A Rose In April – Martyn Wylde

Martyn Wylde performing Kate Rusby’s song “A Rose In April” at the Luna Star Cafe in North Miami, Florida on 18 October, 2013.

Dougie MacLean

Scottish singer/songwriter Dougie MacLean (born 1954) has been sharing his distinctively personal songs with audiences since the mid-1970s. Originally a member of the Tannahill Weavers – named after Scottish poet Robert Tannahill, known as the “Weaver Poet” – he was also briefly a part of Silly Wizard, contributing to their fourth album, Wild & Beautiful. In addition to guitar, he plays fiddle, mandola, bouzouki, bass, harmonica and banjo.


Dougie began his career as a solo artist in 1981, although his classic song Caledonia (considered by many the unofficial Scottish national anthem) was recorded in 1978 and credited to Alan Roberts and Dougie MacLean. Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond said: “Caledonia is a song that resonates with Scots the world over. For those far away it is a reminder of strong bonds, full of the promise of return.” Caledonia is being used by the Scottish Tourist Board to promote “Homecoming Scotland 2014”.

From the Dougie MacLean website: “From his home base in Butterstone near Dunkeld in the beautiful Tay Valley in Perthshire Scotland, MacLean tours the world with his unique blend of lyrical, ‘roots based’ songwriting and instrumental composition.”

Phil Thomas, writing in Living Tradition Magazine said, “Dougie MacLean must be near the top of the pretty short list of folk performers who can boast a truly ‘global’ reputation.” And its the songs that have built that reputation – songs which, though told from a quintessentially Scottish point of view, are universal in their appeal. From a song inspired by his “Uncle Fergus, a crofter fisherman” (Ready For the Storm) to a story/song about his father teaching him to use a farm implement (Scythe Song) to songs of love and longing (This Love Will Carry and Caledonia), Dougie MacLean touches the hearts of his listeners.

Dougie indeed performs worldwide – from the UK to America and Australia – making new fans and thrilling old ones. You know you’ve had an impact as a songwriter when just about every member of the audience tends to sing along with every song in your set list – a commonplace occurrence at Dougie MacLean shows as documented on his album Live: From the Ends of the Earth and on the two live videos included here.

His recordings – over 20 albums to date – include not just the songs, which can be “wistful and melancholic, and at other times are blissfully uplifting and rejuvenating”, but also instrumental and orchestral pieces such as Perthshire Amber. This last album has lent it’s name to an autumn music festival, now in it’s tenth year, at various venues in and around the MacLean hometown of Dunkeld. He is such an institution in Scotland that he even has his own Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky called Dougie MacLean’s “Caledonia”!

dougie portrait

Dougie MacLean was awarded the 2009 Tartan Clef Award for his song Caledonia. In 2011, he was invested as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth, and this year he was awarded the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Lifetime Achievement for Contribution to Songwriting.


John Renbourn

On a Facebook page that I moderate – Folk Music of the British Isles – I frequently post articles about and videos of artists that I admire. In selecting items to post there I began to notice a decided bias toward fingerstyle guitarist/folk singers who have influenced my own music. The first of these is John Renbourn. This is not intended to be a full biography – rather it is his musical history through my experience of it. I bought my first John Renbourn album only about thirteen years ago!. Although I was vaguely aware there had been a group called Pentangle in the 1960s, I can’t recall ever actually hearing their music or knowing the names of any of the members. I came to that album, 1977’s A Maid in Bedlam, through my interest in the music I was hearing at renaissance festivals. Knowing I was a guitarist, one of the faire musicians recommended it as a place to start exploring traditional British folk. I was instantly enthralled by Renbourn’s guitar artistry and by the singing of Jacqui McShee. herself a former member of Pentangle. Three songs from that album were regularly performed at faire, and they, along with a fourth – Black Waterside – are still part of my repertoire today. The John Renbourn Group also recorded a live album in 1981 – Live in America – which contained many more song gems to be mined, particularly The Trees They Grow High, which had been recorded by Pentangle and which I recorded with Wyldefyre on our album All’s Faire. This song is known by various titles – The Trees They Do Grow High, Daily Growing, Bonny Boy, etc. According to Roud and Bishop (British folk song cataloguers and historians) “Judging by the number of versions gathered in the major manuscript collections and later sound recordings, this song has been a firm favourite with singers in Britain, Ireland and North America for a long time, the wording varies surprisingly little across the English versions and the story is always the same, and these probably derive from nineteenth-century broadside printings, of which there are many.” Although the song is found much earlier, two verses having been discovered in David Herd’s manuscript collection dating from the 1770s, it may have been based on an actual arranged marriage from 1634! But I digress… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwlRqTk3ir8 After being led to those first albums, I have gone through Renbourn’s back catalog. His teaming with fellow guitarist Bert Jansch in Pentangle is now deservedly legendary and his solo work and later collaborations shine with unparralled creativity and technique. Renbourn’s interest in early and renaissance music was in evidence on his solo album Sir John a Lot (1968) and his Celtic influences shone on later solo outings such as The Hermit and The Nine Maidens, which featured, among others, tunes by the legendary Irish harper/composer Turlough O’Carolan. In the mid-1980s Renbourn earned a degree in music composition from Dartlington School of Arts in Devon (now part of University College, Falmouth – how’s that for trivia?). Over the years he has had many lucrative musical collaborators, among them Stefan Grossman, bard Robin Williamson (Incredible String Band), the aforementioned Jacqui McShee and many more. He’s recorded a series of video lessons for aspiring guitarists, contributed to film soundtracks and much more. In 2011 he released Palermo Snow, a collection of instrumental guitar solos also featuring clarinetist Dick Lee – adding to the more than fifty albums which bear his name and his superb fingerstyle guitar. Talking of which, Martin Guitars have just issued the John Renbourn Signature Model. Now aged 69, John Renbourn has continued to record, tour and conducts guitar workshops all over the world including England, France and, recently, Crete! Attending one of these would be a true busman’s holiday for me.




Silly Wizard

Silly Wizard was a Scottish folk band formed in 1970 in Edinburgh. The founding members were Gordon Jones, Johnny Cunningham and Bob Thomas.Thomas credited the name “Silly Wizard” to a roommate who was writing a book of children’s stories, and the group first performed under that name in the summer of 1972.


With the additions of Andy M. Stewart as lead vocalist (and composer of classic songs like Queen of Argyll and Ramblin’ Rover), Johnny’s brother Phil Cunningham on accordion and Alastair Donaldson on bass, the group recorded their first album – Silly Wizard.

Silly Wizard played a variety of Scottish folk music – jigs, reels, and airs along with original tunes and songs. “Contemporary music that is firmly based in tradition,” was how one reviewer put it.

Stewart told Dirty Linen Magazine in 1991, “I think that it’s the general love of traditional music, interest in songs, and interest in things, not just Scottish music; certainly a big interest in Irish music and songs, which accounts for my interest, I think, across the board…”

Dougie MacLean, who had once been in a band with Andy Stewart, was a member of Silly Wizard for about six months, contributing to their fourth album, Wild & Beautiful.

They continued touring and recording until the late 1980s, weathering numerous personnel changes, when the band decided to dissolve after performing for seventeen years and releasing nine albums.

In December 2012, Silly Wizard was inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame, and a remastered album of a 1983 concert in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Live Again, has just been released.


(Are you going to) Scarborough Fair?

Scarborough Fair became one of the most well known of folk songs due to the 1966 recording by Simon and Garfunkel which became a hit record worldwide, and which was included in the soundtrack of the film, The Graduate. Documented versions of the song are known to have existed as early as 1650 and it is generally considered to be a variant of the traditional English folk song The Elfin Knight (Child Ballad No. 2).


The melody later developed by Simon & Garfunkel in Scarborough Fair/Canticle was first recorded on a 1956 album, English Folk Songs, by Audrey Coppard (Smithsonian Folkways). Ewan MacColl performed the song with Peggy Seeger on their 1961 album, Classic Scots Ballads. It was then recorded by British folk legend Martin Carthy (the first British folk singer to be awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II) on his first solo album in 1965. Paul Simon heard the Carthy version on a visit to Britain in that year.

Simon, interviewed in the July 2011 edition of Mojo magazine: “The version I was playing was definitely what I could remember of Martin’s version, but he didn’t teach it to me.” Although the arrangement of Scarborough Fair recorded by Simon and Garfunkel was almost a note-for-note copy of Carthy’s (with the addition of “Canticle”, the counterpoint vocal), neither Carthy nor the Child designation were credited on the recording. A monetary settlement with Carthy was made decades later, and Carthy and Simon finally buried the hatchet by performing the song together at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2000.


Scarborough Fair tells a tale of a young man who asks his former love, through an intermediary, to perform a series of seemingly impossible tasks, such as making him a shirt – “tell her to make me a cambric shirt without no seam” – and then washing it in a dry well, adding that if she completes these tasks he will take her back. When sung as a duet, the woman then gives her lover a series of equally impossible tasks, promising to give him the seamless shirt once he has completed them.

The oldest versions of “The Elfin Knight” (circa 1650) contain the refrain “my plaid away, my plaid away, the wind shall not blow my plaid away”. Some more recent versions often contain one of a group of related refrains:

Sober and grave grows merry in time

Every rose grows merry with time

There’s never a rose grows fairer with time

These are usually paired with “Once (s)he was a true love of mine”. “Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme” may simply be an alternate rhyming refrain to the original.

According to Arnold Rypens, “all these herbs used to symbolize something: rosemary stood for perseverance, thyme for fecundity.” Sage is often carried or burned for protection. Martin Carthy says all the herbs mentioned were closely associated with death and that when combined they might work as a charm against “the evil eye”.

Here’s a link to Martin Carthy’s original version of Scarborough Fair from his 1965 album titled Martin Carthy, which is included on his “greatest hits” album, The Definitive Collection.



http://mainlynorfolk.info/martin.carthy/biography.html http://www.watersoncarthy.com/id22.htm http://www.afolksongaday.com/2013/03/24/scarborough-fair http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scarborough_Fair_(ballad) http://www.originals.be/en/originals.php?id=5353 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Carthy





The Child Ballads

The Child Ballads are a collection of 305 folk songs from England and Scotland which were compiled by Francis James Child in the mid to late 1800’s. In researching “folk songs of the British Isles” to be included in my performing repertoire, I found that I already knew (and played) a great many of them. Not surprising, in that they are the “standards” of the genre.

I’m preparing a new album, and inquired of the friends on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/MartynWyldeMusic) if any of them had suggestions for material. One friend recommended four songs – three of which were Child Ballads. My own selections for the album already included three others.

So I have now taken a slight detour from the album I had planned to make, and am in the process of recording several of the Ballads, probably to be released on their own. These are the songs I’ve selected:

Broomfield Hill, Willie’s Lady, Fair Annie, The Daemon Lover, The Wife of User’s Well, Willie of Wimsbury, Jock O’Hazeldeen, Tam Lin.

In addition, my band Celtic Mayhem, have already recorded a Child Ballad (Twa Corbies) for our new album!

Part of my research of the Child Ballads led me to a CD by the duo of Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer, who earlier this year released an album titled Child Ballads. The seven songs are simply arranged primarily with two acoustic guitars and little other instrumentation, but with wonderful two part vocal harmony. This is one of my favourite albums of the last several years.  Here’s a link if you’d like to give it a listen (while waiting for me to finish my album): Child Ballads.