Lyke Wake Dirge

Lyke Wake Dirge

Lyke – Old (Anglo Saxon) and Middle English (the language of Chaucer): corpse; the word survives in ‘lychgate’.

Wake – Old English: a vigil over a dead person before burial.

Dirge – from Latin: a lament for the dead; a funeral song.

This is an old song, possibly very old: the seventeenth century writer John Aubrey published a version in 1686, claiming a provenance dated to 1620. Chaucer, in The Knight’s Tale, mentions ‘this lyke wake’, but gives nothing more. Its roots seem to go back even further: the mythologies of Scandinavia, Greece and Islam have accounts of the perilous road taken by the dead. If the departed soul has been good or charitable in life they will find traversing this road a bit easier.

If the words are old, and the ideas even older, the tune is surprisingly modern, having been composed, it would seem, by Harold Boulton in Songs of the North, gathered together from the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland, AC MacLeod and Harold Boulton (1895).

Read more here.

We conceived our version as primarily instrumental, singing and chanting only the first verse. Whatever people may think, there is most definitely no electric guitar (or any other kind of guitar) in our rendition!

The medieval dance of death.

The Jones Boys play highly accomplished traditional music from Ireland, England, Scotland, Brittany, Sweden, Bulgaria …

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