Tunes for a Monday Morning

Selkie by Jackie Morris

Above: "Teif on da Lum" by fiddler and composer Vicky Gray, from the Shetland Islands. The song appears on her debut EP, Atlaness (2021). The video is by Shetland film-maker JJ Jamieson.

Below: "The Grey Selkie of Sule Skerry" (Child Ballad 113), a traditional song of the Orkney and Shetland islands, performed by singer/songwriter Maz O'Conner. The video of seals is not by O'Connor but underscores the song beautifully, filmed by divers off the coast of Coll in the Inner Hebrides, and the Farne Islands of Northumberland. The song itself can be found on O'Conner's second album, This Willowed Light (2014). For previous selkie posts, go here.

Above: "Selkie-boy" by Julie Fowlis, from the Outer Hebrides, based on the words of Robert Macfarlane, the art of Jackie Morris, and the lore of selkies. The piece was created for The Lost Words: Spell Songs (2019), a glorious album and concert series that turned the "spells" found in Jackie & Robert's beautiful book The Lost Words into equally beautiful music. The video was filmed near Jackie's home on the coast of Wales, where she inked the verses of "Selkie-boy" onto stone as a gift to the sea. “When we went in search of seals for the film it was almost as if they knew," she says. "There were many seals in a cave where usually there were only a few. The water was crystal clear, so we could watch them move under water. They seemed almost to welcome us, just sitting beneath the skin of the sea and yes, beckoning us down, to where we belonged. And the colour of the water, the light on it, was a deep green.”

Below: "The Arms of the Ocean" by Gaelic singer/songwriter Rachel Walker, with Alec Dalglish (from Skerryvore). The song was released as a single in 2017. Walker's most recent solo album is Gael (2020), and it's a beauty.

Above: "Charmer" by Salt House (Jenny Sturgeon, Lauren MacColl, Ewan MacPherson), a trio based in Scotland whose music I listen to constantly.  This one is from their gorgeous second album Undersong (2018). The album was made and the video filmed on the Hebridean island of Berensay.

Below: "Caim Chaluim Chille chaoimh (The encompassing of Columba the kindly)" by Julie Fowlis, Éamon Doorley, Zoë Conway, and John McIntyre. The piece "is based on a text from Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica, a multi-volume collection of Gaelic prayers, incantations, charms and songs collected in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland over one hundred years ago. The musicians have also woven into the text some words from a blessing from the Middle-Irish period. Their composition bridges the Sea of Moyle and generations of tradition in a contemporary and layered arrangement using voices, guitar, bouzouki, violin and oboe to commemorate the remarkable Columba -- a man who left an indelible mark on the life, literature and landscape of both Ireland and Scotland. In the video they have made to accompany their composition, the four musicians and singers have invited artist Ellis O’Connor to respond in paint, inspired by the music they have created."

For a previous post on Columba and other "peregrini" of the northern islands go here.

From ''The Seal Children'' by Jackie Morris

The art today is from The Seal Children by Jackie Morris (Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2005, & Otter-Barry Books, revised edition, 2016), which I highly recommend. And speaking of seal and selkie tales, there's been a discussion on Twitter recently on just how good Margo Lanagan's selkie novel The Brides of Rollrock Island is. 

Tunes for a Monday Morning

My Shanty by George O'Keeffe

Yesterday was the 4th of July (Independence Day) in America, so the tunes I've chosen are all from that beautiful, complex, and music-filled country.

Above: "Wayfaring Stranger," an American folk and Gospel classic, performed by the MacArthur-Award-winning musician and music historian Rhiannon Giddens. Giddens comes from North Carolina (where she was a founding member of the bluegrass/roots band Carolina Chocolate Drops), and now works internationally in a number of musical genres. In this performance she's accompanied by Scottish musician Phil Cunningham, filmed in Northern Ireland in 2017.

Below: "Black is the Color," a song found in the North American folk tradition as well as in the British Isles. (We listened to an Irish version here two weeks ago.) Giddens recorded it for first solo album, Tomorrow is My Turn (2015), backed up by her colleagues from Carolina Chocolate Drops and others.

Above: John Hiatt's "Crossing Muddy Water" performed by I'm With Her (Sara Watkins, Aoife O'Donovan, Sarah Jarosz) at the Greyfox Bluegrass Festival in 2019. The trio has released one album so far (See You Around, 2018), but each member has several fine solo albums and recordings with Nickel Creek (Sara Watkins) and Crooked Still (Aoife O'Donovan).

Below: "Boll Weevil," an old Delta blues song performed by singer, fiddler, and banjo player Jake Blount (from Rhode Island), whose work explores the roots of Black and indigenous stringband music. The song appears on Blount's first album, Spider Tales (2020). 

Above: "Send Brighter Days" performed by the great American blues guitarist Eric Bibb (from New York City) -- accompanied by his wife, Ulrika Bibb, at their home in Sweden during the pandemic last summer. The song, with its roots in the American Spiritual tradition, was written by Eric Bibb and Malian griot Habib Koité.

Below: "The Roving Cowboy/Avarguli (阿瓦尔古丽)" performed by composer and musician Wu Fei (from Beijing) and clawhammer banjo master Abigail Washburn (based in Nashville). The song appears on their collaborative album Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn (2020), which merges American old-time music with Chinese folksong to demonstrate the connective power of music across disparate cultures. It's simply stunning.

Above: "There Used To Be Horses" by singer/songwriter Amy Speace (based in Nashville). The song is from her new album of the same name, released earlier this year. 

After that heartbreaker, let's end with: "New Star" by Watchhouse (Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz), a folk/roots duo formerly known as Mandolin Orange. It's from their new album of the same name, due out in August.

Happy Birthday, America.

The painting above is "My Shanty (Lake George)" is by Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986). Although she's now best known for her iconic paintings of New Mexico in the American south-west, O'Keeffe also spent part of each year back east with her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who had an apartment in New York City and a country retreat by Lake George in the Adirondaks. I recommend the updated edition of Georgia O'Keeffe: A Life by Roxana Robinson if you'd like to know more about this remarkable woman.

Tunes for a Monday Morning

St Kevin and the Blackbird by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Above: "Là Luain/The Day That Never Comes" by Rachel Walker (from Skippinish), a singer/songwriter based in the Scottish Highlands. Walker collaborated with Gaelic poet Marcas Mac An Tuairneir on the lyrics, and James Graham provides additional vocals. (Full music and animation credits can be found at the end of the video.) The song appears on her most recent solo album, Gaol (2020), which is a beauty.

Below: "Tìr is Sàl/Land and Sea," another songwriting collaboration between Walker and Mac An Tuairneir. It's a Gaelic waulking song, she explains, "about the ties we have to the land and the way working the land is often a love passed from generation to generation." Walker is accompanied by Aaron Jones (of Old Blind Dogs), filmed in Glasgow last autumn.

Above: "Streets of Forbes," an Australian folk song performed by Varo (Lucie Azconaga and Consuelo Nerea Breschi), a French/Italian duo based in Dublin. The song appears on their first album, Varo (2020), which displays a range of influences from Irish and world folk to medieval, baroque, and classical music. It's gorgeous.

Below: "Sovay," a traditional British folk song, also known as "The Female Highwayman." This one, too, can be found on the duo's debut album.

Above: "Three Ravens" (Child Ballad #26), performed by Hannah James & Toby Kuhn. James, an accomplished English folk musician and dancer, has performed with Lady Maisery, Maddy Prior, Songs of Separation and many others in addition to her solo work. Kuhn, a wandering cellist from Burgandy, has performed with Bipolar Bows, The Wild String Trio, Old Salt and Zamee, among others. The video above was recorded in Gent, Belgium in 2020. 

Below: "The Vine Dance," with music by Toby Kuhn and dancing by Hannah James. It is, they explain, "an original tune written in the Turkish spring under a bougainvillea and recorded in the Slovenian autumn under an apple tree" (2021).

One more, to end with....

Below: "Oblique Jig and Miss Heidi Hendy" by the Anglo/French folk-dance band Topette!! (Andy Cutting, James Delarre, Julien Cartonnet, Tania Buisse, and Barnaby Stradling). The song appeared on their second album, Rhododendron (2019); the video was filmed at the Sidmouth Folk Festival that same year, pre-pandemic. (A limited version of the festival is returning this summer, provided no further lockdowns occur.)

The imagery today is by two artists whose work I love beyond measure: "St Kevin and the Blackbird" by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, based in Wales; and "We Are Bird" by Rima Staines, based here on Dartmoor. 

We Are a Bird by Rima Staines

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Boreas by John William Waterhouse

I'm in the mood for old songs and balladry today, and I hope you are too. But beware, there's dark water ahead. Ballads rarely end happily ever after....

First, two songs of thwarted love from the Anglo-Irish quartet The Haar (Cormac Byrne, Molly Donnery, Murray Grainger, and Adam Summerhayes), whose debut album was released last year. The videos here were recorded this spring, during the latest Covid lockdown.

Above: "Black is the Colour," a traditional song with variants found in the Irish, Scottish, and Appalachian folk traditions.

Below: "Annachie Gordon," Child Ballad #239. (For more information about Francis Child and his influential collection of English & Scottish ballads, go here.)

Above: "The Cruel Brother," Child Ballad #11, performed by the Anglo-Scots folk trio Lau (Kris Drever, Martin Green, and Aidan O'Rourke). This murderous tale appears on their new album Folk Songs (2021).

Can we get any darker? Yes, we can. Below: "Young Johnstone," Child Ballad #88, performed by the great English folksinger June Tabor. The song is from her sixteenth solo album, An Echo of Hooves (2016).

Above: "The Gardener," Child Ballad #219, performed by the English folk trio Lady Maisery (Hazel Askew, Hannah James, and Rowan Rheingans), from their first album, Weave & Spin (2011). "This is a very mysterious dialogue between a gardener and a woman who does not appreciate his flowery propositions," they say. "It's a Child Ballad which Hannah has adapted from a few different versions." 

Below: "King Henry," Child Ballad #32, a wonderful "loathly lady" song performed by Alasdair Roberts, Emily Portman, and Lucy Farrell (of The Furrow Collective). It was was recorded for The Mark Radcliffe Folk Sessions (BBC Radio 2) in 2014.

Above: "The Slighted Lover" performed by Jarlath Henderson, a multi-instrumentalist from Northern Ireland, with Duncan Lyall, Hamish Napier, and Innes Watson. The song is a broadside ballad with a complicated history, going back at least to the 17th century. There's no murder here, but that's not to say love goes smoothly in this ballad either. Hendersen's rendition appeared on Hearts Broken, Heads Turned (2016).

Moving from ruin to madness, below: "Bedlam Boys" (also known as "Mad Tom o' Bedlam), a 17th century song performed by the Anglo-Welsh folk trio The Trials of Cato (Tomos Williams, Robin Jones, and Polly Bolton). It's from their new album, Gog Magog, due out later this year. 

Ophelia by John William Waterhouse

Art above: "Boreas" and "Ophelia" by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917).

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Deer in Ocean Surf by Connie Cooper Edwards


Songs of the morning to start a quiet day at the cusp of summer....

Above: "Lá Róúil" by the Irish folk duo Zoë Conway and John Mc Intyre, with Irish fiddle & bouzouki player Éamon Doorley (of Danú), and Scottish singer & multi-instrumentalist Julie Fowlis. The song appears on their collaborative album Allt (2021), inspired by old and new Gaelic poetry from  Ireland and Scotland. "A great day, great day," they sing, "I'll have a great day. It won't be long till I see you again."

Below: "Lark in the Clear Air" by Scottish singer/songwriter Karine Polwart, based in Edinburgh. It's from her album and stage show A Pocket of Wind Resistance (2017).

Above: "The Lark" by English singer/songwriter Kate Rusby, from Yorkshire, with Nic Jones. The song appeared on two of Rusby's albums: The Girl Who Couldn't Fly (2005) and 20 (2012).

Below: "Lark in the Morning," a traditional song performed by English singer and fiddle player Jackie Oates, from Staffordshire. The song appeared on her second solo album, The Violet Hour (2008).

Above: "Lemady," a traditional song (also known as "Arise and Pick a Posy") performed by the East London folk group Stick in the Wheel and Jack Sharp (of Wolf People). The song appeared on Stick in the Wheel's fourth album, This and the Memory of This (2018).

Below, "Early One Morning," a traditional song performed by English singer/songwriter Jim Moray, based in Bristol. The song appeared on his second album, Sweet England (2003).

Above: "Awake, Awake," a traditional song performed by The Gigspanner Big Band, consisting of the Gigspanner trio (Steeleye Span's Peter Knight, Sacha Trochet, and Peter Flack), plus the Edgelarks duo (Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin), and John Spiers (of Bellowhead). Other good versions of this classic ballad from the British and American folk traditions include "Waking Dreams" from Martin & Eliza Carthy, "Awake, Awake" from Maz O'Connor, and "The Silver Dagger" from Mandolin Orange.

Below: "May Morning Dew," a traditional song performed by Scottish singer Siobhan Miller, filmed in Glasgow last year. The song appears on her most recent album, All Is Not Forgotten (2020).

Woodland lark