Do Unto Others

I don’t have a lot to say today in response to the fatal shooting at a Quebec mosque last night, or to all the evil policies coming out of the office of He Who Must Not Be Named in Washington. But somehow this Billy Bragg song (based on some words of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke) seemed appropriate. This song can be found on Billy’s brilliant album ‘Tooth and Nail‘.

Twenty Essential Albums for Me Today

There have been a lot of people on Facebook recently sharing albums that shaped them when they were teenagers, which is quite interesting. I thought I’d also like to share my current ‘Top Twenty’ – in alphabetical order by artist surname, with the proviso that I will not let myself pick more than one album per artist. These albums are by the artists I currently play the most and consider essential to my musical well-being and inspiration.

  1. Nicola Benedetti: ‘Vaughan Williams/Taverner’
  2. Billy Bragg: ‘Tooth and Nail’
  3. Anne Briggs: ‘A Collection’
  4. Matthew Byrne: ‘Hearts and Heroes’
  5. Martin Carthy: ‘Martin Carthy’
  6. Bruce Cockburn: ‘Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws’
  7. Maria Dunn: ‘Gathering’
  8. James Findlay, Bella Hardy, Brian Peters & Lucy Ward: ‘The Liberty to Choose: A Selection of Songs from the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs’
  9. Genticorum: ‘La Bibournoise’
  10. Nic Jones: ‘Penguin Eggs’
  11. Choir of King’s College Cambridge/Philip Ledger: ‘Orlando Gibbons: Tudor Church Music’
  12. Mark Knopfler: ‘The Ragpicker’s Dream’
  13. London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis: ‘Handel’s Messiah’
  14. Maddy Prior: ‘Seven for Old England’
  15. Jean Ritchie & Doc Watson: ‘At Folk City’
  16. Red Tail Ring: ‘Mountain Shout’
  17. Stan Rogers: ‘Northwest Passage’
  18. Kate Rusby: ‘Ten’
  19. Martin Simpson: ‘Kind Letters’
  20. Sting: ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales’

Anyone else like to share their top twenty?

Arthur McBride

Because one should regularly return to the most magisterial versions of the great folk songs, I hereby post this morning Paul Brady’s classic 1977 take on ‘Arthur McBride’. Beautifully sung of course, and Paul’s flat picking here is extraordinary.

My two favourite moments in this video are (1) the delicious word ‘spalpeen’, and (2) the mischievous grin on Paul’s face at 5.54 when he sings the line ‘We obligingly asked if they wanted recruits’!

There’s an interesting discussion of the song at Mudcat Café here.

Paul Brady’s website



The Franz Family’s wonderful take on ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’

This is an Advent tradition for me. I love the Franz Family’s version of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’; it’s far and away my favourite version of this Advent hymn.

The Franz Family website appears to be no more, but their Facebook page is here, and their iTunes site here.

Jim Moray: ‘Lord Douglas’

This is Jim Moray’s take on the old folk song ‘Earl Brand’. He has combined elements from several versions of the song and added some verses of his own as well. I think it’s a brilliant piece of music and a wonderful example of how to take an old song and use it as the basis for something new.

More information about the song is at ‘Mainly Norfolk‘, ‘Wikipedia‘, and ‘Contemplator‘.

This song is taken from Jim Moray’s album ‘Skulk‘. Jim’s website is here.

“I’ll sing you this…”

IMG_1651Question: what do you call a musical performance? And why?

I ask this because I was intrigued this past weekend (at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival)  by Martin Carthy’s way of introducing the traditional songs he was performing: he said “I’ll sing you this…”

Not “play”, but “sing” (although he’s no slouch as a guitarist, as everyone will admit!).

On the other hand, the most common usage today seems to be ‘I’m playing the _______ (insert name of venue here) tonight’. Not even ‘I’m playing at the ___________’ but ‘I’m playing the _______’.

I wonder why this has become so widespread?

Is it because we somehow think that playing our instruments is more important, more praiseworthy, takes more skill, than mere singing?

Is it because we don’t think the lyrics of our songs are important – just the tunes, or (God forbid!) the guitar licks?

I find it intriguing.

In traditional folk songs, the song is primary. I always advise people who want to sing traditional songs to learn to sing them a cappella first, to get the feel of the song. If you do that, eventually the song will tell you how it wants to be accompanied (or whether it even needs an accompaniment).

The song comes first. The ‘playing’ is secondary. And the fact that it’s me who is doing the playing comes even further back. At least, that’s my ideal, although I suspect I often don’t live up to it.

So thank you, Martin Carthy, for reminding me of what comes first.

The main reason I will be attending the Edmonton Folk Music Festival this year

It’s because Martin and Eliza Carthy will be there, of course!

This song is recorded on Martin and Eliza’s CD ‘The Moral of the Elephant‘.

Martin has been a musical hero of mine for decades. I have never heard him live. I can’t begin to express how much I’m looking forward to rectifying that situation.