Tunes for a Monday Morning

Leaves of the wood

Many of our friends and colleagues in the fantasy publishing field have been in Dublin over the last several days for the World SFF Convention, and so music and poetry from Ireland seems an appropriate way to start off the week. All the videos here were shot by filmmaker Myles O'Reilly, who specializes in documenting the work of Irish musicians at home and abroad. I love his work, which beautifully captures this moment in time in the Irish music scene.

Above: O'Reilly's short film Backwards to Go Forwards (2019), which he describes as "a little snapshot" of contemporary Irish folk music. The film features This is How we Fly, Cormac Begley, Saileog & Muireann Ní Cheannabháin, Radie Peat, Cormac Mac Diarmada & Brian Flanagan, Ye Vagabonds, Slow Moving Clouds, The Bonny Men, Zoe Conway and John McIntyre, along with interviews conducted by O'Reilly, Martin Mackie, and Donal Dineen.

Below: "Rí Rua" by This is How We Fly, fusing traditional music of Ireland and Sweden with jazz improvisation and clog dancing. The performance was filmed at Fumbally Stables in Dublin, 2017.

Above: "I Courted a Wee Girl" performed by Ye Vagabonds (brothers Brían and Diarmuid Mac Gloinn), who grew up in rural Carlow but are now based in Dublin.

"In the summer of 2018," says O'Reilly, "I was invited to document a tour with Ye Vagabonds who were performing on six islands off the coast of Ireland. The result is Seven Songs On Six Islands, a musical and visual odyssey through some of the most remote and beautiful edges of the country."  The full film can be viewed O'Reilly's Patreon page, where, if you make a pledge, your funds will help him to make one similar music documentary per month. 

Below: "Willie O Winsbury" (Child Ballad #100) performed by Ye Vagabonds in Dublin, 2014.

Above: "Factory Girl" performed by two stalwarts of Irish music: Lisa O'Neill (from Cavan) and Radie Peat (of the band Lankum, from Dublin). The video was filmed for O'Reilly's This Ain't No Disco series showcasing Irish music and spoken word.

Below: "Morning," a gentle song by the folk duo LemonCello (Laura Quirke and Claire Kinsella), who started performing together at university in County Kildare. Cello, harmonies, scones, adorable dogs...there's a lot to like here.

And one more to end with:  "iomramh" by Dublin poet and playwright Stephen James Smith, filmed for the Ain't No Disco series. "The poem," says Smith, "was written at Cill Rialaig in County Kerry. An iomramh is a class of old Irish tale concerning a hero’s sea journey to the otherworld. Each of these journeys ostensibly takes place in the physical world, but in parallel with this they are, on a deeper level, also journeys to oneself."

The Cill Rialaig artists' retreat in County KerryThe Cill Rialaig Artists' Retreat, Co. Kerry, Ireland.

Tunes for a Monday Morning


This week, I am feeling the need for quiet, focus, and to find my creative centre again --  so I'm turning to the music of the great Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, for whom a love of simplicity and silence inspired the musical style he calls tintinabulli.

"On the one hand, silence is like fertile soil, which, as it were, awaits our creative act, our seed," the composer explains. "On the other hand, silence must be approached with a feeling of awe. And when we speak about silence, we must keep in mind that it has two different wings, so to speak. Silence can be both that which is outside of us and that which is inside a person. The silence of our soul, which isn't even affected by external distractions, is actually more crucial but more difficult to achieve."

Above, Pärt's exquisite "Spiegel im spiegel," performed by Sally Maer (cello) and Sally Whitwell (piano), accompanied by the very beautiful art of American painter Jeanie Tomanek.

Below, Pärt's "Summa," performed by The Carducci Quartet: Matthew Denton (violin), Michelle Fleming (violin),  Eoin Schmidt-Martin (viola), and Emma Denton (cello).

Below, an English-language piece by Pärt: "My Heart's in the Highlands," performed by Danish soprano Elsa Torp and English organist Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, recorded for Pärt’s Triodion CD (2003). The lyrics come a Robert Burns poem written in 1789.

Allt a' Mhuilinn in the Scottish Highlands

"Is it possible to make a living by simply watching light?" asks American writer Terry Tempest Williams. "Monet did. Vermeer did. I believe Vincent did too. They painted light in order to witness the dance between revelation and concealment, exposure and darkness. Perhaps this is what I desire most, to sit and watch the shifting shadows cross the cliff face of sandstone or simply to walk parallel with a path of liquid light called the Colorado River....This living would include becoming a caretaker of silence, a connoisseur of stillness, a listener of wind where each dialect is not only heard but understood."

In the Wild Country by Jeanie Tomanek

For more Arvo Pärt this morning, I recommend Even if I Lose Everything, a short film on the composer by Dorian Supine. The art above is: "Wingspan" and "Wild Country" by Jeanie Tomanek. The Terry Tempest Williams quote is from her excellent essay collection Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert (Pantheon, 2001).

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Sir Orfeo illustrated by Errol le Cain

I periodically turn to Child Ballads for our "Monday Tunes," not only because I love them, but because they are full of stories that have also inspired other forms of mythic art, from fantasy novels to poetry and comics. The songs I've chosen to play today are ones that haven't yet been featured on Myth & Moor, but of course there are many, many others. If you'd like further recommendations, go here for previous ballad-related posts.

Above: "Orfeo" (Child Ballad #19) performed by the Scottish folk band Malinky, based in Edinburg. The song is from their lovely new album Handsel (2019).

Below: "The Forester" (Child Ballad #110), performed by Malinky, also from the new album.

Above: "Lady Diamond" (Child Ballad #269) performed by Scottish singer and harpist Rachel Newton. The song appeared on her solo album The Shadow Side (2012).

Below: "Edward" (Child Ballad #13) performed by the Scottish folk band Old Blind Dogs, from Aberdeen. The song appeared on their seventh album, The World's Room (1999).

Above: "The Gardener" (Child Ballad #219) performed by the great English folk singer June Tabor. The song appeared on her solo album A Quiet Eye (2000).

Below: "The Cruel Mother" (Child Ballad #20) performed by Scottish singer Fiona Hunter (from Malinky). The song appeared on her first solo album Fiona Hunter (2014).

Above: The Dowie Dens of Yarrow" (Child Ballad #214) performed by Scottish singer/songwriter Karine Polwart, based in Edinburgh. The song appeared on her third solo album Fairest Floo'er (2007).

Below: "Lord Baker" (Child Ballad #53) performed by Susan McKeown, a Dublin-born singer based in New York City. The song appeared on her solo album Lowlands (200).

Thorn Rose by Errol le Cain

Art: Illustrations for Sir Orfeo (a Middle English narrative poem related to the ballad "King Orfeo") and Thorn Rose by British book artist Errol le Cain (1941-1989).

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Wild words

Music, magic, stories....

Above: "The Kingdom" by American singer/songwriter Jesca Hoop, who is based in Manchester, England. The song is from her second album, Hunting My Dress (2009).

Below: "Blood Moon" by the Irish folk-electronica duo Saint Sister (Gemma Doherty & Morgan MacIntyre), from their debut, Shape of Silence (2018).

Wild words

Above: "Riverside" by Danish singer-songwriter Agnes Obel, born in Gentofte and now based in Berlin. The song is from her first album, Philharmonics (2010).

Below: "Garden District" by French harpist and singer Cécile Corbel, from Finistère in the far west of Brittany. The song appeared on Roses, the fourth volume in her SongBook series of albums (2014).

Wild words

Above: "The Snow Queen" by British singer/songwrite Ana Silvera, based in London. The song is from her very beautiful album The Aviary (2013).

Below: "Gravity" by American singer/songwriter Vienna Teng, born in California and now based in Detroit. The song is from her first studio album, The Waking Hour (2002).

Wild words

Pictures: wild words in the woods. The fairy tale openings in the picture captions were taken from a Guardian article by Kate Lyons.

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Art by Laurence Winram

Karin Powlwart by Laurence Winram

This week, music from Scottish singer/songwriter Karine Polwart -- beginning with three songs from her "Tiny Desk Concert" at the National Public Radio offices in Washington DC, accompanied by guitarist Steven Polwart (Karine's brother) and multi-instrumentalist Inge Thomson (one of my lovely colleagues from the Modern Fairies project).

As NPR explains: "Polwart writes songs about hope, music that harnesses spiritual power and lyrics that address important social justice themes. Stories of human emotion and the human experience are also commonplace as in the first tune, 'Ophelia.' Her second song, 'I Burn But I Am Not Consumed,' includes a mesmerizing spoken word denunciation of President Donald Trump, while the closing tune, 'King of Birds,' praises the power of small things. In it Polwart recounts the legend of a wren who piggybacks a lift on an eagle's wing. Just as the large bird is unable to fly any higher in the sky, the tiny wren catches a breath of air, soars higher than the eagle and is crowned the king of all birds."

Below: A new rendition of Big Country's "Chance," from her latest album, Karine Polwart's Scottish Songbook, featuring re-imagined songs drawn from fifty years of Scottish pop music.

Above: "All of a Summer's Evening," a song from her stunning album and stage show A Pocket of Wind Resistance (created with Pippa Murphy) -- a "poetic meditation on midwifery, ecology, sanctuary and solidarity, combining elements of memoir, essay, myth, sound art and song." The gorgeous video was made by another colleague of mine from the Modern Fairies project: singer, songwriter, artist and animator Marry Waterson.

Above: "Lark in the Clear Air," also from A Pocket of Wind Resistance.

Art by Laurence Winram

The art in this post is by Scottish photographer Laurence Winram, based in Edinburgh.

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Morning mist on Nattadon Hill

It's early morning, quiet and misty, the sun rising slowly above the moor, and I've been playing the music of guitar virtuoso Ben Walker and friends to greet the day...

Shadow hound

Above: "Silverline," written and sung by Josienne Clarke, backed up by Walker on guitar. The song appears on the duo's third album, Nothing Can Bring Back the Sun (2014).

Below: "John Riley," a traditional ballad performed by Clarke & Walker on their first album, The Seas Are Deep (2011).

Above: "When a Knight Won His Spurs," an early 20th century children's hymn adapted to a folk melody by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The song appeared on Clarke & Walker's second album, Fire & Fortune (2013).

Below: "Nurses' Song" by Ben Walker (with singer Kitty Macfarlane), from his gorgeous new solo album, Echo (2019).  The piece is based on two poems from Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake.

Above: "How Stands the Glass Around" by Walker (with singer Jinnwoo). This one is a new arrangement of an 18th century soldiers' drinking song.

Below: "Let Me in at the Door" by Walker (with singer Hazel Askew) -- based on a 19th century poem, "The Witch," by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge.

Above: "Lachrimaie Pavane," the lute music of John Dowland, played on a Gibson ES-175.

Below: Walker & Clarke perform "The Banks of the Sweet Primrose" at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

Early morning in an English summer

Spells and tunes for a Monday Morning

The Lost Words

The Lost Words, a magnificent book created by Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane, began "as a response to the removal of everyday nature words from a widely used children’s dictionary, but then grew to become a much broader protest at the loss of the natural world around us." This beautiful volume contains twenty of Robert's poems/chants/spells entwined with Jackie's paintings of larks, acorns, otters and other wild things, conjuring the names of common animals and plants back into our language.

In the Waterstones interview above, Robert talks about the magical power of words, and of a collaborative process not only between writer and artist but also with the land itself.

Below, Jackie summons otters from a blank white page while reciting Robert's words. The video was filmed in her studio on the wild coast of Wales.

Spell Songs is a companion project in which eight fine folk musicians (Karine Polwart, Julie Fowlis, Seckou Keita, Kris Drever, Kerry Andrew, Rachel Newton, Beth Porter, and Jim Molyneux) were invited to create new songs inspired by The Lost Words. The project began with a residency in the Herefordshire countryside in January; the songs were taken on tour in February; and the music is now being released as an album, followed by more performances -- including the BBC Proms.

Spell Songs

Easter Hare byJackie MorrisAbove: The Snow Hare, from Spell Songs. "The mountain hare, or snow hare, the only truly Arctic animal of Scotland, is under threat due to rapid ecological shifts. A creature that has evolved winter camouflage becomes immensely vulnerable when the snows don’t come as they used to. This song, led by Julie Fowlis and Karine Polwart, speaks to that fragility."

Below: Selkie-Boy. "Tales of the seal people are a big part of Hebridean folklore, especially in North Uist, Julie Fowlis's home island. Her fascination with these stories, of Norse royalty, enchantment, separation and isolation, led Robert to gift her with a new spell, Grey Seal. 'I began the selkie song thinking it was a drowning song,' he says, 'but by the time I'd added the final verses realised it needed to be, like the selkies themselves, neither quite one thing or the other, neither drowning nor dreaming, seal or human, land or sea, elegy or eulogy, and how it was taken would depend on how it swam into the mind of the listener.' "

Selkie by Jackie Morris

Birds from The Lost Words

Above: Charm on, Goldfinch. Beth Porter, who composed this song, was inspired "by her walks in Wigtown along the Martyrs’ Stake, where she often saw goldfinches along the path and in the trees, and by the end to Robert's new Goldfinch Spell, which forms the chorus: Charm on Goldfinch, charm on Heaven help us when all your gold is gone."

Below: My favourite of the songs, The Lost Blessing. "Karine Polwart suggested the idea of a blessing borrowing images and phrases from many of the Lost Words spells  (Bluebell, Dandelion, Fern, Heather, Heron, Kingfisher, Lark, Otter, Raven and Starling), as well as from new spells (Goldfinch and Grey Seal). The form is inspired by blessings in Scottish Gaelic, particularly from a beautiful collection of charms and incantations called Carmina Gadelica."

The album can be ordered here. To learn more about the book, go here.

Tilly and The Lost Words

Related posts:  Making friends with monsters & other advice for artists and The wild sky.

Tunes for a Monday Morning

From Jerusalem by William Blake

This week, music inspired by the poetry of Blake, Coleridge, and Yeats....

Above: "Jerusalem"  by English singer/songwriter Chris Wood, based on the poem by William Blake (1757-1827). The song is from Wood's album None The Wiser (2013), performed at the Green Backyard in Peterborough (2014).

Below:  "The Tyger" by American singer/songwriter Greg Brown, based on the poem by Blake. It's from Brown's album of Blake-inspired works, Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1986).

Above: "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), with music by English singer/songwriter Ange Hardy and artwork by Tamsin Rosewell. The piece is from Hardy's album Esteesee, containing songs based on the poet's life and work.

Below: The title song of Hardy's album, performed live with Lukas Drinkwater. Coleridge disliked his name so much he would write it phonetically as Esteesee.

Above: "Golden Apples of the Sun," performed by American folksinger Judy Collins, based on the poem "The Song of the Wandering Aengus" by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), with music by Travis Edmondson. The song is from Collin's classic album Golden Apples of the Sun (1962).

Below: "The Stolen Child" by Canadian singer/songwriter and Celtic music scholar Loreena McKennitt, based on the poem by Yeats. The song appeared on McKennitt's album Elemental (1985). This live performance was filmed the same year.

The Tyger by William BlakeIt's been a good week for contemporary poetry. In the U.S., Joy Harjo of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation has just been named Poet Laureate, and will be the first Native American writer in the role since its establishment 82 years ago. (William Jay Smith, Poet Laureate from 1968-1970, was of Choctaw ancestry but not a tribal member.) Harjo is an activist as well as a poet and says she will use her appointment to put a spotlight on First Nations writers, which is welcome news indeed. Go here for a short video of Harjo talking about this at the Academy of American of Poets.

In the UK, Alice Oswald has just been named Oxford Professor of Poetry, and is the first woman to serve in that position since it was establish three centuries ago, in 1708. Alice currently lives on the other side of Dartmoor, and is a friend of ours (her husband, playwright Peter Oswald, runs a theatre company with my husband Howard), so we're especially delighted by this news. Go here for a short interview with Alice about her multi-award-winning book Falling Awake.

William Blake

Artwork above by William Blake.

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Walk Softly by Kelly Louise Judd

Today, folk/bluegrass/American roots music from the troubled, soulful, very beautiful country I was born in....

Above: "Here and Heaven" by classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma, mandolin master Chris Thile (playing gamba and mandolin here), bluegrass fiddler & banjo player Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer (on gamba and bass), and singer/songwriter Aoife O'Donovan. It's from their collaborative album The Goat Rodeo Sessions (2011), which I highly recommend.

Below: "Overland" by I'm With Her (Aoife O'Donovan, Sara Jarosz, and Sara Watkins), from their first album together, See You Around (2018). The video is by Tobias LaMontagne.

Above: "American Flowers" by Birds of Chicago (husband-and-wife folk/roots duo JT Nero and Allison Russell), with Rhiannon Giddens and Steve Dawson. The song is from their lovely EP of the same name (2017). I also recommend Giddens' new album, There is no Other, with Francesco Turrisi.

Below: "Remember Wild Horses" by Birds of Chicago, from Real Midnight (2016).

Above: "Saint Valentine" by Gregory Alan Isakov and his band, performed with the Ghost Orchestra in Los Angeles in 2017. The song appeared on Isakov's 5th album, The Weatherman (2013).

Below: "The Universe" by Gregory Alan Isakov, also from The Weatherman, performed with his band in his home state, Colorado, in 2015.

Above: "Mother Deer" by Mandolin Orange (Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz) and their band. The song is from their new album Tides of a Teardrop (2019).

Below: "The Wolves" by Mandolin Orange, also from the new album.

White Fawn by Kelly Louise Judd

The art today is by Kelly Louise Judd, a painter and illustrator based in Kansas City whose work is inspired by folklore, ghost stories, Victoriana, animals, and nature. Please visit her website to see more.

Wolf's Breath by Kelly Louise Judd

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Old beech and ivy  early spring

BumblebeeJune 1st marks the beginning of 30 Days Wild, an annual event sponsored by the UK's Wildlife Trusts. The idea is to do something out in nature each day no matter where you live -- country, city, town, or suburb. It's a good way of remembering to stay connected to the beautiful natural world -- especially now, when climate crisis is the most pressing issue of our time.

Today, in honor of 30 Days Wild, here is a collection of "wild songs" about the growing green world, woodlands dark and bright, coastal winds and forest magic....

Above: "Trees Hug Bees" by Jeanes -- a music collective founded by Russell Jeanes (a graphic designer, filmmaker and poet from Yorkshire) to create Sleeping Leaves, a "pastoral folk" EP containing songs, poems, and sounds of the natural world put together in a collective fashion.The vocalist on this tract is Léa Decan. 

Belove: "The Arboretum" by singer/songwriter Bill Jones, based in north-east England. The song appears on her new album, A Wonderful Fairytale (2019).

Woodland flowers

Above: "Sisters Three" by singer/songwriter Ange Hardy, from Somerset. The song appears on her sixth studio album, Bring Back Home (2017).

Below: "A’ phiuthrag ’sa phiuthar (O sister, beloved sister)"  performed by Julie Fowlis, from North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. It tells the story of a girl lured away in the woods by the sìthichean (the  fairy-people), and her sister's long search to bring her home again. The song appears on Fowlis' latest album, Alterus (2018). The animation is by Eleonore Dambre and Dima Nowarah.

Piskie flowers

Above: "Woodcat" by Tunng, a "folktronica" band founded by Sam Genders and Mike Lindsay, based in London. This wonderfully odd little song   (rooted in the folklore of shape-shifting hares) appeared on their album Comments of the Inner Chorus (2007).The Spirit Within by Karen Davis

Below: "Old Pine" by singer/songwriter Ben Howard, who grew up on the other side of Dartmoor. The song, celebrating the beauty of our West Country coastline, is from Ben's first album, Every Kingdom (2012).

Old beech and ivy summer

Pictures: An old beech tree twined with ivy, photographed in spring and summer; wild strawberries and piskie flowers in the woods; and a vintage drawing of a bumblebee (artist unknown). The hare painting is "The Spirit Within" by Karen Davis; all rights reserved by the artist.