Story has always been really important to me, as a little girl my parents read to me at bedtime every night, and I will always remember my dad reading Winnie the Pooh in the voices. Everyone loves a story in one form or another, whether is it in a book, a movie, from a storyteller or just when we meet up with our friends and talk about the day; story is a major part of being a human.
I remember the excitement that I felt when I discovered folk music, I was a small child and my mother played Steeleye Span to me on her record player, and a deeper part of me lit up with the excitement of discovering ‘The Old Stories’; I knew there was more.
Whether I fell in love with Folk Music because of the storytelling element or because of the music itself, I will never know, in truth it was probably a mixture of the two, but one thing that I love about the storytelling aspect of folk music is how easy it is to sing about life in a metaphorical way. Modern life events and feelings can become tales from long ago and with the right language nobody would ever know.
Humans have been teaching their young through storytelling since the dawn of our time and we all have the innate ability to learn by listening, which is why what we are listening to is so important. Story reaches the part of our being which craves meaning, purpose and to understand what is happening to us as beings on this crazy rock hurtling through space at an inconceivable speed, I mean what on Earth (no pun intended, no really) are we doing here and why?
Don’t worry, or get excited for that matter, I am not about to reveal the meaning of life, now feeling a bit unwilling to admit that I have no idea what it is anyway. Sorry to disappoint, although the other day I realised that the not knowing is really the Best Possible Outcome, imagine if we Knew For Certain what it was all for, no mystery, no great adventures finding out (or not), it could be really dull. In any case it’s probably something really simple, like ‘enjoy what you’re doing because if you don’t you’ll be unhappy and be sure to brush your teeth every night’, which brings me back round to storytelling, because that helps to make sense of what ishappening, or at the very least it enables us to laugh about it!
I wrote my dissertation at University on the Geography of folk music, attempting to write about the songs that came specifically from Somerset, only to find that it’s almost impossible to discover the provenance of traditional English folk music. By as early as 1600 songs had travelled so far that unless they mentioned specific places it became impossible to tell from whence they came. There are regional variations in songs, for example the song Twa Corbies is clearly a Scottish Folk song denoted by its dialect:
“As I was walking all alane
I heard twa corbies makin a mane
The tane unto the t’other say
Where shall we gang and dine the day”
Variations of this song exist from a similar era sung in English, the most well known being The Three Ravens. The similarities in this song are too great to suggest that it is two entirely different songs, the Scottish version is much darker and less romantic than the English one:
“There were three ravens sat in a tree
Down a down, hey down a down
They were as black as black might be
With a down
The one said unto his mate
Where shall we our breakfast take
With a down derry derry down”
What is clear is the subject matter of traditional English Folk music; there are some general themes of which there are many, many examples. Obviously there are too many subjects to list here (and I would be showing my ignorance if I tried, or my knowledge, and in any case I’m aiming for wisdom not knowledge).
In general English Folk songs fit into the following categories:
- Love and Marriage
- Death, Murder and Tragedy
- Drinking and gambling
These songs are making sense of, or are at least looking for it, in the world and they are still relevant today, I think that is why I love them so much, life might look different on the outside, but we haven’t really changed on the inside, well I haven’t. You only have to look in the newspapers (which is essentially what early folk music represented in some regards, it was a way of carrying the news, check out Broadsides if you don’t already know about them) or at modern music, to see that humans are still story telling on the same subjects to each other. Only now we have added one major category that was for the most part missing from early folk music; environmental destruction and loss of biodiversity.
On the simplest level hearing a folk song reaches a part of me that doesn’t need to understand the words or the meaning of the song, sometimes the meaning is carried straight to my heart by the melody.
There is a modern penchant for story just for the sake of entertainment, I have particularly noticed this in the movies and in the content of a lot of modern childrens’ books, they often have badly thought out illustrations (if they can even be described as such) and narratives entirely empty of meaning, morals and understanding, and people read them to their children whose brains are wired to learn through story, ready to soak up the archetypal stories that exist to help them to develop into happy adults and make sense of their lives. I could rant on for ages about this but I won’t.
I discovered some time ago that when I write a story or a song (most of my songs follow the pattern of old stories) they usually turn out to reflect one of the ancient myths or archetypal stories, some of which I had not encountered before I sat down to compose. I cannot explain why this occurs, except to say that I attempt to make sense of or release the things that have happened in my life by writing them into metaphorical stories, and I suspect that when one is open to inspiration it comes from some other mysterious unexplainable place, perhaps called the collective consciousness or magic?
Which brings me back to my new cd, this is stuffed full of songs that I have written, ‘Sword Song’ was inspired by Rosemary Sutcliffs book of the same name and is about story itself. ‘The Quest’ is a story about one womans journey through the fire and back, ‘Caliburn’ is an Arthurian tale with a twist, ‘The Endless Sea’ is an ageless modern love song, ‘Out on the Ocean’ is the story of a girl who longs to go to sea, ‘Sunshine’ is the timeless story of loving where you are, and ‘Unicorn’ is a magical tale of finding freedom. All of these are available along with ‘Regret not Me’ Thomas Hardy’s poem set to music for my One hundred and One year old grandmothers funeral, and four traditional numbers including ‘The Three Ravens’, ‘The Saucy Sailor’, ‘Lord Rendal’, and the ‘Black Shawl’.
This wonderful CD can be pre-ordered Here!
Also available for a pretty penny are house concerts and a magical traditional style song written by me for you on a subject of your choice…..
Featured image: Dark Tower by Markus Inkpen.