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The Christmas Hare
[ Roud - ; Mudcat 63106 ; trad.]
Roy Palmer: A Book of British Ballads
The Druids sang Roger Watson’s song The Christmas Hare in 1971 on their Argo album Burnt Offering. They noted:
This story is truly a part of North Midlands folklore. Accounts of a bus driver using his bus to pursue and finally kill a hare, rabbit or even a fox, to the general discomfort or amusement of his passengers occur frequently among people of all generations in the area, so frequently that they may contain a grain of truth. Roger Watson’s grandmother’s particular version involved a bus ride on Christmas Eve in the late 1920s along a stretch of road between Hucknall and Mansfield, which even now is hardly suitable for motorised hunting.
Roger Watson, accompanied by Muckram Wakes, sang The Christmas Hare in 1974 on his Traditional Sound album The Pick & the Malt Shovel. This track was also included in 2006 on Free Reed anthology celebrating the folk music and tradition of Christmas and the turning of the year, Midwinter.
Keith Kendrick and Sylvia Needham sang The Christmas Hare in 2018 on their WildGoose album Shine On. Kendrick noted:
This and Gilliver (later on this CD) are a tribute (as my/our personal thanks) to the great Roger Watson for a debt that neither I nor anyone else can really ever repay for his talent and his immense contribution to the entire fabric of our folk revival over 50 plus years. One of the most quietly ingenious and generous men it’s ever been my privilege to know. Most people know by now that Roger, although, thankfully, still with us, is pretty much rendered unable to maintain his record of contribution due to severe ill health over the last 5 or 6 years but we hope that singing these songs will somehow filter down to some sort of income contribution for him somewhere along the process.
The song, (which my old band the ‘Druids’ also recorded on their first album in 1971), we understand, is based on a story Roger’s mum told him as a small boy. It’s about a bus ride from Hucknall to Mansfield (taking in all the stops enroute) culminating in the driver’s triumphant acquisition of a fine piece of road kill for his family’s seasonal dinner. We believe there may be some truth in the story—we’re just not sure which bits… Thanks Roger
The Druids sing The Christmas Hare
It was one chilly Christmas eve as you shall quickly hear;
There was winter on the treetops and the air was crisp and clear.
The bus set out from Hucknall; for Mansfield it was bound
And steadily it made its way as the night was coming down.
It was down by Newstead Woodside as we were passing there,
From out of the thicket ran a bonny brown hare.
Down the road she started and she set a cracking pace
And the driver shouted, “Tally ho!” and after her gave chase.
Then he revved up his engine crying, “Hark, hark away!”
The spirit of the chase it fairly carried him away.
And as we swung along the road to the music of his horn
We thought that we would never live to see the Christmas morn.
Arms and legs went flying as we lurched around the bends,
Wives clung onto husbands and friends clung onto friends.
The conductor rang the bell like mad but the driver took no heed
Or else he took it for encouragement for he quickened up his speed.
And in Newstead and in Annesley they stand and stare aghast
For to hear a bus’s engine and a hare comes running past.
Imagine their amazement as they wondered what was up
When the bus went flying past and left them standing at the stop.
Now she never looked behind her and she ran so straight and true
For the chase was nearly over when East Kirkby came in view.
For coming past the Badger Box and up to Mutton Hill
The hare began to tire; it was time to make the kill.
Then all at once the bus stopped dead and we landed on the floor
And looking out the window, hare and huntsman there we saw:
He held her by the ears crying, “Isn’t she a winner!
I’ve a wife and seven kids at home and here’s our Christmas dinner!”