I cannot celebrate America's Independence Day when the country of my birth is in such a serious crisis. Instead, I celebrate and stand with all the good people who Resist, in their myriad ways, and refuse to be divided neighbor from neighbor. Stand strong, everyone. You have my respect, my gratitude, and my love.
I'm heading up the Isle of Skye at the end of the week (to celebrate an old friend's birthday), so I'm turning northward today with Gaelic music by musicians from Scotland and beyond.
To start with (above), a lovely short video by Julie Fowlis, from Uist in the Outer Hebrides, explaining why the preservation of the Gaelic language remains so important today. "Speaking a language that has been around for thousands of years," says Fowlis, "you get a different perspective on your own country and an understanding of the people you come from. By singing the traditional songs, you get a better understanding of your own area and it brings the stories of local communities and the history of the people alive."
In Port, a programme for the BBC, Fowlis teamed up with Irish singer Muireann NicAmhlaoibh to investigate Gaelic music and culture in its variations across the two countries. In the video below, they bring Irish bodhrán player Donnchadh Gough (from Danú) and Irish singer Síle Denvir (from Líadan) to Fowlis' home island, North Uist.
In the next two videos, also from Port, Fowlis & NicAmhlaoibh visit the Orkney Isles in the far north of Scotland.
Above, Fowlis sings "The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry" with The Unthanks (from Northumbria), backed up by Orcadian musicians.
Below, they're joined by Irish singer Liam Ó Maonlaí (from The Hothouse Flowers), performing "Amhrán na Heascainne."
Above: Kathleen MacInnes, a wonderful singer from South Uist, performs "Gur milis Mòrag" with the young American bluegrass musician Sarah Jarosz, from Texas. The video was filmed back in 2011 for the BBC's TransAtlantic Sessions programme.
Below, moving from the pastoral to the urban, and the old to the new:
"An Dà Là,' " a timely song by the Scottish band Mànran, from their fine new album of the same name, full of songs about personal and political upheavals both historic and contemporary. The title comes from a Gaelic expression meaning "great change." The lyrics to the song are here. Be bold, be strong.
The world is a troubled place right now, but love, friendship, compassion, and art are among the things that keep us going, connecting us over every wall, border, and division....
Above: "Time Will Tell" by singer/songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov and his band. Born in South Africa, Isakov was raised in Pennsylvania and is now based in Colorado.
Below: "Start to Walk" by the great Sengalese singer Awa Ly, who was born and raised in Paris, and is now based in Rome. She's accompanied here by singer/songwriter Claudio Domestico, from Naples, Italy.
Above: "Tus Pies (Your Feet)," a beautiful song and heart-breaking video by Nahko Bear. Nahko is singer/songwriter of Apache/Mohawk, Puerto Rican & Filipino heritage. Raised in Oregon, he's now based in Hawaii.
Below: "Boy with a Coin" by Iron and Wine (Sam Beam), accompanied by Spanish flamenco dancers. Born in South Carolina, Beam is now based in Durham, North Carolina.
Above: "Call it Dreaming" by Iron & Wine, a moving song from Beam's new album, Beast Epic.
Below: "Darkness of the Dream" by The Tallest Man on Earth (Kristian Matsson), a wonderful singer/songwriter/performance artist from Dalarna, Sweden.
Sending love to you all.
The drawings today are by the American artist Charles W. White (1918 -1979). The son of a railroad worker on the south side of Chicago, he won a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago, and went on to teach at schools in New Orleans and in Los Angeles while also creating public artworks during the Depression and exhibiting widely across the United States. An extraordinary man.
Today, four gorgeous pieces of music for piano, because beauty is a powerful antidote to the darkness during troubled times.
Above: "Divenire" by Italian composer & pianist Ludovico Einaudi (from his album of the same name), performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2010.
Below: "Re" by German composer & pianist Nils Frahm, from his album Screws (2012). The animated video was directed by Balázs Simon.
Above: "Willow," by British composer & pianist Helen Jane Long, accompanied by The London Players. This performance of the song (from her Intervensions album) was filmed in Philadelphia.
Below: "Hanging D" by Dutch composer & pianist Joep Beving, who describes his work at "simple music for complex emotions." The piece is from his new album, Prehension.
Today is Memorial Day in America, know more prosaically as the Late May Bank Holiday here. Let's honor it gently, with instrumental tunes both old and new....
Above: "Mayfair at Rhayader, 1927" by Welsh composer & guitarist Toby Hay (from his luminous new album, The Gathering), with archival footage of people gathering for May Day in Powys, Wales, in the years between the wars.
"I first listened to The Gathering," says author Robert Macfarlane, "late in the day, late in the year -- the year of Trump, of Brexit, of tides of darkness rising fast on all sides. And for a bright hour, Toby Hay’s music cast strong light, fought the shadows back a little. The tracks of this album -- quick-fingered, deep-felt -- open landscapes in the mind’s eye. It feels, listening to them, as if they have a little of the power -- the power that linguists call ‘illocutionary’ and magicians call ‘conjuring’ -- to summon things into being, or bring pasts briefly back to life. It came as no surprise to learn that Toby has sometimes hoped that the playing of ‘Starlings’ (in which the notes teem and swoop and swarm) might one day call up an actual murmuration. Place, memory, nature, loss and dreamed-of geographies are the subjects of this beautiful music: that gathering of feelings that go by the untranslatable Welsh word hiraeth. There is a sadness at what has gone here, but not a nostalgia. The world’s dew gleams on this music, but the world’s dust swirls through it too."
Below: "Mrs Mackenzie's Farewell to Culloden Academy" from Scottish composer & fiddler Graham Mackenzie. In this video -- a recording session for his Crossing Borders album -- Mackenzie is joined by Megan Robertson Henderson and Robbie Mackenzie on fiddles, Innes Watson on viola/guitar, Alice Allen on cello, Stewart Wilson on double bass, Ciorstaidh Beaton on clarsach, Scott Wood on pipes, and Jim Molyneux on piano.
Above:"Echo" by Talisk, a Scottish folk trio based in Glasgow: Mohsen Amini on concertina, Haley Keenan on fiddle, and Craig Irving on guitar. The song is from their debut album, Abyss.
Below: "Olympus" by Fourth Moon, also based in Glasgow: Mohsen Amini on concertina, David Lombardi on fiddle, Géza Frank flute & pipes, and Jean Damei on guitar. The band's first album, which I'm greatly looking forward to, is due out this year.
And to end with on this Memorial day, a tune by a band from Manchester:
"Father Quinn's/Apsley Cottage/Mrs. Mackenzie's Dilemma" performed by Aizle: Graham Mackenzie on fiddle, Ciaran Clifford on whistle, Joe Bardwell on guitar, Jim Molyneux on piano, and Stewart Wilson on double bass. The tunes appear on their first EP, Aizle, which came out earlier this year.
Today's music comes from the brilliant British folk singer and folk song collector Sam Lee. I'm completely in love with this young man's music -- as well as with the wide variety of collaborative projects he instigates or contributes to. If you ever have the chance to see him live, please don't miss it. His recordings of old ballads and Gypsy Traveller songs are wonderful, but hearing them live -- as they are meant to be heard -- is just extraordinary.
Above: A BBC profile of Lee's "Singing With the Nightingales," an annual series of events in which folk, classical, and jazz musicians collaborate with nightingales in their natural habitats. As the website explains, guests at the nightingale gatherings are invited "not just to listen to these birds in ear-tinglingly close proximity, but to share an evening around the fire, delving into your hosts’ and guest musicians' own funds of rare songs and stories." After supper by the fire, the small audience for each event is lead "in silence and darkness into the nightingale’s habitat, not only to listen to these majestic birds, but to share in an improvised collaboration; to experience what happens when bird and human virtuosi converge in musical collaboration."
Above: "Blackbird," a traditional British Traveller song peformed by Lee in Amsterdam -- with Jonah Brody on piano, Joshua Green on percussion, amd Flora Curzon on violin.
Above: "The Blind Beggar," performed by Lee with Lisa Knapp and Nathaniel Mann at the Foundling Museum in London as part of their Broadside Ballads project. A broadside, the three musicians explain, "is a single sheet of inexpensive paper printed on one side, often with a ballad, rhyme, news and sometimes with woodcut illustrations. Broadside ballads, from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries, contain words and images once displayed and sung daily in Britain’s streets and inns. Although part of living traditions of folksong, popular art and literature, these illustrated printed sheets are now rare and preserved in only a few libraries." In developing the project, they spent time researching the ballads at the Bodleian, and then created new contemporary arrangements for these historic songs.
Today, traditional music from Dublin, Ireland:
Below: Ye Vagabonds again with "Barbara Ellen" (Child Ballad #84).
Above: "The Holland Hankerchief" (Child Ballad #272) performed by The Morning Tree, an Irish-Italian-American folk trio based in Dublin. The group consists of Eoghan O’Shaughnessy (guitar), Consuelo Nerea Breschi (fiddle and bouzouki), and Lindsay Straw (guitar and bouzouki).
Below: The magical video for "Hiljainen Suru," a Finnish folk song, by Slow Moving Clouds, a Dublin trio that draws inspiration from both the Irish and Nordic traditions: Danny Diamond (fiddle) and Kevin Murphy (cello), and Aki (nyckleharpa).
And an instrumental piece to end with: "Devil's Polska" by Slow Moving Clouds.
My apologies for the paucity of posts recently -- a combination of life, health, and family matters has kept me out of the studio. But it's a new week and I'm starting again, returning to work and hoping for a good stretch of quiet, interruption-free time.
Let's start the week gently, with lyrical poetry and women's voices in beautiful harmony....
Above: "The Blood I Bled" by The Staves, a trio of sisters from Watford, Hertfordshire. The performance was filmed for the American program A Prairie Home Companion last autumn.
Below: "Damn It All" by The Staves, performed at KUTX radio station in Austin, Texas in March.
Above: "The Lost Sky" by Jesca Hoop, performed on A Prairie Home Companion in February, backed up by Chris Thile, Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O'Donovan, Stuart Duncan, Alan Hampton, and Julian Lage. Hoop is an American singer-songwriter based in Manchester, England.
Below: "Pegasi" by Jesca Hoop.
And one more:
The gorgeous art today is, of course, by Jeanie Tomanek, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
"I paint," she says, "to explore the significance of ideas, memories, events, feelings, dreams and images that seem to demand my closer attention....Literature, folktales, and myths often inspire my exploration of the feminine archetype."
To learn more about the artist and her work, please go here.
Happy Beltane and May Day!
The music this morning is from Lisa Knapp, a British folk musician who has long been interested in the traditional songs of the season. Her extraordinary new album, Till April is Dead: A Garland of May, is highly recommended -- as is her previous five-track release, Hunt the Hare: A Branch of May.
Above: Knapp's video for "Till April is Dead," the title song of her new album. As music reviewer Thomas Blake describes it: "Sayings from French, German, Spanish, Gaelic and English folklore become entwined (in both sound and meaning) over simple plucked strings before Knapp sings a lighter than air rendition of Hal-An-Tow, a song made famous by the Watersons and the Albion Band. The song’s inherent strangeness -- the coupling of nonsense words with quasi-religious and mythological imagery -- is only thrown into sharper focus by its new setting."
Below: A beautiful version of the English folk song "The Blacksmith" (audio only), from a previous Knapp album, Wild and Undaunted.
Above: The spooky, folkloric video for Knapp's song "Black Horse." This one comes from Hidden Seam, and features vocals by James Yorkston.
Below: "Enter Ariel" by Clara Sanabras -- with Lisa Knapp, Chorus of Dissent Britten Sinfonia, London Voices, and the Ceyda Tanc Youth Dance. The song comes from Hum About the Ears, a thoroughly gorgeous folk opera by Sanabras based on Shakespeare's The Tempest. To learn more about it, please go here.
And to end with:
Lisa Knapp's rendition of "Don't You Go Rushing," a traditional May song collected by Cecil Sharp in Somerset in 1907.
The photographs above come from previous May Day celebrations here in Chagford. That's Howard dancing the Obby Oss, and Jason of England dancing the Jack-in-the-Green. The piper is Andy Letcher. For more May Day photos, go here.
And to learn more about the folklore of May Day, go here. Up the May!
This morning we start by going out into "The Woods" with Polly Paulusma and Rima Staines. The song is from Polly's album Finger & Thumbs. The video features stop-motion/paper-cut animation by Rima. It was the first piece of animation she'd ever done.
Below: "Lake Tahoe" by Kate Bush, from her album 50 Words for Snow. This touching video, directed by Bush herself, tells the tale of a dog longing for his owner. "It has all been created in camera with shadow puppets, one of my favourite art forms because of its simplicity," she says.
Above: "When I Grow Up," performed by the Swedish folk duo First Aid Kid. The song was written by by Karin Dreijer Andersson (aka Fever Ray), and the stop motion/paper-cut animation is by Rachael Greenfield.
Below: "Furr," by the American alt folk band Blitzen Trapper, about a wolf-boy in the woods of Oregon, with animation directed by Jade Harris. The video quality isn't as sharp as it could be, alas, but the song is charming.
And one more:
"Within the Rose," by British alt folk band Matthew and the Atlas (from their album True North), with shadow puppet animation by Neil Coxhill. Simply gorgeous, song and video alike.
I'm on a Writing Retreat at the moment -- but I set up this post for you in advance, and very much hope you enjoy these tunes. If you'd like a little more animation this morning, go here.
Have a good start to the week, everyone.