Kate Rusby: ‘The Fairest of all Yarrow’

This is a live solo performance from back in 2001. Kate was already such a polished presenter of traditional songs.

Kate recorded this song with a band on her 1999 CD ‘Sleepless‘. It was re-recorded in 2002 for her tenth anniversary collection ‘Ten‘.

This song is a version of #215 in Francis James Child’s famous collection ‘The English and Scottish Popular Ballads’, generally known as ‘The Child Ballads’. I believe the tune is Kate’s own.

Nic Jones sings ‘Ten Thousand Miles’

This version of the traditional song ‘Ten Thousand Miles’ is taken from Nic’s 1977 album ‘The Noah’s Ark Trap’, now sadly unavailable (by legal means, anyway).

For those who are unfamiliar with Nic, this wikipedia article gives a short introduction to his career and his influence on English folk music, including the horrific accident which almost killed him in 1982 and brought his musical career to a halt for nearly thirty years.

Nic’s first four solo albums are currently unavailable because of a complicated legal dispute with a record company. If you can find them, they are worth their weight in gold, especially the third and fourth ‘From the Devil to a Stranger’ and ‘The Noah’s Ark Trap’. His fifth solo album, ‘Penguin Eggs’ (1980) is widely considered to be one of the finest folk albums of all time, and is readily available on CD. There are also a number of compilation CDs made up of live recordings of varying qualities; check his website for more information.’

Mainly Norfolk has a good piece on ‘Ten Thousand Miles’ (AKA ‘The Turtle Dove’) which also notes its kinship to ‘A Roving on a Winter’s Night’, ‘The Blackest Crow’ and ‘Mary Ann’.

Mary Black sings ‘Annachie Gordon’

Here is the very great Irish singer Mary Black singing the classic Scottish ballad ‘Annachie Gordon’. I believe she is following the interpretation of the song by Nic Jones on his 1977 album ‘The Noah’s Ark Trap’ (sadly unavailable nowadays, at least by legal means).

In recounting the history of this fine old song, Wikipedia has this to say:

The words were printed in Maidment’s “North Countrie Garland” (1824) and in Buchan’s “Ancient Ballads and Songs 2” (1828). The tune was first printed in Bronson’s “Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads”. The story is along the lines of “Romeo and Juliet“, with the two lovers dying at the end. Sometime between 1800 and 1829 a broadsheet ballad called “A New Song” was printed. In it the name “Auchanachie Gordon” has been replaced by “Hannah Le Gordon” but is otherwise very similar. It is hard to explain why the hero has been given a girl’s name. Perhaps the Scots name was so unfamiliar to the Newcastle printer than he made a somewhat garbled choice of name.

Nic Jones recorded the song as Annachie Gordon on his 1977 album “The Noah’s Ark Trap” (1977). Mary Black included it using the same name on the album “Mary Black”. Loreena McKennitt recorded it on “Parallel Dreams” (1989). Other versions include June Tabor‘s on “Always” (2005), Sharon Shannon‘s on “Libertango” (2004), John Wesley Harding‘s on “Trad Arr Jones” (1999) and Oliver Schroer‘s instrumental version on “Celtic Devotion” (1999). Sinéad O’Connor also recorded a version on the Sharon Shannon Collection released in 2005, and Gabrielle Angelique recorded the song on her Album: “Dance with the Stars” (2006). The Unthanks 2009 Album “Here’s the tender coming” also contains a version. The earliest professional recording was by Berzilla Wallin on “Old Love Songs and Ballads from the Big Laurel, North Carolina” (1964).

Read the rest here.

Mary Black has one of the most distinctive and beautiful singing voices in Irish music today (a field that is certainly crowded!). Her website is here.

Planxty: ‘The Blacksmith’

Here we have a wonderful performance by the iconic Irish folk band ‘Planxty’, from their reunion tour back in 2004. I’ve been listening to them since the 1970s – long before I understood what traditional folk music was all about – and they are truly amazing.

This Wikipedia article does a good job of telling the story of Planxty.

Mainly Norfolk describes the recorded history of ‘The Blacksmith’ here. There’s also a short discussion of the origins of the song at Mudcat Café.

And finally, here’s a spellbinding solo version of ‘The Blacksmith’ by Andy Irvine. Its hard to find a better bouzouki player in the world today I think.

Kate Rusby: ‘The Drowned Lovers’ (AKA ‘Clyde Waters’

This is from a 2001 performance, in the days before Kate played with a polished backup band.

Kate learned this traditional song from Nic Jones and recorded it on her 1997 album ‘Hourglass‘. I think Nic had learned it from some old Scottish versions and had changed a few of the lyrics to make them more accessible to modern English audiences (although I still like the line ‘turled low on the pin’). Nic recorded a very jaunty version of it on ‘Penguin Eggs‘, but I like his live versions better.

You can find out more about the song at ‘Mainly Norfolk’ here.

Kate’s version is on ‘Hourglass‘. Her website is here. Nowadays she mainly sings her own original songs, but I still love her traditional songs best of all.

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?