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The First Nowell / First Noel

[ Roud 682 ; Ballad Index FSWB376A ; trad.]

BACCApella (the singers of Bacca Pipes Folk Club; amongst them at the time were Maggie Boyle, Lynda Hardcastle, Fay Hield, Mike and Helen Hockenhull, and Tim Moon) sang The First Nowell to the tune of Young Banker in 1999 on their privately released CD The Haworth Set. This track was included in 2006 on the Free Reed 4 CD anthology Midwinter. The latter's included book commented:

The origins of the carol are unknown, though various conjectures place it as far back as the thirteenth century. Certainly it survived unpublished until 1833 when William Sandys included it in Christmas Carols Ancient & Modern. He claimed the carol originated in Cornwall where he had found it in some manuscript papers.

Jon Boden, Jess and Richard Arrowsmith, Gavin Davenport, Fay Hield and Sam Sweeney sang First Noel in the finest BACCApella tradition at the Royal Hotel in Dungworth as the December 23, 2010 entry of Jon's project A Folk Song a Day.

Maddy Prior sang The First Nowell on Steeleye Span's 2004 CD, Winter. She commented in the album's sleeve notes:

My spell-check has a problem with this version of Nowell, but it is correct, according to The Oxford Book of Carols. It is also apparently more for Epiphany than Christmas. But nobody knows that anymore.

The Albion Christmas Band sang The First Nowell in 2006 on their CD Winter Songs and in 2009 on their CD Traditional.

Lyrics

Steeleye Span sing The First NowellJon Boden et al sing First Noel

The first nowell the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay.
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter's night that was so deep.

The first noel the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay.
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter's night that was so deep.

Chorus (after each verse):
Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell,
Born is the King of Israel.

They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the east beyond them far.
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night.

They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the east beyond them far.
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night.

Chorus (after every other verse):
Noel, noel, noel, noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

And by the light of that same star
Three wise men came from country far.
To seek for a king was their intent
And to follow the star wheresoever it went.

And by the light of that same star
Three wise men came from a country far.
To seek for a king was their intent
And to follow the star wherever it went.

The star drew nigh to the north-west,
O'er Bethlehem it took its rest.
And there it did both stop and stay,
Right over the place where Jesus lay.

The star drew nigh to the north-west,
O'er Bethlehem it took its rest.
And there it did both stop and stay,
Right over the place where Jesus lay.

Then entered in those wise men three
Most reverently upon their knee
And offered there in His presence
Both gold and myrrh and frankincense.

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made Heaven and earth of naught
And with his blood mankind has bought.