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On Summer Solstice

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Boreas by John William Waterhouse

I'm in the mood for old songs and balladry today, and I hope you are too. But beware, there's dark water ahead. Ballads rarely end happily ever after....

First, two songs of thwarted love from the Anglo-Irish quartet The Haar (Cormac Byrne, Molly Donnery, Murray Grainger, and Adam Summerhayes), whose debut album was released last year. The videos here were recorded this spring, during the latest Covid lockdown.

Above: "Black is the Colour," a traditional song with variants found in the Irish, Scottish, and Appalachian folk traditions.

Below: "Annachie Gordon," Child Ballad #239. (For more information about Francis Child and his influential collection of English & Scottish ballads, go here.)

Above: "The Cruel Brother," Child Ballad #11, performed by the Anglo-Scots folk trio Lau (Kris Drever, Martin Green, and Aidan O'Rourke). This murderous tale appears on their new album Folk Songs (2021).

Can we get any darker? Yes, we can. Below: "Young Johnstone," Child Ballad #88, performed by the great English folksinger June Tabor. The song is from her sixteenth solo album, An Echo of Hooves (2016).

Above: "The Gardener," Child Ballad #219, performed by the English folk trio Lady Maisery (Hazel Askew, Hannah James, and Rowan Rheingans), from their first album, Weave & Spin (2011). "This is a very mysterious dialogue between a gardener and a woman who does not appreciate his flowery propositions," they say. "It's a Child Ballad which Hannah has adapted from a few different versions." 

Below: "King Henry," Child Ballad #32, a wonderful "loathly lady" song performed by Alasdair Roberts, Emily Portman, and Lucy Farrell (of The Furrow Collective). It was was recorded for The Mark Radcliffe Folk Sessions (BBC Radio 2) in 2014.

Above: "The Slighted Lover" performed by Jarlath Henderson, a multi-instrumentalist from Northern Ireland, with Duncan Lyall, Hamish Napier, and Innes Watson. The song is a broadside ballad with a complicated history, going back at least to the 17th century. There's no murder here, but that's not to say love goes smoothly in this ballad either. Hendersen's rendition appeared on Hearts Broken, Heads Turned (2016).

Moving from ruin to madness, below: "Bedlam Boys" (also known as "Mad Tom o' Bedlam), a 17th century song performed by the Anglo-Welsh folk trio The Trials of Cato (Tomos Williams, Robin Jones, and Polly Bolton). It's from their new album, Gog Magog, due out later this year. 

Ophelia by John William Waterhouse

Art above: "Boreas" and "Ophelia" by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917).