The music of The Marches

Style summary

A capella harmony singing, no-nonsense, boisterous and earthy, simple folk and morality tales, minimal instrumentation, heavy rhythms on guitars, bouzoukis or concertinas. Themes of working the land, agriculture and fishing, harvest, enjoyment of food and drink, recognition of obligation to the land and its people.

The music of the Marches is drawn primarily from the folk song traditions of Devon and Cornwall, Derbyshire and Yorkshire: wassails, shanties, drinking songs, and work songs.

Commonly known songs

Musical traditions

After every harvest, Marcher farmers perform a traditional ceremony, a Wassail, to scare away evil spirits from the fields and ensure a good crop for the coming year. There are more details on the wassail in the Marcher brief.

In the Marches, misdeeds are sometimes rewarded with a public shaming using noise, music, even satirical performance of some kind, called Rough Music. Some chants are known throughout the Marches such as those below (usually interspersed with verses detailing the misdeed), some songs/performances are written especially for the occasion!

  • "Ran tan tan, raise your hand, a sin to us is a sin to the land"
  • "Old Fred Thatcher (insert name of miscreant), we know your name, Old Fred Thatcher, you are to blame, Old Fred Thatcher, we know your shame, Old Fred Thatcher, we know your name!"

One for the kids

Songs about notable people/entities in the Marches

Further examples

Funeral Songs

Battle Anthems

Harvest Songs and Wassails

Songs from Mournwold

More Songs

Instrumentation and tunes

Songs are usually unaccompanied in the Marches, typically sung in raucous harmony rather than using instruments. However sometimes drums, guitars, fiddles, and whistles/recorders are used. For instrumental music, look to the very heavy rhythms of trad English music (the kind of tunes used to accompany morris dancing would be perfect).

  • Kalenda Maya - More commonly known in the Marches as The Month of May. A tune sometimes used for Marches dances, typically rather rowdy affairs!
  • The Chook Dance - dance tune by Cora and Kit score, recording
  • The Bond Ring - dance tune by Cora and Kit score, recording

Other performance traditions

Marches Tales

How to adapt your repertoire

The Marches is all about people singing together so choose songs that have a chorus, or even better, a call and response line. Nothing wrong with a bard leading a song but try to encourage participation from the people around you, even if just banging their tankards off the table. Can you turn your song into a drinking song?! Think of some harmonies ahead of time and if possible teach them to your group instead of using instrumental accompaniment. Any folk song will be fine but especially those in the themes listed above. If you are mostly a solo performer perhaps learn a few easy rounds and sing them with people between your solo numbers.

Our sources

Here is a youtube playlist of appropriate or inspiring music.