusty marching song meant to call men into battle.  Its first lines are:

Men of Harlech,

Honor calls us.

No proud Saxon

Ere befall us.

The Saxons, of course, are the English, who have been the major opponents of the Celts.  Over the years since I left the public schools in Clayton, Missouri, both songs have stayed with me.  And over those same years, the Welsh have kept singing.  In recent years, for example, I have bought the recordings of a choir that is identified as the Risca Male Chorus.  Risca is a town north of Cardiff, which I believe is a coal-mining town.

Presumably the men of the choir work all day, perhaps in the mines, and in the evening gather to sing songs.  The Risca choir is a well-disciplined group.  Their attacks are flawless.  Their harmony is excellent.  All of that is a tribute to their director, Martin Hobson, who is a no-nonsense fellow and who comes from the town of Risca.  One of the songs sung by the Risca Choir is called “We’ll keep a welcome.”  It was written during the Second World War and was a song to the Welsh Fusiliers, a regiment in the British Army.  Aside from the quote “may peace attend thee,” the fact that the Welsh used the phrase “We’ll keep a welcome,” are two grand additions to the English language.

Now as it turns out, the Welsh have appointed a member of the choir to be a recording secretary.  And naturally I soon set out to contact this recording secretary.  Our first exchanges were harmonious but then a deep-seated glitch developed in our relations.  That seems to have been when I asked the recording secretary when and if the choir had plans to record “The Men of Harlech.”  I thought it was a very safe question, one that would arouse no controversy.  In my view, “The Men of Harlech” was the second national anthem of Wales.

When I emailed my thoughts on “The Men of Harlech” to the recording secretary, there was suddenly a frigid atmosphere in our relations.  I had thought that one of the crown princes in the English hierarchy was called the Prince of Wales.  But apparently all of this camaraderie between the English and the Welsh people did not apply in my case when I asked for the recording of “The Men of Harlech.”  The answer that I received when I asked the question about their plans to record that song was, “No comment.”

All of this brings up the thought that the Welsh must have thrown in the towel with the Brits because there is no other way to read this.  But it is clear that the best Welsh choir in Wales will not record “The Men of Harlech.”  I suspect that the reason has to do with a line that occurs early in that song, i.e., “No proud Saxon ere befall us.”  This suggests that if an Englishman were to be taken by the Welsh, perhaps they might treat him roughly.  But as far as I am concerned, the English and the Welsh settled their differences with a treaty in about the year 1250.  It seemed to me that in that line about “no proud Saxon ere befall us,” perhaps the Welsh would have taken their prisoner and taught him to sing.  As far as I know, there are no English singing groups quite like the Welsh men’s choirs.

This happened maybe two years ago and I have heard nothing from the recording secretary in the interim.  Also in that interim, no recordings by the Risca Choir have ever been made of “The Men of Harlech.”  And so I am left to conclude that the Welsh have thrown in the towel to the Brits on the subject of that song.  I suspect that if the Welsh that escaped the English influence were turned loose, they might sing that song with great gusto.  But as things now stand there is no recording of “The Men of Harlech” by the Risca Choir.  Furthermore, I suspect that there will never be a recording of that song by the Risca Choir.

And so I am left with some inferior recordings made by other choirs singing “The Men of Harlech.”  That song goes back more than 80 years to my school days so I will pray that the Risca Choir may some day change its mind and record “The Men of Harlech.”

Why “The Men of Harlech” and “All Through the Night” were a major part of the repertoire of the Clayton public school system is a mystery to me.  But I am delighted that those two songs have a place in my mind that will never be erased.  So I will say now, “Sleep, my child.  May peace attend thee all through the night.”  But remember that Welsh men’s choirs are simply the best.  If the recording secretary of the Risca Choir ever changes his mind, and if a recording of “The Men of Harlech” is in the works, I will be a thoroughly happy man.

 

E. E. CARR

June 7, 2012

Essay 668

~~~~~~

One of Pop’s longer essays.  The first of many to come regarding chorus music, and of several that mention the political history of the United Kingdom, a subject which still manages to rile him up.

For the lazy, here’s a youtube link to “Men of Harlech” — bit.ly/REw2Ad

Note that that’s the edited version. But some cursory google research reveals that many different lyrics were set to this tune. I can’t find a recording of the one that Pop seems to be remembering, but it looks pretty universally like the line he remembers is likely to be this: “Men of Harlech! Honor calls us // no proud Saxon e’er appalls us. // On we march! What e’er befalls us // never shall we fly.” It’s worth also mentioning that the middle english definition of ‘appalls’ means ‘to make pale.’ So there’s that.

Even better, though, are some of the other lyrics that various Welsh have put onto the song.

One version opens like this:
Men of Harlech! In the hollow,
Do ye hear, like rushing billow
Wave on wave that surging follow
Battle’s distant sound?

‘T is the tramp of Saxon foemen,
Saxon spearmen, Saxon Bowmen
Be they knights, or hinds, of yeomen,
They shall bite the ground!
Loose thy folds asunder
Flag we conquer under!

This is clearly the best version of all, because it features the most Saxon-killin’. I’ll have to make sure it comes to Pop’s attention. Check out other versions here (unfortunately not screen-reader friendly).

One Response to 'DID THE WELSH THROW IN THE TOWEL WITH THE BRITS?'

  1. Suzanne Shepherd says:

    From now on Kevin when you piss me off, I will bellow that you shall bite the ground!

Leave a Reply

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

*