Sunday, 28 December 2008

Synchronised Ducking

video

La Charca de Suárez, Motril (Granada)
Sun 21 Dec

Technical note
This is a sequence of stills which was put into a Slideshow in iPhoto, and then Exported as a .mov file, which was in turn uploaded directly into Blogger.


NB: Season's Greetings, links to more pics, and some info in Spanish, in the following post.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Marie Shade


This is the slide-show I put together for my mother's funeral, 4 years ago - mostly photos taken as and when. There are still a number of queries - we're pretty sure about most of the places, but who are some of these people?

To view full-screen
1) click on 'slideboom' at the left of the control panel
2) on the slideboom page, click on the rectangle at the right of the panel

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Martin Carthy at the Oak

IMG_2726.JPG copy

Thu 20 Nov
Royal Oak, Lewes


Martin's annual visit. Somehow I managed to grab a front row seat, so the pics are a bit closer-up than usual.

More sunsets

IMG_2717.JPG
Falmer, 20 Nov 16:24:21.

IMG_2719.JPG
Falmer, 20 Nov 16:25:04. Same settings (auto), no editing, just a few steps further down, and 43 seconds later.

See also pic from the day before, same place, almost same time.

Buika at the Komedia

IMG_2715.JPG copy

Wed 19 Nov

A glorious performance, a full set of coplas and boleros, some older, some newer, giving the songs the full melodramatic treatment intrinsic to these genres. She sang with just piano and drums, and the line-up and the cabaret ambiance suited her music much better than the full-on band and big theatre setting we saw at Sadlers Wells in March. Here her voice could be highlighted without having to dominate an over-amplified band, as at SW, and she could give full rein to her wide range of expression and volume. And what a range! She is unique in bringing a genuine jazz sensitivity into Spanish song.

See her web-site for info and clips; there's also loads on YouTube. And my little Flickr set has been picked up by her fans' blog . . .

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Falmer sunset

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Wed 19 Nov, 4.20pm. Gorgeous, and fleeting - the best colours were a minute or so beforehand, 5 minutes later it had gone.

Sea fierce at Seaford

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Returning from Eastbourne on Mon 10 Nov, early afternoon, there was a diversion along the sea-front at Seaford. I just had to get out of the car to experience this - winds over 50mph, waves crashing in from miles out with a huge, roaring noise, difficult to keep your balance. It was almost impossible to hold the iPhone still to take pics - see the Flickr set; there's a weird contrast in tint between the first two (warmer hues) and the third.

Monday, 17 November 2008

David Shade: 93-and-a-quarter



This is the slide-show I put together for my father's funeral, 4 years ago - mostly photos taken as and when. There are still a number of queries - we're pretty sure about most of the places, but who are some of these people?

To view full-screen
1) click on 'slideboom' at the left of the control panel
2) on the slideboom page, click on the rectangle at the right of the panel

Friday, 14 November 2008

Leon at the 100 Club

Sun 9 Nov
100 Club, Oxford Street


A family reunion (Beatrice and Ken, Peter and John, Brian and me) - thanks to the Geni family tree site - and another chance to hear Leon singing some of his current set. I should have posted on his evening at the Komedia in Brighton in May -
My Life as a Songwriter or How I Failed to Become Rich and Famous - a wonderful, heart-warming, and very funny show - but here goes, better late than never, as usual.

Leon demands full attention from the listener - he must have the highest syllables-per-bar quotient of any songwriter on earth, so if you're not concentrating, you'll miss half of it. And it's all acutely observed, tightly woven, and witty, and constantly challenging, so it's well worth not missing any of it.

Just as when I saw him in Brighton, and in Lewes last year, I was convinced he sang the last two songs just for me - the Song of the Old Communist and My Father's Jewish World; well, this time, just for us. And The World Turned Upside Down for everyone, of course.

Thanks due to Robb Johnson for asking Leon to do support for his CD launch - as Leon said, it was going to be an evening of contrasts.

* * Coming shortly - Leon and Robb celebrate the bi-centenary of the death of Tom Paine with The Liberty Tree. This show just has to come to Lewes! * *

Listen to Leon's songs on his myspace, and get his records direct from
his website.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Apple Day

IMG_3564.JPG
Sun 28 Sep
Stanmer Park, Brighton


Everything you ever wanted to know about apples. Picking them, eating them, pressing them, drinking them, identifying them, dancing them, and most memorably, smelling them in the orchard - like having cider coursing through your veins! And of course, taking pictures of it all.

Thanks to Brighton Permaculture Trust for thinking this one up.

Season of mists



Sat 11 Oct
Lewes


As seen from my front room. And as seen by John Keats, with a bit of mellow fruitfulness thrown in for good measure. And Autumn Leaves, falling all over the previous Post.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Autumn Leaves

IMG_3605.JPG
Sun 12 Oct
Sheffield Park


Quite simply the most stunning display I've ever seen. A glorious late summer's day, warm enough to sit on the grass, eat your sandwiches and bask. And leaves beginning to turn, with the low Autumn sun coming through almost horizontal but still strong enough to intensify all the colours and point up the shadows.

Thousands of awestruck visitors, wandering slowly through the park, mostly speechless, often motionless, just standing, gazing in wonder.

And the highest concentration of cameras per head on earth, from pros with tripods, telescopics and lens-hoods to grannies with mobile phones - so there'll be tons up on Flickr by now. So here's 114 more: set 1, set 2, set 3, set 4.

And if you fancy something in a completely different mode, here's Javier Paxariño playing the tune with students from the Salamanca Music Conservatory, earlier this year.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The Sound of Glynde

From the monthly English session at the Trevor Arms, Mon 13 Oct. Some of the old favourites played by some of the old favourites, and recorded in mono on my iPhone. The audio files are hosted at Box.net.

Monday, 22 September 2008

The Seven Sisters Conjunction




Scientists at the North London research institute THoF believe we are currently witnessing what is possibly the first ever occurrence of a phenomenon known as the Seven Sisters Conjunction. This is defined as the moment when the two bodies AFC and THFC appear at the extreme opposite ends of their seasonal trajectories. Researchers refer to these extremes as positions 1 and 20.

The Seven Sisters Conjunction is a special instance of the more general phenomenon known as the Seven Sisters Differential. This is calculated through the formula: (x) AFC :: (y) THFC. At the present time the values of x and y are 1 and 20 respectively (please see Table 1 for details).

This gives the result: 1 AFC :: 20 THFC, so the Differential is currently +19 (see note 1), and the two bodies are indeed in a state of Conjunction.

The Seven Sisters Conjunction is by its very nature temporary. It could last as little as a few minutes, depending on what are known as KO times, or it could be a matter of days, weeks, or even months. The two bodies could slip out of conjunction, and then slip back in again later. However, there is a limit: Conjunction cannot carry through from one season to the next. Were THFC to remain in position 20 for the remainder of the present season, it would find itself relocated to a secondary universe or ‘Division’, and the calculations would have to be done on a different basis (see note 2).

A further point to note is that, were a situation of Conjunction, or near Conjunction, to persist, this could well affect the timing of the annual celebration of St Totteringham’s Day. Mathematically this cannot occur before the mid-point of the season, but observers will no doubt be watching with interest.

We will try to keep track of events as they unfold at the new Seven Sisters Conjunction blog.

Notes
1) You will notice that the Differential is expressed here as a positive value - this is normal. Negative values (ie, where the value for THFC is lower than that for AFC) have been known to occur, but they are atypical and are usually of brief duration.

2) Were THFC to be relocated to a secondary Division, the Differential would have to be expressed in the form: 1.x AFC :: 2.y THFC, and the value of the Differential would depend on the maximum values of these coefficients - for several years now (1) has had a max of 20, and (2) a max of 24.

As an illustration, in the event of a hypothetical situation of 1.1 AFC :: 2.24 THFC, the Differential would be +43 (1::44), and the situation would be classed as a Secondary Conjunction. This is regarded as highly unlikely to happen in the short term, but as the THoF researchers say, “you never know”.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Jeudis de Perpignan

Thu 7, 14 Aug
Perpignan


From 7 till midnight, every Thursday evening through the holiday period, the centre of Perpignan hosts a mini street music festival, with a wide range of traditional and popular music from France and round the world. This year we saw Spi and La Gaudriole do a cracking bal folk set that had the whole of the Place de la République dancing, klezmer, trad jazz, a fanfare from Bénin, songs composed by Catalan women, even a parade of geese led through town by an accordionist.

The final spot on our second night there was the cobla band La Mil.lenaria playing sardanas - what else? - accompanied by a tractor-drawn mobile carillon. The carillonist (?) sits in a cabin at the back at a keyboard, and it's really weird to hear a tune played by a peal of bells moving down the street. Their final piece was Lluis Llach's L'Estaca, the number one Catalan anthem from the 1970s, still going strong, belted out by cobla, carillon and the voices of a couple of hundred spectators, at midnight.

Couldn't happen in England.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Matt @ the Oak


Thu 11 Sep
Royal Oak, Lewes

Matt does his first solo gig, at the Royal Oak, with a little bit of help from Dan. Now it's off to the Traditional Music degree course at the University of Newcastle. Best wishes!

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

La Retirada

Fort Bellegarde (P.O.)
Sat 9 Aug


A very affecting account in music, song and dance of the withdrawal across the frontier of tens of thousands of refugees during the last weeks of the Spanish Civil War (Jan - Mar 1939). Sandra Díaz has based the show on the experiences of her grandmother, Manolica - the poster they unravel at the end is something Sandra remembers her grandmother saying:

"No lloraremos, cantaremos"
(We shall not weep, we shall sing)

There are many reminders of this period in the area, from the paths the refugees took across the border, to the concentration camp at Rivesaltes and the grave of Antonio Machado at Collioure. This show is one of several manifestations of the drive for the "recovery of historical memory" that has been gathering strength in both France and Spain in recent years.

[links and more pics to come]

The rain in Prades

Prades
Tue 2 Aug


. . . falls mainly very hard! A 15-minute hailstorm, best experienced from under cover.

Quartets at Molitg-les-Bains

Molitg-les-Bains (Pyrénées Orientales)
Mon 4 Aug


Well, duos, trios and quartets, part of the Casals Festival of Chamber Music, based at Prades. Haydn, Mozart and a Beethoven cello sonata - gorgeous!

[links to come]

Llibre Vermell de Montserrat

Abbaye de Fontfroide (nr Narbonne)
Fri 1 Aug


Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI playing one of the masterpieces of medieval Spanish music - the Llibre Vermell is the Catalan equivalent of the Cantigas de Santa María.

Does the photo look a bit indistinct, fuzzy, out-of-focus? Well I'm afraid that's how the music sounded to me, from our seats at the back of this huge abbey - a very striking setting, but awful acoustics. I'll have to listen to their CD, and visualise them performing.

[links to come]

Bardou

Bardou (Hérault)
Fri 1 Aug


Once a deserted, ruined village at the end of 5km of narrow, winding, unkept mountain road, it has been restored gradually since the early 80s - Jan was one of the original volunteers - and is now a small, thriving community.

[pictures and links to come]

Espace Brassens

Sète
Fri 1 Aug


An audio tour, with commentary in Brassens' own words and often in his own voice (so no chance of an English version!), wonderful pictures from his childhood through to his final years, and lots of clips from his songs. Well worth a visit - but be sure you get there at least an hour before closing time, or they won't let you in.

[links to come]

Friday, 8 August 2008

Bombes 2 Bal @ Sète

Île de Thau, Sète
Thu 31 Jul


Bombes 2 Bal get everyone dancing. Songs included À la claire fontaine, so I was able to sing along to the chorus. I'll have to re-learn the verses though!

[links and more pics to come]

Kaloomé @ Sète

Île de Thau, Sète
Thu 31 Jul


Kaloomé melding Perpignan flamenco and North African Arabic - and it works!

[links and more pics to come]

Mozart magic @ Mosset

Mosset (Pyrenees Orientales)
Tue 29 Jul


Opéra Mosset's summer show - La Flûte Enchantée - beautifully done - well sung and enchantingly staged.

[links and more pics to come]

Blowzabella @ Embraud

Embraud (Allier)
Sun 27 Jul


Jon Swayne, Paul James and Jo Freya take to the floor and give it some wellie.

[links and more pics to come]

La Chavannée at Embraud

Embraud (Allier)
Sun 27 Jul


La Chavannée's second Spectacle of the weekend - a bourrée feast!

[links and more pics to come]

Tour de France

Isle et Bardais (Cher)
Sat 26 Jul


Carlos Sastre defends his yellow jersey in the penultimate stage, a time-trial through the Forêt de Tronçais, just 30 km from where we were staying for the Fête des Chavans. Google Maps have done a Street View of the whole of this year's Tour, but they've got the route wrong here - they've got it turning left at the entry to the village, in fact it went straight through the centre and out the other side, which is where we were standing. So unfortunately you can't compare Google's View with our photos, which is a pity, but then ours have got cyclists in them.

The official website has all you ever wanted to know about the Tour, and a whole lot more, including route details for this stage. For the result, you'll have to go here, and do:

Sélectionnez une étape > ÉTAPE 20: Cérilly - Saint-Amand-Montrond, samedi 26 juillet

You can then browse through various videos
(let me know if you spot me) and blogs before you move on to the Classements page, where you can switch between the Classement Général and the Classement de lÉtape. More than you need to know.

What I have not yet been able to do is create a link from here to the Google Earth placemark - it would be nice if you could click on a link here and open up Google Earth (if you've got it installed) at this location.

Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral

Chartres
Fri 25 Jul


You can walk the medieval labyrinth inside the cathedral on Fridays in July. It takes about 20 minutes, maybe half an hour if you do the traditional 3 steps forwards, one step back (which I didn't); you can then stand for a while in the centre and contemplate the wonder of life, the cathedral, and everything.

See Erwin Reißmann's site about labyrinths, including this one at Chartres.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Chartres en lumières


Chartres Cathedral
Thu 24 Jul


Figures on one of the portals of the cathedral picked out in colour. The whole town is one great light-show - houses, churches, bridges.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Mulhacén and back 5: been there, done that

Thu 19 / Fri 20 Jun
Capileira, Sierra Nevada


That evening in Capileira I had a delicious lamb cous-cous at the wonderful little Ibero restaurant. It was a bit of a struggle climbing back up through the village to the hostal afterwards, but hey, what’s 5 minutes when you’ve just walked up Mulhacén and back?

The following morning I picked up all the things the well-prepared mountain walker would have taken up with him in the first place - a detailed map, a guide book, a plant book - and a couple of collapsable sticks.

And then on the way out I stopped off in Pampaneira, at the Sierra Nevada Information Centre, where I got my final memento:

Cumbres de Sierra Nevada
Peaks of Sierra Nevada

En la montaña, por tu seguridad ¡déjate guiar!
In the mountains, for your own safety, go with a guide!

Other accounts
Jari Kirvesoja


Mulhacén and back 4: descent

Thu 19 Jun
Mulhacén, Sierra Nevada

Descent: album

Coming down was harder than going up, largely because by that time my legs already had the going up in them. Fernando took us down via the incredibly steep Loma del Mulhacén. I hobbled down the first bit, doing my best to concentrate on admiring the view.


Admiring the view

However halfway down my legs gave up completely, stiff with cramp. Everyone gathered round and I was offered all sorts of physical treatment from stretching, which helped but not enough, to massage, which was tempting and which perhaps I should have accepted.

Fernando gave me some salt tablets, which I think was the key; you are conscious of being thirsty and needing to take on water, but you don’t realise how much you are perspiring, and as the sweat evaporates, with it of course goes your body’s salt supply.

One of the Explorers kindly lent me one of her walking sticks - she insisted she didn’t need two, though I was sure she had been using both of them on the way down. The stick was a tremendous help on the rest of the steep descent, enabling me to get to the bottom of the slope without cramping up again (well, almost).

Part way down we paused to look at the North Face from below, at close quarters. Most impressive. Surely people don’t climb that for fun? 


North Face of Mulhacén

Below it is a small lake, La Laguna de la Mosca (Lagoon of the Fly), which I imagine feeds one or other of the rivers that flow through the city of Granada.

Laguna de la Mosca

Strange to think that, on this northern side, the snow melt we were looking down on would eventually make its way across southern Spain - via the river Guadalquivir - to drain into the Atlantic, whilst the little lagoons we were heading down towards on the southern slope were making a beeline for the Mediterranean.
 

Southern lagoons

Once we got down to the lagoons we were on a track that more or less followed the contours back to the bus, and my legs began to feel as though they belonged to me again.

I am eternally grateful to Nevadensis - especially Fernando - for enabling me to do this walk, and to the people on the Explore trip and their guide Conal for accepting me into their group for the day, and helping me get through it. I’ve been wanting to do it for over 40 years, and if I were to leave it for another two or three years I probably wouldn’t be able to make it at all.

Although I do have some unfinished business up there - there’s all those flowers I didn’t manage to snap, and that final top rock I didn’t get up to . . .


Mulhacén and back 3: at the top

At the top

Thu 19 Jun
Mulhacén, Sierra Nevada

At the top: album


By the time I got to the top - ¡olé! - my legs were reluctant to do things you normally take for granted, like move, or support my weight. So I sat down and tried to massage and flex my muscles, and take in the view, and the achievement. And had half my cheese bocadillo, and half my water.

The views from the top are truly breathtaking, and different in each direction. The North Face is a sheer cliff, which funnels into a shallow glacial cirque, with a steep-sided V-shaped valley heading off to the north-west towards Granada and its Vega. 


 
Looking down on Granada

This cliff curves round to the west, where it gives way to a long narrow ridge leading to the Veleta peak.

Towards Veleta

To the east there is a succession of rounded peaks separated by the major Alpujarra valleys, and to the south a much gentler incline leads back down to the Upper Poqueira Valley - this is the route we had come up by.

Towards the Alpujarra

I would have loved to have joined those who climbed up the last rocks, to get to the highest point, but there is no way I could have got up there. So I contented myself with taking a few photos, and sending one or two from my mobile phone to Flickr and to this blog; there is 100% coverage at the top, and most of the way up, which is reassuring.

Mulhacén and back 2: ascent

Single file up Mulhacen

Thu 19 Jun
Mulhacén, Sierra Nevada

Ascent: album

As the bus wound its way up, Salobreña was visible from time to time, 60km away, a white speck on the coast. This did not surprise me all that much, as I figured that, since you can see Mulhacén from my house, you ought to be able to see my house - or at least, my town - from Mulhacén. Up until around 2000m, the road passed through high meadowland and wooded slopes, with occasional clusters of flowers creating teasing spots of colour that set my shutter finger twitching. Fernando, the guide, pointed out what he claimed were the highest bee-hives in Europe ... well, as he said, why not?

We got out at Alto del Chorrillo, and walked across to look almost vertically down the gorge over Trevélez, the village that claims to be the highest in Spain - well, why not? - and which is the home of some of the finest Iberian ham. A mouthwatering start to the day.


Trevélez, from Alto del Chorrillo

As we started walking up the views were ever-varied, and breathtaking. As I usually do, I paused from time to time to take photos - a mountain vista here, a tiny flower there.

Gentian and Saxifrage, peeking out

However I soon had to ration my stops, as I found the main body of the group quickly moving off into the distance; these were experienced walkers, and mostly a good deal younger than me, and I needed to keep going.

I soon found that talking while you walked was not an option, either; I had only flown in from the UK the day before, and the air that felt fresh and invigorating was, at approaching 3000m, considerably thinner than I was accustomed to.

Every now and then Fernando stopped to point out a view, or a rock formation, or a plant, or a bird. After an hour we stopped for a few minutes, for a drink and a brief rest, and an hour or so later Fernando decreed a food break.


Refuelling

Above 3000m I found myself struggling to keep up. I was beginning to lose touch with the rest of the group, and now and then losing track of the path; although the way is marked with little cairns, the mountainside is nothing but loose rock, and I sometimes found it difficult to distinguish the markers from the scree. Several times I found myself scrambling over the rocks until I came across the path again.


 
Where's the path?

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Mulhacén and back 1: background


Mulhacén
Thu 19 Jun

Mulhacén, Sierra Nevada


[If you see this account before I've managed to add in all the photo and other links, please come back a week or two later]

Mulhacén (3482m) is the highest peak of the Sierra Nevada, and the highest in continental Spain (Teide, in Tenerife, Canary Islands, is a bit higher).



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The Sierra Nevada (map, satellite photo) runs west-to-east across Andalucía, and its peaks are visible from well over 100km away on all sides. On the northern side, the major peaks provide a snow-topped backdrop to the city of Granada throughout much of the year

 
Backdrop to Granada

 - whilst to the south they are also visible from many points along the coast.
 

 
Mulhacén from Salobreña

Twenty years ago you could drive your own car up to the top of nearby Veleta, and down the other side, although the higher roads were unsurfaced, and it wasn’t exactly encouraged. Nowadays, quite rightly, the whole area is a protected National Park, and private vehicles are not allowed in. 

Veleta, from halfway up Mulhacén

There are several ways to get up Mulhacén: you can walk, you can walk, or you can walk, and if you're really daft you could try scaling the North Face.


Fancy scaling the North Face of Mulhacén?

Some do it as part of a longer trek across the Sierra Nevada, over two or more days, camping out or staying in unattended mountain refuges; most go up as I did on a one-day excursion from the southern side, taking a bus part-way up, to Alto del Chorrillo (2600m), some way into the National Park, and walking the rest.

Another possibility is to drive your own car up to the entrance to the National Park, and walk from there; this gives you several hours’ more walking to get up to the top and back, although you are not then tied to the bus timetable.

The buses run from the three Poqueira Valley villages (pic) - Pampaneira, Bubión and Capileira, which is the highest at 1400m. If you just want to take the bus to Alto del Chorrillo, as several people did the day I went, at 7.50€ return the fare compares well with travelling one stop on the London Tube.

The buses are run by Nevadensis, a tour company specialising in all types of Sierra Nevada trip. My excursion cost 40€, which covered the bus and the 6-hour guided walk. Their guides are superb: highly experienced, well-qualified, and very helpful. I had good cause to be thankful for this.

I stayed overnight in Capileira, at the comfortable and inexpensive Hostal Carril (aka Paco López, aka El Cascapeñas), and joined the bus at 8.30 the following morning.

The group I went up with were coming to the end of a 10-day walking holiday with the tour company Explore, and during the previous week they had already been up to one of the other high peaks as well as doing a number of other walks, including some that I had done on previous visits to the area, such as up the Poqueira Valley (pic), and round the Tahá villages (pic) - all highly recommended.



Tuesday, 15 July 2008

You didn't have to sing that song

Thu 10 Jul
Royal Oak, Lewes


In between Jim Causley's two sessions Vic managed to fit in half-a-dozen floor spots; there were so many there wanting to sing or play that they had to be limited to one piece each. Now most of them have repertoires in the scores or hundreds of songs - so how do they choose which one they're going to sing on any particular occasion? There must be all sorts of criteria at play in the mind of a singer when selecting what to sing: nice tune? nice words? good story? old song? new song? interesting harmonic structure? good chorus? makes people laugh? makes them cry? The reasons are very personal, and the list is potentially as long as the number of singers times the number of songs.

The approach to performance is also very personal. Some singers give lengthy introductions, others just stand - or sit - there and sing. Some prefer their audience to understand the context of their song, some want them to follow a story, others prefer to let the song do the talking. Almost always the singer wants their audience to get from the song something of what they, the singer, has put into it.

Sometimes the content of a song can be awkward. There may be sentiments expressed that not all listeners are comfortable with - sex, sexism, social attitudes, politics, death, to name but a few. At one point the other evening Jim Causley apologised for singing a song about a man who pushed his girl-friend in the river, with the excuse that he also sings one about a woman who metes out the same fate to her husband - though he wasn't going to sing it tonight. And we all laughed, or most of us did.

No-one laughed earlier, however, when one of the floor singers sang a version of Little Sir Hugh. In the song, Little Sir Hugh is playing at ball with his friends, the ball goes over a wall, a lady invites him to come in to collect it, and promptly lays him on a table and stabs him to death. So far, so traditional.

The Francis J Child collection of ballads has 20-odd versions of this song, which you can read through on the Sacred Texts website: Child Ballads 155: Sir Hugh, or the Jew’s Daughter. Most of these follow the original story, in which the ball goes into the garden of a Jew's house, the Jew's daughter entices him in with an apple plucked from her father's tree; his mother - Lady Mary - searches for him in vain, and the Jews try to get rid of the body but it keeps resurfacing and is eventually found in a drinking well.

At his burial “a’ the bells of merry Lincoln, without men’s hands were rung, and a’ the books o merry Lincoln, were read without man’s tongue.

So many motifs in one song. And so much history hiding behind these powerful and seemingly innocent, traditional verses.

It’s a much sung and much recorded song. Steeleye Span recorded a version in 1975 - here, it's a castle wall and the murderer is a "lady gay" - Maddy Prior apparently did a clean-up job on it.

It was the original ‘Jew’s Daughter’ version that was sung last Thursday.

The story is in essence a medieval urban myth: the Jews sacrifice Christian children and use the blood in their rituals. It was one of several such myths used to great effect in stirring up racial and religious hatred throughout the Middle Ages and since, across wide areas of Europe.

In this case the song is based on events in Lincoln in 1255, which led to the trial and hanging of eighteen Jews for ritual murder. It was the first time that the English government had executed on this charge; the King had previously arrogated to himself the right to take over the property of any Jews convicted of crimes. The Spanish Inquisition weren’t the first in this field.

If you’re not familiar with the history, a good place to start is the account on Wikipedia: Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln, which has links to much else, including sections on the phenomenon of ‘Blood libel’, of which this incident, and the song which celebrates it, is a prime example. The fostering of these myths led to periodic massacres of Jews throughout Europe, right up to the Kielce pogrom in Poland in 1946.

And it didn’t just happen in the Middle Ages, nor only to the Jews. Greeks used the Blood Libel against Jews, Romans and Jews against early Christians, and it still surfaces across the world - the Wikipedia article mentions dozens of contemporary examples.

So what is the poor singer to do? Some singers don’t explain their songs, and some listeners don’t listen to them, or don’t follow the story at least. In any case, the old ballads often have convoluted and defective story-lines which wouldn’t make much sense even if you were to follow the words on paper as you listen.

Does it matter what the song says? Does a song ‘say’ anything?

What responsibility does a singer have when presenting a song to the public?

These are all questions which I’ve no doubt have been discussed to death elsewhere. All I would say here is that a singer is at least responsible for selecting what they are going to sing. And for at least attempting to understand what the song is about. And for the manner in which they present the song to the public. And that in this instance mumbling something about not sharing any anti-semitic sentiments in the song is absolutely insufficient, and totally irresponsible.

Unless you’re prepared to accept these responsibilities, the bottom line is:

You don’t have to sing those songs.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Jim Causley

Thu 10 Jun
Royal Oak, Lewes


Jim is one of the best of the current crop of young folk musicians, and one of the early graduates of the Newcastle University Traditional Music course. We saw him last year with The Devil's Interval, an a capella threesome using powerful and challenging harmonies.

His repertoire is mostly traditional, quite a bit of it from gypsy sources. According to his website he reckons he's Devon Incarnate - not a bad description, musically at least. There's a few tracks from his latest album Lost Love Found on his MySpace site.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Los de Abajo

Komedia
Wed 9 Jul


Them from down there. A raucous, brassy mix of Mexican traditional rhythms, salsa, rap, hip-hop, and plenty of ska-tones. The line-up is similar to the Balkan bands - 5 brass, 3 percussion, lead and bass guitars.
See the Flickr set. They even finished up with an acoustic promenade on the floor, just like Mahala Rai Banda.

Just think, 45 years ago I read the book for my A-levels - it's a novel of the downtrodden in the period before the Mexican Revolution, 100 years ago. Little did I know . . .

[book link via Amazon Associates - if you buy it I probably get 2p commission]