Monday, 7 April 2014

June Tabor - Art by John Bellany (Scotland) , Bryan Pearce (England), Richard Wilson (Wales), Egerton Coghill (Ireland)

For those who have not heard of either Land's End or John o' Groats then allow me to enlighten you. From one to the other, from Land's End in Cornwall to John o' Groats in Scotland is a distance of 874 miles. This invisible yardstick traverses the whole length of the island of Britain, of Albion as the Romans called these green isles. Between those two points, far to the northeast then down to the southwest, is the land of Scotland, Wales and England with only Ireland, an island in its own right but still part of the British Isles. It is this land that June Tabor sings of. She sings of its history, its melodramas, its people, their fights and their loves, their pains and their politics. It is the stuff of root and branch, dug deep in the soil, wind-blown and rain splashed, fog filled and grey, green and pleasant, sun-kissed and undulating. It is,  in two words, folk music.

To add colour to this post and as by way of illustrating the songs and the countries they have grown from I have taken the liberty to use the artwork, the paintings of Scots artist John Bellany (1942 to 2013), Cornish artist Bryan Pearce (1929 to 2007), Welsh artist Richard Wilson (1714 1782) and Irish artist Egerton Coghill (1853 to 1921). All of whom painted their souls as much as the countryside where they lived. The passion felt in the songs June Tabor sings can be seen represented in the paintings of the artists shown here.

June Tabor is universally acclaimed as being the greatest British interpreter of homegrown music. I would go one stage further, she is the best there is of any singer who takes another's song, sings it with her delicious voice investing as she does nuances and tones unheard before. Her talent is remarkable and not least her voice with its incredible range, its warm sound, its very mellifluousness  To hear June sing 'Love Will Tear Us Apart,' accompanied by the Oyster Band, the song made famous by Joy Division and sung by Ian Curtis, is not just a rare treat, it is an audible exercise in taking one thing, keeping its soul safe but then revealing another potential. June Tabor is, and let's make no bones about it, a folk singer par excellence. She sings songs of the land, of times long past; songs by other Britons and beyond, songs of love and loss and then she sings songs of the sea but, and more importantly, she sings songs of its people.


Farewell, Finisterre,
Sleep away the afternoon
Rocking with the tide,
Drinking with the moon
I found a ticket in my pocket
All the way from Port-of-Spain
And the warm wind from the Indies covered me again.

Santander, the sky is falling
The tale we told each other has an end
Santander, you hear me calling
You, that never lost a friend...

We'd often look for gold,
Treasure buried in the sand
We hid it long ago,
Before our wars began
When the world was green and early
And time was on our side
Before the storm got up to blow us far and wide.

Santander, the sky is falling
The tale we told each other has an end
Santander, you hear me calling
You, that never lost a friend...

Farewell, Finisterre,
Sleep away the afternoon
Just rocking with the tide,
Drinking with the moon
Last night I turned the glasses over
And I drank the bottle dry
The moon stared out to sea all night and so did I.

Santander, the sky is falling
The tale we told each other has an end
Santander, you hear me calling
You, that never lost a friend,
Never lost a friend...

It isn't until you pay full heed to these songs that you start to realise how potent a force they are. Not only do they show us our roots exposed, the bare bones and compost from where we English, Welsh, Irish, Scots come from, our Celtic and Germanic origins, but also why we are the way we are. An island of like-minded clans and tribes, part of, but distinct from Europe. We are in fact Britons. Our borders, our battles, blood and gore, tooth and nail seen again, held in metaphorical amber for all to see, all to bear witness too. The fights between avarice and poverty, between rich and poor. June shows us this as does every Folk singer, past and present and hopefully forever will - a constant growth, re-growth, and affirmation of who we are. Without Folk where would Ralph Vaughan Williams or Bartok have found inspiration?
The Border Widows Lament

My love, he built me a bonny bower
And clad it o'er with lily flower
A bonnier bower you ne'er did see
Than my true love he built for me

There came a man by middle day
He spied his sport and went away
And brought the King that very night,
Who broke my bower and slew my knight

He slew my knight to me so dear
He slew my knight and seized his gear
My servants all for life did flee
And left me in extremity

I sewed his shroud, making my moan
I watched his corpse, myself alone
I watched his body night and day

No living creature came that way

I took his body on my back
And whiles I walked and whiles I sat
I digged a grave and laid him in,
And happed him with the turf so green

Oh, don't you think my heart was sore,
As I laid the earth on his yellow hair
Oh, don't you think my heart was woe,
As I turned about, away to go

No living man I'll love again
Since that my lovely knight is slain
With just one lock of his yellow hair
I'll chain my heart forevermore

Snowdon seen from Llyn Nantlle by Richard Wilson circa 1766
It is the voice of the woman that amazes me. Its depth, its range, it's warmth. The way with a note sung tunefully she engages the listener so that he or she become instantly attentive, eager to hear all she has to say. She has the ability to transfer this talent to virtually all genres. Her work with Quercus is simply breath-taking, note perfect, pitch perfect delivery. Her voice moves among the piano and saxophone like a breeze among the branches of a tree. They, voice and instruments, belong together, their rise and descent are as natural as rain falling. It is as organic a sound as you could wish to hear and very beautiful too.

. Field of Rye, Barbizon by Egerton Coghill

In March 2004, I awoke in a hospital bed. A balloon tied to my trolley said 'Happy Birthday' upon it the numbers five and zero gave a clue to my age. Two Filipino nurses flitted about like furtive bees. It was at this point that I sort of began to seek new things, new to me anyway. I had no epiphany, no sudden unexpected wisdom was released but at this point, a powerful desire came upon me to learn. It was like being twelve again and discovering Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko. Like discovering 'Rain' on the B-side of 'Paperback Writer.' Or perhaps reading some unknown author - I wanted to find stuff. June Tabor is one such find and boy what a find she has proven to be. As yet I, skint as the proverbial church mouse, have only managed to purchase three albums. They are the exquisite 'Ashore' an album about the sea; her rugged collaboration with The Oyster Band, 'Ragged Kingdom' which has their incredible take of "Love Will Tear us Apart' and the astounding 'Quercus.'

Untitled by Bryan Pearce
In an ever growing global village, June Tabor shows us both how small a nation we are but how vital too, how cosmopolitan and embracing a nature we have. It might be wise for the likes of UKIP to remember that fact. From these shores, with our faults - warts and all, have come or rather risen, the people and their deeds to write poems and songs about. Even with the awful class system that still exists, with the vast divide between wealth and poverty that seems to be growing, with the crimes our elected leaders have perpetrated in the name of Queen and country, the people of these islands, those that drink their mugs of Bovril on the terraces, eat their chips out of old newspaper sheets, who drink their ale and sup their gin are the very fabric of what made not only Briton a nation of great character but also forged the character and concept of individual freedom that others seek to emulate.

Rocks and plants, rivers and streams - Albion, both old and current are the subject matter that June Tabor sings of and as she does it reveals a far bigger, broader more encompassing picture. It is the song of humankind sung with a British accent. In the end we all of us, Americans, Africans, Iranians, Koreans are all one and the same. Same meat - different gravy. That is the power of music.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers as he plays the bodhrán with his feet.

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A Utility Fish Shed Blog