Total Pageviews

16 December 2012

Folk song of the day

Since 30th December, I've been doing a folk song of the day for the folk choir I am in, Morris.

It's introduced the choir to new songs and I feel it's been really interesting to connect modern events, places in the news and emotions to folk songs. 

I'm looking to move this out of the choir group so that it can reach a wider audience and a quick discussion on facebook reveals that this is gathering some momentum. So here's the postings to date to cover the ground so far in a more public place. Sorry for any typos etc, most of these were written in a hurry before I dash out the door in the morning.

It began on 30th November

30th November

Song of the day anyone?

This one because it's St Andrews Day

Hamish told me it was partly based on this song

1st December 

(we did this song in the choir, lovely song)

Well, since it's December! Nice video.

2nd of December

Thought you might like this story and song. Tollcross Gaelic primary school in Edinburgh

The story behind this one is:

In Mull there is a small village or clachan called Bunessan/Bun Easain (on the way to Iona if you are heading there) and there was a traditional tune which was known in the area.

Mary M. Macdonald (1789-1872) lived nearby and who spoke only Gaelic wrote the words to the tune and called it "Lenabh an aigh" which translates roughly to "The blessed child". Her Gaelic name was "Mairi Dhughallach NicLucais, bean Neil Dhomhnullaich ann an Ard Tunna". Which means, Mairi Dhughallach (Dhugallach is a nickname), daughter of Lucas, wife of Neil Dhomhnullaich, from Ard Tunna

The words were later translated into English as Child in a manger and the original tune was then named "Bunessan" after the village, Bun Easain.

In 1931 the words were rewritten as "Morning has broken".

The original words and translation are here

3rd December

since Winter officially started 2 days ago I thought about Gloomy winter's noo awa for when the days start getting lighter again in a few weeks.

Here's a beautiful version by Dougie Maclean

The back story of this song is that it is set to the tune "Lord Balgonie's Favourite" and was set to words by Robert Tannahill (1774–1810). As Robert Burns was the ploughman poet, so Tannahill was the weaver poet. Coming shortly after the time of Burns (1759-1796) Tannahill only got his breakthrough in poetry in 1807, 3 years before his death. He looked up to Burns and was the secretary of the Paisley Burns Club, which he helped found in 1805. The Club is still active to this day and claims to be the oldest formally constituted Burns Club in the world.

In any case the tune was also used by a Gaelic song -Mo Mhallachd Aig Na Caoraich Mhor (my curse on the great sheep) also known as Duthaich Mhicaoidh (MacKay's land - a synonym for Sutherland).  The Gaelic version was written after the Scots version. The author was Eòghainn MacDhonnchaidh (Ewan Robertson 1842-1895) from Tongue. According to the book  The Trial of Patrick Sellar (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1962), the song was written down a short time after the Napier Commission in 1883, 63 years after the horrific Caithness clearances in 1819-1820.  

You can hear the Gaelic version here
and the lyrics here together with the reference to the "63 years".

Of course after all that history, you may well recognise the same song here: in the Hollywood film "The Piano"

Funny how good songs have such a varied life.

4th December.

(the Royal pregnancy had just been announced)

Something about royalty and babies came to mind :-)

So, William and Kate met at a fashion show - there is a fashion link in today's song. It's also a CHILD ballad (groan). It's also got a connection with Royalty

Famous fashion venues Paris, Tokyo, New York, London, Moscow will today have a new place added to the list of towns that have held the £2m Chanel Metiers d’Art show - Linlithgow! Complete with Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Keira Knightley News Article

So that's the fashion link - and the baby link is that the venue for the show is the birthplace of King James V (1512 to 1542) and Mary, Queen of Scots (1542 - 1567)

So with the Linlithgow connection here's a song about Mary Queen of Scots ladies in waiting (Child Ballad 173)

and the Corries performing it

It also makes a nice lullaby if you have any babies that don't sleep!

5th December

Train late again? Missed your connection at Clapham Junction because the train isn't stopping there any more? Happened to me last week! Wrong leaves on the line? Wrong type of snow?

Never mind, as you're waiting remember "there's another train, there always is, maybe the next one is yours!" as the chorus of this lovely song tells us:


From The Poozies who also do a rather good version of Cotton Mill Girls 

6th December

To commemorate this programme going out tonight (has English subtitles and really is compelling viewing).

Dolina, the subject of the programme, is a friend from way back - I stayed at her famous B&B many times and nominated her for best B&B in Scotland which she subsequently won, I was also director of a charity which was set up in her house and she interviewed me for her "Desert island disks" radio programme. 

However the connection with folk music is that Dolina was one of the most important singers in Scotland in the 60's and 70's and was at the heart of the Scottish folk revival together with other significant figures such as Aly Bain, Hamish Henderson and the like who all used to come over to Doli's house for a ceilidh/sing song/story telling etc. 

Here's a short extract in conversation with her friend George Reid, former Presiding Officer of the Scottish parliament

She was in the 7:84 company play "The Cheviot, the stag and the black, black oil" which many would argue the most important Scottish play of the 20th Century and,_the_Stag,_and_the_Black_Black_Oil

"One wonders whether a drama as uncompromisingly left-wing as this could possibly be produced or broadcast on mainstream television today"  from

7th December.

Pearl Harbor day, maybe something about the US and ships?

Thousands are Sailing by Phil Chevron of The Pogues (audio only)


From the BBC series of the early 90s "Bringing it all back home" which traced the influence of Irish music on US music. I bought the album after seeing the series and to this day it remains one of my favourites - that's where I got the Lakes of Ponchartrain from that I sang at the folk club a few months ago.

More info on the album:

8th December

Released in 92 as a live version this song "Outlaws" by Argyll band Capercaillie is one of their most political songs in English. Written largely about the Poll Tax it brings back memories of recession in Scotland under a Tory government, and in particular being being denied benefits because of bureaucracy and cutbacks. No change there then. I found myself in the same boat in 96, my letter appeared as the main letter of the day in the Herald and my then MP, Alistair Darling feigned help but did nothing.

It's a beautiful song but sadly just as relevant to many people all over the UK today as it was 20 years ago.

Have you seen it before?
The names of good women and men
Decreed by the sword and the pen
To be outlaws all over again


and of course at the Celtic lyrics corner

9th December

32 years ago we were waking up to the news of the death of John Lennon, so here's folk singer Joan Baez doing a stunning version of Imagine (original is here

And for good measure since it's Sunday morning here's a tune for relaxing to. I don't listen much to music without words but for something as brilliant as this happy to make an exception
Davy Spillane "Equinox".
From the BBC album "Bringing it all back home" and Davy's album Shadow Hunter 

10th December

It was the 10th Scottish traditional music awards at the weekend
(English and Gaelic audio)

Report and details of winners here:

For winning the Trad Music in the Media award, including getting Gaelic at The Oscars, Ryder cup and on Jools Holland here's Julie Fowlis:
Tha Mo Ghaol Air Aird A' Chuain
Beautiful song

And for some top class puirt a beul on Jools Holland :

Also in memory of Sir Patrick Moore who I had the pleasure of meeting 20 years ago on a Gaelic residential weekend in Essex where he was also teaching astronomy here's a folk god with a celestial themed tune

Van Morrison - Moondance

11th December

Advance warning for tomorrow: Anyone gathering on 12/12/12 to sing the 12 days of Christmas in 12 minutes and 12 seconds?

Back to today - the Scottish annual traditional music awards at the weekend honoured Michael Marra who died recently so here he is singing a song with a connection to last term's theme - Ghost of Glasgow

Can't find lyrics or a video online sorry!

This is from the Blair Douglas album Beneath the Beret

Blair's biography
Info on Michael Marra:

on a connected theme, Blair also composed a stunning tune in honour of Nelson Mandela who has also been in the news recently.
Nelson Mandela's welcome to the city of Glasgow
The comment reads "A totally brilliant tune by Blair Douglas honouring Nelson Mandela"
The song marks Nelson Mandela's visit in October 1993.
There have been a few attempts to blend Scottish and African music with varying degrees of success but this unique approach takes it to an entirely different level. 

12th December

Happy 12/12/12 !

On Monday I read from a friend on facebook that the Campbells of Greepe's album "Fonn" was awarded #2 in the Sunday times list of world music of the year.

Listen to samples here:

Here's the family doing a selection of songs including puirt a beul with Scottish step dancing!

Here's the lyrics to Uamh an Oir, a complex song which appears on the album and which has a number of rhythm changes:

The album is on my to get list especially as it also has Alasdair Fraser on it, regarded by many as the finest fiddler from Scotland (high east coast style if you are into that sort of thing!) 

13th December

'Ic Iain 'Ic Sheumais
Son of Ian, son of John

For Rory and Calum MacDonald, who won a special award at the Scottish traditional folk awards at the weekend for services to Gaelic music.  Their group, Runrig celebrates its 40th anniversary next year.

For many years this was first song on my mp3 player in alphabetical order and hence the one it would normally play first, so got a lot of playings!

However much more than that it was on the important Runrig album "Recovery" which together with Highland Connection laid the foundations for what was initially a 3 piece dance band "The Run-rig dance band" to eventually go on in the 80s and early 90s to be the best selling group in Scotland and getting into the top 40 charts, playing a major part in the Scottish cultural revival and taking the language to new audiences across the world including people like myself who took up the language because of their music.

This song, given a modern treatment here with electric guitars, was composed in 1601.



Full story behind the battle which led to the song
 The site of the battle is now marked by an official sign "The ditch of blood" 

14th December

An upbeat catchy Scots song today from Janet Russell and Christine Kydd with a easy to join in chorus. - Pride's awa.

Christine is a friend of mine from the Edinburgh music scene who I learned "Cotton Mill Girls" from. She runs a community choir in Perthshire and was nominated in this year's traditional music awards as Scots singer of the year. She has also supported Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Amazon preview


Link to MP3:

This song was written by Davie Robertson who has been involved with folk music since the 60s and has won a number of song writing competitions (maybe some tips here for Morris!)

Christine and Janet adapted Davie's song, about the decline of Scottish industry, and added a few lines and words from an African freedom chant.

15th December

The day after the US shootings.

Something reflective after yesterday's events in the US. I won't say too much about each of these, instead the comments from the links can largely speak for themselves. Chosen for their tunes rather than the words, the vein of folk music is so rich and deep it was impossible to pick just one.

Bothan Àirigh am Bràigh Raithneach
"There is something about Julie's music which goes so deep. To me her singing, her performance and her spirit make this music extraordinary.
I think the Transatlantic sessions create special magic. I love Julie with her own band but with the American/Canadian influence this is really really special.", "Julie this is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard! It brings a tear to my eye", "they say when you hear a great singer you do not have to understand it to get what it is about, this is one great singer"
Julie Fowlis, BBC2 Folk Singer of the Year 2008. The singer whose singing was heard this year sang at The Oscars, The Ryder cup, and the soundtrack to the Disney film "Brave".

Griogal Chridhe
A song from my native Perthshire
One of the most famous lullabies in Gaelic is the song known as 'Beloved Gregor'. It is also known as the Glenlyon Lament. It was composed after the execution of Gregor MacGregor by the Campbells in 1570. Gregor was beheaded in front of his wife and child. In the song, Gregor's grief-stricken widow describes the horror of what happened, as she sings to her child. It's often regarded as a lullaby.
Comments: "This is beyond words"

Iain Ghlinn Cuaich
Karen Matheson, Donald Shaw (of Capercaillie) and Jay Unger (of Ashokan Farewell fame)
"ahhh....that song...I doubt anyone could sing it better than Karen Matheson...she sings it as though she IS that deserted woman. ... that voice is still as clear and sparkling as a Highland stream."

Braighe Uige by Mac-talla.


Carolan's farewell to music from the legendary blind Irish Harper Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin (1670 - 1738. The annual O'Carolan Harp Festival and Summer School commemorates his life and work in Keadue, County Roscommon.
Sheet music
This is a bit of a treasure trove:

Tuireadh Iain Ruaidh
"One of the most beautiful pieces of music ever put to tape."

Ishbel Mackaskill (1941-2011) version "comparison with Aretha Franklin no empty claim", "the same expressiveness Sinatra brings to a romantic Ballad. There Can be no higher Praise"

This is why I listen to folk music. 

16th December

An American song, originally from the thanksgiving time during the US civil war (1861 - 1865),
Kathy Mattea - The Vacant Chair
somewhat appropriate this week, judging by the recent comments in the video

Sleep today o' early fallen,
In thy green and narrow bed.
Dirges from the pine and cypress
Mingle with the tears we shed.

Lyrics and chords

I first heard this in 1991 when I was in New England several times for various reasons and helped with researching linguistics for Stanford. Oh happy days...
The world of folk music is great at drawing people together from all walks of life in many different circumstances.

I was watching this programme then fabulous music. Including of course, Ashokan Farewell. This is another favourite "Hard Times Come Again No More"

Also, on this day in 1971, The 8 minute version of American Pie was released.
Go on, you know you want to sing along

No comments:

Popular Posts