Here in Devon, we're on a peninsula with two beautiful coastlines, north and south. Neither coast is particularly far from Dartmoor, but due to pandemic travel restrictions we haven't seen the ocean for months -- and as much as I love the moorland hills, I miss the sound and the scent of the sea. Today, let's listen to songs of the waves from across the British Isles.
Above: A short introductory film about Sea Songs -- an 18th-month project undertaken by Belfast musician M. Cambridge (Mark McCambridge), exploring traditional sea chanties, Ulster weaver-poetry, and sea-faring ballads old and new. The resulting album, Sea Songs: Anatomy of a Drowning Man (2019) is an unusual blend of music and spoken word, and well worth a listen. The film is by Sam O'Mahony.
Below: "My Sailor Boy," from Sea Songs: Anatomy of a Drowing Man.
Above: "Port na bPúcai" by Irish folksinger Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, with Billy Mag Fhloinn. This traditional song from the Blasket Islands of Co. Kerry tells the story of a woman "from across the waves" who has been stolen away by the fairies, never to return.
Below: "Thaney" by the Scottish folk band Malinky, from their early album Three Ravens (2002). The ballad (written by Karine Polwart) recounts the medieval legend of Saint Thaney, the daughter of the King of Lothian, who was raped by a callous prince of Wales and conceived a child by him. Her father, infuriated by the pregnancy, commands his daughter be hurled from the cliffs to the sea. Miraculously surviving the fall, Thaney is put on a tiny coracle and set adrift on the Firth of Forth. She survives this ordeal too, and gives birth to a son, Saint Kentigern, the founder of the city of Glasgow.
"But wonders on the bonnie lady / Wonders on the silver spray / Cradled by five thousand fishes / It's she has reached the Isle o' May / Through the turning tide they tumbled / Through the rattlin', rollin' storm . Safe at Culross Kirk she has landed / There she has her baby born."
Above: "Dh’èirich mi moch, b' fheàrr nach do dh’èirich" by Scottish singer/songwriter Julie Fowlis, from the island of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. The song appeared on her most recent album, Alterum (2017). "My work is steeped in tradition and historical reference specific to the Highlands," she says. This song evokes the contrasting elements of land and sea, with owl feathers symbolic of journeys, transitions, and ancient rites of women's mysticism and intrigue.
Below: "Òran an Ròin," another song from Alterum, with a new video that was released last month. This one, says Fowlis, "is a traditional Gaelic song from the voice of the seal people or selkies: creatures who were said to shed their seal skin and take on the human form at certain times of the year, moving between the parallel worlds of sea and land, but never truly belonging to either."
Above: "The Selchie Song," written and sung by Scottish singer/songwriter Jenny Sturgeon, accompanied by Jonny Hardie, on the Isle of May in 2014. Sturgeon has a new album coming out this autumn inspired by Nan Shepherd's classic book The Living Mountain; and her two albums with Salt House, Undersong and Huam, are just stunning.
Below: "The Grey Selkie of Sule Skerry" (Child Ballad 113), a traditional song of the Orkney and Shetland islands, performed by English singer/songwriter Maz O'Conner. The video of seals is not from O'Connor but underscores the song beautifully, filmed by divers off the coast of Coll in the Inner Hebrides, and the Farne Islands of Northumberland. The song itself can be found on O'Conner's second album, This Willowed Light (2014).
And one more song to end with, below:
"The Sailor's Farewell" by English singer/songwriter Ange Hardy, based in Somerset. The song appeared on her third album, The Lament of the Black Sheep (2014).
Photographs: Howard and Tilly on the south Devon coast, near Burgh Island, pre-pandemic.