Blog Post · Folk Music

Turning Wave 2016

As I listen to the horrendously funny re-interpretation of the Lord of the Rings, as performed by Martin Pearson, and savor the vision of several people walking out on his rendition of ‘The Vati-Can Can‘ performed in the Catholic Lovat Chapel, I am thinking back on the wonderful weekend just gone in Yass. This is the 5th year that the Turning Wave festival has been held in our small town in New South Wales.

This year the guest from Ireland was the delightful and talented Lydia Warnock, here she is winning the all-Ireland Fiddle title in 2013. Lydia made some interesting comments at her opening Masterclass performance and also as part of the closing concert. The subtext of what she was saying very politely was that Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, while a fantastic way to introduce young children around the world to an Irish culture, which by the 1950’s was in decline after many years of overt or subtle attempts by the English to stamp it out, could come across somewhat stilted in its uniformity.

Lydia played with a passion and feeling for the music which she described as coming from the people in their 70s from her local area who taught her the music they had learnt by ear in sessions, rather than in a room of thirty other toddlers with fiddles. I’m not sure what the lesson is here, but Ireland is not the only place that a society has attempted to revive or cling to its own historic culture in a way that can strangle the life, or at least the diversity, from it. We witnessed something very similar during our visit to Kazakhstan, where attempts to revive the dress and song post soviet occupation sometimes came across as contrived. This is not a criticism of the attempt, because I see it as a heartrendingly tragic thing for people to be cut off from their culture of hundreds or thousands of years. Lydia also praised Comhaltas for what they have managed to achieve in Ireland.

Some highlights of the festival for me included listening to the Spanish flavoured Señor Cabrales, both at their formal concert in the beautifully restored Lovat Chapel and again in their Sunday morning pub session. Hearing musicians as talented as this play together is a rare experience.

This particular festival was important for me because one of the locals involved with the festival put in the effort to organise a showcase concert of local talent. I have written previously about the song I wrote to commemorate the Sisters of Mercy who came to Yass from Ireland. A local choir had asked me for a song with an Irish connection to the town and I arranged the song for choir (with the help of a member of another choir that I am in). It was a very moving experience to hear 30 voices singing the piece to the 100 people who had stayed around for the closing concert.

Extending myself further beyond the singer/songwriter mould, I was also part of a four-piece Cèilidh style group made up of a local schoolteacher (who performed the magic trick of picking up a concertina 9 months ago and then flying through a set of 9 jigs and reels), a seasoned Irish Flute and Whistle player (from Ireland, her accent lending us some credibility), one of the pillars of the Irish/Folk scene in Yass on Bodhrán and me doing 3-chord percussion on guitar. While getting through the sets without obvious mistakes in front of the audience was a great experience, what I enjoyed most was a 40-minute practice session at a local cafe beforehand. Another comment made by Lydia Warnock was that Irish music is for the community, played in dance halls and pubs, it was never something designed for a stage with a large audience watching on with serious faces and an awkward head-nod, leg jiggle or thigh-slap. Unfortunately our group will be disbanding before reaching the peak of its fame as our Bodhrán player is leaving for Cobargo. Hopefully the festival and the concert will trigger enough interest in the town to establish a more regular session.

The newly formed TRIOC were a delight to listen to, they don’t have their own album but Matthew Horsley, the piper in the group, has a great album Australian Waters, which has also been on my post-festival playlist. You can listen to what they have recorded on soundcloud.

The last highlight for me was sharing the stage with and meeting Lugh Damen as part of the Yass showcase concert. I am already a big fan of Damh the Bard and Wendy Rule and didn’t realise we had a pagan inspired singer/songwriter living so close to Yass. Lugh’s album, Faerytale, collaborating with fiddler Retaw Boyce, is one of the finest examples of this style of music I have heard.

If you happen to be in Australia next September, don’t miss this very special festival.yass_rainbow

Ballad Analysis · Blog Post · Folk Music

Cain en-Abeling

History is always a fickle beast, told by the victors one way, then revised by the victims and then revised again when it suits some future generation. I recorded a version of The Bonnie Hoose o’ Airlie, sung with the same lyrics as those Kate Rusby uses.

While looking at the Wikipedia entry for this song, I noticed that the last two verses in one version detail a rape of the Lady of Airlie and subsequent hunting down and burning of the perpetrators:

But poor Lady Margaret was forced to come doun
And O but she sighed sairly
For their in front o’ all his men
She was ravished on the bowlin’ green o’ Airlie.

“Draw your dirks, draw your dirks,” cried the brave Locheil.
“Unsheath your sword,” cried Chairlie,
“We’ll kindle sic a lowe roond the false Argyle,
And licht it wi’ a spark oot o’ Airlie.”

On this, and other, historical websites, it seems that the song relates to the 1640 sacking of Airlie Castle by Archibald Campbell, 8th Earl of Argyll. The sacking occurred in the context of a power struggle within Scotland between the King and power brokers within the gentry. Theoretically a religious struggle between Presbyterians and the Catholic King, Charles I, it was much more about power within Scotland.

While the newly made Earl of Airlie, James Ogilvy, was away aiding the king, Archibald procured a Commission of fire and sword from the parliament and raised a small army to sack Airlie Castle. Importantly, the historical sources show that James’ son, Lord Ogilvy was present at the time and that Lady Ogilvy was turn out of her castle, but not raped in the way described in the version above.

The Electric Scotland page on this story goes into detail of the subsequent retaliation by the Ogilvy family. It would seem that this particular incident was part of an ongoing feud between the Campbells and the Ogilvys.

The Wikipedia page for the song implies that the song may have been re-written in part around the 1745 Jacobite rebellion as a propaganda piece. Certainly, the numerous versions of this ballad collected by Child, don’t seem to include the inflammatory verses above.

This tactic of dredging up a past wrong and re-painting it in the colours necessary for fanning the flames of a new conflict is not uncommon. One could wonder whether Cain ever really killed Abel in a jealous rage over his inadequate vegetables, or if some of Abel’s descendants later re-framed a minor conflict in order to justify brutality against some of Cain’s descendants for their own personal gain.

Personally, I find it repulsive that fanciful horrors from the past are used to birth real horrors in the future. It seems as though the human race is in an escalating spiral of brutality driven by carefully constructed propaganda.

Here in Australia, we are witnessing precisely this type of manufactured outrage against Muslims and, more generally, immigrants. It is also a key foundation of the Trump campaign in the US. I guess the philosophical lesson is that if you read, see or listen to something and start to feel outrage rather than compassion, then look beneath the surface to see who is pushing your button and ask why.