> The Watersons > Songs > Souling Song

Souling Song

[ Roud 304 ; Ballad Index BGMG408 ; trad.]

There are two quite different songs with the title Souling Song. The first was sung by the Watersons (Lal, Mike and Norma Waterson and John Harrison) on their 1965 LP Frost and Fire and reissued on CD in 1990 and 2007. It was also reissued on the Topic CD sampler The Season Round. A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

The end of October and start of November is the time of Hallowe'en, All Saints and All Souls, a time once thought full of magic, when the dead temporarily returned to the world of the living and roamed around the villages on the misty evenings. Till recently in parts of the Midlands and the Northwest, children went from door to door begging for soulcakes. [These] were food for the momentarily-returning dead, so that they would not feel rejected and thus be made angry. The little trichordal tune based simply on a scale of three adjacent notes within a minor third, is one of the most primitive we have.

Another completely different song with the same title sung by Lal, Norma, and Mike Waterson and Martin Carthy was recorded live by Alan White on October 20, 1974 at the Down River Folk Club, Corbett Theatre, Loughton, Essex and released on the Fellside compilation Voices in Harmony and in 2004 on the Watersons' 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song.

Paul Adams commented in the Voices in Harmony sleeve notes:

[from the general text:] The Watersons have long held the position of the premier harmony group and yet, when analysed, they use harmony very sparingly. They certainly rarely achieve four-part harmony. At times only one person is singing a harmony line and the others are in unison. Sometimes they are all in unison but drift into two or three parts at the end of a line. In their case it is the blend of voices which makes it sound like harmony. It is a very distinctive sound.

[from the individual song notes:] Souling is a visiting custom performed around All Saints Day (1 November) and All Souls Day (2 November). In the 20th century it has been mainly performed by children, but previously it was done by adults. The soulers would sing a song and get money, food or drink in return. The Watersons recorded another Souling Song on their Frost and Fire collection but have never recorded this version before.

A note from Bob Hudson:

The second version of Souling Song is fairly close to Number 139 in Roy Palmer's Everyman's Book of English Country Songs (London : Dent, 1979). Curiously, Palmer's version has a similar chorus and first verse, but his other verses (2 and 3) are actually closer to the first Souling Song (Soul Cake). Palmer's melody is a bit different in places than this Watersons version, but similar enough to be considered close variants of the same song.

Paul and Linda Adams with Stuart Owen sang the Souling Song on the 2002 anthology Seasons, Ceremonies & Rituals: The Calendar in Traditional Song.

Kate Burke and Ruth Hazleton sang A-Soulin' on their 2002 album Swapping Seasons.

Bryony Griffith sang Soul Cake in 2010 on the Demon Barbers' CD The Adventures of Captain Ward. They learned it from the singing of Fellside's Paul and Linda Adams. The verses are a mixture of both Watersons versions.

A live recording of the Swedish group West of Eden singing Soul Cake was included in 2016 on their CD Another Celtic Christmas.

Jo Freya sang The Uttoxeter Souling Song in 2018 on Blowzabella's album Two Score. They noted:

A great wassail song from the market town of Uttoxeter in Staffordshire sung at seasonal celebrations for reward with money or food. Whilst there are no threats there is no doubt that, if you weren't generous, the singers had ways of showing their displeasure.

Lyrics

The Watersons sing Souling Song on Frost and Fire

Chorus (repeat after each verse):
A soul, a soul, a soul cake,
Please, good missus, a soul cake,
An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Him that made us all.

God bless the master of this house and the mistress also
And all the little children that around your table grow,
Likewise your men and maidens, your cattle and your store
And all that dwells within your gates,
We wish you ten times more.

The lanes are very dirty and my shoes are very thin,
I've got a little pocket I can put a penny in.
If you haven't got a penny, a ha' penny will do,
If you haven't got a ha' penny, then God bless you.

The Demon Barbers sing Soul Cake

Chorus (repeat after each verse):
A soul, a soul, a soul cake,
Hey, good missus, a soul cake,
An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Him that made us all.

Go down into your cellar and see what you can find
If your barrel is not empty we'll hope you will prove kind
We'll hope you will prove kind with your apples and strong beer
We'll come no more a-souling until this time next year.

The lanes are very dirty, my shoes are very thin,
I've got a little pocket to put a penny in.
If you haven't got a penny, a ha' penny will do,
If you haven't got a ha' penny, then God bless you.

The Watersons sing Souling Song on Voices in Harmony

Chorus (repeat after each verse):
Oh, we are one, two, three good hearty lads, and we're all in one mind,
for we have come a-souling good nature to find,
for we have come a-souling for your money and your beer,
and we'll come no more so nigh to you till this time next year.

Go down into your cellar, boys, and it's there you will find
some strong beer, some cider, some ale or port wine;
with your white bread and cheese it will fill us with cheer,
for we'll come no more so nigh to you till this time next year.

Oh, come, dearest mistress, do not tarry to spin
but to untop a jug to draw some ale in,
and when we have gotten it, how soon you shall see,
and when we have drunken it, how merry we will be.

Come pick up your sackies, you sackies, good dame,
for wi' walking and talking we have gained her good name,
for wi' walking and talking we have got very dry,
and the last of your neighbours did not us* deny.

Now our time it is precious, and we cannot long stay;
we're a company that's designed for to taste of your ale;
we want none of your small beer, nor none of your pale,
but the one out of the kinter keg** that's next to the wall.

Notes:

*“Us” may be “alms”.

**“Kinter keg” - if that is what is sung: it may be “kinderken” - is probably related to the current, modern word “kilderkin” which Chambers says is a small barrel, or else 18 gallons, and comes from Old Dutch kinderken, kinneken (Scot. kinken), dim. of kintal, Late Latin quintale, quintal, associated with Dutch kind, child.

Acknowledgements

Frost and Fire version transcribed from the singing of the Watersons by Garry Gillard. Voices in Harmony version transcribed by Bob Hudson.