Shirley Collins: The voice of England’s true soul music

Think about what fires and inspires great literature. Passion, intensity, strong characters,  gripping stories, powerful imagery, a timelessness of theme and emotion that can make something written in, say, the 18th century still seem fresh and relevant today.

The same ingredients also apply to great music, meaning that a crossing of the genres often provides memorable creations: Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights and Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road are arguably the highest profile examples, but did you know that T’Pau’s China In Your Hand is about Mary Shelley and Frankenstein?

It’s usually at this point that the quote, “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” is trotted out and attributed to Frank Zappa (although it seemed it was actually the American actor and musician Martin Mull who first used the phrase), but although it’s a nifty bit of word play it’s also bollocks.Music has inspired some incredible writing, from the pioneering rock journalism of Lester Bangs to chroniclers of music history such as Greil Marcus to the current crop of outstanding memoirs, especially from women such as Tracey Thorn, Viv Albertine and Cosey Fanni Tutti. Continue reading

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Give Us a Tune: “Wally, Wally”

Traditional

Oh, waly, waly up the bank and waly, waly down the brae,
And waly, waly up burnside where I and my love used to go.
I was a lady of high renown that lived in the North country;
I was a lady of high renown when Jamie Douglas courted me.

And when we came to Glasgow town, it was a comely sight to see,
My lord was clad in the velvet green and I myself in cramasie.
And when my eldest son was born and set upon his nurse’s knee,
I was the happiest woman born and my good lord, he loved me.

There came a man into our house and Jamie Lockhart was his name
And it was told unto my lord that I did lie in bed with him.
There came another to our house and he was no good friend to me;
He put Jamie’s shoes beneath my bed and bade my good lord come and see.

Oh woe be unto thee, Blackwood, and an ill death may you die,
You were the first and the foremost man that parted my good lord and I.
And when my lord came to my room this great falsehood for to see,
He turned him round all with a scowl and not one word would he speak to me.

“Come up, come up, now Jamie Douglas, come up the stair and dine with me,
I’ll set you on a chair of gold and court you kindly on my knee.”
“When cockleshells turn silver bells and fishes fly from tree to tree,
When frost and snow turn fire to burn it’s I’ll come up and dine with thee.”

Oh woe be unto thee, Blackwood, and an ill death may you die,
You were the first and the foremost man that parted my good lord and I.
And when my father he had word my good lord had forsaken me,
He sent fifty of his brisk dragoons to fetch me home to my own country.

O had I wist when first I kissed that love should been so ill to win,
I’d locked my heart in a cage of gold and pinned it with a silver pin.
You think that I am like yourself and lie with each one that I see,
But I do swear by Heavens high, I never loved a man but thee.

‘Tis not the frost that freezes fell, nor blowing snow’s inclemency,
‘Tis not such cold that makes me cry, but my love’s heart grown cold to me.
O waly, waly, love is bonnie a little while when first it’s new,
But love grows old and waxes cold and fades away like morning dew.

Nick Cave, PJ Harvey & Henry Lee

 

“Fucking hell! That’s a one-take video,” Nick Cave said about the decades-old but still smokin’ hot collaboration with PJ Harvey.

“Nothing is rehearsed at all except we sit on this ‘love seat’. We didn’t know each other well, and this thing happens while we’re making the video. There’s a certain awkwardness, and afterwards it’s like, oh…” Asked if he was actually beginning his brief romance with Harvey in this three-minute video, Cave confirmed, “Yeah, exactly.”

“Henry Lee” (aka “Young Hunting”) is a traditional folk song catalogued by Francis James Child as Child Ballad and has its origin in Scotland.

Like most traditional songs, numerous variants of the song exist worldwide, notably under the title of “Henry Lee” and “Love Henry” in the United States and “Earl Richard” and sometimes “The Proud Girl” in the United Kingdom.
The song, which can be traced back as far as the 18th century, narrates the tale of the eponymous protagonist, Young Hunting, who tells a woman, who may have borne him a child, that he is in love with another, more beautiful woman. Despite this, she persuades him to drink until he is drunk, then to come to her bedroom, or at least kiss her farewell.

The woman then stabs him to death. She throws his body in the river — sometimes with the help of one of the other women of the town, whom she bribes with a diamond ring — and is taunted by a bird. She tries to lure the bird down from the tree but it tells her that she will kill it if it comes within reach. When the search for Young Hunting starts, she either denies seeing him or claims that he left earlier, but when Hunting’s remains are found, in order to revoke her guilt, she reveals that she murdered him and is later burned at the stake. [sources: The GuardianWikipedia]

 

Anne Briggs: An Introduction

Anne Briggs: An Introduction to Anne Briggs
Topic Records

“She was a rare thing, fine as a beeswing,’ sang Richard Thompson on Beeswing, a song widely held to be about the singer Anne Briggs. The elegiac tone employed by Thompson would have you believe that the subject of Beeswing is no longer of this world, and although Briggs is very much alive and well, her almost complete withdrawal from the public eye and refusal to record any new music since the early 1970s has lent her a kind of mythological status. She has always walked with one foot in another world, as it were.

It is not the music writer’s place to draw conclusions about Briggs’ character or search for clues as to why she turned her back on the music industry (from what I’ve seen, I’m surprised more artists don’t take a similar route), but to claim, on the basis of her music alone, that she is some kind of fragile elfin princess sleeping for a hundred years on a pillow of spiders’ webs is missing something. Sure, she was capable of singing with an unmatched delicacy, and her voice is rightly praised for its striking, crystalline beauty, but she was equally at home singing songs about bad working conditions, plucky poachers and dodgy sex. There was purity, but there was also earthiness, flirtatiousness and at times gutwrenching sadness.

In 1999 Topic released Anne Briggs: A Collection, which contained all of her 1971 self-titled debut album plus everything she had sung on prior to that (a clutch of EPs, including collaborations with Bert Lloyd and Ewan MacColl) – twenty-two songs in total. This followed the 1997 release of Sing A Song For You, which Briggs had recorded in 1973 and subsequently shelved due to doubts about her voice – doubts, it must be said, that weren’t shared by anyone lucky enough to hear the album. This new collection is part of Topic’s Introduction Series and contains fifteen songs cherry-picked from the aforementioned releases. The goal is clearly to entice new listeners who have yet to take the plunge, and in terms of quality it succeeds on pretty much every level. Continue reading