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Tag: tradition

The old made modern

Saturday, 29 October, 2016 0 Comments

In his 2012 award-winning album, Ground Of Its Own, the English singer Sam Lee created something unique by giving traditional song the theatrical treatment. A typical example is his interpretation of the transported convict’s lament, Goodbye My Darling. The vocal and the video are pure drama as an 18th-century ballad is turned into 21st-century storytelling. Lee’s native London, with its immigrants and its elites, plays a leading role in the production.


The holly

Wednesday, 23 December, 2015 0 Comments

On this day last year, with one foot on the dresser and another on the step-ladder, my mother was perched like an Alpine Ibex as she fearlessly ensured that the most important of the Christmas decorations, the holly, was positioned exactly. Despite her 86 years, she insisted on arranging the “sprigs”. Holly has an ancient terminology and “sprig” dates back to the Middle English sprigge, meaning a small twig or stem.

The holly

Green and spiky and adorned with red berries, holly is the perfect Christmas decoration. It is honoured in the “Sans Day Carol,” which was first transcribed from the singing of Thomas Beard, a villager in St Day in the parish of Gwennap in Cornwall.

Now the holly bears a berry as white as the milk,
And Mary she bore Jesus, who was wrapped up in silk:

And Mary she bore Jesus our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Holly!
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly!

Now the holly bears a berry as green as the grass,
And Mary she bore Jesus, who died on the cross:

And Mary she bore Jesus our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Holly!
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly!

Now the holly bears a berry as black as the coal,
And Mary she bore Jesus, who died for us all:

And Mary she bore Jesus our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Holly!
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly!

Now the holly bears a berry, as blood is it red,
Then trust we our Saviour, who rose from the dead:

And Mary she bore Jesus our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Holly!
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly!


The ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness

Friday, 13 March, 2015 0 Comments

Snippet from Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett, who died yesterday:

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

bootsTake boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

In his writings, the ennobled Sir Terry Pratchet drew upon a noble literary heritage and his work encompassed the abundant genius of Charles Dickens, the enduring wit of P.G. Wodehouse and the stellar imagination of Douglas Adams.


The Wran’s Day

Friday, 26 December, 2014 0 Comments

In many parts of Ireland, it was customary on 26 December, Saint Stephen’s Day, for the “Wran Boys” to go from house to house carrying holly bushes decorated with ribbons and singing traditional ditties:

“The Wran, the Wran,
The King of Birds.
Saint Stephen’s morn
Was caught in the furze.
We hunted him up
And we hunted him down
And in the wood
We knocked him down.”

In return for singing, they would be given small amounts of money and the evening often ended in the local pub. One legend about this tradition is that Saint Stephen hid from his enemies in a bush but was betrayed by a chattering wren (“wran”). As a result, the wren, like Saint Stephen, is hunted down and stoned to death.

The wren


Whalers a cappella

Saturday, 17 August, 2013

Pete Truin, Jamie Doe and Sam Brookes are The Ballina Whalers (pronounced Bal-en-a, by the way). Singing a cappella, they carry on a musical tradition that goes back over hundreds of years in which shanties tell of whaling ships, raging storms, hardship before the mast and lost love. No ballads of sunken oil rigs or over-fishing by rapacious Spanish trawlers here. Nothing, either, about the plight of polar bears affected by warmism. The next generation of seafarers or shanty composers will have to tackle those subjects.


Topic Records launching ‘The Great Big Digital Archive Project’

Thursday, 3 January, 2013 0 Comments

Dominic Behan, Davy Graham, Ewan MacColl, Willie Clancy, Rambling Jack Elliott, Sarah Makem… all folk music greats and all soon to be available in digital format from the treasure chest of Topic Records, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary in April next year. Europe’s oldest independent label is undertaking one of the biggest digitization projects by a niche music marque ever seen and later this month Topic will launch “The Great Big Digital Archive Project”, with 84 albums available to download complete with booklets, artwork, documentation and sleeve-notes.

In 2003, Booker Prize-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro said this of Topic:

“There is this kind of treasure chest you have sitting in front of you, and if you were American or perhaps Irish you might have opened it by now, but because you live here it probably hasn’t occurred to you to do so yet. Well, I would urge you to open that thing up and delve inside it, because I believe you’ll find there a sublime vision of the British Isles as it has been lived over the last few centuries; and it’s the kind of vision that you can’t readily get from the works of say, Dickens or Shakespeare or Elgar or Sir Christopher Wren. If you don’t open that treasure box I think you are going to miss a certain dimension, a whole dimension of cultural life in this country so I urge you to do it.”


As I roved out in Austin, Texas

Saturday, 19 May, 2012

Born in Brattleboro, Vermont, Sam Amidon is a singer who’s not afraid to give the classics of the folk tradition a spin around the musical block. As I Roved Out was was collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1904 from a Mr. Broomfield, in the village of East Hornden, in Essex. Williams wrote, “the tune […]

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The living tradition

Thursday, 10 May, 2012

In our time of virtual reality, always-on connectivity and Google Glasses, folk music functions as a kind of acoustic way-back machine. But it’s not a stick-in-the-mud tradition. In Britain, The Unthanks prove that Northumberland folk is elastic enough to merge the mainstream with 200-year-old songs and create something that sounds ultra-modern. Mumford & Sons and […]

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