COAL ASTON CAROLS

Hear the carols live:
At the Carol Service on the Sunday evening before Christmas
At the Cross on the village green (near the Cross Daggers pub) on Christmas Eve
–  At the morning service on Christmas Day
     
Click to hear the carollers singing "Angels" and "Little Hark" at the Festival of Village Carols on Audio CD The Theme, the Song, the Joy (Village Carols, 2017)
     

The Coal Aston Carollers

The history of both the carols and their origins has been covered by Ian Russell in his publication Come Sing for the Season. Unlike Marjorie Lock, our wonderful pianist and leader, most of us singers are “recent” immigrants to Coal Aston and Dronfield, arriving in the 70s from around the region and elsewhere; some were born there in the 60s. Whatever their origin, or for that matter ours, they were written for one purpose: for ordinary people to tell the good news of Christ’s birth through song.

Along the way, over the last forty years, they have also given rise to pleasure in their singing and being listened to at numerous parties, where the singing was enhanced by food and fruits of the hop and vine; building and strengthening of friendships and faith, and the bringing together in annual pilgrimage, those who tell the tales of earlier singers now swelling the angel throng. This is where their purpose is truly worked out: on clear and beautiful Christmas eves, or cold and wet ones; at nativities and concerts; with sweaty sword dancers; during the '78 snows; on Christmas morning services, awash with garish socks, children's toys, and the latest gadget displayed to a congregation expecting nothing less, and during the partaking of mulled wine and chatter. Such tales are the stuff of life’s journey, centred on singing together.

These wonderful yet simple carols, whose harmony reflects the merriment of the season, invoke such memories: of the Ryans' front room where we practised, not a grey hair in sight; the spidery notes, unreadable on a banda produced music score, which few could read anyway; Joe’s ‘Benylin’, a lethal mixture of whisky and ginger wine, keeping out the cold and lubricating the vocal chords, before the welcoming portals of the Cross Daggers slaked our thirst and warmed our fingers, and returning home, humming a favourite, Angels, Three Harks, Hecla or Expectation.

From treading the boards of the Crucible one year, to turning up the collar and pulling down the hat another, and serenading train passengers whether they liked it or not, for the subsequent forty years, we turned out, sometimes twenty, sometimes fifty, listening to the starting note, crystal clear on a 10 shilling recorder, the altos, tenors and bass underpinning the trill soprano in the cool night air. For many of us, this was the start of Christmas. The words that tell the story of a baby born in a stable, enshrined in music, of outcast Shepherds, of Angels singing their songs of welcome, of kings worshipping The King, Emmanuel; all because God loved us.

  TD-S 2016  
     
  Ian Russell writes:
I was immediately struck by the charm of the carols and by the strength of the part singing. While the carolling had many similarities with the pub traditions I had recorded on the other side of the city, it also had a freshness, vitality, and completeness that distinguished it.

The vitality and vigour with which the Coal Aston carollers perform confirms the relevance of this heritage . . . The power and definition of the four parts produce an 'a capella' sound that is quite electrifying . . . It would be hard to find a brighter set of carols than Coal Aston's; it would be hard to find a more wholehearted group of singers. These two factors together create a potent combination, a concentration of qualities and experiences that capture the essence of village carol singing.
Come Sing for the Season cover
   

Read more about local carol singing traditions in Derbyshire and Sheffield.