I'm back home after two weeks on the road, and back in my hillside studio. My desk is piled high with work, my email Inbox is overflowing, and the pages of my neglected work-in-progress are glaring at me balefully...but the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the hound lounges happily beside me, glad to return to normal routines. So let's start the week with some traditional ballads to put us all in a storytelling mood....
Above: "Lover's Ghost" (Child Ballad #272), performed by The Rosie Hood Trio. Rosie Hood is a singer/songwriter from Wiltshire, joined here by Nicola Beazley and Lucy Huzzard for a new video released last week.
Below: "The Bonnie Earl O' Moray" (Child Ballad #181) performed by Said the Maiden (Jess Distill, Hannah Elizabeth, Kathy Pilkinton), a vocal harmony trio from Hertfordshire. The song can be found on their debut album, Here's a Health (2017).
Above: Said the Maiden again, performing "The Soldier and the Maid" (Child Ballad # 299).
Above: "False Lady" (Child Ballad #68) peformed by Teyr (James Gavin, Dominic Henderson, Tommie Black-Roff), from London. The song can be found on the trio's debut album, Far From The Tree (2016).
Above: "Banks of the Newfoundland," performed by Teyr. This one is a "capstan shanty" collected by Cecil Sharp in 1915, and may be related to the transportation ballad "Van Diemen's Land."
And last, an old performance from one of the primary bands of 20th century folk revival: "The Lady of Carlisle" (also known as "The Lion's Den") performed by Pentangle in 1972. Variants of this broadside ballad have been collected in Scotland, Ireland, Somerset, and the mountains of Kentucky.
For more information on Child Ballads go here, and on Broadside Ballads go here. The painting above is by Arthur Hughes (1832-1915).
In a time of political discord, strife, and disconnection from the wider world, let's start the week grounded in harmony, community, and the wonders of the earth we share.
Above: "Rivermouth" by Rising Appalachia (Leah and Chloe Smith), based in the southern Appalachian region and New Orleans. The sisters are activists as well as musicians, working with Mississippi River, Gulf, and Klamath water protectors and other Waterkeepers around the world to preserve drinkable, fishable, swimmable water for everyone, everywhere. The song is from their sixth album, Wider Circles (2015).
Below: "Rang Tang Ring Toon" and "AGT" by Moutain Man, an American vocal harmony trio (Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, and Amelia Randall Meath) from the mountains of Vermont. Both songs are from their new album, Magic Ship (2018).
Below: "The Birds' Courting Song," a traditional song performed by the English vocal harmony trio Said the Maiden (Jess Distill, Hannah Elizabeth and Kathy Pilkinton), from Hertfordshire. The song can be found on their debut album, Here's a Health (2017).
Above: "Order and Chaos" by the English vocal harmony trio Lady Maisery (Hannah James, Hazel Askew, and Rowan Rheingans). It's from their third album, Cycle (2016), with animation by Minha Kim.
Below: "Rivers Run" by the great Scottish songwriter Karine Polwart, from her fourth solo album, This Earthly Spell (2008). She's accompanied here by her brother Steven, and my Modern Fairies colleague Inge Thomson.
"Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does."
- Margaret Atwood (The Penelopiad)
Photographs: a favourite place of mine to hide away and write, on the River Dart.
What could be better for Hogmanay -- the Scots word for the last day of the year -- than glorious music from the Band of Burns? The group, directed by Alastair Caplin, consistz of Adam Beattie, Rioghnach Connolly, Ellis Davis, Feilimi Devlin, Miley Kenney, John Langan, Ewan MacDonald, Lewis Murray, Dave Tunstall, Dila Vardar, and Chagford's own Dominie Hooper. These songs come Live from Union Chapel, a recording of a concert dedicated to the life and work of Robert Burns (1759-1796) last year.
The song above is ""Now Westlin Winds." Below, "Banks o'Doon."
Above: "John Anderson, My Jo."
Below: "One Hundred Years."
And to end: "Green Grow the Rushes."
As we cross the enchanted liminal space between the old year and the new, Tilly the Grumpy Reindeer and I wish you safe crossing, and much joy ahead. I'll be back in the office and studio on January 2nd.
Above: "Only Ghosts" by Pine the Pilcrow (Kevin Murray, Hannah Ryan, Shay Sweeney, Robert Campbell), from Dublin, Ireland. The song appears on their new EP of the same name. The video was filmed by Donal Moloney.
Below: "Dahlia" by Pine the Pilcrow, also from their new EP. The video was filmed by Freida Freyta.
Above: "The Curse" by Danish singer/songwriter Agnes Obel (based in Berlin), accompanied by Anna Müller and Mika Posen on cello and viola. The song appeared on her second album, Aventine (2013).
Below: Obel's rendition of "Katie Cruel," an American folk song of Scottish origin. The recording comes from her first album, Philharmonics (2010).
Above: a cover of Destiny Child's "Say My Name" performed by Icelandic pianist/composer Ólafur Arnalds at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow -- accompanied by Arnór Dan and Douglas Dare (vocals), Björk Óskarsdóttir (violin), and Hallgrímur Jensson (cello).
Below: a cover of Joni Mitchell's "River," performed by fellow Canadian singer/songwriter Sarah McLachlan. The song appeared on Mitchell's Blue in 1971, and on McLachlan's Wintersong in 2006.
Below: "My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose," performed by Clarke & Walker, from the poem of that name by Robert Burns. The song can be found on their second album, Fire & Fortune (2013).
Above: "The Road Not Taken" by Salt House (Lauren MacColl, Jenny Sturgeon, and Ewan MacPherson), a trio of musicians based in Scotland. The song is based, of course, on the poem of the same name by Robert Frost. It appears on their new album, Undersong (2018).
Below: "Love Gathers All" by Fara (Jennifer Austin, Kristan Harvey, Jeana Leslie and Catriona Price), from the Orkney Islends of Scotland. The song was adapted from the poetry of Orcadian writer Edwin Muir, and appears on the group's new Times from Times Fall (2018).
Above: "The Art of Forgetting" a poetic new piece by Kyle Carey, a singer/songwriter exploring the edgelands between Gaelic and American folk music. It's from her new album of the same name, which has just been released.
Below: Robbie Robertson's "Across the Great Divide" performed by Kyle Carey with Gillebride MacMillan, a Scottish singer from the Hebrides. The backing musicians are Mhairi Hall, Ewen MacPherson, Elias Alexander, and Fiona MacKaskill.
And to end, as we started, with Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker:
"A Pauper and a Poet," written by Clarke & Walker, from their album Fire & Fortune.
The photographs above are by James Ravillious (1939-1999), known for his wonderful pictures of 20th century farming life here in Devon.
I'll be out of the office on Monday, but rather than leave you without music to start the week, I've set this post up in advance....
In the video above, the lovely Sam Lee performs a trio of gypsy songs accompanied by Flora Curzon (fiddle), Josh Green (percussion), and Jon Whitten (ukulele). The songs are "Over Yonders Hill" (collected here in the West Country), "Lovely Molly," and "Goodbye My Darling."
Sam is a wildly innovative folk singer and song collector who learned his vocal style from the UK's Travelling community. He talks about the genesis of the songs above -- but if you'd like to learn more about them, and about his apprenticeship with Scottish Traveller balladeer Stanley Robertson, watch "Ballad Lands," a short flm on the subject shot in Aberdeen.
In the video below, filmed by Lucy Kaye, he brings his recording of the Napoleonic ballad "Bonny Bunch of Roses" back to woman he learned it from, the great Traveller singer Freda Black. For more information on the Tradition Bearers who have carried these songs, stories, and folkways to the present day, I recommend the Song Collectors Collective website, which is a wonderful resource.
The photograph above is "Traveller and Dog" by Matt Bigwood, the portrait of a young Traveller on his way home from the Stow on the Wold Horse Fair. The photograph below is "Writer and Dog" by my husband, taken this summer here on Dartmoor. I hope to be back in the office/studio tomorrow, health permitting.
All rights to the music and photographs above reserved by the musicians and photographers.
Above: "Trouble and Woe" by singer/songwriter Ruth Moody, from Winnipeg, Canada. The song appeared on her third solo album, These Wilder Things (2013).
Below: "Wayfarin' Stranger," an old American gospel song performed by the Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra, from Oslo, Norway. The song was released as a single last year. The vocalist is Rebekka Nilsson.
Above: "Last Kind Words," written by the great southern blues musician Geeshie Wiley (1908-1950) and sung by the equally great Rhiannon Giddens, from North Carolina. This performance was filmed for APrairie Home Companion in 2015.
Below: "A Day For The Hunter, A Day For The Prey" by Leyla McCalla, a Haitian-American singer/songwriter based in New Orleans. It appears on her album of the same name, released last year.
Above: "No Hard Feelings" by The Avett Brothers (Scott and Seth Avett, with Bob Crawford on bass and Joe Kwon on cello), from North Carolina. The song appeared on the band's ninth studio album, True Sadness (2016). This performance was filmed for A Prairie Home Companion in 2017. The fiddler is Tania Elizabeth.
Below: "San Luis" by singer/songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov. The song is from his new album, Evening Machines, recorded on his farm near Boulder, Colorado. The video was shot in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado by conservation photographer Andy Mann, with filmmakers Keith Ladzinski and Chris Alstrin.
This week I'm focused on Child Ballads: on old, old songs performed in new ways, along with a couple of other good pieces rooted in traditional folkways.
Above: "The Fair Flower of Northumberland" (Child Ballad #9) performed by Scottish musician Alasdair Roberts, with Amble Skuse and David McGuinness. The song appears on their strange and remarkable new album, What News. The video, filmed at the University of Glasgow, features performance artist Sgàire Wood.
Below: "Cruel Mother" (Child Ballad #20) performed by Scottish singer and cellist Fiona Hunter. The song is from her first solo album, Fiona Hunter (2014), with animation by Gavin C. Robinson.
Above: "Abbots Bromley Horn Dance" performed by Stick in the Wheel, from East London. The video, containing archival footage from Abbots Bromley, was directed by Ian Carter, with animation by Teresa Elizabeth Lobos. To learn more about the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance go here. To read about deer in folk ritual and myth, go here and here.
Below: "Over Again" performed by Stick in the Wheel.
Both songs are from their terrific new album, Follow Them True.
Above: "Willie's Lady" (Child Ballad #6) performed by the English folk trio Lady Maisery (Hannah James, Hazel Askew, Rowan Rheingans). It's from their lovely first album, Weave & Spin (2011).
Below: "The Elfin Knight" (Child Ballad #2) performed by folk legend Norma Waterson, her daughter Eliza Carthy, and the Gift Band. It's from their new album, Anchor, which I highly recommend.
Oh heck, here's one more:
"Matty Groves" (Child Ballad 81) performed by the French/American band Moriarty. The song travelled to the New World with early Anglo/Scots settlers, becoming part of the North American traditional songbook too.
This week, with Halloween and the Days of the Dead just ahead of us, I've chosen songs of ghosts, revenants, and the shadowed border between life and death....
Above: "Imagination: There Was Once a Man..." by Aiden O'Rourke (co-founder of Lau), who explains:
"It all began with short stories. James Robertson, one of my favourite Scottish authors, wrote a short story every day for a year, and each story had exactly 365 words. I loved reading those stories: a daily dose of poetry and wisdom. And I loved the writing. The language is emotional, concise, apposite. Somehow the words and the pacing of the stories felt musical. I was intrigued by the discipline of setting such a quantifiable daily creative ritual. Would the same be possible in music? In 2016, I decided I would take on a similar writing challenge each day for a year. I told James and he replied, 'Don't do it!' then suggested I give it a month and see if it drove me mad. By 2017, I had 365 new tunes, each one linked to a story from James' collection. There's no doubt the tunes are based in Scottish folk music; that's my backbone, the place I come from, the traditional language I love. There's a parallel with James here, too, because he loves old Scots words and tales."
O'Rourke's story-music appears on the album 365: Volume I, released earlier this year, with a second volume forthcoming. In the video above, he's accompanied by keyboard player Kit Downes; and by James Robertson himself, reading the uncanny tale that inspired the tune.
Below: "Fair Margaret & Sweet William" (Child Ballad #74), an old, old song of love and ghosts performed by the great English folksinger June Tabor. The ballad appears on her excellent album An Echo of Hooves (2003).
Above: "I Am Stretched on Your Grave," based on the 17th century Irish poem "Táim sínte ar do thuama," beautifully sung by Dominie Hooper from Band of Burns. Dominie grew up here in Chagford, dazzling us all with the power of her voice since she was young.
Below: "Wife of Usher's Well" (Child Ballad #79), performed by Scottish singer/songwriter Karine Polwart. In this song, a mother longs for her three dead sons to return to her...but when they do, they come as revenants, still bound to the land of death. The ballad is rich in folk traditions about what the newly dead may and may not do, and how the living may safely interact with them. Polwart first recorded it for her marvelous collection of ballads Fairiest Floo'er (2007), but this fine version appeared a year later on the expanded edition of This Earthly Spell.
Above: "Death and the Lady," performed by folk legends Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy, from the north of England. Norma introduces the song, explaining its history and connection to the Black Death.
Below: "The Ballad of George Collins" (Child Ballad #42), a traditional song performed in an extravagantly untraditional way by the brilliant young folksinger Sam Lee, who is based in London. The Penguin Book of British Folk Songs explains:
"The plot of 'George Collins' has its secrets. From an examination of a number of variants, the full story becomes clearer. The girl by the stream is a water-fairy. The young man has been in the habit of visiting her. He is about to marry a mortal, and the fairy takes her revenge with a poisoned kiss."
In this variant of the ballad, the young man has been promiscuous with his favors and five other young women, in addition to his lover Fair Ellender, die from kissing his poisoned lips.
Above: "Kitty Jay" by Seth Lakeman, a song from his 2004 album of the same name, performed in New York earlier this year. Seth, who lives here on Dartmoor, draws much of his song-writing material from local history and lore. Kitty Jay (as the legend goes) was a poor young woman who worked on a remote farm in the late 18th century. Impregnated and betrayed by her master's son, she resolved to take her own life, and for this sin she was buried in unhallowed ground at the Manaton crossroads.
Kitty Jay's grave, which is not far from our village, is said to be haunted by a shadowy figure wrapped up in a cloak. (Kitty herself? Her remorseful lover?) There are always fresh flowers upon it, although no one is ever seen putting them there.
And to end with, below:
"In a Week," a very dark, yet eerily beautiful song about the process of death, written and performed by Hozier (Andrew Hozier-Byrne). He's accompanied here by Alana Henderson. Both musicians are from Ireland.
The three Dartmoor photographs above: An ancient cross near Crzaywell Pool, and Jay's Grave at the edge of the moor near Manaton. The last photograph, of maiden and fox, is by Alexandra Bochkareva. If you'd like more spooky songs, last year's Halloween tunes are here. For more information on Child Ballads, go here.
As the hills of Devon turn gold and rust, and the leaves start to fall from the oaks of the wood, here are folk songs of harts and foxes, hounds and hares, the hunters and the hunted.
Above: "The Death of the Hart Royal," performed by the English folk trio Faustus (Paul Sartin, Benji Kirkpatrick, and Saul Rose). This unusual ballad of Robin Hood, Lord of the Greenwood, was found in the archives of Somerset folk song collector Ruth Tongue. The band recorded it for their third album, Death and Other Animals (2017), when they were Artists in Residence at Halsway Manor, the National Folk Arts Centre in Somerset's Quantock Hills.
Below, "While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping," a traditional poaching song performed by the great English folk singer June Tabor (in a rare video from 1990), followed by another hunting song from the animal's point of view: "The Hare's Lament" sung by Susan McKeown, an Irish musician based in New York City.
Above: "I am the Fox," written and performed by Nancy Kerr (from London) and James Fagan (from Sydney, Australia). This is my favourite hunting song. You'll soon see why.
Below: "The Fox," a traditional song exuberantly performed by the Celtgrass band We Banjo 3 (Enda Scahill, Fergal Scahill, Martin Howley, David Howley) from Galway, Ireland. The song appears on the band's second album, Gather the Good (2014), and features Sharon Shannon on accordion. I just love these guys.
Above: "Hares on the Mountain," performed by Radie Peat and Daragh Lynch from Lankum, the anarchic folk-punk band based in Dublin, Ireland.
Below: "Stags Bellow" by Martha Tilston, from her album Machines of Love and Grace (2012). Tilston, who lives on the Cornish coast, captures the beauty of our Devon and Cornwall peninsula in the gold autumn light.
For a sequence of five posts about deer in myth, folklore, and poetry, start here. For the folklore of hares and rabbits, go here and here. For the folklore of foxes, go here and here.
The white stag painting above is by American book artist Ruth Sanderson.