The Topping Tooters of the Town (CD review)

Music of the London Waits, 1580-1650. William Lyons, The City Musick. Avie Records AV2364.

I hear what you're asking: What's with the oddball title? A booklet note explains that a fellow named Ned Ward wrote in The London Spy of 1709, "Why these are the city waits, who play every winter's night through the streets to rouse each lazy drone to family duty. These are the topping tooters of the town, and have gowns, silver, chains, and salaries, for playing 'Lilliburlero' to Lord Mayor's horse through the city." Furthermore, "The City Waits were highly skilled and much valued musicians in Elizabethan and Jacobean society. They were the aural emblem of their city, and were employed in civic ceremony, the theatre, dances, in church services and gave public concerts. This recording celebrates the diversity and glorious sound of a Waits band at its best."

The Waits band in this case is The City Musick, led by William Lyons, who also plays shawm, bass dulcian, recorders, and bagpipes. He's joined by ten other musicians on instruments as varied as hoboy, recorders, lysard, cornett, and sackbut, with occasional solo voices thrown in for good measure. The music is enjoyable, and the fact that it's authentic adds to the fun.

Here's the playlist to give you an idea of what the album's all about:

Anthony Holborne (c.1545-1602)
  1. The Night Watch

John Adson (c.1585-1640)
  2. The Bull Maske (Courtly Masquing Ayre 18)
  3. Courtly Masquing Ayre 20
  4. Courtly Masquing Ayre 21

Peter Philips (c.1560-1628)
  5. Pavane Dolorosa
  6. Galliard Doloroso

Anon., arr. William Lyons
  7. The Quadran Pavan
  8. Turkeyloney
  9. The Earl of Essex Measures
10. Tinternell
11. The Old Almain
12. The Queen's Alman

Anthony Holborne
13. The Cecilia Almain

Anon., arr. Lyons
14. The Black Almain

Thomas Morley (c.1557-1602)
15. See, see, myne owne sweet jewell
16. Hould out my hart
17. Crewell you pull away too soone

John Dowland (1563-1626)
18. Psalm 100: All people that on earth do dwell

Richard Allison (c.1560-c.1610)
19. Psalm 68: Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered

Simon Stubbs (fl. 1616-21)
20. Psalm 149: Sing ye unto the Lord our God

Thomas Ravenscroft (1590-1633)
21. Psalm 117: O praise the Lord, all ye nations

Anthony Holborne
22. Paradizo
23. The Lullabie
24. The Cradle

John Playford (1623-1686/7)
25. Pauls Wharf

Valentin Haussmann (c.1560-c.1614)
26. All ye who love

John Playford, arr. Lyons
27. Lilliburlero
28. Maiden Lane
29. Halfe Hannikin
30. Sellengers Rownde

Willian Lyons
So, the Waits were sort of the pop bands of their day, the Rolling Stones of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. (Come to think of it, the Stones may actually have been playing back then.) Anyway, the tunes run the gamut from ballads to dances, from airs to pavanes, some of them stately, some lively, some serious, and some lighthearted. Lyons and The City Musick play them all with equal zeal and seem to be having as good a time performing them as we do listening to them.

Of course, it takes a few minutes for the ear to adjust to the unusual qualities of the instruments, most of which are winds of one kind or another, but once attuned to the sound, it's easy to like. The melodies are simple and the repetitions plentiful. About the only qualm I had was that although there are thirty selections on the program, each track is very brief, not more than a minute or two. So, at only about forty-nine minutes total, the program is a little short on content.

Producer and engineer Adrian Hunter recorded the album at St. Georges Church, Chesterton, Cambridge, UK in September 2015. The first thing you may notice is that the acoustic is moderately lively, and the room reflections enhance the realism of the sonics. Still, the spatial relationships remain somewhat flat. You'd think that maybe individual instruments would stand out better in contrast to one another. Be that as it may, there are no glaring deficiencies in the sound: no brightness, edginess, woolliness, or dullness and not much veiling. Not quite audiophile but pleasant and serviceable, nonetheless.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa