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Track(s) taken from CDA67754

Singing Simpkin

by 1595; Robert Cox's Actaeon and Diana, 1656; Francis Kirkman's The Wits, or Sport upon Sport, Part I, 1662
author of text

The City Waites, Lucie Skeaping (director), Thomas Padden (baritone)
Recording details: April 2008
St Paul's Church, New Southgate, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Steve Portnoi & Lucie Skeaping
Engineered by Steve Portnoi
Release date: April 2009
Total duration: 9 minutes 16 seconds

Cover artwork: Bedroom scene by Jan Steen (c1626-1679)
Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague / Bridgeman Art Library, London


'Lucie Skeaping and The City Waites have given us several anthologies worth of enjoyably ribald fare over the years. This is their most substantial project yet … the listener becomes an active participant, imagining the décor, the costumes and attitudes of the characters, and the frequent bouts of slapstick, all of which are enacted as lustily as one expects … great performances, without doubt' (Gramophone)

'These performers … provide a fascinating, informative glimpse into what the general populace of England was enjoying … the singing and instrumental performances are as genially accomplished as ever … skeaping and the Waites let in a bracing breeze' (BBC Music Magazine)

'A truly unusual program of musical comedy all recorded for the first time … these are excellent performances' (American Record Guide)

'Clarity of diction, inventive direction and an infectious sense of fun combine to capture the spirit of the genre' (Early Music Today)

'This is definitely a disc to keep in your car for frustrating traffic-jams or other such moments when a little hilarity would be the perfect tonic. After all, who wouldn't be cheered at the prospect of hearing Catherine Bott and Lucie Skeaping scratching each others eyes out. Laugh? I couldn't stop' (Musical Criticism.com)
The earliest surviving English text appears in Robert Cox’s Actaeon and Diana, published in 1656 (no tune titles are given); however the Jig was certainly written much earlier than this: an entry in the Stationers Register of 1595 entitled ‘Kemps newe Jygge betwixt a souldiour and a Miser and Sym the Clown’ probably refers to Singing Simpkin, and points to Kemp being its author as well as performer. More conclusively, Johannes Bolte (in Die Singspiele der Englischen Komödianten, 1893) refers to a songsheet published in Basel in 1592 or shortly after, which calls for ‘the first tune from Singing Simpkin’. Bolte also gives a German translation of Singing Simpkin dated 1620, (entitled ‘Pickelhering in der Kiste’); it is very close to the English version and almost certainly the result of one of Kemp’s trips to Europe. The final two verses in which Simpkin gets his comeuppance are absent from this German version and may well have been added much later. Our recording includes them for completeness—and, besides, they were good fun to do! Cox doesn’t appear to have tampered with the rest of the Jig, which is packed with sexual innuendo (‘staff’, ‘penny’, ‘purse’, ‘coin’, ‘key’, ‘lock’ etc). The German version isn’t always so subtle: ‘For something has some savour’ (bp verse 2) appears as ‘Ich hab mich bald beschissen’—‘I have just shit myself’. It is possible that Cox toned down the English version to appease the Puritan ethic at the time of publication but I don’t think so as the style and skill of the writing is consistent throughout.

Simpkin, a clown
Bluster, a roarer
Old Husband

A pregnant housewife and her young lover, Simpkin, are canoodling in her home while her impotent old husband is out hunting. Her second lover, the boastful soldier Bluster, unexpectedly arrives and Simpkin hides in a chest, cheekily popping up the lid now and again to comment on the action. Hearing her husband knocking at the door, Wife and Bluster hatch a scenario: Bluster will pretend he has run into the house to chase a thief. Bluster is persuaded to leave and Wife and Husband release Simpkin from the chest. The Husband is sent out to buy wine and Simpkin and Wife immediately continue where they left off. The suspicious Husband bursts back in and catches them at it and Wife and Husband together beat Simpkin out of the house.

from notes by Lucie Skeaping © 2009

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