Bring us Good Ale


Duration: 5 minutes

1) SATB 8-part chorus
2) SATB 8-part chorus, brass quintet (2 tpts, hn, tbn, tba)

2) first performed by Selwyn College Choir and Onyx Brass, cond. Nicholas Cleobury, 21 March 2007, St Bride’s, London

Winner of 2007 John Armitage Memorial Prize

Listen to the version with Brass quintet of Bring us Good Ale by Alan Charlton, performed by Selwyn College Choir and Onyx Brass conducted by Nicholas Cleobury

Programme Note

“Writing carols is money for old rope”, said Owen, “we could write one in a couple of hours”. So we set to work, choosing at random a medieval drinking song from a book of Christmas carol texts that happened to be lying around. Four hours and a bottle of wine later we had written 20 or so pretty unconvincing bars. “Perhaps it’s not that easy after all” admitted Owen, and we went back to watching his DVD collection. But I was secretly quite pleased with the rustic tune and its side-stepping harmonies, so with Owen’s blessing, I took the sketches back home and continued working on it on my own.

I envisaged it being performed by a choir who, at the end of a hard concert, are longing for a pint and become more and more desperate as the piece progresses, during which they turn down conciliatory offers of bread, beef, bacon, mutton, tripe, eggs, butter, pork, black pudding, venison, capon and duck. So what starts out as a relatively simple four-part setting divides into six and then eight parts, with a succession of ever more elaborate textures that incorporate glissandi, hocketing, irregular metres, metric modulations and a cadenza where soloists may insert texts of their own making.

The original a cappella version of ‘Bring us Good Ale’ was completed in April 2006. However, the John Armitage Memorial competition was the perfect excuse to make an even more elaborate version of it for choir and brass quintet, and at the same time enabled me to lessen some of the demands on the choir. Eventually, the piece that was supposed to take two hours to write was finally completed over a year (and two Christmases) later.