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 In it the name “Auchanachie Gordon” has been replaced by “Hannah Le Gordon” but is otherwise very similar.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.

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