Royal setting for carols

Traditional carols at the Royal Hotel, Dungworth:
Traditional carols at the Royal Hotel, Dungworth:

IT’S November, so in Sheffield we’re already firmly into the carol season.

The Royal Hotel at Dungworth is well known as one of the thronging pubs and last Sunday’s throng amounted to between 150 and 200 people, said landlord Dave Jubb.

“We don’t do anything. It just happens,” he noted cheerfully.

The local or ‘traditional’ carols, as they’re known to differentiate them from the ones you may hear in church or on your shopping centre’s audio network, take place in a range of pubs around Sheffield, South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire from mid-November.

Stalwarts of the pubs in question will be there, sometimes with several generations together, along with visitors from around the UK or abroad.

Such visitors are welcome, say many regulars, but please do observe carol etiquette: 1 don’t stand at the prime singing spots if you’re not a regular (around the piano mainly), and watch out for favoured seats belonging to more elderly locals. 2 Do not rustle crisp packets, use your mobile phone or tell jokes during quieter carols or solos. 3 Help others return their glasses to the bar at thronging pubs (you will be reminded of this). 4 Be mindful of regulars at the queue to get in. Think of them as the band. 5 Do join in when you’re ready but observe caution.

Sunday was the first time for Viv Channing from Lincolnshire, who’d come along with friends who are regulars at the Royal.

“I loved every minute of it,” she said afterwards. “I’d been looking forward to coming and it’s been just what I expected and even a bit better, because I’ve been able to join in.

“Everyone seems to know and recognise each other, they all stand close and don’t mind which is an unusual thing in this day and age. I’d love to come again.”

Regular Royal organist Sue Heritage said: “It’s great to be back.

“You see your old friends you might only see once a year and it’s really special, it’s such an atmosphere, and everybody’s always made welcome. You’ve not got to be able to sing well, you can just sing your heart out and enjoy it.”

She also noted that as Christmas gets closer, the pubs do actually get even busier. On Sunday it was possible to move every now and then.

This may become more difficult over the next few weeks, especially at key thronging pubs The Royal and The Blue Ball at Worrall.

Roy Needham has been a carol singer for over 65 years, since the age of five.

“The carols are still as popular as ever,” he said. “And there’s more young ones now and more women taking part than there were. I feel proud of the tradition. It’s something I was brought up to and we love it.”

“The carols make Christmas,” said his wife, Margaret.

Don Waite has also been singing the local carols for many years and his own children now take part too.

“They knocks spots off the things you hear on the radio or TV,” he said.

“It’s just the whole tradition and enthusiasm of the singing. You can pick the words up as you go – I’ve learned them all over the years – and you can pick the part you want to sing, either tenor or bass for me. It’s contrapuntal, with some choruses singing against each other. It’s fantastic.”

Don also travels around to hear the differences (and similarities) in the various pubs and villages. Ecclesfield is different to Dungworth, he said, but there is still some commonality, whereas some of the Castleton carols are ‘completely strange’.

There is a Local Carols website where the venues are listed for each day: mostly pubs but some community centres.

“There’s no sign of it all dying out, although there’s not enough exposure to things like this in the media,” said Don Waite. “It’s much better than all the plastic stuff you get in supermarkets and talent shows. It’s better because it’s real.”