A Health to the Ox and to His Long Tail

Some folks in our choir, which is officially not doing anything all summer long, are meeting informally to work up some a capella pieces just for the fun of it.

One of the pieces I wanted to get sheet music for was the Christmas carol “The Gloucester Wassail Song” aka “Wassail Wassail All over the Town”. I’ve performed it now & then with various choirs and heard many other groups doing it and had no expectation that it would be at all difficult to lay hands on the sheet music thereof, but I’ve gotten blank looks (or the email / phone equivalents thereof). I was referred to Carols for Choirs Vol 1 which does indeed have the song in it, but it’s not the arrangement I’m seeking. This one (in Carols for Choirs) just has all the verses, one after the next, with a single arrangement. The one I’m looking for, which I think of as the definitive arrangement, is as follows:

• starts off faintly with different parts singing just the word “wassail”, before the first verse

• each verse is arranged differently; for example the verse “Here’s a health to the ox and to his long tail” holds the word “tail” while other parts answer “wassail, all over the town”; whereas the verse “come butler come fill us a bowl of the best” is done in a merry 3/4 dance with all the parts moving at the same time;

• the climax is in the middle with a rather loud “Wassail! Wassail!!”, long held notes.

• it then fades out much as it began, until eventually people in separate parts are again just singing the single word “wassail”

I love this song. When I was a kid, we had it on an LP, and from your description, it was in the arrangement you’re looking for. Alas, the record is long lost, and I don’t know either the title or the artist… it would have been from the late 50s or early 60s. I remember that it was on some budget label and the cover featured a picture of (I think) a set of caroler dolls… they may have been sculptured candles. Wish I could find a copy.

Here is a youtube link of a performance of the arrangement I’m looking for.

another one, better quality

It sounds like it’s the Ralph Vaughan-Williams arrangement you’re looking for, and it’s available from SheetMusicPlus.

That’s a pretty one…I’m somewhat of a purist, myself, when it comes to the old folk-songs, but Vaughan-Williams had a way with them!