Songs of Hoy

Song-cycle for children’s voices and instruments


25 minutes




Commissioned by





piano, descant recorders, guitar (optional)
untuned percussion (four players): side drum, bass drum, suspended cymbal, flexatone, tambourine, 2 wood blocks, maracas, castanets
tuned percussion (optional): instruments such as glockenspiel, xylophone and chime bars may be used when available and where appropriate
children’s chorus
Suitable for school choruses


1. Introduction
2. Old Widow Grumble (action song)
3. Islander’s Home
4. Our Family (action song)
5. Long Hope (for instruments only)
6. Don’t Look Now (action song)
7. Rackwick Bay
8. Home-Time


Composer Notes

Programme Notes

Note by Paul Griffiths

There are seven songs and an instrumental interlude, making all together an entertainment that provides opportunity for very simple stage action and dancing: nothing at all elaborate is needed in the way of scenery and costumes. The voices are in unison throughout, and their part is always doubled by instruments, which should make it relatively easy for quite young children to learn their way into Davies’s delightful tunes. The references to Hoy are incidental, and could possibly be adapted to suit the locality of a particular performance. In any event, most of these tall stories and rhymes will appeal to children everywhere.

Short Note by Peter Quantrill

These eight musical postcards from Hoy are explicitly framed as an entertainment for performance by the pupils of one of the island’s primary schools. The cycle belongs to them, and to the island – the tangy immediacy that children can bring to lines like ‘Rackwick Bay on a sunny summer day is the friendliest place to be’ when they have grown up around the bay in question is, inevitably, unique.

All of which needn’t deter performers and listeners who are unfamiliar with Orcadian landmarks such as the Ward Hill and the Seaport Store. Three action songs have comic narratives – the texts are by Max himself – covering teenage rebellion and a ten-foot snake with a passion for chocolate cake. Between them are threaded an instrumental interlude for the accompanying forces of piano, recorders and percussion, and two slow, lilting songs. There is no ‘writing down’: the offbeats in the songs bring some unexpected twists, and a richly suggestive piano part inflects folksong-like material in a no less purposeful way than the current cycle of Naxos Quartets.

f course it’s great fun, for young performers and older listeners alike. But alongside the wit, there is a quiet assertion of island pride and self-determination: ‘You know that these hills and the burn will belong to us still, And our children also, one day, Like the islanders whose home was here, since time began.’ It is as if, Max having lived on the Orkneys for only 34 years, he is keen to make up for lost time.


First Performance

Academy Hall, Stromness, Orkney (at the St. Magnus Festival)

Monday, 21 June 1982

Pupils of North Walls Primary School, Hoy