I'm completely addicted to Huam, the latest album from Salt House -- a Scottish folk trio consisting of Ewan MacPherson, Lauren MacColl, and Jenny Sturgeon. Ewan was one of my colleagues on the Modern Fairies project, but I'd loved Salt House (and his other band, Shooglenifty) long before meeting him. The last Salt House album, Undersong, is another one I listen to over and over, and I highly recommend seeking both of them out. "Huam," by the way, is a Scottish word for the call of an owl.
Above: "Mountain of Gold" from Huam, with a video filmed by Alex Bowman.
Below: "Fire Light" from Huam. The song is based on a poem by the great Scottish nature writer Nan Shepherd.
Above: "Lord Ullin's Daughter" from Huam, based on a poem by Thomas Campbell (1777 - 1844).
Below: "Hope is the Thing With Feathers" from Huam, based on a poem by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886).
Above: "Union of Crows" from Huam, written by Ewan McPherson.
Below: "All Shall Be Still" from Huam, written by Ewan McPherson.
To end with, two of my favourites from Undersong. The album was recorded in an old Telford church on the Isle of Berneray in the Outer Hebrides.
Above: "Charmer," written by Jenny Sturgeon, inspired by "Now Westlin' Winds" by Robert Burns (1759-1796).
Below: "Staring at Stars," written by Ewan MacPherson.
The paintings today are by Catherine Hyde, based in Cornwall. Please visit the artist's website to see more of her beautiful work.
After songs of the sea last week, here are songs of sailors and sailing ships from the British Isles and North America....
Above: "The Bonny Ship the Diamond" performed by Beoga (Sean Og Graham, Damian McKee, Niamh Dunne, Eamon Murray, Liam Bradley) from Co. Kerry, Ireland. The song appeared on their seventh album Before We Change Our Mind (2016).
Below: "Banks of the Newfoundland" peformed by Teyr (James Patrick Gavin, Dominic Henderson, Tommie Black-Roff), based in London. The song appeared on their debut album, Far From the Tree (2016).
Above: "William Taylor" performed by multi-instrumentalist Sam Sweeny and singer and accordionist Hannah James. The song appeared on their second collaborative album, State and Ancientry (2012).
Below: "Cruel" performed by singer/songwriter Kate Rubsy, from Yorkshire. The song appeared on her sixth album, Underneath the Stars (2003). For information on the use of "press gangs" to force men into the military, go here.
Above: Cyril Tawney's "The Grey Funnel Line," performed by the great English folk singer June Tabor. She first recorded the song with Maddy Prior for their collaborative album Silly Sisters (1976). This haunting solo version appeared on Tabor's Ashore (2011).
Below: "Maid on the Shore" performed by folk singer and fiddle player Eliza Carthy, from Yorkshire. The song appeared on her seventh solo album Rough Music (2004).
Above: "Demon Lover" (also known as The House Carpenter, Child Ballad #243), performed by American roots musician Tim O'Brien, with backing vocals by Irish singer Karen Casey. The song appeared on O'Brien's album Two Journeys (2001).
Below: "The Golden Vanity" performed by the American folk & bluegrass band Crooked Still, sung by Aoife O'Donovan (whose solo work I also recommend, as well as the trio I'm With Her). The song was filmed last year for Chris Thile's television program Live from Here.
One more to end with: "Lord Franklin," a 19th century broadside ballad about Franklin's ill-fated expedition to the Artic in 1845. This simple, lovely version is from John Smith's album Hummingbird, recorded in Somerset last year.
The art today is by the extraordinary Irish book artist P.J. Lynch. To see more of his beautiful work, go here.
Here in Devon, we're on a peninsula with two beautiful coastlines, north and south. Neither coast is particularly far from Dartmoor, but due to pandemic travel restrictions we haven't seen the ocean for months -- and as much as I love the moorland hills, I miss the sound and the scent of the sea. Today, let's listen to songs of the waves from across the British Isles.
Above: A short introductory film about Sea Songs -- an 18th-month project undertaken by Belfast musician M. Cambridge (Mark McCambridge), exploring traditional sea chanties, Ulster weaver-poetry, and sea-faring ballads old and new. The resulting album, Sea Songs: Anatomy of a Drowning Man (2019) is an unusual blend of music and spoken word, and well worth a listen. The film is by Sam O'Mahony.
Below: "My Sailor Boy," from Sea Songs: Anatomy of a Drowing Man.
Above: "Port na bPúcai" 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.
Below: "Thaney" by the Scottish folk band Malinky, from their early album Three Ravens (2002). The ballad (written by Karine Polwart) recounts the medieval legend of Saint Thaney, the daughter of the King of Lothian, who was raped by a callous prince of Wales and conceived a child by him. Her father, infuriated by the pregnancy, commands his daughter be hurled from the cliffs to the sea. Miraculously surviving the fall, Thaney is put on a tiny coracle and set adrift on the Firth of Forth. She survives this ordeal too, and gives birth to a son, Saint Kentigern, the founder of the city of Glasgow.
"But wonders on the bonnie lady / Wonders on the silver spray / Cradled by five thousand fishes / It's she has reached the Isle o' May / Through the turning tide they tumbled / Through the rattlin', rollin' storm . Safe at Culross Kirk she has landed / There she has her baby born."
Above: "Dh’èirich mi moch, b' fheàrr nach do dh’èirich" by Scottish singer/songwriter Julie Fowlis, from the island of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. The song appeared on her most recent album, Alterum (2017). "My work is steeped in tradition and historical reference specific to the Highlands," she says. This song evokes the contrasting elements of land and sea, with owl feathers symbolic of journeys, transitions, and ancient rites of women's mysticism and intrigue.
Below: "Òran an Ròin," another song from Alterum, with a new video that was released last month. This one, says Fowlis, "is a traditional Gaelic song 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, moving between the parallel worlds of sea and land, but never truly belonging to either."
Above: "The Selchie Song," written and sung by Scottish singer/songwriter Jenny Sturgeon, accompanied by Jonny Hardie, on the Isle of May in 2014. Sturgeon has a new album coming out this autumn inspired by Nan Shepherd's classic book The Living Mountain; and her two albums with Salt House, Undersong and Huam, are just stunning.
Below: "The Grey Selkie of Sule Skerry" (Child Ballad 113), a traditional song of the Orkney and Shetland islands, performed by English singer/songwriter Maz O'Conner. The video of seals is not from 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).
And one more song to end with, below:
"The Sailor's Farewell" by English singer/songwriter Ange Hardy, based in Somerset. The song appeared on her third album, The Lament of the Black Sheep (2014).
Photographs: Howard and Tilly on the south Devon coast, near Burgh Island, pre-pandemic.
Hares in the heather and foxes on the prowl as the week begins, the calendar turns, and Midsummer's Eve approaches...
Above: "All on a Summer's Evening" by Scottish singer/songwriter Karine Polwart, with sound designer Pippa Murphy. It's from their beautiful album (and stage show) A Pocket of Wind Resistance (2017). The gorgeous video is by Marry Waterson.
Below: "Hares on the Mountain" performed singer/songwriter John Smith, raised in Devon and now based in Liverpool. The song appears on his album Hummingbird (2018), which is just lovely.
Above: "White Hare" performed by English singer/songwriter Jack Sharp, best known for creating psychedelic folk music with Wolf People, and traditional folk with Stick in the Wheel. This song appears on his new solo album, Good Times Older (2020).
Below: "The White Hare" by English singer/songwriter Seth Lakeman, who grew up here on Dartmoor. His song was inspired by the moorland myths of witches who turn into hares. One folklore text cites our village (Chagford) as having more of them than any other. Seth's song appeared on his third album, Freedom Fields (2006).
Above: "Daddy Fox" performed by the a capella folk quartet The Witches of Elswick: Becky Stockwell, Gillian Tolfrey, Bryony Griffith and Fay Hield. The song appeared on their first album Out of Bed (2003).
Below" "The Fox" performed by We Banjo 3, a folk quartet from Galway, Ireland. The group consists of two sets of brothers: Enda & Fergal Scahill and Martin & David Howley, accompanied here by the great Irish accordion player Sharon Shannon.
The wildlife photography above is by Joshua Smythe, Michael Rae, David Gibbon, and Richard Bowler. All rights reserved by the artists.
I'm out of the office this morning in order to take Tilly to the vet (she has an immune system impairment that requires monthly shots) -- which is a complicated procedure in the middle of Cornonavirus quarantine. Rather than leave you with no music to start the week, I pulled some favourite songs from this blog's archives. Inspired by the rich bird life we're experiencing during this quiet time of the world's "great pause," all the music today is on the theme of birds in the folk tradition....
Above: "King of the Birds," written and performed by Karine Polwart, who grew up in a musical family in Sterlingshire, Scotland. This beautiful, folkloric song comes from Powart's fifth album, Traces (2012).
Below: Polwart performs another original song, "Follow the Heron," at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival in 2011. It comes from her second album, Scribbled in Chalk (2006).
Above: "Three Ravens" (audio only) performed by Breton harpist Cécile Corbel, from Finistère. It's a variant of Child Ballad No. 26 (also known as "Twa Corbies," as performed here by Bert Jansch), and was recorded for the first of Corbel's five albums, Songbook 1 (2006).
Below: "Hela'r Dryw: Hunting of the Wren" (audio only), performed in Welsh by Fernhill, one of the leading bands in the "Welsh Renaissance" of folk music. The song concerns an old folk tradition once common throughout the British Isles, and still practiced in some communities today. The recording is from Fernill's Amser (2014).
The song above isn't exactly a folk song but I'm going to throw it in here anyway: Paul McCartney's "Blackbird" performed in Gaelic by Julie Fowlis, from the Gaelic-speaking island of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Fowlis has released six solo albums, of which Alterum (2017) is the latest.
Below: Kate Rusby, from Barnsley, Yorkshire, performs "Mockingbird" at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2011. The song, written by Rusby, was first recorded on her ninth album, Make the Light (2010), and was also included on her double album, Twenty (2012).
Above: "Hawk and Crow" (audio only), a traditional ballad sung by Emily Smith, from Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. You'll find it on Smith's eighth solo album, Echoes (2014).
And to end with: "Come Home Pretty Bird," a lovely song co-written by Emily Smith & David Scott, performed in Switzerland in 2012. This one comes from Smith's third album, Too Long Away (2008).
If you'd like a few more bird songs this morning, try: "Blackbird," an old English ballad performed by Cécile Corbel, Show of Hand's version of "Crow on the Cradle" (by Sydney Carter), and three traditional songs for lark lovers: "The Lark in the Morning" sung by Maddy Prior; "The Lark" sung by Kate Rusby (backed up by Nic Jones), and "Waiting for the Lark" sung by the peerless June Tabor. Also, two fairy-tale-like songs: "The Gay Goshawk" (Child Ballad No. 96) performed by the folk-rock band Mr. Fox, and Natalie Merchant's beautiful rendition of "Crazy Man Michael" (by Richard Thompson & Dave Swarbrick), from Fairport Convention's Liege & Leaf.
Speaking of birds, I highly recommend The Bird's Child by Sandra Leigh Price (Fourth Estate/HarperCollins Australia, 2015), an utterly enchanting novel set in Australia in the 1920s. It's beautifully written, steeped in both bird lore and magic (of the sleight-of-hand variety), evokes a fascinating period of Australian history, and is well worth seeking out. Francis Hardinge's Young Adult fantasy novel Fly by Night (Macmillan, 2018), about a girl and a goose in a magical version of the 18th century, is also a gem. She is one of the best fantasy writers of her generation: brilliant, quirky, and consistently original. Four good (and very different) novels inspired by the "Wild Swans" fairy tale: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, Wild Swans by Peg Kerr, Ursula Synge's Swan's Wing, and Nicholas Stuart Gray's The Seventh Swan. For more about the fairy tale, go here. For a post about swan maidens and crane wives, go here.
The artwork today, in order of appearance, is "The Seven Ravens" by Teresa Jenellen, an illustrator based in Wales; a drawing by British book artist Honor C. Appleton (1879-1951);"Martha" (from the book of the same name) by the Russian author/illustrator Gennady Spirin; and "The Seven Doves" by British book artist Warwick Goble (1862-1943).
Let's start the week with songs of love lost and found in the countryside. I send them out to all of you locked down in urban spaces right now, and longing for a bit of green....
Above: "Down by the Sally Gardens" (from a poem William Butler Yeats, 1889, set to the air The Maids of Mourne Shore), performed by Emily Mae Winters -- a singer/songwriter born in England, raised in Ireland, and now based in London. The song appears on her gorgeous album Siren Serenade (2017).
Below: "The Lark in the Morning" (a traditional song collected in Sussex in 1904), sung by The Imagined Village's Eliza Carthy, with guest vocalist Jackie Oates. The song appears on the band's second album, Empire & Love (2010).
Above: "I Wandered by the Brookside" (a traditional song collected in Oxfordshire, circa 1916), performed by The Askew Sisters (Hazel and Emily Askew). The song appears on their album Enclosure (2019), a beautiful meditation on nature, Britain's Enclosures Acts, and enclosures of all kinds.
Below: An American Appalachian version of "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (Child Ballad #2), performed by folk musician, actor, and theatre director Sophie Crawford, based in London. The song appears on her first album Silver Pin (2019), which is well worth a listen.
Above: "The Gardener" (Child Ballad #219), performed by singer, cellist, fiddler, and viola player Rachel McShane, from north-east England. Best known for her work with Bellowhead, this song appeared on McShane's fine solo album No Man's Fool (2009).
Below: "The Broomfield Hill" (Child Ballad #43), performed by the long-running Scottish folk band Malinky. It's from their terrific album Flower & Iron (2008).
Above: "As I Roved Out," a traditional Irish song performed acapella by American singer-songwriter Becca Stevens and bluegrass mandolin master Chris Thile, filmed for the Live From Here television program (January, 2020).
And to end as we began, with William Butler Yeats...
Below: "Golden Apples of the Sun" ( from a poem by Yeats, 1899), performed by American folksinger Judy Collins. The song appeared on her classic album of the same title (1962).
For more information on Child Ballads, go here. Photos: Tilly in the local deer park, full of bluebells this time of year.
Above: "Hal-An-Tow" sung by the hugely influential English folk group The Watersons, from Yorkshire. This performance was filmed for the BBC documentary Travelling for a Living (1965). The song appeared on The Waterson's album Frost and Fire (1965), where A.L. Lloyd wrote on the liner notes:
"The green calendar of spring has many songs, dances, and shows, particularly around the opening days of May. Here and there are clear traces of old cults and superstitions (well-dressing against droughts, etc.) but generally their original meaning is lost. So the customs are transformed into ritual spectacles, festivities, distractions, opportunities for a good time, such as the old May Games that once comprised four sections: the election and procession of the May king and queen: a sword or Morris dance of disguised men; a hobby horse dance; a Robin Hood play. The Hal-an-Tow song was sung for the procession that ushered in the summer."
Above: "Hail! Hail! the First of May" performed by Jackie Oates, a folksinger and fiddle/viola player from Staffordshire. The song appeared on her lovely album The Spyglass and the Herringbone (2015).
Below: "May the Kindness," recorded by Oates on an earlier album, Hyperboreans (2009).
Above: "May Morning Dew" performed by Scottish folksinger Siobhan Miller, with Kris Drever, Innes White, Megan Henderson, John Lowrie, and Euan Burton. The song appears on her gorgeous new album, All is Not Forgotten (2020).
Below: "The Banks of the Sweet Primroses" (also known as "When I Roved Out") performed by Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker for the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards (2015). Their most recent album is Seedlings All (2018).
Above: "May Song" by the Oxfordshire folk band Magpie Lane, from their album Jack-in the Green: English Songs and Tunes (1998).
For the folklore of maypoles, Jack-in-the-Green, and other May Day traditions, go here.
For many of us of a certain age, Britain's great folk music revival in the middle of the 20th century couldn't have come at a better time. For me, growing up in the Sixties and Seventies, the "electric folk" music of the era was the gateway drug that lead to a deeper exploration of folk music in general, and thence to the adjacent fields of folklore, folk dance, folk drama, and the like. I stumbled upon my first folk album (Steeleye Span's Hark! The Village Wait) in the sale bin of a record store in a depressed Pennyslvania steel town at the age of 13. What it was doing in that improbable place I'll never know -- but the cover intrigued me, I took it home and was hooked by the very first song. In those isolated, pre-Internet days, it was difficult to seek other music like it, or even to know if there was other music like it...but over the next few years I managed to find my way to Pentangle, Fairport Convention, The Albion Country Band, The Watersons, June Tabor, and the rest. I learned what a Child Ballad was. I discovered Cecil Sharp and the English Folk Dance and Song Society; and, through Sharp, the American folk tradition. Thus a chance album discovery grew into a life-long love of folk music in all of its permutations.
If you, too, remember, the Sixties/Seventies folk revival fondly, I recommend Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music by Bob Young (Faber & Faber 2011). The book documents the history of British folk music through the 20th century, with information ranging from insights of music scholarship and historical context to pure gossip about who was sleeping with/living with/working with/feuding with whom. It's a lengthy volume, and rambles a bit, but I found it engrossing nonetheless...reminding me of a bands and musicians I'd long forgotten, and introducing me to some new ones too.
Okay now, on to this morning's music....
Above: "A Calling On Song" by Steeleye Span (Ashley Hutching, Tim Hart, Maddy Prior, Terry Woods, and Gay Woods), from their first album, Hark! The Village Wait (1970). As the album notes explain: "Songs similar to this one are used by the leaders of rapper and long sword dance teams to preface the dancing and to drum up a crowd. The duration of these songs depended on how long it took for a satisfactory audience to assemble. It was customary to introduce each member of the team as the son of a famous person such as Bonaparte, Nelson, Wellington, etc. This, however is our own 'calling-on', the tune and the basis for the words coming from the captain's song of the Earsdon Sword Dance Team."
Below: "The Lark in the Morning," also from Hark! The Village Wake, performed live in 1971. (Martin Carthy and Peter Knight had replaced the Woods as band members shortly after the album was released.) This version of the song was collected in Sussex by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1904.
Above: A live performance of "Hunting Song" by Pentangle (Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Jacqui McShee, Danny Thompson, and Terry Cox), filmed for a BBC television production in 1970. The song, adapted from 13th century Arthurian narratives, appeared on Pentangle's second album, A Basket of Light (1969).
Below: A live performance of "Willy O Winsbury" by Pentangle, filmed for a Granada television production in 1972. The song is Child Ballad #100, and appeared on Pentangle's fifth album, Solomon's Seal (1972).
Above: "The Famous Flower of Serving Men" (Child Ballad #106 ) sung by Martin Carthy, from his solo album Shearwater (1972). Delia Sherman's first novel, Through a Brazen Mirror, was inspired by the ghostly song, and I highly recommend it.
Above: "Blood and Gold/Mohacs," from Silly Sisters' second album, No More to the Dance. recorded over a decade later in 1988.
Go here for the final song today: "Four Loom Weaver," sung by Maddy Prior and June Tabor -- reunited for a performance at Cecil Sharp House in London in 2008. (I'm not able to embed the video here.) The song, collected in Lancashire by Ewan MacColl, appeared on their first Silly Sisters album in 1976.
Art: two Child Ballad illustrations by Arthur Rackham.
I woke today with the strong desire to hear the simple beauty of women's voices. As the UK begins its second month of Coronavirus lock-down, I send these songs our from our little "house on a hill" in Devon to yours....
Above: " House on a Hill" by English singer/songwriter Olivia Chaney. Born in Italy and raised in Oxford, this song was written and filmed in her family cottage in the North York Moors. It appears on her most recent album, Shelter (2018), which I love.
Below: "Waxwing," written by Alasdair Roberts and sung by Olivia Chaney, from The Longest River (2015).
Above: "Burlap String" by American singer/songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews, from Phoenix, Arizona. This song was filmed in Bisbee, an old mining town close to the Arizona/Mexico border. It's from her lovely new album Burlap String (2020).
Below: "Downtown Train" written by Tom Waits and sung by Courtney Marie Adams. It's from Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits (2019), which is a terrific album.
Above: "My Silver Net" by Scottish singer/songwriter Amy Duncan, based in Edinburgh. The song is from her album Undercurrents (2016), a favourite from that year.
Below: "Labyrinth" by Amy Duncan, from her fine new album of the same name (2019). The animated video is by Tracy Foster.
I'm starting my week with American music rooted in the Appalachian, bluegrass, blues, and gospel traditions. At troubled times, it's just good to hear songs from home....
Above: "And Am I Born to Die" by husband-and-wife banjo masters Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, from their first duo album Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn (2014). Washburn is from Illinois and D.C., and Fleck from New York City. This video is worth watching full-screen for the sheer beauty of the landscape its filmed in.
Below: "Don't Let It Bring You Down," from their second duo album, Echo in Valley (2017).
Above: "Don't Let Nobody Get You Down" by master blues guitarist Eric Bibb, performed in Maryland in 2008. Bibb grew up in New York City in a family of musicians and civil rights activists, and now makes his home in Stockholm, Sweden.
Below: "With My Maker," from Bibb's fifteenth solo album, Booker's Guitar (2010).
Above: "I'm On My Way" by the brilliant bluegrass musician Rhiannon Giddens, from North Carolina, with Italian jazz musician Francesco Turrisi. The song appeared on their collaborative album There is No Other (2019).
Below: "Cuckoo Song" by Rising Appalachia (sisters Leah and Chloe Smith), from Georgia and New Orelans. The song appeared on their seventh album Leylines (2019).
Above: "Louise" by Mipso (Jacob Sharp, Wood Robinson, Joseph Terrell, and Libby Rodenbough), from North Carolina. The song appeared on their first album, Dark Hollow Pop (2013).
Below: Gillian Welch's beautiful song "Hard Times" covered by bluegrass mandolin master Chris Thile, with Emily King, Rich Dworsky, Chris Eldridge, Brittany Haas, Paul Kowert, and Ted Poor. Hard times ain't gonna rule my mind no more....