Heather Heywood – The Wife of Ushers Well
Would you believe it? Thirteen short steps from Senegal takes you to Scotland! This week we’ve got the Scottish border ballad, The Wife of Usher’s Well. The story tells of the return of the ghosts of three sons to their mother at Martinmas. (The feast of St. Martin was held on November the eleventh, one of the Scottish quarter days. It is usually referred to as Martinmas but pronounced Martimas. It was the same day as Hallowe’en in the old calendar.)
The song has been been recorded by many artists over the years: Steeleye Span, Martin Carthy, Karine Polwart and Bellowhead to name just a few. This unaccompanied version is by Scots singer Heather Heywood from her Greentrax album By Yon Castle Wa’. It is widely available and if you enjoy your ballads sung without over the top arrangements / production, the album is well worth investigating. But don’t just take my word for it; Bob Walton, reviewing the album for FRoots magazine, said Heather Heywood has one of those glorious voices that demand your attention and is considered by many as one of the finest of today’s Scottish singers, especially when it comes to singing the big traditional ballads.
Heather Heywood – The Wife of Usher’s Well
Various Artists – The Story of British Folk: …
This week, on the 5th October to be precise, both Bert Jansch and Steve Jobs died. Understandably, the media was full articles assessing the impact of Steve Jobs but, surprisingly to me, there was also an enormous number telling the story of Bert Jansch and the influence he had on the music and the lives of his listeners from the early sixties onwards.
I never saw Bert Jansch play a solo gig, I only saw him in the setting of Pentangle, but I loved his music – especially his guitar playing. There are so many stories of how Bert Jansch’s guitar playing inspired people to learn to play the instrument and I experienced this at first hand. On leaving school, I worked for a year before going on to college and shared a flat with three young teachers. I can remember to this day coming back to the flat at various times and finding one or other of my flatmates trying to master Anjie, picking it up from a Bert Jansch LP. An Anjie playing contest was mooted for the end of the year we spent together in the flat but I don’t believe this happened in the end.
The track posted to celebrate the life and music of Bert Jansch is, along with Anjie, probably his most famous solo recording, Blackwaterside. It was originally on his album Jack Orion but I have it on the compilation album Various Artists – The Story of British Folk: From Fairport Convention to Johnny Flynn.
Bert Jansch – Blackwaterside
Savourna Stevenson, June Tabor & Danny Thompson – Singing The Storm
A very quick post today as I’m “off to London to visit the Queen” – well, daughter to be strictly accurate.
This week’s music featuring Danny Thompson comes from the album he made with Savourna Stevenson (Scottish harp or clàrsach) and June Tabor (vocals). I don’t remember the album receiving much acclaim when it was released but I loved it from the day I bought it. I think that I’m a bit of a closet harp fan. On this CD I particularly like the rhythmic playing of the harp – and I for one do not usually associate rhythm with the harp.
The track I’ve chosen to post is an instrumental thus does not feature June Tabor. It does however have some lovely playing from Savourna Stephenson and sympathetic accompaniment from Danny Thompson.
Note to self: must investigate more Savourna Stephenson albums / harp music.
Savourna Stevenson, June Tabor & Danny Thompson – Water
Pentangle – People on the Highway (1968 – 71)
Easter has been a mixed bag here – weather-wise. It has been cool, windy and showery. To be expected I suppose – April showers and all that. So, to reflect our rain and the late snow they had in Scotland, I’ve chosen Rain and Snow by the Pentangle for this weeks post.
Playing Pentangle always brings back some really fond memories to me. As a 17 year old, I hitch-hiked alone from Shropshire to Harrogate to attend a Pentangle concert. I remember very little of the concert or where I dossed for the night but I do remember quite clearly a very long and cold journey to the venue. Could you / would you / should you even consider doing this today?
Finding tracks for this blog is getting easier now as I have been working through my record collection, ripping the CDs to mp3s and storing them on my computer. Now, using Banshee – my music player, I can search for music by artist, album, track and,if I could be bothered, by genre or by rating out of 5.
I have nearly finished the ripping process, I am now on the Ws and have learnt that if I played my entire record collection from A-W non stop it would take over eight days from start to finish. There must be a reasonable argument to make that I have enough music and I have no need to buy even one more CD!
With that thought and the prospect of a sitar-tastic theme for April, I’ll leave you to listen to Rain and Snow – inside and / or outside your room.
Pentangle – Rain and Snow
Kornog – Korong
In recent weeks we’ve visited Ireland and England, so now, one day before St Andrew’s Day, it’s time to visit Scotland.
Today’s track is undeniably Scottish, The Braes of Killiecrankie is a mash-up between a traditional chorus and verses by Robert Burns and James Hogg, a traditional Scottish tune and a Breton schottishe.
Kornog, the group that performs this track, is also a bit of a mash-up. Three out of the four members , are in fact from Brittany with only the fourth member, Jamie McMenemy, being from Scotland.
I bought this CD some years ago now because 1. I wanted some more Breton music in my collection and 2. I am cheap and it was on offer. It has become a favourite not least because of the fantastic playing of the musicians involved.
Having had a run around the UK in recent weeks I’ve decided to dedicate December to Africa, so watch out for Franco and more!
Kornog – The Braes o’ Killiecrankie
Richard and Linda Thompson – Pour Down Like Silver
After Danny Thompson’s Dargai and Richard Thompson’s Scott Skinner Medley, I’m going to end this Scott Skinner Fest with Richard and Linda Thompson’s Dimming of the Day / Dargai from Pour Down Like Silver.
When I listened to this version of Dargai in the 1970s, it was the first time I had heard the tune. The title Dargai, the eastern sound of the tune and the fact of the Thompsons’ adoption of the Sufi faith, all led me to assume that the tune was middle eastern. Nought out of ten for ethno-musicology, methinks!
The other version of this tune that I know, though don’t own (yet), is by the Katherine Tickell Band. I once had all three versions of Dargai played back to back on BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction programme. This must count as the pinnacle of my cultural achievements!
Richard & Linda Thompson – Dimming of the Day / Dargai
Richard Thompson – Strict Tempo
After last week’s track, Scott Skinner’s Dargai, I thought that I would post some more Scott Skinner music. This week we have Richard Thompson, no relation, playing a medley of Scott Skinner tunes namely Glencoe, The Rockin’ Step and Bonny Banchory from his instrumental album Strict Tempo!
After the modest sales for their 1979 album Sunnyvista, Richard and Linda Thompson found themselves without a record deal. To generate some income, Richard Thompson formed his own record label Elixir Records and recorded this album at a small studio in London.
The promotional copies of the album released in 1981 included the following introductory note from Richard Thompson:
“Dear listener: Here is an album of some of my favourite tunes, and I hope that they may appeal to you too. Nine tracks are of traditional music plus one by Duke Ellington, one from Morocco and one newly composed. The tunes are rendered acoustically and electrically, and I am indebted to Dave Mattacks who plays drums and percussion on several track. This record was recorded and multi-tracked on TEAC 8-track.”
Unbelievably this album appears to be out of print. Some used copies are available but they appear to command extraordinarily high prices from £36.00 for CD in good condition to over £100.00 for a near perfect copy. And before you ask – no, my copy is not for sale!
Richard Thompson – Scott Skinner Medley
Danny Thompson – Whatever Next
Friday night saw the start of the latest series of Transatlantic Sessions on BBC 4. This series follows the format of the previous series; musicians from Britain and North America are brought together in a country house in Scotland to play songs and tunes from their separate and shared cultures.
One of the highlights from the first programme for me was a set of tunes lead by master piper Allan MacDonald with Danny Thompson giving immaculate support.
Watching this set lead me to the three records Danny Thompson made with his group Whatever between 1987 and 1990. These are jazz albums but feature some folk tunes and some folk instruments including Northumbrian pipes.
The stand out track for me on the “Whatever Next” album is Dargai -I just love this tune. Digging around on the Internet I have learnt that it was written by James Scott Skinner and commemorates a victory by Gordon Highlanders during the Afghan Wars. On 20 November 1897, men from the Gordon Highlanders and the Gurkhas seized Dargai on the North-West frontier.
Danny Thompson and Whatever’s version of this tune is posted below, but make sure you listen to an extract of Skinner playing available here.
Danny Thompson – Dargai
Waterboys – Room to Roam
I’m not a great Waterboys fan, truth to tell I don’t know a whole lot about the group or their music but I do love this album.
I got to know it when I sold all my LPs and bought a CD player. The children were young at the time, we did not have very much money and CD players (and CDs) were quite costly then. But in a life laundry moment; I sold all my albums, bought a CD player and pledged that I would, over time, repurchase all the albums that were important to me on CD.
Now having forked out for the player, I couldn’t afford to buy many CDs straight away, so I bought a couple of cheapies to test out the technology and then hit the local libraries to borrow their CDs till I could build my collection up again.
One of the first CDs I borrowed was Room to Roam by the Waterboys. I loved it straight away, it seemed to convey the time and the place in which it was recorded. No track represents that feeling better than Song From The End Of The World. You can hear the “furious music”and “the sound of feet beating on a stone floor” and you can see all this magic happening through the “open door” of a farmhouse in Ireland. Well, I can and I hope you can too.
The Waterboys – Song From The End Of The World