The Hobbledehoy is vey much looking forward to hearing Joan Shelley perform in Boston on Friday night. Though she hails from Kentucky, Joan’s music borrows quite a lot from British traditional folk sounds, and English vocalists like June Tabor, who she frequently cites as a major influence. Give a listen to NPR’s All Songs Considered interview below.
In this All Songs Considered guest DJ session, Joan Shelley talks about her latest album, Like the River Loves the Sea and shares songs by some of the other artists who’ve inspired her over the years.
Joan Shelley makes music that lulls my soul. Her new album, Like the River Loves the Sea, is a serene experience. It’s music with a deep connection to British folk music from the ’60s and ’70s but with influences from this side of the world and her home of Louisville, Kentucky.
On this edition of All Songs Considered, Joan Shelley is joined by her musical partner and Louisville companion, guitarist Nathan Salsburg to play DJ. You can hear the roots of the music they make in the songs they chose to share, from American banjo legend Roscoe Holcomb to English folk singer June Tabor and the contemporary music of Bonnie “Prince” Billy.
Joan Shelley tells the story of recording Like the River Loves the Sea in Iceland and how they had to forgo adding banjo to the album because they couldn’t locate one in Iceland. We also hear Joan Shelley’s early trio called Maiden Radio, Joan and Nathan’s new collaboration with Bonnie “Prince” Billy and how she met him at an ugly sweater party in Kentucky [ . . . ]
Francis James Child, A.B. 1846, was a model of nineteenth-century academic achievement. Named Harvard’s Boylston professor of rhetoric and oratory at 26, he was one of his century’s leading Chaucer scholars and received honorary degrees from his alma mater, Columbia, and Göttingen. His close friends included Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry and William James, and Charles Eliot Norton. Yet today he is better remembered than many distinguished colleagues because, at the height of his career, he decided to apply a gift for scholarship honed on the study of traditional literature to the oral traditions of the folk ballad.
That a sailmaker’s son achieved eminence of any sort was largely because the Boston of his youth was progressive enough to offer free public educationat least for white boysand small enough to spot and foster talent. His record at Boston Grammar and Boston English came to the attention of Epes Sargent Dixwell, A.B. 1827, headmaster of Boston Latin, who facilitated his admission to that school and then to Harvard College.
Child graduated first in his class and became a College tutor in mathematics and then in history, political economy, and English. When a benefactor lent him funds for a trip to Europe, he took a leave of absence from 1849 to 1851 to study in Berlin and Göttingen, an extraordinary opportunity given his youth and background. On his return, he became Boylston professor, a post he held for a quarter-century before becoming Harvard’s first professor of English, in 1876. He served as general editor of the British Poets, a popular series that ran to 150 volumes. He issued a five-volume edition of Spenser’s poems and the influential Observations on the Language of Chaucer. And he introduced generations of undergraduates to these poets, to Shakespeare, and to the Romantics.
He combined scholarship with a gift for friendship. He corresponded for three decades with James Russell Lowell“Jamie,” even when Lowell was ambassador to Great Britainand for near-ly two decades with Miss Emily Tuckerman of Stockbridge, Mas-sa-chusetts, in each case combining his love of literature with a sense of humor and humility not always associated with his fellow academics. Time remained for his rose garden, his family, and more worldly demands. Though ill-suited by nature to the rough and tumble of politics, he canceled classes to canvass for Lincoln during the Civil War and joined in local political battles on behalf of his adopted Brahmin class with enthusiasm, if not success.
But increasingly his life was dominated by one great and abiding passionthe preservation of a ballad tradition that was dying even as Child struggled to record it. His first collection of ballads appeared in eight small volumes (1857-58) in the British Poets series, but he had something far more ambitious in mind: the comprehensive recordation of all known English and Scottish ballads and their American and Canadian variants. That demanded patience in tracking manuscripts across continents, judgment in interpreting and clarifying textual discrepancies, and persistence in dealing with collectors ranging from the high-born Lord Rosebery to the eccentric Devon clergyman Sabine Baring-Gould.
In all, Child collected 305 ballads, ultimately published in five volumes (1882-98), including “Lord Randall,” “Sir Patrick Spens,” and a good three dozen variations on the adventures of Robin Hood. Some, like “Barbara Allen,” had been in print for generations and were sung from London to Appalachia. Others, like “Thomas the Rhymer” or “Tam Lin,” evoke a world of magic that survived outside the written record for centuries. Child’s enthusiasm and erudition shine throughout his systematic attempt to set the British ballad tradition in context with others, whether Danish, Serbian, or Turkish. He made no attempt to conceal or apologize for the sexuality, theatrical violence, and ill-concealed paganism of many ballads, but it is characteristic of the man that in his introduction to “Hugh of Lincoln,” an ancient work about the purported murder of a Christian child by a Jew, he wrote, “And these pretended child-murders, with their horrible consequences, are only a part of the persecution which, with all moderation, may be rubricated as the most disgraceful chapter in the history of the human race.”
Our own period doesn’t readily lend itself to an undertaking such as Child’s, but the timing was right for him, as for other Victorian obsessives. He could attack a subject thatinstead of being studied half to deathwas in danger of disappearing entirely, with a level of knowledge and self-confidence that eludes our more specialized age. For half a century, scholars and musicologists embraced his collection, but added little to it. Then, in the 1950s, the ballads were taken up as part of the folk-music revival, so that Time magazine, writing about Joan Baez in 1962, would note, “Folkupmanship absolutely requires that a ballad be referred to as Child 12, Child 200, or Child 209….” In succeeding decades, new interpretations have appeared regularly, remarkably fresh and original given the ancient sources of the lyrics. Child passed on to subsequent generations of audiences and performers a legacy of scholarship that they have been able to enjoy on their own terms and express in their own fashion. In doing so, he preserved the continuing vitality of the ballad tradition that he loved so much.
John Burgess, J.D. ’76, is a senior partner in the Boston office of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, where he practices corporate and international law.
The shortlist has been announced for the 2019 RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards, taking place in Vicar Street on October 24th.
This year’s nominees cover the entire Irish folk spectrum, with talents like Lisa O’Neill (nominated in four categories, including Best Folk Album and a pair of nominations for Best Original Folk Track), Junior Brother, Saint Sister and Ye Vagabonds nominated alongside veteran players like Dervish, Gerry O’Beirne, Cormac Begley and Martin Hayes. You can read the shortlist in full below.
Additionally, it has been announced that Irish folk legend Moya Brennan, the vocalist with Clannad, will achieve this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Folk singer Martin Carthy examines the rise and fall of Ewan MacColl’s Critics Group.
Immediately after the success of the BBC Radio Ballads, Ewan MacColl set about the Herculean task of trying to drag British folk music into mainstream culture. Frustrated by the dreary amateurishness of folk song performance, he decided to establish his own centre of excellence to professionalise the art. He called it “The Critics Group”. MacColl tutored select artists “to sing folk songs the way they should be sung” and to think about the origins of what they were singing. He introduced Stanislavski technique and Laban theory into folk performance and explored style, content and delivery. BBC producer Charles Parker recorded these sessions to aid group analysis. 40 years on, the tapes have come to light. For the first time, a clear sound picture can be constructed of this influential group in action. Former group members Peggy Seeger, Sandra Kerr, Frankie Armstrong, Richard Snell, Brian Pearson and Phil Colclough recount six frantic years of rehearsing, performing and criticising each other. They recall the powerful hold that Ewan MacColl exerted which was eventually to lead to the collapse of the group in acrimony and blame. Presenter Martin Carthy MBE, now an elder statesman of the British folk music scene, shared many of McColl’s ambitions but didn’t join the group himself. He listens to the recordings and assesses the legacy of MacColl’s controversial experiment. Producers: Genevieve Tudor and Chris Eldon Lee A Culture Wise Production for BBC Radio 4
Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita, Brìghde Chaimbeul, Ye Vagabonds and Kitty McFarlane also nominated; Dervish to receive Lifetime Achievement Award. Listen to our playlist of all 2019 nominees.
Irish folk singer Lisa O’Neill has been nominated for four awards: Folk Singer of the Year, Best Traditional Track (‘Factory Girl’ with Radie Peat), Best Original Track (‘Blackbird’), and Best Album for Heard a Long Gone Song. The album was released last October on the River Lea label and also received a nomination in the inaugural RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards.
Welsh harper Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita have received two nominations (Best Album and Best Duo/Group), and Keita has also received a third as Musician of the Year. Finch and Keita’s duet album Soar has already won ‘Best Fusion’ album in the Songlines Music Awards and the fRoots Critics Album of the Year for 2018. The other nominees in Best Album are Flook’s Ancora and Hide and Hair by The Trials Of Cato. Voting for Best Album is open to the public in the UK.
Along with Finch and Keita, the groups Stick in the Wheel, The Breath and The Rheingans Sisters also received a nomination in the Best Duo/Group category. The other nominees for Best Musician of the Year are Jenn Butterworth, Mohsen Amini and Sam Sweeney.
Emerging artists and songs
Scots piper Brìghde Chaimbeul, who released The Reeling last year, produced by Lau’s Aidan O’Rourke, has received a nomination in the Horizon award (for emerging artists), along with Kinnaris Quintet, Kitty Macfarlane (who features on the Topic 80th anniversary album), and The Trials Of Cato, who won Best Emerging Artist/Band at the first Wales Folk Awards in April.
Ye Vagabonds (below), who received two nominations in the RTÉ Folk Awards last year, have been nominated for Best Traditional Track with ‘The Foggy Dew’ from their new album The Hare’s Lament. ‘Ffoles Llantrisant’ by VRï (which won the equivalent Welsh Folk Award with the same song) and ‘The Reedcutter’s Daughter’ by Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith have also been nominated, along with O’Neill and Peat.
Singers and musicians
The nominees for Folk Singer of the Year are Ríoghnach Connolly from Armagh, Olivia Chaney who has released two albums on the Nonesuch label, Gwilym Bowen Rhys (also Best Solo Artist at the Welsh Folk Awards) and O’Neill.
Kris Drever from Lau has been nominated in the Best Original Track section for ‘Scapa Flow 1919’, about the scuttling of a German fleet in the Orkney Islands after World War I. Also nominated are ‘I Burn But I Am Not Consumed’ by Karine Polwart from her album Law of Motion, ‘O-U-T Spells Out’ by Kathryn Tickell and The Darkening (‘An ironic look at borders, walls, barriers, Brexit…’), and O’Neill’s ‘Blackbird’.
It has also been announced that Dervish will received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the ceremony. Commenting on the honour, the band’s accordionist Shane Mitchell said: ‘We are thrilled and so delighted to be receiving this very special honour at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, particularly as this is the 30th anniversary of the band.’ The group will perform on the night.
The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards take place at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester on 16 October as part of the Manchester Folk Festival. See the full list of nominees and listen to our playlist of all artists below. For more information, visit https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00yrkrj.