Thursday 26 March 2015

Irish Voices

Good Vibrations Record shop
Belfast, in the most bombed street in Europe, Terry Hooley opened a record shop where he offered a little corner of hope when punk challenged those hateful and destructive tribal identities.  Live bands played there and the band The Undertones from Londonderry were played by independent DJ John Peel and the punk energy had come back again. 

Then, in Dublin city the 80s, the rock band U2 emerged, with their song Sunday Bloody Sunday and the band sang about, not only of the deep wounds of the past, but also of a new tomorrow and of a modern Ireland no longer down-trodden and one that looked outward over the Atlantic to their America cousins. I will always remember first seeing this fresh young band's first video for New Years Day on MTV.  

All four of U2 attended a Dublin non-denominational school and clearly they were interested in crossing borders and divides. Their first song, Pride, was about Martin Luther King. The Irish had often had to look for a new life in America. America understood Celtic passion. Their most famous album Joshua Tree is a letter to America. 

I remember hearing an Irish folk band called Spud (!) at a folk club years back and they were so much fun! I had noticed that Irish music often expresses an upbeat vibe, that made me think of Irish dancing. Those river dance high jumps and toe tapping - by comparison to the heavier or more varied tempos of Scottish dancing.  
There have been many outstanding folk musicians out of Ireland – Planxty, The Cheiftians, The Dubliners, Cara Dillon and more.  The Celtic traditions of Ireland are closely connected to Scotland historically.

I visited Dublin once - home of Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Yeats and others and the Irish Writers museum was inspiring to visit. I had thought I'd find the city of music here - but instead it was the city of poetic words, slightly off-centre colours, a large open heart and.... a singing bus tour guide of course!  
Dublin has rich deeply contrasting colours - the Black and Gold of Guiness beer; the emerald green hats; the beautiful and intricate Celtic designs of the Book of Kell; the  dusty high dark shelves of Trinity College library which looks like a movie set for one of those dark thriller books, alongside the rather pale stately buildings.  At the Dublin airport there was instantly an impression of shambolic chaos when we arrived!
Dublin colours
My father sang Irish tunes such as Galway Bay and the Londonderry Air - which were full of sympathetic romantic melody and words.  Nothing quite hits those emotional hot spots like the Irish song of longing for home Danny Boy - Calling from glen to glen and down the mountainside.

Perhaps the Celt's (both Ireland and Scotland's) love of preserving their history, their passions and the power of the human spirit is what Ireland is really all about...... 'and if you ever go across the sea to Ireland ... then I will ask my god to make my heaven, in that dear land across the Irish Sea. '
 The Irish have a shambolic madness, creativity and open friendliness! They have the gift of the gab, enjoy a good song when they hear it and are fearless. And as the Irish say - ‘May the road always rise up to meet you’

Monday 23 March 2015

Women Musicians

Nicola Benedetti
When I decided to write this blog and I started to go through my photos of women musicians, I felt quite emotional about these wonderful artists - over the incredible gigs they have performed and the insightful songs they have written. Women have powerful voices. Women are often the heart of any home and strong families matter. When women are not respected countries and societies are the weaker for it.

Recently we have witnessed in the UK the huge success of several female singer songwriters – Adele, Emeli Sande, Laura Marling and several others.  I have been fortuate to follow Emeli's career since 2007 and i never imagined that I would see her sing at the London Olympic Games one day!

Laura Marling

I have noted that female rock bands have come over from America - Warpaint, Haim, The Bangles and others - and there are few female rock bands here in the UK.  

I was surprised to learn recently that women's numbers generally in music though are very small.  I was pretty surprised to learn some of the statistics - a PRS (Publishing Rights Society) statistic showed that only 14%  of its members were female. Other statistics -  BBC Proms - 4% women,
BBC Introducing compilations CD - women have 7 tracks out of 32 tracks.

In February 2015 singer songwriter Beth Orton looked at the lack of women generally in the world of music and the ways women might deal with the challenges today in the music biz with an event in Manchester.
Emeli Sande
Julie Fowlis

Certainly the Grammy's and Brits are testament to this - where women are viewed as 'youthful decoration.' Some women of course play along to this stereotype in ridiculous revealing outfits.  Another issue is that women are not allowed to age (??)  Yet look at the strong older women in the film industry and the positive image and role models they create - Meryl Streep, Oprah Winfry, Helen Mirren and others.

It is better in the folk world (and for writers) for women generally speaking - where age is viewed more as an asset and gender seems irrelevant in the main

Rab Noakes & Barbara Dickson
Cara Dillon
*Beverly Martyn (or Bev Kutner)
I also read the story of Beverly Martyn who co-wrote many of John Martyn's early songs but received little recognition - John told her not to worry and that she would get the credits.  Bev played piano while they wrote songs together for the album Solid Air and John would say that he would ‘credit her on the next song!’  Bev and Martyn recorded three albums together  - Stormbringer, Road to Ruin and Bless the Weather - before John was persuaded by his record label to go solo. Beverly was then left on the house on the hill to raise their children while John toured. I wrote about her here –

There are also several forgotten women poets.

Orchestra's have been mostly male - the Viennese Orchestra that plays Strauss for the New Years Day concert - it was all men until recent times when they have allowed in a few women musicians.

I read recently too of *Mrs Bach!  In the Age of Enlightenment (18TH Century) most women would never write under their own name and so they have been forgotten by history.

Sara Watkins

Mrs Bach – or rather Anna Magdelena – has been now revealed as the author of the cello suites by forensic musicologist Professor Martin Jarvis of Charles Darwin university in Australia. Anna has been airbrushed from history (much as many women painters have been) .
The program claims that she was the composer of the Cello Suites and more perhaps. Magdalena was a gifted soprano and came from a family of musicians and it is believed was writing with Johann Sebastian Bach from the age of 12.  After her death, Bach's older sons by his first marriage, had Magdalena air-brushed from the records and no composer Day books or family portraits have survived. Bach's first biography was written fifty years after his death. Bach was also blind for much for his life. 
Jarvis has been investigating the story for 25 years and the program is narrated by composer Sally Beamish. -

One of the greatest musicians and songwriters of modern times has been Canadian Joni Mitchell.
My Photo Gallery of Women Musicians here - musicians

Stevie Nicks