Kirkwall Shopping Songs

For young voices and instruments


16 minutes




Commissioned by





Children’s chorus
Instruments Recorders (at least 4 players)
Tuned percussion (at least 4 players): can be glockenspiels, xylophones, chime bars etc., in any combination as available Untuned percussion (at least 4 players): tambourine, 3 suspended cymbals, side drum, bass drum


1. Song: When I got out of bed, my mother said to me
2. Song: When you go down our street
3. Interlude: The Big Tree
4. Song: I must buy fat pig’s fry
5. Interlude: At the Bakery
6. Song: Oh Mr. Spence, I’ve only ten pence
7. Interlude: Hoy Sound
8. Song: Down that stair there’s a lady fair
9. Song: It must be time to go home to tea


Composer Notes

Composer’s Note I

Kirkwall Shopping Songs describe a shopping expedition in Kirkwall, the largest town (population 5000) on the Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland. It is an expedition with excursions into fantasy and adventure. For instance, in No. 2, ‘When you go down our street’, the road where the hero (or heroine) lives becomes a numbered sequence of dangers; and in No. 6, ‘Oh, Mr Spence’, the simple operation of having a sole and heel nailed on a shoe at the cobbler’s leads to the protagonist’s transformation into a seal, and a life and death seal-chase in Hoy Sound. This is a notoriously dangerous stretch of sea between the largest island of Orkney, upon which Kirkwall stands, and the smaller Hoy, where I live.

The first and third instrumental interludes need a word of explanation. ‘The Big Tree’, in the title of the first, grows in the very small main street of Kirkwall, where the houses huddle together to afford some protection to shoppers from the lively breezes whipping in from the sea; there are precious few trees on the islands, and this one, although small by Scottish mainland standards, has grown unusually high, despite the climate, and is preserved as an object of great distinction. The third interlude is a picture of Hoy Sound, where the seal-chase of the preceding song takes place.

Composer’s Note II

This work was written specially for Glenys Hughes and the pupils of Papdale Primary School, and for the St. Magnus Festival.

I wrote the rhymes on Christmas Day of (1978), but most of the music had to wait until the following February, after I had finished work on Solstice of Light for the St. Magnus Singers.

The style is straightforward, with simple melodies accompanied by piano and a handful of percussion instruments. Some of the tunes are made into rounds, and in the instrumental section. ‘At the Bakery’ the canonic entries and cross-phrasings make a counting game, whereby the participants can reckon up the items bought and how much they cost. The song ‘Oh, Mr Spence, I’ve only ten pence’ relates to the old Orkney selkie (seal) legends. The instrumental interlude that follows this is a sea picture – of Hoy Sound – in which the canonic cross-phrasings are meant to suggest the motion of waves.

Programme Notes

Short Note by Paul Griffiths

This is a set of lively and tuneful unison songs for voices and recorders, with accompaniment for school percussion and piano. There are six songs, which can be put together with three instrumental interludes to make on entertainment suitable for a concert. The songs tell of a shopping expedition that leads off occasionally into daydreaming.


First Performance

Papdale Primary School, Kirkwall, Orkney (at the St. Magnus Festival)

Saturday, 16 June 1979

Pupils of Papdale Primary School