For a number of years I have wanted to compose a work to celebrate the folksong tradition of the four countries that make up the British Isles – England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
During the closing months of 2022 and the first one of 2023 I finally put pen to paper so to speak, and composed Love Songs from the Isles. It is to be premiered on Friday 27th January at the Tung Auditorium in Liverpool as part of the Chinese New Year Gala celebrations organised by the Confucius Institute in Liverpool. It will be directed by Dr Rebekah Okpoti and sung by the very fine Voices of Hope chamber choir of Liverpool Hope University.
Of course there are rich folksong traditions in every single corner of our world, however it is the one that emanates from the British Isles that speak or sing most powerfully to me, since it is these Isles that are my home.
England is the nation of my birth; Ireland is the nation of my mother’s birth and Irish identity was very strong in my childhood home. My father was evacuated to Scotland during the blitz of the Second World War – his street in North East London was flattened by a V1; as a result he went with his slightly older brother to live in Alloa for 3 years as a very young boy. I can’t begin to imagine the trauma this must have caused.
I lived in Scotland for 20 years developing life-long friendships between the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. I gained my PhD in Edinburgh; I was married and became a father in Glasgow.
Wales I have come to know more recently, since my time of living in the North West of England. My researching of the Salford Pals took me to the beautiful coastline of North Wales. My work with Liverpool Hope University has taken me repeatedly to the very beautiful Barmouth area of Wales – just down the road from our wonderful outdoor activities campus at Plas Caerdeon.
The folksong that opens Love Songs from the Isles is the Welsh song Ar Lan Y Mor – (Beside the Sea). This song struck me for a number of reasons – its beautiful haunting melody so common amongst the Welsh folksong repertoire, but also because we, whilst we inhabit these islands are all very close to, or very much beside the sea – in a way it envelopes our lives
The next folksong of my collection is Scarborough Fair; whenever I hear this song I am transported straight back to my primary school music lessons while trying to decipher music notation and learn the recorder – it was here that I first came across this beautiful melody. As a teenager I came across the haunting version by Simon and Garfunkel I played that album many many times whilst growing. When I first visited Scarborough I was immediately taken by the handsome view if poses out to sea.
I first came across Wild Mountain Thyme the next song in my collection, through the version by The Byrds. By the time of my early 20s I had listened repeatedly to almost every record they had ever made. I was greatly saddened with the recent passing of David Crosby. The vocal harmonies and jangly 12-string guitar sound I’ve adored for decades along with countless millions of others. I even got to see Roger McGuinn in a really intimate concert while living in Glasgow – a fabulous memory.
During my 20 years of living in Scotland I came across countless breathtakingly beautiful heather-filled vistas. Whilst I was born in North-East London, I feel that I became an adult in Glasgow; Scotland has a deep place in my heart.
Star of the County Down closes this collection of mine. Whilst I heard countless Irish folksongs as a child, I only came across this one in my mid-twenties through the album release of Van Morrison and The Chieftains entitled Irish Heartbeat.
My mother was a very talented Gaelic dancer – she won many dance competitions as a girl and young woman in Ireland; my mother had nut-brown hair too.
I dedicate Love Songs from the Isles to my beloved Mother and Father – who brought me up and travelled with me across these isles.
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