22 June 2010

‘Let’s give ’em the Rough Band’

I first came upon this gem of a book, first published in 1966, in the collection of Martyn Bates, singer of Eyeless in Gaza and a formidable interpreter of old English balladry in his own right with the likes of Mick Harris and Max Eastley. This edition from 1971 features artwork on the cover by David Gentleman, and his deceptively slapdash sketches continue throughout the leaves. George Ewart Evans was a gentleman folklorist whose researches, focused around the villages of deepest Suffolk, seem infused with the belief that magic and superstition lurk just beneath the countryside’s deceptively innocent surface. Here’s a startling passage from the book, on the East Anglian custom of the ‘Rough Band’:

‘It was known throughout the British Isles as Rough Music, but each region seems to have had its own particular name: it was called the Kiddly Band in Cornwall from one of the utensils used by the band – a kiddly or pan, and it took part in the shivaree or wedding junketings there until the ’twenties. Its activities were known in Glasgow as sherricking... here is an account taken from a Suffolk village to illustrate what the Rough Band’s activities were:

“[At the wedding of a newcomer to an eighteen-year-old girl in the village] We took the old baths and [Dutch] ovens and started off round the village hitting blazes out of these tins and things with pokers, pieces of owd iron – anything we could get hold on. The whole village was out in no time to see what was up, but they could see it was the Rough Band and said nothing. Then we stopped outside the house where the wedding party was, and hit those owd things so you could hear the din for miles...”

‘The Rough Band played on occasions such as the above, a marriage which the village considered reprehensible, or in cases of adultery, incest, wife- or husband-beating. Although its playing was nearly always reserved for sexual offences, unpopularity of any sort sometimes called out Rough Music. In one Suffolk district it was used to “drum a man out of the village” if his offence had been a gross one... Whatever the offence, the punishment of Rough Music was both drastic and cruel. For this reason some argue that it is a very ancient custom whose dynamic is to be sought in pagan times when people believed that fertility was undivided and that the same power controlled the crops, the increase of animals and of human-kind...’

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