Tunes for a Monday Morning

Nightingale  photographed by John Bridges

Today's music comes from British folk singer and folk song collector Sam Lee. I'm completely in love with this young man's work, and the wide variety of collaborative projects he instigates or contributes to. If you ever have the chance to see him live, please don't miss it.  Sam's recordings of old ballads and Gypsy Traveller songs are wonderful, but hearing them live -- as they are meant to be heard -- is just extraordinary.

517aFgiAObL._SX319_BO1 204 203 200_Above: A BBC profile of Lee's "Singing With the Nightingales," an annual series of events in which folk, classical, and jazz musicians collaborate with nightingales in their natural habitats. As the website explains, guests at the nightingale gatherings are invited "not just to listen to these birds in ear-tinglingly close proximity, but to share an evening around the fire, delving into your hosts’ and guest musicians' own funds of rare songs and stories." After supper by the fire, the small audience for each event is lead "in silence and darkness into the nightingale’s habitat, not only to listen to these majestic birds, but to share in an improvised collaboration; to experience what happens when bird and human virtuosi converge in musical collaboration." The BBC video above was filmed back in 2017, but the Nightingale project continues -- and Sam has just published a fine book on the subject, which I highly recommend.

Below: "The Garden of England," a re-working of the folk classic "Seeds of Love" (the very first song collected by Cecil Sharpe). It appears on his latest album Old Wow, a collection of old songs molded into new forms for our troubled times. "I feel like we are living in the age of extinction, culturally as well as ecologically,” he explains in an interview. “My hope is that by looking to the past we can strengthen our resolve to protect the future. What I’m doing is making the richest compost I possibly can." 

Above: A live recording of "The Moon Shines Bright," re-working "Wild Mountain Thyme" and classic Romany folk themes, accompanied by Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. The song appears on Old Wow.

Below: "Blackbird," a traditional British Traveller song peformed in Amsterdam, with Jonah Brody on piano, Joshua Green on percussion, amd Flora Curzon on violin. The song appeared on an earlier album, The Fade in Time.

Above: "The Blind Beggar," performed with Lisa Knapp and Nathaniel Mann at the Foundling Museum in London as part of their Broadside Ballads project. A broadside, the three musicians explain, "is a single sheet of inexpensive paper printed on one side, often with a ballad, rhyme, news and sometimes with woodcut illustrations. Broadside ballads, from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries, contain words and images once displayed and sung daily in Britain’s streets and inns. Although part of living traditions of folksong, popular art and literature, these illustrated printed sheets are now rare and preserved in only a few libraries." In developing the project, they spent time researching the ballads at the Bodleian, and then created new contemporary arrangements for these historic songs.

Below: "Lord Gregory" (Child Ballad #76) performed with the Choir of World Cultures (directed by Barbara Morgenstern) from Berlin.


For more on Gypsy/Traveller songs, see the short film Ballad Lands: Jonny O' the Brine (about Sam's apprenticeship to Scottish Traveller Stanley Robertson); and his talk about how he became involved with the Travellers and their songs as a young Jewish man from London.

Tunes for a Monday Morning

The Tain - Mare and Foals by Louis le Brocquy

I'm focused on music from Ireland (mostly) and Scotland today: old, new, and the old made new. Let's start with a quiet, eerie traditional ballad and move on from there....

Above: "My Son David" (also known as "Edward" and "My Son Henry," Child Ballad #13) performed by Atlantic Arc, a new ensemble of musicians and singers from Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, directed by Dónal Lunny. The ensemble members are Graham Henderson (keyboards), Jarlath Henderson (vocals, guitars, pipes, whistles), Sharon Howley (cello), Dónal Lunny (bouzouki, guitar), Aidan O’Rourke (fiddle), Davie Ryan (drums), Pádraig Rynne (concertina), Pauline Scanlon (vocals), and Ewen Vernal (bass). The song is Atlantic Arc's first released, filmed in County Clare (2021).

The Tain illustrated by Louise le BrocquyBelow: "The Táin," an interpretation of the ancient Irish epic with music by Lorcán Mac Mathúna, contemporary dance by Fearghus Ó Conchúir, and the art of Louis Le Brocquy. The performance was filmed at The Model gallery in Sligo in 2018, with musicians Martin Tourish (piano accordion), Daire Bracken (fiddle) and Éamonn Galldubh (pipes and flute) backing up Mac Mathúna's vocals.

"The aim of the artists was to give the medieval words of The Táin a physical interpretation combining movement, imagery, and music," Mac Mathúna explains. "To give the livid drama of the tale its full breadth with the 'seen' and 'heard' gestures of movement of body, and voice; all in the presence of a selection of Le Brocquys wonderfully animated 'shadows of the text'."

The Táin illustrated by Louise de Brocquy

Above: "The Wild Rover," a traditional song performed by Lankum (brothers Ian & Daragh Lynch, Cormac MacDiarmada, and vocalist Radie Peat), based in Dublin. The song appeared on their album The Livelong Day (2019).

Below: "Abair Liom do Rúin (Tell Me Your Secrets)" by Clare Sands & Steve Cooney, with Tommy Sands (spoken word). "We wrote and recorded the song over three days and nights by candle-light to create a mantra that growls from the belly and sings from the heart," says Clare. "'Abair Liom do Rúin' is a transcendent, traditional trance-like ode to Spring." The video, made by visual artists Liadain Ni Bhraonáin and Kasia Kaminska, was filmed in Donegal and has just been released. 

The Táin - Bull of Cuailnge by Louis le Borcquy

Above: "Blood Moon," an old favourite from the Northern Irish "atmosfolk" duo Saint Sister (Morgan MacIntyre and Gemma Doherty), from their first EP, Madrid (2015). The video was directed by Myrid Carten and Aphra Lee Hill; the young actors are Meabh Parr and Emma White.

Below: "Oh My God Canada," the latest release from Saint Sister. The song will appear on their new album, Where I Should End, due out in June.

And a rousing tune to end with, below:

"Earworm" by The Bonny Men, based in Dublin. The video -- exploring "the tormernt of the creative process" -- was a collaboration between Irish film director Gavin Fitzgerald, choreographer Sibéal Davitt, and The Bonny Men, filmed in a desolate Dublin power station. (In my imagination at least, there's a distinct whiff of Bordertown here.) The song appears on the band's most recent album, The Broken Pledge (2020).

The Táin - Greyhound by Louis le Brocquy

The art today is by Louis Le Brocquy (1916-2012), from his celebrated illustrations for The Táin. All rights reserved by the artist's estate.

Tunes for a Monday Morning

European Hare

I often start the week with women's voices, so I'm giving men equal time today. The voices lifted here, both solo and in harmony, are raising my spirits on a rain-soaked morning.

Above: "Lovely Molly," a Scottish Travelers' song performed by London-based folksinger & song collector Sam Lee, with Jonah Brody and Joshua Green. The recording was made for the The Lullaby Project in 2016.

Below: "Hares on the Mountain," a traditional English song performed by John Smith, who was born in Essex and raised in Devon. It's from his lovely album Hummingbird (2018).

Above: "The Bothy Lads," performed by the Irish folk duo Ye Vagabonds (brothers Brían and Diarmuid Mac Gloinn), based in Dublin. They say: "We've always had a great interest in Scottish songs, and the strong connection they have to the Donegal singing tradition -- songs that travelled over and back with seasonal workers for generations until recent times." The video was recorded for Other Voices in 2020.

Below: "My Love's in Germany" performed by the Anglo-Welsh folk trio The Trials of Cato (Tomos Williams, Will Addison, Robin Jones). This traditional Scottish song (with lyrics adapted from an 18th century poem by Hector Macneill) appeared on the their first album, Hide and Hair (2018).

Next, two fine singer/songwriters based in the north of England.

Above: "Seven Hills," written and performed by Greg Russell. The song appeared on Utopia and Wasteland (2018), a collaborative album with Ciaran Algar.

Below: "Lamentations of Round-Oak Waters" (based on the life and poetry of John Clare), written and performed Jim Ghedi. The song is from his powerful new album In The Furrows Of Common Place, with a video filmed in the Outer Hebrides.

Above: "The Poorest Company" performed by Kris Drever (of Lau), from the Orkney Islands of Scotland.  The song was co-written by Drever, Roddy Woomble, and John McCusker, and appeared on their collaborative album Before the Ruin (2013). This solo version was recorded in 2020 during the first UK lockdown. (Here's the earlier version, also beautiful, with backing vocals by Woomble, McCusker, and Heidi Talbot.)

Below: "Row On," performed by Ninebarrow (Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere), from Dorset. The lyrics are from a poem found in the log book of a Nantucket whaler in 1846, set to a tune by Dorset musician & storyteller Tim Laycock. The song appeared on Ninebarrow's The Waters and the Wild (2018).

Brown Hare  Suffolk  by Michael Rae

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Deer & Jackdaws by Melissa Nolan

Above: "Awake Awake," a traditional song performed by English singer/songwriter Maz O'Connor, from her album This Willowed Light (2014). The animation is by Marry Waterson.

Below: "All on a Summer's Evening" by Scottish singer/songwriter Karine Polwart, with sound designer Pippa Murphy, from their stage show and album A Pocket of Wind Resistence (2017). The animation is by Marry Waterson.

Above: "Birds of Passage" by the Scottish folk band Breabach, from their album Frenzy of the Meeting (2018). The animation is by Cat Bruce.

Below: "Pegasi" by American singer/songwriter Jesca Hoop, from her album Memories Are Now (2017). The animation is by Rachel Blumberg.

Above: "In Painter's Light" by Irish singer/songwriter Declan O'Rourke, from his album Arrivals (2020). The animation is by Toby Mortimer.

Below: "Easier" by English folk duo Faeland (Rebecca Nelson and Jacob Morrison), from their album Little Lights (2020). The animation is by Sofja Umarik.

Above: "Buried in Ivy" by English folk duo Honey and the Bear (Lucy and Jon Hart), with Graham Coe, Evan Carson, and Toby Shaer; from their beautiful new album Journey Through the Roke (2021). The animation is by Honey and the Bear.

Sika deer hinds by Andy Rouse

Photography by Melissa Nolan and Andy Rouse; all rights reserved by the photographers.

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Selkie by Danielle Barlow

I haven't been to the Devon coast since the pandemic began and I'm truly missing the sea these days. Let's start the week with some magical music of the sea and shore....

Above: Scottish singer Shiobhan Miller peforms "Selkie," a tradition Orcadian ballad about a human woman who loves a man of the seal people. Miller's beautiful rendition of the song appears on her equally beautiful new album, All is Not Forgotten (2020).

Below: Scottish singer Julie Fowlis performs "Òran an Ròin/The Song of the Seal," a traditional Gaelic ballad from the Hebrides. Selkies, she explains, are "creatures who moved between the parallel worlds of sea and land, but never truly belonging to either. " This haunting version of the song was recorded last May, with video footage by Mike Guest.

Above: "Swirling Eddies," a selkie song by musician and music scholar Fay Hield, based in Sheffield -- from her mythical, magical new album Wrackline (2020). While working on this piece, she says, 

"I imagined what it would be like to fall in love with the world above water. How it would feel to leave your selkie family, traditions and life in the sea, to be lured onto land. What would it take to make that irresistible leap, to turn your back and step into a new adventure? In a lot of the stories a human steals their skin so they are forced into marriage. In this instance, I wanted to selkie to be intrigued by the human world, to want to come and enter into this new way of being. Exploring the seduction and lure of the ‘other’. This includes the male suitor, but places him to one side, focusing more on the world that opens up. The words and tune for ‘Swirling Eddies’ came together...through singing over and over, round and round, like the waves going in and out. I wanted the tune to seem dizzying, as she would be in the dancing, and light-headedness of moving into a new environment, feeling airless, or rather, I suppose, waterless."

Below: "Stone's Throw: Lament of the Selkie" by Rachel Taylor-Beales, a musician and activist based in Wales. The song appeared on her poignant album of the same name (2015), which was subsequently turned into a theatre piece. She says:

"I’d been exploring the character and persona of Selkie, a shape-shifting seal woman re-imagined from Orkney folklore, struggling to live her life on land away from her natural habitat of the ocean. Selkie’s internal turbulence seemed to echo the real-life struggles of people in the news headlines, and that I'd met personally: stories of refugees and displaced people, far from home, with all the loneliness and chaos, grief and loss that comes with enforced migration. In the legends, in order to marry a Selkie woman, her sealskin has to be captured while she is in human form and kept hidden from her so she can't go back to sea. The woman of the legends -- taken out of her natural environment, longing for home, misunderstood by those around her who know nothing of her former life -- became synonymous in my mind with the stories of refugees. The video was filmed by my husband Bill Taylor-Beales, and features Isla Horton, who achingly portrays a displaced mother separated from home and family."

Above: "Black Seas" by the London-based iyatra Quartet (Alice Barron, Richard Phillips, Will Roberts, and George Sleightholme). The song is from their album Break the Dawn (2020).  The video was filmed by Andrew Spicer.

Below: "Avalon" by Rhiannon Giddens (from North Carolina), with Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi, from their new album They're Calling Me Home (2021). The video, directed by Laura Sheeran, was filmed in Co. Galway, Ireland. The dancers (and choreographers) are Stephanie Dufresne and Mintesinot Wolde.

On the south Devon coast with Tilly

Selkie painting above: "Messenger of the Water" by my friend and neighbour Danielle Barlow. You can see more of her beautiful work on her website or Instagram page. All rights reserved by the artist. Photograph: On the south Devon coast with Tilly during betters days.