The Merry Girls Of Bristol polka

Also known as The Merry Girl Of Bristol, The Merry Lass Of Bristol.

The Merry Girls Of Bristol has been added to 1 tune set.

The Merry Girls Of Bristol has been added to 12 tunebooks.

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Two settings

X: 1
T: The Merry Girls Of Bristol
R: polka
M: 2/4
L: 1/8
K: Gmaj
GB dB|ef ge|dB AG|AF ED|
GB dB|ef ge|dc BA|G2 G2:|
|:df af|bg fe|fg af|e^c BA|
df af|ga bg|fg A^c|d2 D2|
GB dB|ef ge|db ca|Bg Af|
GB dB|ef ge|dc BA|G2 G2:|
X: 2
T: The Merry Girls Of Bristol
R: polka
M: 2/4
L: 1/8
K: Gmaj
G>B dG|ef g>e|dB B/A/G|A2 FE/D/|
GG/B/ dG|ee/f/ g>e|dB c/B/A/F/|G3:|
d>f af|bg f>e|ff/g/ af|e^c BA|
dd/f/ af|gg/a/ b>g|fa A>^c|d2 c/B/A/F/|
G>B dG|e/f/g/a/ gf/e/|db ca|B/c/d/g/ Af/d/|
GG/B/ dc/B/|e/f/g/a/ gf/e/|dB c/B/A|G3||

Twelve comments

The Merry Girls of Bristol

I heard this tune in a session at The Merchants Arms in Bristol this week, and one of the musicians kindly lent me a photocopy of a transcription he had made.
He found the tune in William Winter’s manuscript collection of 1850 (in the British Library, I believe), which apparently has a large number of tunes, running into 3 figures, and dating back to the early part of the 19th century and into the 18th. This tune may be one of the earlier ones.
I’ve a slight problem in allocating the tune type; it’s in 2/4 but the style clearly isn’t polka (and its too early). I think it is more likely to be a barndance. Although many barndances are in 4/4 I do know of one or two in 2/4. In view of this tune’s structure (2 x 8 + 2 x 16 bars), it is evidently music for some sort of dance. If anyone has any ideas or suggestions about this, please post.
It is also quite clearly fiddle writing. Some players may prefer an alternative version of bars 11 and 12 of the B part:


The Merry Girls of Bristol (polka)

I am able to provide some more information about the origins of this tune.

It was first published in “Thompson’s Compleat Collection of 200 Favourite Country Dances” (Vol. 4), of 1780. The tune and the Thompson Collection is in (Early American Secular Music and its European Sources, 1589-1839: An Index), where it is listed (not surprisingly) as of English origin. The Eames Index usefully gives the notes of the first three measures of each tune in a scale note notation (i.e the 1st note is 1, 2nd note is 2, etc)

Olson’s scholarly website (“Some British Isles Country Dances of the Eighteenth Century, after 1730”) also lists the tune.

The tune is therefore English, and can be dated to some time between 1730 and 1780.

William Winter’s manuscript collection of 1850 was probably his personal tune list as an aide memoire.

A member here has listed an alternative name as “The Merry Lass of Bristol”. Where was this found? I can find no reference anywhere.


The Merry Girls of Bristol (polka)

Correction. Olson’s Website is concerned with tunes after 1730. This does not, of course, exclude the possibility that “The Merry Girls of Bristol” could have been around before 1730.


Slightly dotted

I have been platying this and found it a bit obvious if oplayed four square but quite jolly if slightly dotted. How do they do it in Bristol?

The Merry Girls of Bristol

People I know who play this tune tend to think of it almost in hornpipe terms, so slightly dotted would be about right. One thing is quite certain though; it’s not a polka despite what the Tunes Database says. It hasn’t got a polka feel about it, and anyway it predates polkas in the UK probably by at least half a century.
I’ve also been told by the player who drew the tune to my attention (he does a bit of research in this area) that it would probably have been played at society balls, and not necessarily restricted to small rural gatherings. In that latter case it would have been unlikely to have turned up in the Thompson collection and may not have survived to this day.

Just played through this curiosity but haven’t gone and done the search through old dance tomes and lists. It hasn’t the structure of a ‘barndance’ but feels to be a ‘country dance’, meaning that somewhere there is likely to be a dance by this name with figures that fit the phrases and particular turns just right. It does feel like there should be some swing to it…

Thompson’s!!! ~

Duh! ~ “Thompson’s Compleat Collection of 200 Country Dances, volume 4” of 5 & Kate & that gang’s dance index:

The Colonial Music Institute

Early American Secular Music and Its European Sources, 1589–1839: An Index:

I have been looking, but for a number of things. I thought I had the Thompson texts on CDs or copies but haven’t as yet been able to find them… I’m still looking. Does anyone else have the description for this dance or one of the earlier transcriptions for comparison?

An English Reel

Seems to me like an English reel - there seem to be quite a few like this (cf England’s Glory“ in the John Clare MSS or “William Pitt” from Lakeland MSS).

Sounds ok as a 2/4 march…

Yes Dow, as a ‘Country Dance’, which is turns out to be, it would be played more along the lines of a march, and the swing would be in that order too, not necessarily consistant. Damn, now I have to transcribe or shut up don’t I? 😏

I still haven’t yet managed to find and access Thompson’s, as I’d love to add their transcription of the tune and dance. Anyway, here goes a bit of fun with it:

R: Country Dance
K: G Major
|: D |
G>B dG | ef g>e | dB B/A/G | A2 FE/D/ |
GG/B/ dG | ee/f/ g>e | dB c/B/A/F/ | G3 :|
A |
d>f af | bg f>e | ff/g/ af | e^c BA |
dd/f/ af | gg/a/ b>g | fa A>^c | d2 c/B/A/F/ |
G>B dG | e/f/g/a/ gf/e/ | db ca | B/c/d/g/ Af/d/ |
GG/B/ dc/B/ | e/f/g/a/ gf/e/ | dB c/B/A | G3 ||

William Winter MS

@lazyhound - the William Winter MS is not in the British Library.

It’s in the Margaret Grant Memorial Library, Halsway Manor, Crowcombe, Somerset, England.

Re: The Merry Girls Of Bristol

Recently (August 2018) I found a souvenir edition of Folk News in the Oxfam bookshop, Cotham Hill, Bristol.

It was published in 1973 by the Bristol branch of the EFDSS to commemorate the 600th anniversary of Bristol’s charter (?).
It contains quite a few songs and tunes with Bristol in the title including The Merry Girls of Bristol, Bristol Cross, Bristol Fair and Bristol Wells.
The Merry Girls is written as a dotted hornpipe and with this text -

Source: Thompson, 1765; reprinted c. 1780 in the collection now known as ‘The Apted Book’
Step: ‘Hornpipe’ or ‘Schottische’
Form: Triple Minor Longways
The Dance
A.1. Right hands across round
A.2. Left hands back again
B.1.Cross over two couples; lead up to the top and cast to middle place
B.2. Hands four round with bottom couple; right and left with top couple and back again.