The Oxford Waits concentrate mainly on the 17th century, and on the sort of songs and tunes that Waits might have sung and played for their own enjoyment and that of their friends at the local hostelry, rather than the grander music required for their civic duties.
When singing popular songs from the Renaissance, it is essential to strike just the right tone. All the vocalists on this CD walk the tightrope between vibrato-laden pretension and nasal mummersetshire mumbling with relaxed aplomb, making the songs pleasant to listen to and the lyrics easy to hear. They are accompanied, with a similar easy musicality and lack of pretension, by lute or orpharion (a powerful sort of “lute-on-steroids”, with metal strings), fiddle, small pipes, flute, tabor pipe or fife, and percussion where appropriate.
The 27 tracks cover the whole year, from Christmas round to Christmas again. Some are bawdy, such as the title track, Love’s Holyday, a catch which, when all three parts are sung together, produces some cunning linguistics. Some are well-known, such as Tomorrow the Fox, and others less so. I particularly enjoyed The Swimming Lady, to the tune, Never love thee more, which I knew only as a beautifully poignant bagpipe tune as played by the York Waits. Indeed, it is useful to hear several tunes that Waits play sung here, as Waits would certainly have been familiar with the words, which must have informed their playing. The Lancashire Cuckold, Death by Custard and The Infallible Doctor are all good fun.
Altogether, this is a charming and witty romp through 17th century England, giving an authentic-feeling taste of the music that amused and entertained the ordinary folk of the time.