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



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.


Show of Hands: ‘Twas on One April’s Morning’

Here’s a gorgeous version of the old folk song ‘Twas on one April’s Morning’ by Show of Hands (Phil Beer and Steve Knightley, with Miranda Sykes on bass). The last verse, which they do in three part harmony, is absolutely beautiful.

Show of Hands’ website is here.

‘Mainly Norfolk’ gives a good survey of recorded versions of the song, and a couple of versions of the lyrics, here.

Andy Irvine’s great take on ‘As I Roved Out’

St. Patrick’s Day is coming up so some Irish music might be in order. I’ve known this gorgeous song for a long time – first heard it on a ‘Planxty’ recording from the 1970s, with Andy Irvine singing the lead. Here’s Andy playing it solo, and a very nice job he does too.

Andy’s website is here.

I recorded an a cappella version of this song on my CD ‘Folk Songs and Renovations’. You can listen to it here. It’s also for sale if you’d like to take it home!