It's a quiet, rainy morning here in Devon, I'm back in the studio at last and starting the week with beautiful music from Wales, both old and new....
Above: "Pan O'wn y Gwanwyn" by Alaw (Oli Wilson-Dickson, Dylan Fowler, and Jamie Smith). The song is from their second album, Dead Man's Dance (2017). The video was filmed at Twyn y Gaer hill fort near Abergavenny.
Below" "Breuddwyd y Wrach/Nyth y Gog" by Alaw, performed at Acapela Studio in 2013.
Above: "Cardod" by Gwilym Bowen Rhys, a singer-songwriter from North West Wales. This piece, blending 17th century poetry and 18th century fiddle music, appears on his fine new album, Arenig (2019). Also, "Arenig," the title song from the new album, featuring poetry by Euros Bowen (Rhys' great-uncle) about the Arenig mountains of Snowdonia.
Below: "Dig Me a Hole" by Gwyneth Glyn, a singer, poet, and playright from Eifionydd on the Llŷn Peninsula. The song appears on Glyn's solo album Tro (2017).
Above: "The Cliffs" by Isembards Wheel, a folk band based in Cardiff. The song is from their EP Autumn In Eden (2016).
Below: "The Fisherman" by The Gentle Good (singer-songwriter Gareth Bonello) from Cardiff -- with Callum Duggan on double bass and Jennifer Gallichan on vocals. It appears on Bonello's fourth album, Ruins/Adfeilion (2016).
The imagery today is by one of my favourite artists (and favourite people), Clive Hicks-Jenkins, who was born in south Wales, and now lives on the Welsh coast near Aberystwyth. After a distinguished career as a director, performer, choreographer and puppeteer for stage, film, and television, Clive turned to making art in a wide variety of forms, including painting, drawing, printmaking, ceramics, maquettes, animation, and artist’s books. His work -- inspired by myth, Romance, folklore, poetry, Biblical stories, and the history and landscape of Wales -- can now be found in museums, galleries, libraries, and private collections the world over.
As his biography notes: "In 2016 Random Spectacular published Hicks-Jenkins' dark reworking of Hansel & Gretel into a picture book; and the following year Benjamin Pollock's Toyshop in Covent Garden commissioned a Hansel & Gretel toy theatre kit based on it. In response to the two publications, Goldfield Productions engaged the artist, to direct and design a new version of the fairytale, with music by Matthew Kaner and a libretto by the poet Simon Armitage. Performed by a chamber consort, a narrator/singer and two puppeteers, it premiered at the Cheltenham Music Festival in July 2018, earning a four-star review from The Guardian before beginning a five month tour of music festivals. The London premiere at Barbican was recorded by BBC Radio 3 for broadcast in December 2018. Hansel & Gretel was the second collaboration between the artist and poet, coming on the heels of Faber & Faber publishing Armitage’s revision of his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, illustrated throughout with the fourteen screenprints Hicks-Jenkins made in collaboration with Penfold Press."
To see more of Clive's absolutely gorgeous work, please visit his website and art blog.
Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, and so I'm looking at songs of soldiers and the march to war. May we remember the stark lessons of the past.
"War is what happens when language fails." - Margaret Atwood
Above: "Solider, Soldier" performed by The Witches of Elswick (Becky Stockwell, Gillian Tolfrey, Bryony Griffith, and Fay Hield), from their debut album Out of Bed (2003). The lyrics are from a poem by Rudyard Kipling; the music is by Peter Bellamy.
"Crow on the Cradle" peformed by Lady Maisery (Hazel Askew, Hannah James, and Rowan Rheingans), from their second album Mayday (2013). The lyrics are attributed to Sydney Carter, adapted from an old folk song.
Above: "High Germany" performed by Tell Tale Tusk (Fiona Fey, Laura Inskip, Reyhan Yusuf, and Anna Lowenstein) at Sofar London, 2017.
Below: "Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier" performed by Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, from her album Foxglove & Fuschia (2017)
Above: "The Gamekeeper" by Show of Hands (Steve Knightley, Phil Beer, and Miranda Sykes), from here in Devon. This very beautiful song, about a Dartmoor gamekeeper sent to the trenches of World War I, appears on their album Centenary (2016).
Below: "Cable Street" by The Young'uns (Sean Cooney, David Eagle, and Michael Hughes), from their album The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff (2019). It's a song about our elders' great fight against facism, here in England as well as on the continent. How disheartening that we must do it again....
And one more song to end with, above: The Young'uns sing Billy Bragg's "Between the Wars" at the Folk Alliance International Conference, 2015.
Trouble times, says Toni Morrison, are "precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal."
Many of our friends and colleagues in the fantasy publishing field have been in Dublin over the last several days for the World SFF Convention, and so music and poetry from Ireland seems an appropriate way to start off the week. All the videos here were shot by filmmaker Myles O'Reilly, who specializes in documenting the work of Irish musicians at home and abroad. I love his work, which beautifully captures this moment in time in the Irish music scene.
Above: O'Reilly's short film Backwards to Go Forwards (2019), which he describes as "a little snapshot" of contemporary Irish folk music. The film features This is How we Fly, Cormac Begley, Saileog & Muireann Ní Cheannabháin, Radie Peat, Cormac Mac Diarmada & Brian Flanagan, Ye Vagabonds, Slow Moving Clouds, The Bonny Men, Zoe Conway and John McIntyre, along with interviews conducted by O'Reilly, Martin Mackie, and Donal Dineen.
Below: "Rí Rua" by This is How We Fly, fusing traditional music of Ireland and Sweden with jazz improvisation and clog dancing. The performance was filmed at Fumbally Stables in Dublin, 2017.
Above: "I Courted a Wee Girl" performed by Ye Vagabonds (brothers Brían and Diarmuid Mac Gloinn), who grew up in rural Carlow but are now based in Dublin.
"In the summer of 2018," says O'Reilly, "I was invited to document a tour with Ye Vagabonds who were performing on six islands off the coast of Ireland. The result is Seven Songs On Six Islands, a musical and visual odyssey through some of the most remote and beautiful edges of the country." The full film can be viewed O'Reilly's Patreon page, where, if you make a pledge, your funds will help him to make one similar music documentary per month.
Below: "Willie O Winsbury" (Child Ballad #100) performed by Ye Vagabonds in Dublin, 2014.
Above: "Factory Girl" performed by two stalwarts of Irish music: Lisa O'Neill (from Cavan) and Radie Peat (of the band Lankum, from Dublin). The video was filmed for O'Reilly's This Ain't No Disco series showcasing Irish music and spoken word.
Below: "Morning," a gentle song by the folk duo LemonCello (Laura Quirke and Claire Kinsella), who started performing together at university in County Kildare. Cello, harmonies, scones, adorable dogs...there's a lot to like here.
And one more to end with: "iomramh" by Dublin poet and playwright Stephen James Smith, filmed for the Ain't No Disco series. "The poem," says Smith, "was written at Cill Rialaig in County Kerry. An iomramh is a class of old Irish tale concerning a hero’s sea journey to the otherworld. Each of these journeys ostensibly takes place in the physical world, but in parallel with this they are, on a deeper level, also journeys to oneself."
This week, I am feeling the need for quiet, focus, and to find my creative centre again -- so I'm turning to the music of the great Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, for whom a love of simplicity and silence inspired the musical style he calls tintinabulli.
"On the one hand, silence is like fertile soil, which, as it were, awaits our creative act, our seed," the composer explains. "On the other hand, silence must be approached with a feeling of awe. And when we speak about silence, we must keep in mind that it has two different wings, so to speak. Silence can be both that which is outside of us and that which is inside a person. The silence of our soul, which isn't even affected by external distractions, is actually more crucial but more difficult to achieve."
Above, Pärt's exquisite "Spiegel im spiegel," performed by Sally Maer (cello) and Sally Whitwell (piano), accompanied by the very beautiful art of American painter Jeanie Tomanek.
Below, Pärt's "Summa," performed by The Carducci Quartet: Matthew Denton (violin), Michelle Fleming (violin), Eoin Schmidt-Martin (viola), and Emma Denton (cello).
"Is it possible to make a living by simply watching light?" asks American writer Terry Tempest Williams. "Monet did. Vermeer did. I believe Vincent did too. They painted light in order to witness the dance between revelation and concealment, exposure and darkness. Perhaps this is what I desire most, to sit and watch the shifting shadows cross the cliff face of sandstone or simply to walk parallel with a path of liquid light called the Colorado River....This living would include becoming a caretaker of silence, a connoisseur of stillness, a listener of wind where each dialect is not only heard but understood."
For more Arvo Pärt this morning, I recommend Even if I Lose Everything, a short film on the composer by Dorian Supine. The art above is: "Wingspan" and "Wild Country" by Jeanie Tomanek. The Terry Tempest Williams quote is from her excellent essay collection Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert (Pantheon, 2001).
I periodically turn to Child Ballads for our "Monday Tunes," not only because I love them, but because they are full of stories that have also inspired other forms of mythic art, from fantasy novels to poetry and comics. The songs I've chosen to play today are ones that haven't yet been featured on Myth & Moor, but of course there are many, many others. If you'd like further recommendations, go here for previous ballad-related posts.
Above: "Orfeo" (Child Ballad #19) performed by the Scottish folk band Malinky, based in Edinburg. The song is from their lovely new album Handsel (2019).
Below: "The Forester" (Child Ballad #110), performed by Malinky, also from the new album.
Above: "Lady Diamond" (Child Ballad #269) performed by Scottish singer and harpist Rachel Newton. The song appeared on her solo album The Shadow Side (2012).
Below: "Edward" (Child Ballad #13) performed by the Scottish folk band Old Blind Dogs, from Aberdeen. The song appeared on their seventh album, The World's Room (1999).
Above: "The Gardener" (Child Ballad #219) performed by the great English folk singer June Tabor. The song appeared on her solo album A Quiet Eye (2000).
Below: "The Cruel Mother" (Child Ballad #20) performed by Scottish singer Fiona Hunter (from Malinky). The song appeared on her first solo album Fiona Hunter (2014).
Above: The Dowie Dens of Yarrow" (Child Ballad #214) performed by Scottish singer/songwriter Karine Polwart, based in Edinburgh. The song appeared on her third solo album Fairest Floo'er (2007).
Below: "Lord Baker" (Child Ballad #53) performed by Susan McKeown, a Dublin-born singer based in New York City. The song appeared on her solo album Lowlands (200).
Art: Illustrations for Sir Orfeo (a Middle English narrative poem related to the ballad "King Orfeo") and Thorn Rose by British book artist Errol le Cain (1941-1989).
This week, music from Scottish singer/songwriter Karine Polwart -- beginning with three songs from her "Tiny Desk Concert" at the National Public Radio offices in Washington DC, accompanied by guitarist Steven Polwart (Karine's brother) and multi-instrumentalist Inge Thomson (one of my lovely colleagues from theModern Fairies project).
As NPR explains: "Polwart writes songs about hope, music that harnesses spiritual power and lyrics that address important social justice themes. Stories of human emotion and the human experience are also commonplace as in the first tune, 'Ophelia.' Her second song, 'I Burn But I Am Not Consumed,' includes a mesmerizing spoken word denunciation of President Donald Trump, while the closing tune, 'King of Birds,' praises the power of small things. In it Polwart recounts the legend of a wren who piggybacks a lift on an eagle's wing. Just as the large bird is unable to fly any higher in the sky, the tiny wren catches a breath of air, soars higher than the eagle and is crowned the king of all birds."
Below: A new rendition of Big Country's "Chance," from her latest album, Karine Polwart's Scottish Songbook, featuring re-imagined songs drawn from fifty years of Scottish pop music.
Above: "All of a Summer's Evening," a song from her stunning album and stage show A Pocket of Wind Resistance (created with Pippa Murphy) -- a "poetic meditation on midwifery, ecology, sanctuary and solidarity, combining elements of memoir, essay, myth, sound art and song." The gorgeous video was made by another colleague of mine from the Modern Fairies project: singer, songwriter, artist and animator Marry Waterson.
Above: "Lark in the Clear Air," also from A Pocket of Wind Resistance.
The art in this post is by Scottish photographerLaurence Winram, based in Edinburgh.
It's early morning, quiet and misty, the sun rising slowly above the moor, and I've been playing the music of guitar virtuoso Ben Walker and friends to greet the day...
Above: "Silverline," written and sung by Josienne Clarke, backed up by Walker on guitar. The song appears on the duo's third album, Nothing Can Bring Back the Sun (2014).
Below: "John Riley," a traditional ballad performed by Clarke & Walker on their first album, The Seas Are Deep (2011).
Above: "When a Knight Won His Spurs," an early 20th century children's hymn adapted to a folk melody by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The song appeared on Clarke & Walker's second album, Fire & Fortune (2013).
Below: "Nurses' Song" by Ben Walker (with singer Kitty Macfarlane), from his gorgeous new solo album, Echo (2019). The piece is based on two poems from Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake.
Above: "How Stands the Glass Around" by Walker (with singer Jinnwoo). This one is a new arrangement of an 18th century soldiers' drinking song.
Below: "Let Me in at the Door" by Walker (with singer Hazel Askew) -- based on a 19th century poem, "The Witch," by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge.
Above: "Lachrimaie Pavane," the lute music of John Dowland, played on a Gibson ES-175.
Below: Walker & Clarke perform "The Banks of the Sweet Primrose" at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
The Lost Words, a magnificent book created by Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane, began "as a response to the removal of everyday nature words from a widely used children’s dictionary, but then grew to become a much broader protest at the loss of the natural world around us." This beautiful volume contains twenty of Robert's poems/chants/spells entwined with Jackie's paintings of larks, acorns, otters and other wild things, conjuring the names of common animals and plants back into our language.
In the Waterstones interview above, Robert talks about the magical power of words, and of a collaborative process not only between writer and artist but also with the land itself.
Below, Jackie summons otters from a blank white page while reciting Robert's words. The video was filmed in her studio on the wild coast of Wales.
Spell Songs is a companion project in which eight fine folk musicians (Karine Polwart, Julie Fowlis, Seckou Keita, Kris Drever, Kerry Andrew, Rachel Newton, Beth Porter, and Jim Molyneux) were invited to create new songs inspired by TheLost Words. The project began with a residency in the Herefordshire countryside in January; the songs were taken on tour in February; and the music is now being released as an album, followed by more performances -- including the BBC Proms.
Above: The Snow Hare, from Spell Songs. "The mountain hare, or snow hare, the only truly Arctic animal of Scotland, is under threat due to rapid ecological shifts. A creature that has evolved winter camouflage becomes immensely vulnerable when the snows don’t come as they used to. This song, led by Julie Fowlis and Karine Polwart, speaks to that fragility."
Below: Selkie-Boy. "Tales of the seal people are a big part of Hebridean folklore, especially in North Uist, Julie Fowlis's home island. Her fascination with these stories, of Norse royalty, enchantment, separation and isolation, led Robert to gift her with a new spell, Grey Seal. 'I began the selkie song thinking it was a drowning song,' he says, 'but by the time I'd added the final verses realised it needed to be, like the selkies themselves, neither quite one thing or the other, neither drowning nor dreaming, seal or human, land or sea, elegy or eulogy, and how it was taken would depend on how it swam into the mind of the listener.' "
Above: Charm on, Goldfinch. Beth Porter, who composed this song, was inspired "by her walks in Wigtown along the Martyrs’ Stake, where she often saw goldfinches along the path and in the trees, and by the end to Robert's new Goldfinch Spell, which forms the chorus: Charm on Goldfinch, charm on Heaven help us when all your gold is gone."
Below: My favourite of the songs, The Lost Blessing. "Karine Polwart suggested the idea of a blessing borrowing images and phrases from many of the Lost Words spells (Bluebell, Dandelion, Fern, Heather, Heron, Kingfisher, Lark, Otter, Raven and Starling), as well as from new spells (Goldfinch and Grey Seal). The form is inspired by blessings in Scottish Gaelic, particularly from a beautiful collection of charms and incantations called Carmina Gadelica."
The album can be ordered here. To learn more about the book, go here.