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English Folk Music and Christmas carols are closely linked together. Carols like The Holy and the Ivy are many centuries old, based on an oral tradition, just like a number of folk songs. Many of these carols actually have elements of paganism and religiosity mixed together, just like many folk songs. The Holy and the Ivy is a good example of this. If you want to learn more about this carol, go to the Wiki article about it.

Right up until the end of the last century, still continuing in some areas, carol singers used to go around houses and pubs in the UK singing sometimes playing instruments, collecting money,  usually for charities. Nowadays the most likely carol singers are actually Salvation Army bands in shopping centres. But a number of contemporary English folk artists have continued the tradition of Christmas and Winter songs with their recordings.

To get us in the mood I will start with Gaudette by Steeleye Span from the album Below the Salt. This is a carol in Latin written in the late 16th Century. Steeleye Span had a top 20 hit with it in the UK in 1973 – the only song in Latin to achieve this distinction. You can read more about the song here.

The first of my album  selections is Frost Bites by Belshazzar’s Feast

This is a collection of Christmas and seasonal songs more akin to traditional folk music, performed by Paul Hutchinson on accordion with Paul Sartin, a member of Bellowhead, singing and playing the violin and oboe. See them play One Cold Morning in December here. They discuss the album here.

More contemporary is the work of Kate Rusby. She has released two Christmas albums – Sweet Bells in 2009 and While Mortals Sleep this year.

These are both influenced by the music of her childhood in south Yorkshire. Here in December groups of musicians and singers would tour the pubs and streets of the area singing traditional carols and other songs. You can hear samples of these albums on =http://www.katerusby.com her website [/url] from =http://www.katerusby.com/recordings/sweet-bellsSweet Bells[/url] and =http://www.katerusby.com/recordings/while-mortals-sleepWhile Mortals Sleep[/url].

My next selection may not at first sight obviously fit into the genre of Contemporary English Folk Music, but actually has some close links to the early folk rock band Steeleye Span, with several musicians from that band playing on this album. It is The Christmas Album by Jethro Tull

There are some traditional Christmas carols, other seasonal songs, with several re-released Jethro Tull songs. If you go to the Jethro Tull website you can play several full length samples .

This brings us full circle back to where we started, Steeleye Span. Guadette was released in 1973, but it was not until 2004 that they released their first seasonal album:

Whilst many of the tracks are their versions of traditional carols and Christmas songs there are several songs written specifically for the album, some with a distinctly Pagan feel to them.  I hope you enjoy my selection for the Holiday Season!


Greg Lewis has been listening to music from virtually the day he was born in 1950. His father played saxophone in a swing band, continuing to play both alto and tenor sax now into his 90s. Greg has been through the Beatles, folk music revivals in the UK twice, blues revivals, punk, Bruce Springsteen, and the growth of indie music. More recently his interest in jazz has developed way beyond Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck and John Coltrane, but deep deep down he prefers Bruce Springsteen above any other music.
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