A Man Far From Home

This week we’re back in the Emerald Isle with one of Rob’s favourites of all time: Spancil Hill.  It’s a favourite as a beautiful song but also because of the true story behind it.

The song was written by a man named Michal Considine who was born near Spancil Hill around 1850.  At the age of around 20 he emigrated to California in hopes of seeking his fortune.  His main goal was to earn enough money to be able to bring his sweetheart out to join him so they could be married and start a new life together away from their childhood home that had been ravaged by famine.

3 years later, though, Michal fell ill and knew he didn’t have long to live.  He wrote a poem about his home back in Ireland, lamenting that he will never be able to see it, or his love, again.  He posted it to his nephew and died in 1873 at the age of 23.

It’s this beautifully sad story that has made Spancil Hill such a well known song; being covered by many of Ireland’s greatest artists including The Dubliners, The High Kings, The Corrs and many others…and now us!

Ireland has a bottomless wealth of beautiful and evocative traditional music, and we believe this is one of the best of the lot! We really hope you enjoy it too 🙂

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A Sick Child’s Song

This week sees us travelling back over to America.  We’ve both been fans of Johnny Cash for many many years and have already done one song that he had recorded a version of (Wayfaring Stranger), but we weren’t satisfied with just one, and in fairness you can’t do a project involving American traditional music and not cross paths with Johnny Cash on more than one occasion! And here’s our second: this week we have decided to perform Ain’t No Grave.  Although the version we have done has more similarities with another brilliant version recorded by Crooked Still.

The song  was written by a man called Claude Ely, who claims he came up with the song while suffering from tuberculosis in 1934 aged 12; spontaneously performing the song in response to his family’s prayers for his health! Claude was a Pentecostal preacher and singer-songwriter from Virginia who’s congregation supposedly used to include a young Elvis Presley!

We’re not sure that the story of Claude spontaneously bursting into this song on his sick bed aged 12 is exactly true, but it’s a good story so why argue? We love this song and hope you all do as well 🙂

Also we got to perform it in a swing!!

A Dalmatian Song (not about dogs!)

Yes that’s right! This week’s song is called the Dalmatian Cradle Song, but to some people’s disappointment it is not about spotty dogs. It is in fact a song from the Dalmatian Coast of former Yugoslavia (modern Croatia). We’re truly branching out with songs from countries that don’t exist anymore.

We struggled a bit for inspiration this week, but during a spring clean Becca came across an old piece of sheet music from her singing exam days. She hadn’t sung it for over 15 years, but sat down at the piano and immediately loved it again (actually probably more than she did when she was a child). If it wasn’t Spice Girls or B*Witched 12 year old Becca didn’t want to know!

The tune for the song was noted from the singing of a peasant in Yugoslavia and the words were written by P.A Grand. That’s all we’ve really managed to find on the song, but it’s a lovely comforting lullaby, which we have thoroughly enjoyed learning. Becca even plucked up the courage to use her accordion. That’s still a work in progress, but we hope that you all enjoy the added layer to our performance.

Another Deported Irishman

This week we’ve decided to continue our theme of deportation of convicts to Australia and gone for a song that focuses more on the family left behind as opposed to last week’s Jim Jones at Botany Bay which was from the convict’s perspective.  This is an absolute Irish classic and a great favourite of ours: The Fields of Athenry

The song is quite a modern folk tune, written in the 1970s by Pete St John and originally recorded in 1979 by Danny Doyle.  It centres around the years of the Great Famine (1845-50) and on a man, Michael, who steals his lord’s corn to feed his family.  The lord is referred to as “Trevelyne” which is a reference to Charles Trevelyan who was a British civil servant, greatly disliked by the Irish, who believed the famine was an “effective mechanism for reducing surplus population” and famously said “God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson.”  Michael is sentenced to deportation to Botany Bay, leaving behind his wife Mary and their young child.

The song has been performed by far too many great musicians to list here, although our personal favourites are a great version by Máiréad Carlin and of course The Dubliners.

We truly love this song, and it’s going to be a stalwart of our sets for a long time to come! We hope you enjoy it too 🙂 x

A Poacher’s Punishment

So here’s a first for us, we’ve done English, Scottish, Irish and American folk songs, and now we’ve taken a trip Down Under! This week we are doing an Australian folk song called Jim Jones at Botany Bay; as featured recently in Quentin Tarantino’s new film The Hateful Eight (although our version differs a bit!)

It tells the tale of Jim Jones who was convicted of poaching and sent to Australia on a convict ship and the misery that befalls them on the journey.  Throughout the first 2 verses Jim is rather miserable and wishing he was dead; dreading the fate that awaits him when they arrive at Botany Bay.  By the final verse however, he has developed a seed of rebellion.  He promises himself that he will get his revenge on his captors and escape into the Australian outback.

The song was first written down in 1907 by a man called Charles MacAlister who drove bullock-teams in New South Wales.  In his book Old Pioneering Days in the Sunny South he mentions it was sung to an old Irish tune called Irish Molly, O.  Unfortunately there is more than one tune with this title so we don’t know for sure which one was the original, although the modern versions of Jim Jones actually uses the same tune as the Irish song Skibbereen

While the song wasn’t written down until 1907, it was definitely around much earlier than that and it is generally agreed that the song dates to around 1830 as it mentions Jim Jones’ wish to join Jack Donohue’s gang.  Jack Donahue was a real individual who was active as a Bush Ranger (escaped convicts turned outlaws) from 1825 until he was shot in 1830.

As with many of the songs we have performed so far, this tune has been tackled by many fantastic artists such as Bob Dylan, Martin Carthy, and our personal favourite by Jim Causley! We loved performing this one, Becca especially so as she loves a good story she can act out! We hope you enjoy it too 🙂

A Song For Dink

Our latest song choice is another from across the pond and goes by the name “Fare Thee Well”.  In many folk circles, however, it also goes by the name of “Dink’s Song”.  This refers to how the song was initially collected by the great John Lomax.  John, and his son Alan, were 2 of the most prolific collectors of American folk music in the 20th century; collecting everything from Appalachian tunes to prison worksongs.  This particular tune was first collected by John Lomax in 1909 when he heard a young woman called Dink singing it as she washed her man’s clothes down by a bank of the Greater Calhoun Bayou River next to a camp of levee builders near Houston, Texas.

The song has been done by many of the great revivalist musicians such as Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk as well as many modern musicians such as Oscar Isaac/Marcus Mumford and Jeff Buckley.

We’ve had Rob on vocals in a few videos already, but this time it’s been stepped up a notch and we decided to try harmonies between the two of us! Quite good fun really, might do it again on another video or 2…or we will if Rob can handle Becca when she gets in “Teacher” mode and starts yelling words like “ENUNCIATE!” 😉

We only discovered this song recently but very quickly fell in love with it; and the imagery of a woman singing the tune as she did her laundry by the river was just the icing on the cake.  We hope you enjoy this song as much as we do 🙂

P.S. We’ve got a few different gigs lined up for June and July, including a big one for Milton Keynes Fringe Festival! Head over to our Gigs page for details!

A Deadly Affair

Welcome to week #27 of our project! And we’ve started off the second half of the project with one of our all time favourites, in terms of songs, settings, and the fact that we got to spend time with our friend Anna Hester 🙂

We’d been rehearsing this song with Anna for a few weeks to make sure we did it proper justice and it’s a fair amount of words to learn! And when Sunday came we were so happy to wake up to such a beautiful day and have the opportunity to play some music in the sunshine!

The song we picked is called “Matty Groves” and we fell in love with a version recorded in 2009 by Alela Diane and Alina Hardin.  We’ve covered their version of the song as it just seemed to fit Becca’s and Anna’s voices so well that there was no need to play around with it.

The song is Child Ballad #81 and dates back at least as far as the 17th century; it was first published in 1658 but is also thought to have been published in a Broadside by Henry Gosson who published between 1607 and 1641 so it may have been even earlier.  The song has several variations and is known in other recordings as Little Musgrave, Lord Arland, Lord Barnard and many more.  The first recording (that I know of) is by John Jacob Niles in 1956 and has been recorded over the years by the likes of Joan Baez, Martin Carthy, Nic Jones and even Tom Waits.

We really hope you enjoy this one as we absolutely love it! And please check out Anna Hester online on FacebookTwitter and Soundcloud