Tunes for a Monday Morning: trouble & woe

Saco By by Winslow Homer

Above: "Trouble and Woe" by singer/songwriter Ruth Moody, from Winnipeg, Canada. The song appeared on her third solo album, These Wilder Things (2013).

Below: "Wayfarin' Stranger," an old American gospel song performed by the Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra, from Oslo, Norway. The song was released as a single last year. The vocalist is Rebekka Nilsson.

Above: "Last Kind Words," written by the great southern blues musician Geeshie Wiley (1908-1950) and sung by the equally great Rhiannon Giddens, from North Carolina. This performance was filmed for A Prairie Home Companion in 2015.

Below: "A Day For The Hunter, A Day For The Prey" by Leyla McCalla, a Haitian-American singer/songwriter based in New Orleans. It appears on her album of the same name, released last year.

Above: "No Hard Feelings" by The Avett Brothers (Scott and Seth Avett, with Bob Crawford on bass and Joe Kwon on cello), from North Carolina. The song appeared on the band's ninth studio album, True Sadness (2016). This performance was filmed for A Prairie Home Companion in 2017. The fiddler is Tania Elizabeth.

Below: "San Luis" by singer/songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov. The song is from his new album, Evening Machines, recorded on his farm near Boulder, Colorado. The video was shot in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado by conservation photographer Andy Mann, with filmmakers Keith Ladzinski and Chris Alstrin.

Moonlight by Winslow Homer

The art today is by American painter Winslow Homer (1836-1910).


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Deer sketch by Daniel Egneus

This week I'm focused on Child Ballads: on old, old songs performed in new ways, along with a couple of other good pieces rooted in traditional folkways.

Above: "The Fair Flower of Northumberland" (Child Ballad #9) performed by Scottish musician Alasdair Roberts, with Amble Skuse and David McGuinness. The song appears on their strange and remarkable new album, What News. The video, filmed at the University of Glasgow, features performance artist Sgàire Wood.

Below: "Cruel Mother" (Child Ballad #20) performed by Scottish singer and cellist Fiona Hunter. The song is from her first solo album, Fiona Hunter (2014), with animation by Gavin C. Robinson.

Above: "Abbots Bromley Horn Dance" performed by Stick in the Wheel, from East London.  The video, containing archival footage from Abbots Bromley, was directed by Ian Carter, with animation by Teresa Elizabeth Lobos. To learn more about the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance go here. To read about deer in folk ritual and myth, go here and here.

Below: "Over Again" performed by Stick in the Wheel.

Both songs are from their terrific new album, Follow Them True.

Above: "Willie's Lady" (Child Ballad #6) performed by the English folk trio Lady Maisery (Hannah James, Hazel Askew, Rowan Rheingans). It's from their lovely first album, Weave & Spin (2011).

Below: "The Elfin Knight" (Child Ballad #2) performed by folk legend Norma Waterson, her daughter Eliza Carthy, and the Gift Band. It's from their new album, Anchor, which I highly recommend.

Deer sketch by Daniel Egneus

Oh heck, here's one more:

"Matty Groves"  (Child Ballad 81) performed by the French/American band Moriarty. The song travelled to the New World with early Anglo/Scots settlers, becoming part of the North American traditional songbook too.

Drawing by Daniel Egneus

The art today is by Daniel Egnéus.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Ancient cross near Crzaywell Pool on Dartmoor

This week, with Halloween and the Days of the Dead just ahead of us, I've chosen songs of ghosts, revenants, and the shadowed border between life and death....

Above: "Imagination: There Was Once a Man..." by Aiden O'Rourke (co-founder of Lau), who explains:

"It all began with short stories. James Robertson, one of my favourite Scottish authors, wrote a short story every day for a year, and each story had exactly 365 words. I loved reading those stories: a daily dose of poetry and wisdom. And I loved the writing. The language is emotional, concise, apposite. Somehow the words and the pacing of the stories felt musical. I was intrigued by the discipline of setting such a quantifiable daily creative ritual. Would the same be possible in music? In 2016, I decided I would take on a similar writing challenge each day for a year. I told James and he replied, 'Don't do it!' then suggested I give it a month and see if it drove me mad. By 2017, I had 365 new tunes, each one linked to a story from James' collection. There's no doubt the tunes are based in Scottish folk music; that's my backbone, the place I come from, the traditional language I love. There's a parallel with James here, too, because he loves old Scots words and tales."

O'Rourke's story-music appears on the album 365: Volume I, released earlier this year, with a second volume forthcoming. In the video above, he's accompanied by keyboard player Kit Downes; and by James Robertson himself, reading the uncanny tale that inspired the tune.

Below: "Fair Margaret & Sweet William" (Child Ballad #74), an old, old song of love and ghosts performed by the great English folksinger June Tabor. The ballad appears on her excellent album An Echo of Hooves (2003).

Above: "I Am Stretched on Your Grave," based on the 17th century Irish poem "Táim sínte ar do thuama," beautifully sung by Dominie Hooper from Band of Burns. Dominie grew up here in Chagford,  dazzling us all with the power of her voice since she was young.

Below: "Wife of Usher's Well" (Child Ballad #79), performed by Scottish singer/songwriter Karine Polwart. In this song, a mother longs for her three dead sons to return to her...but when they do, they come as revenants, still bound to the land of death. The ballad is rich in folk traditions about what the newly dead may and may not do, and how the living may safely interact with them. Polwart first recorded it for her marvelous collection of ballads Fairiest Floo'er (2007), but this fine version appeared a year later on the expanded edition of This Earthly Spell.

Above: "Death and the Lady," performed by folk legends Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy, from the north of England. Norma introduces the song, explaining its history and connection to the Black Death.

Below: "The Ballad of George Collins" (Child Ballad #42), a traditional song performed in an extravagantly untraditional way by the brilliant young folksinger Sam Lee, who is based in London. The Penguin Book of British Folk Songs explains:

"The plot of  'George Collins' has its secrets. From an examination of a number of variants, the full story becomes clearer. The girl by the stream is a water-fairy. The young man has been in the habit of visiting her. He is about to marry a mortal, and the fairy takes her revenge with a poisoned kiss."

In this variant of the ballad, the young man has been promiscuous with his favors and five other young women, in addition to his lover Fair Ellender, die from kissing his poisoned lips.

Above: "Kitty Jay" by Seth Lakeman, a song from his 2004 album of the same name, performed in New York earlier this year. Seth, who lives here on Dartmoor, draws much of his song-writing material from local history and lore. Kitty Jay (as the legend goes) was a poor young woman who worked on a remote farm in the late 18th century. Impregnated and betrayed by her master's son, she resolved to take her own life, and for this sin she was buried in unhallowed ground at the Manaton crossroads.

Jay's Grave at the crossroads near Manaton

Kitty Jay's grave, which is not far from our village, is said to be haunted by a shadowy figure wrapped up in a cloak. (Kitty herself? Her remorseful lover?)  There are always fresh flowers upon it, although no one is ever seen putting them there.

Jay's Grave in spring

And to end with, below:

"In a Week," a very dark, yet eerily beautiful song about the process of death, written and performed by Hozier (Andrew Hozier-Byrne). He's accompanied here by Alana Henderson. Both musicians are from Ireland.

Photograph by Alexandra Bochkareva

The three Dartmoor photographs above: An ancient cross near Crzaywell Pool, and Jay's Grave at the edge of the moor near Manaton. The last photograph, of maiden and fox, is by Alexandra Bochkareva. If you'd like more spooky songs, last year's Halloween tunes are here. For more information on Child Ballads, go here.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Forest watchers

As the hills of Devon turn gold and rust, and the leaves start to fall from the oaks of the wood, here are folk songs of harts and foxes, hounds and hares, the hunters and the hunted.

Above: "The Death of the Hart Royal," performed by the English folk trio Faustus (Paul Sartin, Benji Kirkpatrick, and Saul Rose). This unusual ballad of Robin Hood, Lord of the Greenwood, was found in the archives of Somerset folk song collector Ruth Tongue. The band recorded it for their third album, Death and Other Animals (2017), when they were Artists in Residence at Halsway Manor, the National Folk Arts Centre in Somerset's Quantock Hills.

Below, "While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping," a traditional poaching song performed by the great English folk singer June Tabor (in a rare video from 1990), followed by another hunting song from the animal's point of view: "The Hare's Lament" sung by Susan McKeown, an Irish musician based in New York City.

Above: "I am the Fox," written and performed by Nancy Kerr (from London) and James Fagan (from Sydney, Australia). This is my favourite hunting song. You'll soon see why.

Below: "The Fox," a traditional song exuberantly performed by the Celtgrass band We Banjo 3 (Enda Scahill, Fergal Scahill, Martin Howley, David Howley) from Galway, Ireland. The song appears on the band's second album, Gather the Good (2014), and features Sharon Shannon on accordion. I just love these guys.

Above: "Hares on the Mountain," performed by Radie Peat and Daragh Lynch from Lankum, the anarchic folk-punk band based in Dublin, Ireland.

Below: "Stags Bellow" by Martha Tilston, from her album Machines of Love and Grace (2012). Tilston, who lives on the Cornish coast, captures the beauty of our Devon and Cornwall peninsula in the gold autumn light.

Black hound on an autumn pathway, Devon

White Stag by Ruth Sanderson

For a sequence of five posts about deer in myth, folklore, and poetry, start here. For the folklore of hares and rabbits, go here and here. For the folklore of foxes, go here and here.

The white stag painting above is by American book artist Ruth Sanderson.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Irish migrants to North America

Folk music has long been used to tell raw, honest stories about what it is to be human. Today, our theme is migration, exile, and displacement -- for the old stories remind us to have compassion for those facing such journeys today.

Above: "The Maid of Culmore," a traditional ballad performed by Cara Dillion, from County Derry in Northern Ireland. "“Having lived outside of Ireland for most of my adult life, I identify with songs of departure and longing for home on a very personal level," she says. The ballad appeared on her first solo album, Cara Dillon (2001).

Below: "Leaving Saint Kilda" by Scottish musician Alasdair Roberts and poet Robin Robertson, from the album Hirta Songs (2014). The islands of St. Kilda, in the Outer Hebrides, had been continuously inhabited for over two millenia, until its last residents were officially removed in 1930.

Above: "Adrift, Adrift" by English folk singer Rosie Hood. "I started writing this song," she says, "when I read about the Ezadeen and Blue Sky M in the news -- two large ships that had been abandoned in the Mediterranean Sea carrying hundreds of Syrians fleeing the civil war. Each person on board had paid around £4,000 to reach Europe on ships that the crews set to auto-pilot (risking them running aground) and abandoned." The song appears on Hood's first solo album, The Beautiful & the Actual (2017).

Below is a festival performance of songs drawn from a revival of The Transports, the great folk opera by Peter Bellamy: a harrowing story about a man and woman unjustly exiled to Australia in the 1780s. The performers are Matthew Crampton, The Younguns, Rachael McShane, Nancy Kerr, Greg Russell, and Faustus. To learn more about this updated version of the opera, watch the introductory video, visit the Transports website, or listen to the show's CD.

Above: "Ballads of Child Migration," from a project based on Britain's shameful history of forced child migration. The performers here are John McCusker, Michael McGoldrick, Boo Hewerdine, O’Hooley & Tidow, Chris While, Julie Matthews, John Doyle, Jez Lowe, Andy Seward, and Andy Cutting. The narrator is Barbara Dickson. To learn more, read Helen Gregory's review of the project, or listen to the show's CD.

Below: "Ghost" by the Anglo-Scots duo Winter Wilson (Kip Winter and David Wilson) -- a song about a different kind of exile that happens to countless young people every day.  (It's close enough to my own experience at an even younger age that I get a lump in my throat every time I hear it.) "Ghost" is from Winter Wilson's new album Far off on the Horizon: twelve songs about "love, emigration, and everyday people."

Above, in a shift of mood: "Traveler's Curse" by the irrepressible Ben Caplan, from Halifax, Nova Scotia. The song is from Old Stock: an album, music show, and stage play about two Jewish Romanian refugees fleeing to Canada in 1908. For more information, visit the Old Stock website, watch the introductory video, or listen to the show's CD.

Below, let's end as we started with music from Cara Dillon: "Lakeside Swans," from her new album, Wanderers -- a song about the decisions we make throughout our lives to go or to stay.

Drawing by Helen Stratton

Pictures: The drawings above are by Helen Stratton (1867-1961). Related music posts: "Stone's Throw" from Rachel Taylor-Beales' poignant album, Lament of the Selkie; "Here" by Sengalese singer Awa Ly; and The Lost Songs of St. Kilda. Also recommended: "The Stranger's Case" (from Shakespeare's last known play script, Sir Thomas More). In a short video produced by London's Globe Theatre and the International Rescue Committee, refugees from Syria, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan recite Shakespeare's text alongside renowned actors. It's a powerful piece. 


Tunes for a Monday Morning

The Sketch by American photographer Gertrude Käsebier (1852 – 1934)

Today's post goes out to American women, who have had a very rough couple of weeks. I'm with you, sisters, I'm with you; and with the men and nonbinary folk who stand tall beside us. Today and always.

Above: "Resilient" by Rising Appalachia (sister Leah and Chloe Smith), from the American south. The gorgeous song is the title track of their new album, recently released, and the gorgeous video was shot by Alex Allaux.

Below: "Happening Again" by Danish singer/songwriter Agnes Obel, from her third album, Citizen of Glass (2016).

Above: "Soaking in the Bathtub" by The Poozies, an all-women group making music since 1991. The band's current line-up is Mary Macmaster, Eilidh Shaw, Sarah McFadyen, and Tia Files, all from Scotland. The song, written by McFadyen, was released as a single last month.

Below: "Wisely and Slow" by The Staves (sisters Jessica, Camilla and Emily Staveley-Taylor), from Watford in Hertfordshire, England. The song is from their first album, Dead & Born & Grown (2012).

Above: "Game to Lose" by the American folk & bluegrass group I'm With Her (Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O'Donovan). The song appears on See You Around (2018), their first album as a trio. The video was shot by Genéa Gaudet.

Below: "Done" by Canadian singer/songwriter Frazey Ford (a founding member of The Be Good Tanyas). The song is from her second solo album, Indian Ocean (2014), but it could have been written for today.

Stay strong. Hang on to your joy.

Photograph by Dorothea Lange

The images above are by Gertrude Käsebier (1852 - 1934) and Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), pioneers of American photography. Follow the links to see more of their work. I also highly recommend Erin May Kelly's fine, fierce poem "Little Girls Don't Stay Little Forever" over on the BBC's The Social site (with a trigger warning for abuse issues). I also recommend Rebecca Traister's timely new book, Good & Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger (Simon & Schuster, 2018).


I Shall Go Into a Hare....

In the Land of the Faires by John Anster Fitzgerald

Last week I took a train up north for the second meeting of the Modern Fairies working group. Our project (outlined in a previous post) started with a workshop at Oxford University, and then we'd carried on working from our different parts of the country (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales) until it was time to meet up again.

Now we were coming to the University of Sheffield with a wide range of works-in-progress to share: songs and poems and other creations exploring the many facets of fairy lore. We brought tales of shape-shifters and shadow hauntings....of strange happenings at the edge of perception...of the fractured nature of fairy time and the power of magic in the old wild places...of white ravens, green children, witch hares, otter brides, and ghostly hounds crumbling into the dust...and of fairies infesting the planes of World War II and the depths of the internet.

Flint Hall at the University of Sheffield

A fairy ring

"The earliest storytellers were magi, seers, bards, griots, shamans," writes novelist Ben Okri. "They were, it would seem, as old as time, and as terrifying to gaze upon as the mysteries with which they wrestled. They wrestled with mysteries and transformed them into myths which coded the world and helped the community to live through one more darkness, with eyes wide open and hearts set alight."

In this project we're looking at Britain's fairy tradition, seeing what such stories have to tell us today. To do our work well, perhaps we must all become griots or shamans ourselves, steeped in Mystery, letting the old tales speak through us as they will.

Ben, Marry, and Jackie's notebooks

Andy and Lucy fall into enchantment

Music is one of the Mysteries to me. I love folk music in all its forms, and yet I am not a musician myself -- so in Sheffield I listen, spell-bound and enchanted, as music rises from the corners of the workspace. New songs are born...take shape...take flight...

Calling the spirits...

...conjured by cello, viola, bass, and banjo...by mandolin, squeezebox, saw, and voice...

Calling the fairies.

...by artist's pencil and composer's pen.

Calling the ghost hounds and the geese...

Jackie and Fay plot witchery

''I shall go into a hare,'' Fay sings.

I've never worked on a project like this before. I've collaborated many times, yes, but always with fellow writers and illustrators in the publishing field...

Fairy tales and fairies' tales.

Sarah finds fairies in cyberspace.

...never with artists from such a wide range of backgrounds, disciplines, and genres. It's an interesting brief, but a daunting one, pushing me out of my comfort zone. I know how to write a book, a story, an essay...but a song? a spoken word narrative?

Andy and Carolyne pull the project's research all together

Fairies Dancing by William Blake

I am married to a theater director, so I know very well that performative arts are very different than the literary arts, created in a very different way. I have to ignore my usual working methods, throw out all my preconceived ideas and approach the work (as my husband likes to say) with a "beginner's mind." I am walking in unknown territory...a perfect metaphor for walking into Faerie itself.

The magic of music

The magic of play

Wait! Wait! by Arthur Rackham

The magic of collaboration.

The magic of song

The magic of sound.

The magic of word and film

Twilight Fantasy by Edward Robert Huges

I'm reminded of these words by Ursula Le Guin about magical tales in all their forms:

"Fantasy is a different approach to reality, an alternative technique for apprehending and coping with existence," she said. "It is not anti-rational, but para-rational; not realistic but surrealistic, a heightening of reality. In Freud's terminology, it employs primary, not secondary process thinking. It employs archetypes, which, as Jung warned us, are dangerous things. Fantasy is nearer to poetry, to mysticism, and to insanity than naturalistic fiction is. It is a wilderness, and those who go there should not feel too safe."

No, I don't feel safe. Why should I feel safe? The Faerie Realm is a dangerous one. But I do feel inspired, and awed by the creativity around me. I am happy to be on this journey.

The magic shaped by an artist's hands.

The magic that swims across the page.

The magic that takes on a life of its own.

The creativity produced by this team could, I swear, power the lights of the city. Our days in Sheffield fairly crackle with energy, with ideas emerging, shape-shifting, coalescing into song, art, and story. I find that I keep turning to my companions to say: I don't want the week to end.

But it does end, of course. On the final eve, we share some of our work-in-progress with a small audience in a Spiegeltent at The Festival of the Mind...and this is a bit nerve-wracking too. We're all used to presenting work in completed form: a book, CD, a canvas or show, honed and polished. A work-in-progress is a rough, raw thing. What on earth would an audience make of it all?

The fairies are clearly with us that night, and every one of them is in Trickster mode: microphones don't work, other tech goes wrong...but none of that matters in the end. When Ewan sings of fairy shadows, and Lucy of the shifting properties of time, and Marry of the Green Children legend, and Fay of turning from woman to hare, the old stories come to life again. Perhaps they had never really died.

The Spiegeltent at the Festival of the Mind

Marry sings an old, old tale...

...while Fay, Lucy, Ewan, and Ben summon the fairies to our modern world

And so, the journey continues. Our next meeting is in Newcastle in January, then we're aiming for a public presentation (of some kind) at The Sage in Gateshead in late April. If you'd like to keep up the project's evolution, please visit the Modern Fairies website and blog, Facebook page, and Twitter page.

I'll continue to post on our progress here too, and share our discoveries with you.

Hare by Jackie Morris

Fay's banjo

Tales  Songs  and Hares

I Shall Go Into the Hare

The Modern Fairies team is: Fay Hield, Carolyne Larrington, Lucy Farrell, Sarah Hesketh, Jim Lockey, Ewan MacPherson, Jackie Morris, Barney Morse Brown, Ben Nicholls, Marry Waterson and me, all pictured above, plus Patience Agbabi and Inge Thomson, who could not join us in Sheffield. Andy Bell (of Hudson Records) and Stephen Hadley provide adminstrative and production support for the project.

Credits:  The beautiful drawings & notebooks belong to Jackie Morris. The "hare woman" oil paint sketch is one of mine. The four fairy paintings are by John Anster Fitzgerald  (1819-1906), William Blake (1757-1827), Arthur Rackham (1867-1939), and Edward Robert Hughes (1851-1914). The photographs were taken by me, Jackie, Fay, Marry, and others on the Modern Fairies team. They are identified in the picture captions. (Run your cursor over the images to see them.) All rights to the imagery and text pictured here are reserved by their makers.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Sheep 1

Sheep 2

I was away with the Modern Fairies last week, which I'll tell you more about in a following post. Today, I'd like to kick off the morning with music by some of my colleagues on the Modern Fairies team....

Above: "I'd Rather Be Tending My Sheep," sung by Lucy Farrell and her three fellow-members of The Furrow Collective: Rachel Newton, Emily Portman, and Alasdair Roberts. Lucy found this song in Ruth L. Tongue’s book, The Chime Child, about folksingers and songs in Somerset.  (More information here.) The animated video was created by Marry Waterson, another member of the Modern Fairies group.

Below: Lucy sings the traditional ballad "Polly Vaughn" at the Square Chapel Arts Centre in Halifax, West Yorkshire. The song appeared on The Furrow Collective's second album, Wild Hog (2016). Their third album can be pre-ordered here; and Lucy is at work on songs for a solo album, forthcoming next year.

Above: a wonderful rendition of "Raggle Taggle Gyspy" (Child Ballad #200) sung by Fay Hield: folk musician, scholar, and the fearless leader of Modern Fairies. Fay has performed with The Full English, BACCApella, The Witches of Elswick, and her own fine band, The Hurricane Party. I highly recommend her three solo albums (Orefo, Looking Glass, and Old Adam), and her TED talk, "Why aren't we all folksingers?"

We heard Inge Thomson's latest album two weeks ago: Northern Flyway, inspired by birds in nature and myth. Here is another song from the album, "No Barriers, No Borders," sung by Inge. She also performs with Drop the Box, Crows' Bones, and the Karine Polwart Trio; and she has released two haunting solo albums (Shipwrecks & Static and Da Fishing Hands) rooted in her love of the natural world and her upbringing in the Shetlands.

Above: "Death of a Gull" by Ben Nicholls' genre-busting trio, Kings of the South Seas, with Richard Warren and Evan Jenkins. The song is from the group's second album, Franklin, a glorious cycle of ballads inspired by Lord Franklin's doomed expedition to the Arctic in 1845. (For more information, I recommend the "Making of the Album" video here.) Ben has also performed with The Full English, the Seth Lakeman Band, and the Nadine Shah Band.

Below: "Martha" by Duotone: cellist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Barney Morse-Brown. Barney has performed with Maya Youseff, Birdy,  Jackie Oates, Eliza Carthy, Chris Wood, The Imagined Village and others, in addition to his distinctive solo work. The exquisite piece below is from Duotone's fourth album, A Life Reappearing.

Above: "Two Wolves," written and sung by Marry Waterson, with guitarist David A. Jaycock. Marry is a poet and artist as well as a singer, using the voice as her primary instrument. ("I sing my tales into existence," she says.) She has collaborated with many musicians -- including other members of the Waterson-Carthy folk clan -- and released four albums of bewitching songs: Death had Quicker Wings Than Love and Two Wolves with Jaycock; Hidden and The Days That Shaped Me with Oliver Knight.

Below: "Sophrsyne," written and sung by mutli-instrumentalist Ewan MacPherson, with Lauren MacColl on fiddle. (Sophrosyne is an ancient Greek concept defined as the quality of wise moderation, "knowing the limits which nature fixes for human conduct and keeping within them.") Ewan is a founding member Salt House (featured in a previous post), Firbo, RoughCoastAudio, and the MMH Trio; he's performed with the Battlefield Band, Breabach, Malinky, Ranarim, Shooglenifty, Salsa Celtica, The Treacherous Orchestra, and numerous other groups and musicians; and he's also recorded two fine solo albums, Norther and Fetch!, which I highly recommend.

Sheep 3

Sheep 4


Modern Fairies

In the Dark Forest by Arthur Rackham

Fairies in Oxford

Modern Fairies (& Loathly Ladies) is a year-long project bringing folk musicians, folklorists, poets, artists, and filmmakers together to explore Britain's stories of the Twilight Realm and their meaning in modern life.

The project was created by folksinger/ musicologist Fay Hield, with folklorist and medieval literature scholar Carolyne Larrington (author of The Land of the Green Man: A Journey Through the Supernatural Landscapes of the British Isles). The rest of the team is Patience Agbabi, Lucy Farrell, Sarah Hesketh, Jim Lockey, Ewan MacPherson, Jackie Morris, Barney Morse Brown, Ben Nicholls, Inge Thomson, Marry Waterson and me, with administrative and production support from Andy Bell (of Hudson Records) and Stephen Hadley.

In July we began the project with a gathering of the working group at St. John's College, Oxford University...

Modern Fairies team, Oxford University, July 2018

Barney, Marry, Patience, Ewan and Fay the Modern Fairies workshop, Oxford

The fairy circle

Music begins to emerge

The Modern Fairies workshop, Oxford

Fay works on a song

...and this week we'll be meeting up at the University of Sheffield. We're travelling to Sheffield from all over the country -- books, pens, drawing pencils, cameras, and instruments in hand -- to see what happens when a group of artists collaborate with the notoriously tricksy Fair Folk.

If you live near Sheffield, please come to a "Fairy Gathering" on Thursday evening, September 28th, at The Spiegeltent, Barker's Pool. It's a free event, running from 5.30 to 7pm as part of Sheffield's Festival of the Mind. We'll discuss the project, present work-in-progress, and then ask you to join us in a discussion on fairies in life and art. For more information, go here.

To keep up with the project over the year, and for notification of other public events, please visit the Modern Fairies website & blog, Twitter page, or Facebook page

Now here's a toast to the fairies, modern and old. May we do right by their tales.

Here's to the fairies!

Frolicking fairies by Arthur Rackham

Fairy art by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939). The photographs above were taken by me, Jackie Morris, and other members of the Modern Fairies project.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

The Fairy Queen by Alan Lee

I'm about to head up to Sheffield for the second group meeting of the Modern Fairies & Loathly Ladies project, so let's start the week with some fairy ballads drawn from Francis James Child's masterwork: The English & Scottish Popular Ballads, published in five volumes from 1882 to 1898.

Above: "Tam Lin" (Child Ballad #39) performed by Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hammer, from their album of Child Ballads (2013). Some UK reviews remarked on the oddness of hearing a Scottish border ballad sung in American accents, forgetting that these songs travelled across the ocean on immigrant ships and took root in North America (especially in the Appalachian region), where they are now part of the traditional songbook of America and Canada too. This version of the song omits verses explaining that Tam Lin is not a fairy (or "shade") himself, but a human knight in thrall to the Fairy Queen. For the full story, go here.

Below: an Appalachian version of "Thomas the Rhymer" (Child Ballad #37), performed by Scottish folk musician Archie Fisher. The recording is from Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition (2017).

Green Woman by Alan Lee

Above: "King Orfeo" (Child Ballad #19) performed by Scottish folk musician Emily Smith. The song can be found on her fine album Echoes (2104).

Below: "Twa Sisters" (Child Ballad #10) performed by English folk musician Emily Portman, from her enchanting album The Glamoury (2010). While there's not a fairy in this ballad per se, the enchanted harp at the end of the song is surely filled with fairy magic.

Fairies of the Wood by Alan Lee

Above, in the Loathly Lady catagory: "King Henry" (Child Ballad #32) performed by the great British folk musician Martin Carthy. The song appeared on his classic album Sweet Wivelsfield (1974).

Below: "The Elfin Knight" (Child Ballad #2) peformed by the Celtic-Nordic group The Boann Quartet. They've released a whole album of fairy music, Old Celtic & Nordic Ballads (2012).

Roverandom by Alan Lee

The drawings above are by my friend and neighbor Alan Lee, a man who certainly knows a thing or two about fairies. For more on fairies in legend, lore, and literature, go here. For the history of Child and his ballads, go here. And for literary interpretations of the ballads (in novel, short story, and picture book form), go here.