People have always loved music, both making it and listening to it. Many of us like to have it in the background while we work. Unfortunately, while I can block out random chatter and street noises when I need intense concentration, I can’t block the music. Music is for the times when I can appreciate it and, if no one else is around, sing along.
Below is a collection of the music I have listened to repeatedly through 2022. The first few songs relate to Cold Blows the Wind, the novel that totally consumed my time and my imagination until its publication at the end of April 2022.
I drew the title of the novel from a nineteenth century version of The Unquiet Grave. Lines from it are sung at various points in the novel.
The Unquiet Grave is an English folk song and is believed to be fifteenth century in origin. It is a warning against excessive grief and speaks of the dead being unable to rest because of the mourning of the lover left behind. Like most old songs there are many versions.
I particularly like this version by Luke Kelly. It ends with the lines ‘So, make yourself content, my love,/Til God calls you away’, my preferred ending to the song.
The Gypsy Rover was popular when I was young and I had an idea of using it in Cold Blows the Wind but then I discovered copyright and all that so I looked to its antecedents.
I ended up using a song from the Scottish borders, The Dark-Eyed Gypsy, a version of the ballad The Raggle Taggle Gypsy. The Dark-Eyed Gypsy is the tale of a woman who runs away from her husband and children to go off with her dark-eyed Gypsy lover. The most modern version of the lyrics, found in the Gypsy Rover/Whistling Gypsy, has all the pain and hardship removed and ends with the notion of happy forever after, an idea not often found in traditional songs.
Ellen Thompson, whose life between 1878 and 1885 is traced in the novel, had two brother who were whalers. This shanty brings Will and George Thompson to mind.
Wellerman is a New Zealand whaling song and refers to supply ships owned by the Weller brothers, who were amongst the earliest European settlers of Otago.
We enjoyed classroom singing when I was at primary school – singing along, song books on the desk in front of us, to a program broadcast by ABC Radio called Let’s Have Music. Some of the songs were about boats and water, including the comic A Nautical Yarn about a paddle steamer on the Murray River and Bound for South Australia, a capstan shanty, possibly cleaned up slightly to make it suitable for children. One song that has stayed with me, especially now that I understand its context, is The Catalpa, a song about a whaling ship.
The Catalpa was an American whaling ship which, on Perth Regatta day in April 1876, rescued from Fremantle, Western Australia, six members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood who had been transported in 1868 for crimes ranging from ‘treason-felony to rebellion’.
Over The Hills and Far Away is a traditional British song that has many versions. It was published in Thomas D’Urfey’s collection, Wit and Mirth: Or Pills to Purge Melancholy. Other versions appeared in The Recruiting Officer by George Farquhar (1706) and in John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728).
I first discovered this song when rounding out the information I had on my great-great-grandfather William Reader (1822-1902). He was a private in the 96th Regiment of Foot who arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1843.
The Auld Triangle was written by Dick Shannon of Inchicore, a friend of the Irish writer Brendan Behan (1923-1964), who made it famous when he included it in his 1954 play The Quare Fellow set in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin.
As the tune is a recurring earworm for me, when I decided to find out more about it I discovered Behan’s powerfully moving play. My thoughts on the play and a loose film adaptation are towards the end of this post from October 2022.
The aria sung by the Queen of the Night in the second act of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute is formally known as Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart) but commonly known in English simply as Queen of the Night. The Queen of the Night, angry and wanting revenge on Sarastro, a High priest, gives her daughter, Pamina, a dagger and orders her to Sarastro, and threatening to disown and curse her if she does not.
For many of us who are listening, not watching, and don’t understand the lyrics, or even the tale told by the opera, the aria is simply sublime, spine-tingling, music.
Patrick Dexter is a musician from the west of Ireland. In 2020, during the depths of lockdown, Patrick began playing his cello outside his cottage, in company with his dog, and sharing it online. His music was a bright moment in difficult times and brought comfort to millions worldwide.
The Foggy Dew is an Irish song written by Fr Charles O’Neill (1887–1963) in 1919 and chronicles the Easter Rising of 1916.
I have been a fan of the Pogues since the 1980s. No further explanation necessary.
Mock Morris is an original composition by Australian composer Percy Grainger inspired by the traditional English Morris dance. It was written in 1910 and first performed at a concert in the Queen’s Hall, London in 1912.
I love Grainger’s Country Gardens but always feel guilty when I hear it as Grainger came to hate performing it and even remarked: ‘The typical English country garden is not often used to grow flowers in; it is more likely to be a vegetable plot. So you can think of turnips as I play it.’
This is a version re-orchestrated by Percy Grainger, later in life, with intentional ‘wrong’ notes. It is fun. Just think of turnips.
I also love banjo music. If you need to get yourself moving in the morning, there is nothing better than a banjo tune and a cup of strong coffee.
And finally, as we say Goodbye to 2022, not the best of years, The Parting Glass, a traditional Scottish song, also used in my novel.