Tunes for a Monday Morning

PPiKG 3b

While I've been out of the studio over the last two weeks (due to medical issues again), autumn has come to the hills of Devon and painted the hills in rust and gold. The songs I've chosen today are old favourites evoking the turn of the season: the blackberries in the hedgerows, the leaves underfoot, the coziness of a fire as the nights draw in. As I look out the window, the distant slope of the open moor is covered in mist. Fall leafTilly snores beside me, subdued like the weather, and in the stillness and quiet a new work week begins.....

Above: "Blackberry Lane" by  Emily Mae Winters, who was born in England, raised in Ireland, and is now based in London. The song was performed for the Oak Sessions in the autumn of 2016. It appeared on her album Siren Serenade the following year.

Below: John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads" sung by the American vocal trio Mountain Man (Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, and Amelia Randall Meath). The video was filmed for a "Live from the Garden" performance last year.

Above: "Everything Changes" by Rachel Sermanni, from the Highlands of Scotland. The song can be found on her EP Everything Changes (2014).

Below: "Stags Bellow" by Martha Tilston, from Cornwall. The song appeared on her album Machines of Love and Grace (2012).

Above: "Westlin Winds" (with lyrics by Robert Burns) performed by Ben Walker and Kirsty Merryn. I count this song as an "old favourite" because I've long been fond of the classic version by Dick Gaughin (1981) -- but this new rendition, from Walker & Merryn's EP Life and the Land (2021), is also a beauty. 

Below: "Shelter" by Olivia Chaney, who was born in Florence and raised in Oxfordshire. The song appeared on her beautiful album Shelter (2018), and the video was filmed in her family cottage on the North York Moors. This song and the two that follow celebrate the fires that keep us warm through the cold of the year. Here in Devon it's almost cold enough to light the old stove in our own kitchen hearth, which will then stay burning until the spring, the small glowing heart of our house.

Above: "Fire Light" by the Scottish folk trio Salt House (Jenny Sturgen, Ewan McPherson, and Lauren MacColl), recorded remotely (due to Covid restrictions) in Shetland and Inverness-shire last year. The song can be found on their gorgeous third album Huam (2020). With apologies to all the other good folk bands out there, Salt House is my hands-down favourite. (The song-writing! The musicianship! The harmonies!) They've got a new EP coming out in December (on my birthday, serendipitously enough), available for pre-order here from the fabulous Hudson Records.

Below: "Mountain of Gold" by Salt House, also from Huam. This one is more wintery than autumnal, a taste of the cold months approaching. 

Autumn color

The art above is by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939).


Tunes for a Monday Morning

The Star Dress by Arthur Rackham

This week, a collection of Child Ballads: traditional songs compiled by American folklorist Francis James Child (1825-1896) in his influential five-volume text, The English and The English & Scottish Popular BalladsScottish Popular Ballads. Professor Child defined the “popular ballad” as a form of ancient folk poetry, composed anonymously within the oral tradition, bearing the clear stamp of the preliterate peoples of the British Isles. (If you'd like to know more about Child and his work, I've written about him here.)

Little is known for certain about how the oldest ballads would have been performed -- but most likely they were recited, chanted, or sung without instrumentation. Right up to the 20th century ballads were traditionally sung a cappella, though now they are performed in a wide variety of ways. Let's start with one well-rooted in the tradition while also modern and delightfully wacky:

Above: "The Fair Flower of Northumberland" (Child Ballad #9) performed by Alasdair Roberts, Amble Skuse, and David McGuinness. It's from their fine collaborative album What News (2018).

Below: "Hind Horn" (Child Ballad #17) performed by The Furrow Collective (Alasdair Roberts again, with Emily Portman, Rachel Newton, and my Modern Fairies colleague Lucy Farrell), from their wonderful new album At Our Next Meeting (2021).

Above: "Mirk Mirk Is This Midnight Hour" (a variant of "Lass of Loch Royal/Lord Gregory" Child Ballad #76) performed by Scottish musician Karine Polwart. It's from her lovely album of ballads, Fairest Floo'er (2007). 

Below: "Three Ravens" (a variant of "Twa Corbies," Child Ballad #26) performed by Malinky, based in Scotland. It's from their early album Three Ravens (2002), when the members of the band were Karine Polwart, Steve Byrne, Mark Dunlop, and Kit Patterson. 

Above: "Outlandish Knight" (a variant of "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight," Child Ballad #4), performed by English folk musician Kirsty Merryn. It's from her second album, Our Bright Night (2020).

Below: "My Father Built Me a Pretty Tower" (a variant of "The Famous Flower of Serving Men," Child Ballad #106), performed by the English folk duo The Askew Sisters (Emily and Hazel Askew). You'll find it on their latest album Enclosure (2019), a collection of songs about the relationship between people and place. And just in case you don't know already, Delia Sherman wrote a very magical, gender-bending novel based on "The Famous Flower of Serving Men," titled Through a Brazen Mirror. I highly recommend it.

Lying Asleep by Arthur Rackham

The art above is by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939).


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Nocturne by James McNeill Whistler

 

More water songs, fresh and salty....

Above: "Anchor" by singer/songwriter Emily Mae Winters, who was born in England, raised in Ireland, and is now based in London. The song appeared on her album Siren Serenade (2017).

Below: "Great Northern River" performed by  the The Unthanks (sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank), from Northumbria. They first recorded this song by Teeside musician Graeme Miles for their album Songs from the Shipyards (2012). The live version here is from the compilation album Other Voices, Series 11, Volume 1 (2013).

Above: "Queen of Waters" by the Anglo/Australian folk duo Nancy Kerr & James Fagan, performed at the Bath Folk Festival in 2013. The song can be found on their album Twice Reflected Sun (2010).

Below: "Fragile Water," a deeply magical song by Nancy Kerr about transformation, and fluidity, mythological and otherwise. The song appeared on her solo album Instar (2016).

Above: "Lady of the Sea" by Seth Lakeman, who hails from the other side of Dartmoor. This live version was recorded in February 2021 for an online concert celebrating the 15th anniversary of the album Freedom Fields. The backing musicians are unlisted on the video, but I recognised my Modern Fairies colleague Ben Nicholls playing bass for the concert.

Below: "Leave Her Johnny," performed by The Longest Johns, a folk & sea shanty band from Bristol, and their Mass Choir Community Video Project produced during the pandemic lockdown last year. "We originally hoped for 100 submissions for this project," they say. "When almost 500 turned up, we had to rethink our plans. It's so amazing to watch this video and see the faces of people still keeping Folk Music and Sea Shanties alive all around the globe. A huge thank you to everyone who took part, and remember to keep singing!"

Let's take a moment and marvel at the amount and diversity of art that has come out of this long, hard pandemic. The human spirit at its best.

The previous "water songs" post can be found here. The art today is "Nocturne," an etching by James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903).


Tunes for a Monday Morning

The south Devon coast  Sept 2021

I'm back in the studio today, not entirely recovered from a Long Covid relapse but doing a little better (touch wood). I'm taking it day by day at the moment -- which may continue to affect the Myth & Moor posting schedule, so please bear with me.

With Howard off on the Pilgrimage for Nature, I've been thinking a lot about climate change; so let's start the week with some songs about, and for, the world around us....

Above: "The Sadness Of The Sea" by singer/songwriter Martha Tilston, based in Cornwall. The song, she says, "was inspired by how I feel when I see the plastic that washes up on the shores near my home. However, it is also a song of thanks to the beauty of our natural world. " It appears on The Tape, the soundtrack album for Tilston's new film of the same name.

Below: "Half Wild" by singer/songwriter Kitty Macfarlane, from Somerset. She writes: "This song is a reminder that we are made of the same matter and mettle as much of the natural world, governed by the same laws and rhythms. We share the sea's chaotic balance of strength and fragility, and like the breaking waves, it's within our power to either leave a mark or to leave no trace." The song can be found on her album of the same name, released earlier this year.

Above: "Undersong" by Salt House (Jenny Sturgen, Lauren MacColl, and Ewan McPherson), based in Scotland. The song appeared on their gorgeous album Undersong in 2018. Their new album, Huam, is just as good, and I listen to both of them constantly.

Below: "Air and Light," from Jenny Sturgeon's exquisite album The Living Mountain (2020) -- inspired by Nan Shepherd's book of the same name, a classic of Scottish nature writing.

Above: "This Forest," a haunting folk tale of a song by The Rheingans Sisters (Rowan and Anna Rheingans), based in Sheffield. It's from their excellent third album, Bright Field (2018), with animation by Harriet Holman Penney.

Below, because we all need healing, both humankind and the more-than-human world: "Dina Dukhio" by Balladeste (American violinist Preetha Narayanan and British cellist Tara Franks), from their new album Beyond Breath. This one, they say, "is inspired by a raga-based Indian devotional melody from the Sai Lineage, which in essence translates as ‘overcoming sorrow.’ We wanted to explore the idea of ritual and letting go in this film following the experience of the last year and a half."

And here's one more, dedicated to Howard and his companions on the Long Walk to the Climate Change Conference in Glasgow:

"Walking Song" by singer/songwriter Jon Boden, based in Sheffield. It's from his remarkable new album Last Mile Home (2021). You'll find the lyrics here.

The Pilgrims for Nature (photograph by Jolie Booth)

Photographs: The south Devon coast in early September; and the Nature Pilgrims in Oxfordshire last week (the latter picture by Jolie Booth).


Tunes for a Monday Morning: Following a River

They Nested in a Porcelain Bowl by Jackie Morris

Today's music is by Owen Shiers, a musician native to West Wales who creates under the name Cynefin. "The word ‘cynefin’ is swaddled in layers of meaning," Shiers explains. "A Welsh noun with no direct equivalent in English, its origins lie in a farming term used to describe the habitual tracks and trails worn by animals in hillsides. The word has since morphed and deepened to conjure a very personal sense of place, belonging and familiarity."

Shiers is engaged in "a musical mapping project which traces a line from the past to the present -- starting in the Clettwr Valley where I was raised. The result of three years research and work, the project’s aim is to uncover lost voices, melodies and stories, and give a modern voice to Ceredigion’s rich yet fragile cultural heritage. The resulting album, Dilyn Afon/Following A River, presents forgotten and neglected material in a fresh new light. From talking animals and tragic train journeys to the musings of star crossed lovers, farm workers and lonely vagabonds, these songs provide a unique window into the past and to a vibrant oral culture."

Above: "Forgotten Songs of Ceredigion," a lovely little video explaining the project. It was made for a fundraiser in 2018 to help finance the album.

Below: "Cân O Glod I'r Clettwr," the opening song of the finished album, released in 2020. The ballad describes "a life’s journey from birth to death along the banks of the Clettwr River, which starts its journey on the marshland above Talgarreg village and flows into the Teifi near Dolbantau Mill, on the border with Carmarthenshire."

Above: " Y Ddau Farch/Y Bardd A’r Gwcw," two songs with similar lyrical themes of animal communication. The first is a conversation between two stallions; the second is a conversation between a bard and a late returning cuckoo.

Below: "Y Deryn Du." Conversing with birds is a Welsh literary tradition dating from the classical period of Dafydd ap Gwilym, notes Spiers. "Named 'canu llatai' (llatai means love-messenger), such pieces usually involve a love-struck poet sending a bird with messages of love to a sweetheart. What sets this work apart from other llatai songs is that the author has not yet set his heart upon someone; instead the deryn du (a blackbird) acts as an avian dating service, listing all the apparently eligible local women."

Above: "Ffarwel I Aberystwyth," a song conveying the hiraeth (longing) of the sailors as they leave Cardigan Bay, naming the places and people they've left behind. The end section of the track is a fragment from a song, "Hwylio Adre (Sailing Home)," in J. Glyn Davies’s book of Welsh sea songs and shanties. 

Below: the video for "Y Fwyalchen Ddu Bigfelen." This is another song, says Spiers, "which features a conversation with a blackbird. It's debatable, however, if the song can be included in the llatai category since the ‘beloved’ in question is not a woman, but Wales itself. It is, in essence, a song of hiraeth by a boy who has crossed the border into England and is longing for his homeland, embodied in song by the mellifluous calls of the yellow beaked blackbird."

Owen Shiers

The painting above is by artist, author, and magic-weaver Jackie Morris, who lives on the coast of Wales. Please visit her website to see more of her extraordinary work.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Down to the water

Down by the river, down by the shore....

Above: "Rivermouth" by Rising Appalachia (sisters Leah Song and Chloe Smith), who draw inspiration from the folk, bluegrass, and blues of their native Georgia and New Orleans. "We've been working with Mississippi River, Gulf, and Klamath water protectors for years," they say, "and have branched out to form alliance with Waterkeepers around the world working towards preserving drinkable, fishable, swimmable water everywhere. We hope this song and this collaboration with WaterKeeper Alliance will strengthen awareness of water protection efforts worldwide and encourage us all to speak for the wild inside and out."

Below: "The Mississippi Woman" by Maz O'Conner, a singer/songwriter with Irish roots who grew up in the wilds of the English Lake District. The song, a waterside creation story, appeared on O'Conner's early album This Willowed Light (2014).

Above: "Riverside" by Agnes Obel, a Danish singer/songwriter based in Berlin. It appeared on her first album, Philharmonics (2010).

Below: "Swimming the Longest River" by singer/songwriter Olivia Chaney, who was born in Italy and grew up in Oxfordshire. The song appeared on her EP of the same name (2015). Her most recent solo album is Shelter (2018), and it's a beauty.

Above: "Blackwaterside," a traditional song with complicated roots, containing elements from Irish traveller songs, the English ballad "The False Young Man," and 19th century broadside ballads, popularised in the 20th century folk revival by Bert Jansch and Anne Briggs. It's sung here by Irish musician Cara Dillon, who has loved the song since she was young.

Below: "Clyde Water" (Child Ballad #216) performed by American singer/songwriter Anais Mitchell. This dark ballad originated in Scotland -- but it is part of the American folk tradition too, having been carried across the Atlantic by Scottish immigrants. The song appeared on Mitchell's fine album Child Ballads (2013), created with Jefferson Hammer. This performance was filmed for the Live From Here program in 2016.

Abobe: "Blue Heron" by American singer/songwriter and bluegrass musician Sarah Jarosz, performed on the Live from Here program in 2017. The song appeares on her new album The Blue Heron Suite (2021).

Below, to end with: "Rivers Run," an old favourite by Scottish singer/songwriter Karine Polwart, filmed in an improptu backstage performance with Steven Powart and Inge Thomson. The song appeared on her album This Earthly Spell (2008).

My Soul is an Enchanted Boat by Walter Crane

Painting above: "My Soul is an Enchanted Boat" by Walter Crane (1845-1915).