Playford in the Pub

Music in Pubs

This programme aims to revive an experience like you may have perhaps undergone in a pub in the 17th century. But, of course, not really. We have no idea what really happens, so we have also partly based ourselves on current practices. Three elements are important for us.

Music that was for amateur musicians and popular at the time, so could have potentially been played and sung in pubs of the time.

To enliven the event we add stories and texts from around the period (excepting the Three Blind Mice story). The stories give a sense of live at the time, but it is also part of pub life.

Finally, there is an element of participation, the audience is taught some parts of songs, sings along and even brings their instruments. They can prepare the

John Playford

John Playford was a 17th Century publisher, who catered to the vast London amateur market. Collections like “Apollo’s Banquet” or “The Music Handmaid” gave amateur musicians a big collection of popular songs and adapted music by such composers as Purcell.

Division Violin / Flute
One of these collections was the “Division violin”, later adapted for the recorder as “Division flute”. Both these collections make available ‘improvisations’ from masters of the time on several popular pieces then current. Many of the names don’t ring a bell with the general music lover of today, like Anthony Poole or Cornell van Shmelt. The pieces make wonderful chamber music, because there are fewer parts than some of the other pieces in this category at the time, but also, they give us a wonderful overview of what musicians in the time would have done to these popular melodies.

Old Simon the King

This is one of the songs which is still popular in traditional music making on the Isles today! Several texts are known today, but we use this is a drinking song to open our pub session:
“For drinking makes a man quaff
and quaffing makes a man sing,
and singing makes a man laugh
and laughter a long life doth bring.”

Three Blind Mice

This primary school favourite still enchants us today with its strange lyrics and cut off mouse tails. The song originates in 1607 with Ravenscroft’s Deuteromelia. If you are curious about different current versions of this song, take a look at our video about 11 versions, including in the introduction the original Ravenscroft version.

The story of the mice was finally pencilled down in the 19th Century by John W. Ivemey. Read it online here.

Pan’s Song

The text for this song comes from Thomas Heywood‘s Love’s Mistress. This play is an interesting comment on the contemporary situation of the arts and has several allegorical intermezzos. One of these is a competition between Pan and Apollo. Our violinist James Hewitt adapted the play and added music from contemporary sources, since the actual music used for the play was lost.

Some of the words in the song don’t seem to mean anything, like “torrid zona”. The main gist of the song is to taunt Apollo and tell him he isn’t as good at singing as he thinks he might be.

For this wonderful rendition James uses the melody “Paul’s Steeple”, which can also be found in Playford’s Division Violin.


Nowadays this song is often seen as a romantic, ‘blue’, song, but quite some parts of the text are not necessarily as calm or melancholic as originally thought. In our version we use the song for a declamation of love. In these times music spoken over text was very popular, an element we perhaps find back in rap music.

Cornel van Shmelt’s Division

Although the name “Cornel van Shmelt” seems obviously Dutch or Flemish, we have no idea who he is. Some have suggested it was even a pseudonym. Interestingly, we find this piece back in a library in Upsalla, where it is part of the “Düben” collection. This German collection includes this piece with an Italian title, referring to it as a chorale melody with 7 variations by “Signor William Brade”, who in fact was an English composer! Music travelled a lot in the Baroque!
Look at William Brade’s piece here.


This song can be found in Playford’s Dancing Master. The song doesn’t seem to refer to anything to do with Jamaica and describes a thirsty soldier looking for lodging who has fought wars in Spain, Holland and Germany!

Drunken Sailor

This well-known song is nowadays often song as “earlaï in the morning”. It is said this is based on historical presedence, but this pronunciation has only found its way into the song in the 20th century!

Sometimes we can be blinded by copying each other’s will to be ‘historically correct’: an interesting lesson to learn!

Hopefully you have enjoyed our performance. Let us know what you thought in our reviews section!