Fantasy in Times of Crisis
The folklore of birds

Tunes for a Monday Morning

The Seven Ravens by Teresa Jenellen

Illustration by Honore AppletonI'm out of the office this morning in order to take Tilly to the vet (she has an immune system impairment that requires monthly shots) -- which is a complicated procedure in the middle of Cornonavirus quarantine. Rather than leave you with no music to start the week, I pulled some favourite songs from this blog's archives. Inspired by the rich bird life we're experiencing during this quiet time of the world's "great pause," all the music today is on the theme of birds in the folk tradition....

Above: "King of the Birds," written and performed by Karine Polwart, who grew up in a musical family in Sterlingshire, Scotland. This beautiful, folkloric song comes from Powart's fifth album, Traces (2012).

Below: Polwart performs another original song, "Follow the Heron," at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival in 2011. It comes from her second album, Scribbled in Chalk (2006).

Above: "Three Ravens" (audio only) performed by Breton harpist Cécile Corbel, from Finistère. It's a variant of Child Ballad No. 26 (also known as "Twa Corbies," as performed here by Bert Jansch), and was recorded for the first of Corbel's five albums, Songbook 1 (2006).

Below: "Hela'r Dryw: Hunting of the Wren" (audio only), performed in Welsh by Fernhill, one of the leading bands in the "Welsh Renaissance" of folk music. The song concerns an old folk tradition once common throughout the British Isles, and still practiced in some communities today. The recording is from Fernill's Amser (2014).

The song above isn't exactly a folk song but I'm going to throw it in here anyway: Paul McCartney's "Blackbird" performed in Gaelic by Julie Fowlis, from the Gaelic-speaking island of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Fowlis has released six solo albums, of which Alterum (2017) is the latest.

Below: Kate Rusby, from Barnsley, Yorkshire, performs "Mockingbird" at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2011. The song, written by Rusby, was first recorded on her ninth album, Make the Light (2010), and was also included on her double album, Twenty (2012).

Below: "The Hawk and the Crow," a tradition Irish/Scottish ballad performed by Scottish folksinger Emily Smith, from her eighth album Echoes (2014).

Below: "Come Home Pretty Bird," performed by Smith in Switzerland in 2012. The song, co-written with David Scott, appeared on Smith's third album, Too Long Away (2008).

Martha by Gennady SpirinIf you'd like a few more bird songs this morning, try: "Blackbird," an old English ballad performed by Cécile Corbel, Show of Hand's version of "Crow on the Cradle" (by Sydney Carter), and three traditional songs for lark lovers: "The Lark in the Morning" sung by Maddy Prior; "The Lark" sung by Kate Rusby (backed up by Nic Jones), and "Waiting for the Lark" sung by the peerless June Tabor. Also, two fairy-tale-like songs: "The Gay Goshawk" (Child Ballad No. 96) performed by the folk-rock band Mr. Fox, and Natalie Merchant's beautiful rendition of "Crazy Man Michael" (by Richard Thompson & Dave Swarbrick), from Fairport Convention's Liege & Leaf.

The Seven Doves by Warwick GobleSpeaking of birds, I highly recommend The Bird's Child by Sandra Leigh Price (Fourth Estate/HarperCollins Australia, 2015), an utterly enchanting novel set in Australia in the 1920s. It's beautifully written, steeped in both bird lore and magic (of the sleight-of-hand variety), evokes a fascinating period of Australian history, and is well worth seeking out. Francis Hardinge's Young Adult fantasy novel Fly by Night (Macmillan, 2018), about a girl and a goose in a magical version of the 18th century, is also a gem. She is one of the best fantasy writers of her generation: brilliant, quirky, and consistently original. Four good (and very different) novels inspired by the "Wild Swans" fairy tale: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, Wild Swans by Peg Kerr, Ursula Synge's Swan's Wing, and Nicholas Stuart Gray's The Seventh Swan. For more about the fairy tale, go here. For a post about swan maidens and crane wives, go here.

The artwork today, in order of appearance, is "The Seven Ravens" by  Teresa Jenellen, an illustrator based in Wales;  a drawing by British book artist Honor C. Appleton (1879-1951);"Martha" (from the book of the same name) by the Russian author/illustrator Gennady Spirin; and "The Seven Doves" by British book artist Warwick Goble (1862-1943).

The Bird's Child by Sandra Leigh Price

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