Tunes for a Monday Morning

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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

A mossy stone wall and oak in fog

On a foggy winter's morning on Dartmoor, let's start with appropriately atmospheric music and go from there....

Above: "The Fog," composed and performed by Spiers & Boden (John Spiers on melodica, Jon Boden on fiddle), from their fine new abum Fallow Ground (2021). In addition to the Spiers & Boden albums and their solo work, both musicians were founding members of Bellowhead -- which is reuniting for a one-off tour later this year.

Below: "Reynardine," also from the new album. This one's a traditional English ballad about a dangerous fox shape-shifter, related to the Mr. Fox fairy tale. (See Neil Gaiman's poem "The White Road" for another take on the Reynardine/Mr. Fox/Robber Bridegroom motif, and Anne Louise Avery's brilliant retelling of the trickster tales of Reynard the Fox.)

Above: "The Birth of Robin Hood" (Child Ballad #102), performed by Spiers & Boden on their fifth album, Vagabond (2010).

Below: "Princess Royal" from fiddler Sam Sweeney (with Louis Campbell, Jack Rutter, and my Modern Fairies colleague Ben Nicholls). Sweeney was also a member of Bellowhead, and now performs with the folk trio Leveret. "Princess Royal" appears on his beautiful solo album Unearth Repeat (2020).

Above: "Sheath and Knife" (Child Ballad #16), performed by singer, cellist, fiddler and viola player Rachael McShane with The Cartographers (Matthew Ord and Julian Sutton) on their ballad-filled album When All Is Still (2018). McShane, too, is a Bellowhead alumnus.

Below: "The Molecatcher," a traditional song (with a new melody) from the same album.

And after that winding road of songs we really ought to end with some classic Bellowhead.

Below: "New York Girls," a modern take on an old sea shanty, performed live in 2011. This one goes out to all my women friends and publishing colleagues in NYC. It's a long, long way from there to Dartmoor...but once a New York Girl, always a New York Girl. (And yes, I can dance the polka.)

An early winter's morning on Meldon Hill


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Singing to the seals

On a cold, wet morning during the last week of the year, I am dreaming of the sea. Our travel plans are limited again due to the latest wave of Covid, but music carries me to the coast and I can almost taste the salt...

Above: "Lá Róúil" by the Irish folk duo Zoë Conway and John Mc Intyre, Irish fiddle/bouzouki player Éamon Doorley, and Scottish singer/songwriter Julie Fowlis. The song -- about new days, fresh starts, grief lifted and hope renewed -- was released as a single last year, and will appear on a forthcoming album inspired by Gaelic poetry of Ireland and Scotland.

Below: "Òran an Ròin (The Song of the Seal)" sung by Julie Fowlis, from the Outer Hebrides, backed up by Pepín de Muñalén, Barry Kerr and Rubén Bada. "It's a traditional Gaelic song," she says, "from the voice of the seal people or selkies -- creatures who were said to shed their seal skin and take on the human form at certain times of the year. Creatures who moved between the parallel worlds of sea and land, but never truly belonging to either. I learned this from the singing of the Rev William Matheson of North Uist/Edinburgh."

Above: "The Song of the Seals" performed by Scottish folksinger Jean Redpath (1937-2014), from her 1978 album of the same name. The song, composed in the early 20th century by Harold Boulton & Granville Bantock, is said to have been inspired by a Hebridean chant used to charm seals (and the selkie folk). 

Below: "The Great Selkie of Sule Skerry" (Child Ballad #113), a classic Orcadian song of the seal people performed by the great English folk & jazz singer June Tabor. The song appeared on her solo album Ashore (2011).

Above: "The Mermaid" (Child Ballad #289) performed by Welsh folksinger Julie Murphy for The Mark Radcliffe Folk Sessions (BBC Radio 2, 2015). You'll find a recording of the song on her album Every Bird That Flies (2016).

Below: "Port na bPúcai" performed by Irish folksinger Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, with Billy Mag Fhloinn. This traditional song from the Blasket Islands of Co. Kerry tells the story of a woman "from across the waves" who has been stolen away by the fairies, never to return.

Two creatures of the sea

One more, below: "Fear a' Bhàta (The Boatman)," a Scots Gaelic song from the late 18th century, recorded by Irish folksinger Niamh Parsons. It was written by Sìne NicFhionnlaigh, from the Isle of Lewis, about her passion for a fisherman from Uig. It's a tragic song about love betrayed...but in real life all ended happily and NicFhionnlaigh married her boatman.

Shape-shifter on the south Devon coast

Pictures: The seal-hound and me on the south Devon coast this autumn.


Tunes for the Winter Holidays

The Snow Maiden by Edmund Dulac

There are a lot of good folk albums for the winter holidays (Kate Rusby's Sweet Bells, Emily Smith's Songs for Christmas, Steeleye Span's Winter and Loreena McKennitt's To Drive the Cold Winter Away are all favourites in our house) but for me one CD tops them all: Awake Arise: A Winter Album by Lady Maisery with Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith -- a wonderful blend of music and spoken word, and of Christian and pagan folklore. 

"Winter is our quietest season," they write. "The winds, the frosts and the raw cold carry echoes of the year that has passed and encourage us to withdraw: to accept the dark and reflect. Our journeys through this time of year are accompanied by a shared imagining of winters past: an ancestral memory of snowy lanes and blazing hearths: of bright winter berries and festive celebrations. These dreams of winter, whether experienced or imagined, anchor us in the season and draw us close together, but they also offer a sense of renewal, encouraging us to look anew towards the rising of spring.

"Awake Arise contains songs, readings and poems that sometimes delve into the dark and sometimes evoke the awakening of a coming year. They tell of the stages of winter, of ancient traditions and customs, of finding hope within the gloom, of love and betrayal, of religion and ceremony, and of seeing our own lives mirrored in the rhythms of the season."

Here is a small sampling from this thoroughly magical album....

Above: "Sing We All Merrily," a song originally collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1918 and reworked here by Hannah James.

Below: "Up in the Morning Early,"  traditional song collected by Robert Burns, followed by "The Christmas Road" from Laurie Lee's Village Christmas and Other Notes on the English Year.

The Wind's Tale by Edmund Dulac

Above: "Carol Reading/Shortly Before 8:30 PM," followed by "Hail Smiling Morn," a Yorkshire pub carol to banish darkness.

Below: "Da Day Dawn," a Shetland fiddle tune, traditionally played at first light on Christmas morning, followed by "Like as the Thrus in Winter" by Edmond Holmes (1902).

Above: "The Bear Song" by Rowan Rheingans, who says: "This is a song for the turning of the year; some things will return and some things are lost forever."

Below: "Snow Falls," written by John Tams, "a hopeful song of the turning of the seaons and the certainty that from the darkest times the spring will rise again." As we head into our second Covid winter, songs of hope and certainty are welcome indeed.

Gerda and the Reindeer by Edmund Dulac

The wintery fairy tale art above is "The Snow Maiden," "The Wind's Tale" and "Gerda and the Reindeer (from The Snow Queen)" by Edmund Dulac, 1882-1953. Born in France, he emigrated to England early in the 20th century, becoming one of the finest artists in the Golden Age of Book Illustration.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

''Winter Sunrise'' by Stanley Roy Badmin

Storms have stripped leaves off the trees and the air grows colder by the day; it is safe to say winter is here. There has been no snow in Chagford yet, but on these dark, chill mornings I can almost taste it in the air. Let's start the week with music for the season, full of snow, hail and gusting winds....

Above: "And the Snow Did Lie" by Welsh composer Hilary Tann, performed the international Sirius Quartet (Fung Chern Hwei, Gregor Huebner, Ron Lawrence, Jeremy Harman). Tann's gorgeous multimedia piece is based on André Bergeron’s lithographs for Germaine Guèvremont’s French-Canadian classic, Le Survenant. 

Below: "The Snows They Melt the Soonest," performed by Irish folksinger Cara Dillon (from County Derry). The song was collected in Newcastle by Thomas Doubleday, published in 1821, and popularised in the 20th century folk revival by Anne Briggs, Archie Fisher and Dick Gaughin. Dillon's rendition is from her third album, After the Morning (2006).

Above: "Bird of the Blizzard" by Scottish singer/songwriter Julie Fowlis (from the Hebrides), created for Spell Songs II: Let The Light In (2021). This is the second collaborative album based on The Lost Words and The Lost Spells, two beautiful books on language and nature by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris. Both of the albums and both of the books are highly, highly recommended. I love this new spell song...not least because I was born in the middle of a blizzard.

Below: "The Wild Geese," performed by folksinger and Scottish language advocate Iona Fyfe (from Aberdeenshire). The song is based on an old Scots poem by Violet Jacob, with music by Jim Reid.

Above: "One Star Awake" by English musicians & composers Laura Cannell (from Sussex) and Kate Ellis (from Essex). Based on the traditional Irish song "She Moved Through the Fair," this piece for violin, cello and church organ is from their Winter Rituals EP (2020). The sculpture in the video was created by Rachael Long, Sarah Cannell and Andy Jarrett, experimenting with steel and firewick to create a full-size flaming marsh pony, filmed in Norfolk last December.

Below: "Goodbye England, Covered in Snow" by English singer/songwriter Laura Marling (based in London), performing with the 12 Ensemble at the Royal Albert Hall in  2020. The song can be found on Marling's early album I Speak Because I Can (2010).

The imagery above: "Winter Sunrise" by Stanley Roy Badmin, for Ladybird Books. To see more Ladybird art, visit Helen Day's excellent Ladybird flyaway home website.


Music for a Tuesday morning

Another Night Journey by Jeanie Tomanek

The maginificent HudsonLet's start the week with new releases from Hudson Records, the folk & indie music label co-directed by Andy Bell & Neil McSweeney -- and named after Andy's late dog Hudson, who was truly an excellent fellow. (I got to know Hudson during my year of working with Andy on the Modern Fairies project.)

Above: "The Day We Made a Wood" by the Scottish trio Salt House (Ewan MacPherson, Lauren MacColl, Jenny Sturgeon), with American guitarist Cahalen Morrison. It's from the beautiful new Salt House EP, Working for Zeus.

"Separated by the North Sea during the pandemic," they write, "as a band we were greatly missing the thing we love most: creating music in a room together. In the depths of winter we decided to try writing new songs together on Zoom. It came with it's challenges and distractions: Ewan and Lauren grappling with mediocre broadband in the rural Highlands, Jenny disappearing off camera when she spotted orca out her window in Shetland. But most of all it kept us connected. Still unable to travel far in the spring, we sent our songs on the journey we couldn't physically -- to musicians whose work we greatly admire. Their magic and the mixes of Andy Bell brought these songs to life; songs born out of strange days, a long winter, but ultimately from a complete necessity to create."

Below: "Wood of Dreams" by Salt House, with Norwegian saxophone player Petter Frost Fadnes, from the same EP.

Above: "Fallow Ground," from the new album of the same name by two of England's finest musicians: John Spiers and Jon Boden (founding members of Bellowhead).

Below: "Goddess and Red House," instrumental compositions by Spiers & Boden, from the same album.

Above: "Craigie Hill," an emigration song from Northern Ireland performed by Scottish singer/songwriter Karine Polwart and Scottish pianist Dave Milligan, from their fine new album, Still As Your Sleeping.

Below: "Heaven's Hound" by Polward & Milligan, from the same album.

The art in this post is "Another Night Journey" and "Old Dog's Dream" by American painter Jeanie Tomanek, based near Atlanta. Go here to visit her website, and here to read about her work: "The Path of Breadcrumbs and Stones."  

Old Dog's Dream by Jeanie Tomanek

All rights to the art above reserved by the artist.