Songs from The Fruited Thorn
NOW WESTLIN WINDS
Kaela learned this beautiful Burns song from the singing of Dick Gaughan on his truly inspirational album A Handful of Earth. Burns gives a gorgeous account of young lovers surrounded by the gentleness of autumn and the ‘slaughterin guns’: evidence of man's disturbing ability for both gentleness and tyranny. The title of the album, The Fruited Thorn, has been plucked from Burns' finely crafted lyrics.
Despite appearances this is a relatively new Gaelic song, written by Charlie Macfarlane and Alasdair Grant. Kaela learned it direct from Charlie. It features Dayam Khan Manganiyar singing in Marwari. From the Gaelic: "I am sad I was not along with you in the place of our aquaintance … and we could joyfully traverse bens and glens and machairs … I only ask to be with you along with you, lying and rising healthy and every day living with you…" From Marwari: "Mother Earth, you are blessed in that your man is Lord Indra (king of the gods). You wear abundant greenery and your wrap, the rain-bearing clouds".
Kaela learned this ballad from the Irish musical legend and song collector Cathal McConnell. Sometimes known as the Lass of Loch Royal, it tells of a deceitful mother, her virtuous son, and his true love.
NIGHEAN NAN GEUG
Cathy Anne MacPhee from Barra, an inspirational Gaelic singer, turned Kaela on to this wonderful ballad. Translated as O Girl Of The Branches, it's a haunting tale of a dead mother appearing in the form of a wood sprite, urging a young maid to protect her children from abuse by their step-mother.
AS I ROVED OUT
This is one of Kaela’s all time favourite Irish ballads, and fittingly she is joined by Jarlath Henderson on vocals. She first encountered it via Planxty and Andy Irvine's moving interpretation. It’s an ambiguous song, which describes the pain in sacrificing true love for survival and dates back to the 19th century, likely referring to the potato famine, when joining the army provided an escape for many an impoverished Irish lad. The ‘lassie that had the land’ may be referring to the Queen of England.
MARY AND THE GALLANT SOLDIER
Another Irish ballad, that Kaela picked up from the inspirational signing of Paul Brady. This is a rousing song describing a soldier going off to war, and marrying his faithful sweetheart before she resolves to go to war with him.
BLACKBIRD (WHAT A VOICE)
Kaela first heard this sung by Lizzie Higgins on Martyn Bennett's Grit and fell in love with it. This song is mostly heard in England as I Wish, I Wish and is a lament of a foresaken sweetheart whose baby is not yet born.
This is a well known song from the Isle of Barra, possibly a rowing song. It describes the rather exotic sight of a boat arriving on the west coast of Scotland. It has a helm of gold, masts of silver, rich red silk from Spain and shrouds of silk from Galway.
IF I WAS A BLACKBIRD
Kaela was inspired by Silly Wizard and the singing of the late, great Andy M Stewart. It's the age old tale of a sailor who is spurned by an ungrateful lover and takes to the high seas to drown his sorrows.
THE BONNIE WOODS O' HATTON
Thought to be a Scottish ballad from the mid 1800s, it is a ploughman's lament. Sandy, the ploughman, though spurned , still carries a flame for his lover.
The final ballad is probably the oldest on the album, written in 1570. Allan MacDonald of Glenuig kindly taught Kaela this song. It is an ancient and historical song, with extremely moving lyrics, written by Marion Campbell, after witnessing the execution of her husband, Griogair Ruadh MacGregor of Glen Strae. The Gaelic is intertwined with Dayam's Marwari words. Here's an extract: "Great treasure of the world's people, they spilled your blood yesterday, they put your head on an oaken stob … I have no apples, everyone else has apples … but when the young women of the village are sleeping tonight, I will be at your grave beating my palms." (Gaelic) "My love, while you are away do not believe that I am at peace. My days are of suffering, like those of a fish without water." (Marwari)