Above: "Steppy Downs Road" by English fiddle player and multi-instrumentalist Sam Sweeney, recorded live at Cecil Sharp House in London last year -- accompanied by Jack Rutter and Louis Campbell on guitars, and Ben Nicholls on double bass. Sweeney performs with Bellowhead, Leveret, The Full English, Jon Boden's The Remnant Kings, Fay Hield's The Hurricane Party and other bands in addition to his solo work. This song appears on his second solo album, Unearth Repeat, which I highly recommend.
Below: "The Old Wagon Way" from Unearth Repeat.
Above: "Notland Castle" by the Scots/English folk trio Lau (Kris Drever, Martin Green, and Aidan O'Rourke). The song can be found on their lovely live album Unplugged (2020).
Below: "Riad," also from Unplugged.
Above: "Seven Bonnie Gypsies" performed by Jon Boden & The Remnant Kings, with animation by Marry Waterson. The song is a variant of "Raggle Taggle Gypsies" (sung here by Boden's partner Fay Hield). It appeared on his fine album Rose in June (2019).
Below: "Bee Sting" from Afterglow (2017), performed for the Hudson Sessions in Sheffield that same year. Boden's most recent album is Last Mile Home (2021), and it's simply gorgeous.
Photographs: An Easter walk in a Belstone lane. With sheep.
Above: "Parliament Hill" by Smith & Burrows, from their new album Only Smith & Burrows Is Good Enough. The video, directed by Mat Whitecross, was filmed on Hamstead Heath in London, with puppetry from the Little Angel Theatre (where my husband worked for many years).
Below: "Transatlantic" by Irish-American folk & bluegrass musician Aoife O'Donovan (in Florida) with Scottish folk musician Kris Drever (in Glasgow), accompanied by Euan Burton, Louis Abbot, and Jeremy Kittle (in Glasgow and Brooklyn). The song was commissioned for Grásta, a Covid-pandemic arts project focused on "finding grace in uncertainty," sponsored by the Irish Arts Centre in New York.
Above: "Waterbound" performed by American folk & bluegrass musician Rhiannon Giddens, with Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi, accompanied by Niwel Tsumbu on guitar. It's from Giddens & Turrisi's new album, They're Calling Me Home, due out next month. During a year when so many have been confined to home, or stranded away from home, this traditional American song is particularly poignant.
Below: "I'm a Rover," a traditional Scots/Irish song performed by Ye Vagabonds (brothers Brían and Diarmuid Mac Gloinn), based in Dublin. They released it back in January, with a video filmed in Switzerland.
And one more, below: "Gaol a chruidh, gràdh a chruidh" performed by Staran, a collective of five accomplished musicians (Kim Carnie, John Lowrie, Innes White, James Lindsay, Jack Smedley) exploring Scottish music in traditional and nontraditional ways. Their first album, Staran, is due out in May. "Gaol a chruidh, gràdh a chruidh" (Love of the cattle, darling of the cattle) is a Gaelic milking song from the island of Mingulay in the Outer Hebrides.
"Do not lose hope - what you seek will be found. Trust ghosts. Trust those that you have helped to help you in their turn. Trust dreams. Trust your heart, and trust your story." - Neil Gaiman (from "Instructions")
On a blustery morning in January, here's a parcel of winter songs for you to drive away the wind and cold....
Above: a spoken word introduction to A Winter Miscellany by Ashley Hutchings, with Becky Mills and Blair Dunlop: a wonderful album of winter songs, both old and new (2020). "This album was recorded in Ashley's Derbyshire home, deep in the countryside," explains Mills, "each song recorded between tractors clattering up and down the lane and Ashley looking out of the door shouting 'do it quickly, there’s nothing coming!' "
Below: "Animals Carol" from A Winter Miscellany. "The words," says Mills, "are from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In the Willows, newly set to music which I composed specially for this album. It is a song to remind us to be kinder to our animal friends in the winter months because after all, it was them who were the first to bid Noel all those years ago in the stable."
Above: a short clip from Here We Come a-Wassailing, a programme on winter folk rituals broadcast on the BBC 1977, with music by Ashley Hutchins and The Albion Band.
Below: a wassailing song sung by The Watersons, the great folk music family from Yorkshire. This song was traditionally sung in apple orchards to ensure a good harvest in the new year.
Above: "The Wren, The Wren" performed by Irish singer/songwriter Lisa O’Neill. The Hunting of the Wren is folk tradition "celebrated on St. Stephen's Day (26 December) in a number of countries across Europe. The tradition consists of 'hunting' a fake wren and putting it on top of a decorated pole. Then the crowds of mummers, or strawboys, or wren boys, celebrate the wren by dressing up in masks, straw suits, and colourful motley clothing. They form music bands and parade through towns and villages."
Below: "The King," a traditional wren boy blessing song performed by Lady Maisery (Hazel Askew, Hannah James, Rowan Rheingans), Jimmy Aldridge, and Sid Goldsmith. It's from their absolutely gorgeous winter album, Awake Arise (2019), which I just can't get enough of.
Above: "Hope Is Before Us" from Awake Arise. The song, composed by Hazel Askew, is based on the words of William Morris (from his 1885 collection Chants for Socialists).
Below: "A Winter Charm of Lasting Life" performed by the Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningam (1957-2003) and Irish singer Susan McKeown, accompanied by guitarist Aiden Brennan, on their collaborative album A Winter Talisman (2009).
Above: Steve Ashley's "Fire and Wine," performed by Yorkshire folk duo O’Hooley & Tidow. The song appeared on their fine winter album WinterFolk, Vol. 1 (2019).
Below: Richard Thompson's "We Sing Hallelujah," performed by O'Hooley & Tidow.
Vintage photographs above: a mummer's group, and Irish wren boys. See the International Mummer's Festival page for more on mumming, historic and contemporary.
It's become my tradition to start the new year with music for the piano. It's just what I need during these dark days of winter...and perhaps you do too.
Below: BetweenUs, a new film from Italian pianist & composer Ludovico Einaudi featuring four of his finest pieces -- "Elegy for the Arctic," "Nuvole Bianche," "Experience," and "Walk." Followed by "Divenire," an old favourite performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London (2010).
Below: "Halos" by the glorious Ana Silvera, performed with Bjarke Falgren on viola in Copenhagen (2019). Followed by her exquisite song "I Grew Up in a Room, Small as a Penny," performed at the Roundhouse in London (2018).
Also, have a listen to Silvera's beautiful new composition "Light, Console Me," inspired by The Mourner’s Kaddish during this time of global pandemic. You can read about the piece on Silvera's website, and hear all three movements on Bandcamp.
The final piece, below, is "The Oxford Girl" performed by Olivia Chaney, who grew up in Oxfordshire herself. The song was recorded for Shirley Inspired (2014), an album of Shirley Collins covers by a wide range of musician. Chaney's most recent solo album is Shelter (2018), which I highly recommend.
It's a cold, grey winter's day here in Devon, and I find myself thinking of the northern islands again ... specifically, of Erland Cooper's trilogy of albums inspired by his home in the Orkneys.
Above: the title track from his first Orkney album, Solan Goose (2018), dedicated to the birds of Orkney.
Below: a track from the second album, Sule Skerry (2019), dedicated to sea and shore.
Above: "Peedie Breeks" from the final album of the Orkney Triptych, Hether Blether (2020) -- named after the disappearing island of Orcadian folklore.
Below: "Screevar" from Hether Bletheer.
Above: "Sanday" by singer/songwriter Kris Drever (of Lau), from his beautiful new album Where the World is Thin (2020). Drever grew up in the town of Kirkwall, the Orcadian capital, but his father hails from the island of Sanday in the outer Orkneys.
Below: "Farewell to Fuineray," perfomed by Kris Drever, Liam Ó Maonlaí, Julie Fowlis, and Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh for the TG4 music series Port (2017). "I learned this song from my folks," says Drever. "It's traditionally in Gaelic, but Orkney is not a Gaelic speaking region so we had to rely on Victorian translations to get to the heart of it. I've always loved it."
Above: "A Touring Tale of Ireland," featuring the words and music of Scottish singer/songwriter James Yorkston. The song he performs, titled "Struggle," appears on his forthcoming album, The Wide Wide River (February, 2021). In the little film above, Yorkston reflects on childhood trips to Ireland and the traveling life of a touring musician. It's a poignant subject during this pandemic year, when so many tours have been cancelled, and so many music and drama venues have fallen silent.
Below: "A Day Well Spent," featuring Bernie Pháid and Jefferson Hamer in concert on the Dingle peninsula in western Ireland. Pháid, from Dingle, plays a blend of Irish, Scottish, and American folk music; her most recent album is Síol (2014). Hamer, from Brooklyn, New York, is also drawn to music with transAtlantic roots, ranging from American country and bluegrass to an album of Child Ballads (2013) sung with Anais Mitchell.
Both videos are by Myles O'Reilly, who does wonderful work documenting Ireland's folk music scene. You can see more of his films, and support further endeavours, by joining his Patreon page here.
Above: "Lamentations of Round-Oak Waters" by English singer/songwriter Jim Ghedi, inspired by the poem of that title by John Clare (1793-1864). "The poem and his life were centred around the time of the land enclosure act in England," Ghedi explains, "where common land was enclosed and lower class farmworkers and labourers and their families were forced into poverty." (For more on the devastating history of the enclosures, see this previous post.) The song will appear on Ghedi's new album, In The Furrows Of Common Place, due out in January. The video was filmed in the Hebrides.
Below: "Goose and Common," a 17th century protest song performed by the English folk duo The Askew Sisters. It's from their fine album Enclosure (2019), full of songs examining many forms of enclosure, and our relationship with the land we live on.
Above: "She Took a Gamble" by Scottish singer/songwriter Hannah Read, who grew up in Edinburgh and the Isle of Eigg and is now based in Brooklyn, New York. The song appeared on her album Way Out I'll Wander (2018), featuring Jefferson Hamer and Sarah Jarosz on guitar and backing vocals. The video was shot on Eigg, in the Inner Hebrides.
Below: "Kicks In" by Scottish singer/songwriter (and sheep farmer) Colin Macleod, from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The song appeared on his first album, Bloodlines (2018). His latest, Hold Fast, will be out in January.
And one more to end with, above: "Wild Mountain Time," a Scottish/Irish folk song popularized by Joan Baez, The Corries, and others -- sung by Colin Macleod in a spare and lovely performance recorded at home on Lewis in 2018.
By the way, if you're interested in farming life on remote Scottish islands (as I am), I recommend Catherine Munro's beautiful blog. Catherine is a crofter in the Shetlands, and an anthropologist researching human-animal relationships, landscape and identity.
With so many eyes on America as the aftermath of the election unfolds, let's start the week with a collection of American folk ballads, old and new. The North American ballad tradition grew from the music of immigrant, enslaved, and indigenous peoples, blended into a distinct new form, which still influences bluegrass, folk, gospel, and country music to this day. Like most things in America, the history of the continent's balladry is complex, diverse, and many-faceted -- and all the richer for being a "melting pot" of songs and tunes.
Above: "When First Unto This Country" performed by singer/songwriter Aoife O'Donovan, with Crooked Still. The song appeared on their early album Crooked Still Live (2009), but this version was filmed at a bluegrass festival in 2017.
Below: "Black is the Color" performed by singer/songwriter, banjo player and music historian Rhiannon Giddens (of the Carolina Chocolate Drops). It's from Giddens' solo album Tomorrow is My Turn (2015).
Above: "Come All You Coal Miners / Take Me to Harlan" performed by husband-and-wife banjo masters Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn, with clog-dancing by Washburn and movement work from Pilobolus. The first piece, written by Sarah Ogan Gunning, concerns mining life in the Appalachian region of Kentucky; the second, by Fleck and Washburn, was inspired by the stories of those who left the mountains for urban life.
Below: "Émigré" by singer/songwriter Alela Diane, from her album Cusp (2017)
Above: "Clyde Water," performed by Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer. This song, from the Anglo-Scots tradition, is found in the American ballad songbook too, carried over the ocean by immigrants. It appears on the Mitchell & Hamer album Child Ballads (2013), featuring songs collected by the American ballad historian James Francis Child.
Below: "Thomas County Law" by Iron and Wine (singer/songwriter Sam Beam). The song appeared on his album Beast Epic (2017).
To end with, a couple of Dylan songs influenced by American balladry:
Above: "Boots of Spanish Leather," performed by Mandolin Orange (Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz) for Audiotree Live in 2014.
I've made no secret here of how much I love the music of Salt House, a Scottish folk trio whose last two album (Undersong and Huam) are often heard leaking through my studio door. Now two members of the band have released solo albums: The Living Mountain by Jenny Sturgeon and Landskein by Lauren MacColl. Both contain music rooted in the natural world, and both are exquisite.
Above: "Air & Light" by Jenny Sturgeon, from The Living Mountain. The album contains a cycle of songs inspired by Nan Shepherd's book of the same name: a pioneering work of nature writing set in the Cairngorms of north-east Scotland. Sturgeon explores "her own connection to this Highland area, as well as delving into Nan's philosophy of being in the mountains, and people's connection to the wild. The twelve songs take inspiration from the chapter titles of Nan's book; the lyrics tell of exploration, love, loss, and wonder at the natural world, from small scale mosses and moths to the wider landscape and ecosystem."
Below: "Water," another beautiful song from the same album.
Next, two songs by fiddle and viola player Lauren MacColl, from her haunting new album Landskein -- named for a word that Robert Macfarlane found in use in the Outer Hebrides, meaning: "The weaving and braiding of horizon lines often seen most clearly on hazy days in hill country."
Above: "Air Mullach Beinn Fhuathais (On Top of Ben Wyvis)." The song is from The Airs and melodies peculiar to the Highlands of Scotland and the Isles, collected by Captain Simon Fraser in 1816. The film and artwork above is by Mairearad Green.
Below: "Pentland Hills," inspired by the Pentland range south-west of Edinburgh.
The third member of Salt House is my friend Ewan MacPherson, who has released two solo albums to date -- as well as albums with Shooglenifty, Fribo, RoughCoastAudio and other bands, and work for the Modern Fairies project.
Above: "All the Kings (Scotland's Winter)," an adaptation of a poem by Orcadian poet Edwin Muir. "Scotland's Winter could be perceived on different levels," Ewan says. "The one which stands out for me is a nostalgic lament for better days past in relation to his homeland." The song first appeared on his album Norther in 2008, but this lovely new version was recorded in August.
Below, all three musicians together performing "Union of Crows." It's from the most recent Salt House album, Huam, released earlier this year.
The etching above is "The Rookery" by Eleanor Hughes (1882-1959). Born in New Zealand, she trained in England and is associated with the Newlyn group of artists in Cornwall.
I'm unable to be in the studio today as Howard and I are still helping an elderly relative through a truly difficult situation, and it's taking up a great deal of time. In lieu of a "Monday tunes" post this week, I'm slipping online briefly to pass on this wonderful song discovered via Ellen Kushner.
As we head into a stressful week -- due to the US election, the impending UK lockdown, and rising pandemic numbers around the world -- this is music for the soul.
In the middle of a generally stressful year we've had an incredibly stressful week: supporting an elderly family member through a difficult situation, waiting for another family member's Covid test results (after a housemate tested positive for the virus), while also waiting for tests to tell us whether the scary lump on Tilly's leg was cancer or not. I can usually stay calm in a storm (I've weathered enough of them by now), but I admit that by week's end I was shaking with exhaustion and jumping at my own shadow. I'm greatly relieved to be able to report that the Covid test was Negative, and Tilly's lump is benign; so now we can focus on resolving the first problem, and getting back to normal life, or what passes for normal life in a global pandemic.
For me, that means not only re-finding calm and quiet but also simple pleasures and moments of joy. One of the things that gave me joy, pre-pandemic, was going to weekly lindy-hop lessons (when health allowed), and monthly swing dances in Exeter -- where a variety of Big Bands played, and people of all ages danced the night away, many of them dressed in clothes of the early swing & jive era: the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. All of that stopped when Covid hit, but Howard and I are keeping up our lindy-hop practice with regular sessions of dancing in the kitchen (the one room with a wooden floor and no rug). The moment I hear swing music playing, my spirits start to lift.
Today's music goes out to fellow dancers, and to everyone else who could use a lift too....
Above: "Bring Me Sunshine" performed by The Jive Aces, a popular jive & swing band here in the UK. Yes, swing started in America, but it was brought over to England by American GIs during World War II and has spread all around the world. The dancing in this video, with its athletic lifts and aerials, is a mix of jive and swing.
Below: "Bright Lights Late Nights" performed by The Speakeasies' Swing Band, from Thessaloníki, Greece, with classic lindy-hop dance moves. This is the style of swing dancing that goes on in our kitchen.
Above: "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen," a favourite song of mine from The Hot Sardines of New York City. You don't have to learn swing (or tap) dancing to enjoy the music....
Below: "Healing Dance" by Swingrowers, an electro-swing band from Palermo, Italy, with Sicilian rapper Davide Shorty.
Above: "Dramophone" by Caravan Palace, an electro-swing band from Paris. Electro-swing often involves more individual dancing than couple dancing, but incorporates many classic swing, jazz, and Charleston moves.
Below, ending as we started with The Jive Aces...and a pair of terrific lindy-hoppers. You're never too old to dance.
Oh heck, here's one more:
"Diga Diga Doo" by Skeedaddle, a swing & gypsy jazz band here in Devon. The violinist is Howard's cousin, Becky Doe; and the bass player is our friend and Chagford neighbour Tim Heming. They're a great band to dance to!