Mooncoin - A Fathomless Sea

A Fathomless Sea CD Cover

A Fathomless Sea

Sleeve Notes

We are often asked about the heritage of the songs and tunes we play and as we don’t want to bore our audiences silly and simply had no room in the sleeve of our CD’s we have decided to provide our interested readers with some background to our material.

1.   Tune set:  Amhrán a leabhair/ Swallow’s Tail/ The Banshee

Amhrán a leabhair

‘Amhrán’ is ‘song’  and ‘leabhair’ is ‘books’ in Irish, so it literally translates as ‘Song for the Books’, but it really means ‘Lament for the Books’.  Apparently it refers to some Irish poet who was crossing a stretch of water when the boat sank and he lost his books which meant the world to the poor sod. The full story is in ‘Gearóid o hAllmhuireanns’, a pocket history of Irish music.

Swallow’s Tail

The Banshee

‘Bhean’ means ‘woman’ and ‘sidhe’ means ‘fairy’ – a wailing spirit in the form of an old woman – it is an omen of death in a family.  Her music is called in Irish  ceolsidhe.  It is also known as ‘McMahon’s’ possibly after the turn of the century fiddler Prof. Will McMahon or the contemporary button accordion player from County Clare

2.   Song:  Through bushes and through briars 

This song was collected from a Mr Pottipher in Essex by Vaughan Williams.  This is all we know!  It was, however, used in the film ‘Far from the madding crowd’  (adapted from the novel by T.Hardy).  Bathsheeba (played by Julie Christie) sang it very poignantly at the harvest supper with all her menfolk gathered round her.  A very memorable moment, though more memorable is Alan Bates in his younger years! (Chris) 

3.   Tune set:  The Tarbolton/The Monaghan Jig 

The Tarbolton

This is often played as a set  (apparently!)

Tarbolton/The Longford Collector/The Sailor's Bonnet

Michael Coleman recorded this, then the Bothy Band recorded a version of it . This is also known as The Tarbolton Lodge, judging by the name it's originally from Scotland.

The Monaghan Jig 

Monaghan Jig, The / The Monaghan / Port Mhuineacháin / The Clay Pipe / Cock Up Your Chin, Billy (also without 4th part; 4th part by Michael Coleman?)  Despite its many names, everyone seems to agree that the 4th part, (which is not always played) is the best bit, and I have to agree with that!  Monaghan is a county in the Irish Midlands, on the border to the northern province of Ulster. The capital of the county bears the same name. 

4.   Song:  Birds and Ships 

The song first started out life as a Woody Guthrie song and the original tune was lost (which could be a tragedy or blessing, whichever way you look at it).  Billy Bragg made a good job of writing a very lovely melody to go with it.  It can be heard on the album ‘Mermaid Avenue’ which he recorded together with Wilco, the song is sung by Natalie Marchant.  Incidentally, the name of this album ‘A Fathomless Sea’ comes from one of the lines of the song which my sister added.  Finding a good name for an album is one of the hardest things on earth and our great friend Dave Boddy gave us the idea – thanks Dave!!! [accolades indeed...]

5.   Tune set: Sånghy Henvalson vals/The Bothy 

Sångshy Henvalson vals 

We have been playing this tune since the early days and like it so much that we just rearranged it, as we didn’t want to drop it.  We acquired it from a Swedish band called ‘Groupa’ who were one of the few bands who came across to East Germany when we lived there.  They were fab!!  We think the rough translation means ‘Song of the Sky’ 

The Bothy 

I wrote this tune when Uli and I went up to the Lake District, and where we stayed with friends in this lovely little stone cottage near Lake Ennerdale.   I nearly called the tune ‘Ennerdale Water’ but couldn’t bear the thought of it getting confused with ‘Emmerdale Farm’ – yuk!   But as we fondly called the stone cottage ‘the bothy’ so it seemed a good idea to actually name the tune ‘The Bothy’, which has quite a pastoral ring to it don't you think? 

6.   Song + tune: Majn rue-platz/Joschka, Joschka 

Majn rue-platz

This song was written by the Jewish poet Morris Rosenfeld as part of a collection called ‘Songs from the Ghetto’.  His history is a chequered one - he was born in Russian Poland in 1862, moved to Amsterdam in 1882 and from there to New York the following year. He soon returned to Russia, but emigrated to the United States in 1886 to settle permanently in New York. He contributed poems to the city's Yiddish periodicals, but he earned his living working in an East Side sweatshop.  In the song Rosenfeld tells the listener not to look for him where the myrtles are blooming, where the fountains are springing or where the birds are singing, but rather in the dirty, unrelenting world of the factory which is his ‘resting-place’ (majn rue-platz).  The song does fortunately end on a happy and very touching note – ‘if you love me with all your heart, then that will be my resting-place’.  He became known as the "Poet Laureat of Labour." Some of his poems were sung by Jewish workers during the labour struggles in New York's garment industry in the first decades of the twentieth century.  

Joschka, Joschka 

This is a well-known klezmer tune and we recently discovered the full name of the tune whilst on tour in Germany.  Joschka is a diminutive form of the name ‘Josef’ and the full title is:  Joschka, Joschka, spann den Wagen an! which roughly translates as ‘Jo, get the cart hooked up!’ 

7.   Slow Air:  Samnangafjörden Air 

This is an extremely beautiful slow air which was composed by Helen Boreham who is a very good friend of ours.  Helen is an extremely accomplished musician and plays clarinet and accordion in the band ‘Tiranarama’, she also plays a very good whistle.  Helen and I have known each other since we were students and she wrote this tune while she was on her year abroad in Norway.  She told me she wrote this tune sitting in a boat in the middle of a fjord while waiting for her loved one to arrive.  (He’s now her husband).  Incidentally, Paul and Helen were both members of the wonderful band ‘Jack Orien’ for many years.  

8.   Tune:  Mick O’Byrne’s Jig 

This tune was hand-crafted by Skryp complete with twiddly bits.  It is named after his friend’s little baby boy.  So you can see, inside that mean, moody and magnificent exterior there is a soft centre lurking. 

9.   Song:  Cold and Raw

 
This song was written by a man named D’Urfey in 1651 so the song is much older than I imagined.  Thomas D'Urfey was one of the most prolific and popular poets and musicians of his age, famous for his comic skills. He entertained five monarchs and wrote over 32 plays and 500 songs. Despite a distinct stutter "except when singing or swearing" (!) and a decidedly unhandsome appearance, (what is it they say about men with large noses?! - Chris)  Thomas D'Urfey became an intimate of Charles I.  He was well-known for his songs which were invariably of a bawdy nature and ‘Cold and Raw’ is no exception to this! 

10.  Tune:  Carron Streams 

This tune was written by the very brilliant Uillean pipe and low-whistle player Davy Spillane and can be found on his CD Shadow Hunter.  As far as I know, it has rather tragic origins since it was named after a girl who died. 

11.  Tune set:  Young William Plunkett/ Maggie’s Pancakes /Cathal McConnell’s 

Young William Plunkett 

Written by Turlough O’Carolan – that’s all we know about it!  Turlough O’Carolan was a very interesting figure, however and lived in 17th century Ireland.  He was blinded by smallpox as a young man and was encouraged to take up the harp so that he could earn his living.  He was very devout but also liked his drink. 

Maggie’s Pancakes 

It's a Scottish tune composed by fiddler Stuart Morrison of the Tannahill Weavers. The Maggie in the title is Maggie Moore who apparently makes nice pancakes.  Also apparently this tune is played at sessions in Australia (though I’ve never been there to check) and it is often played in Cambridge too. At some point the Tannahill Weavers played there live, and the tune must have been passed on to the local session players by the band members.  It must have migrated then to the Norwich session scene which is where we got it from.  It is also known as" "The Rainbow Tune" and was one of Stuart Morrison’s first compositions and has been recorded many times. 

Cathal McConnell’s 

Cathall used to introduce this tune as "Joe Ryan's not Denis Ryan’s, that’s all I know, peeps.

12.  I am stretched on your grave 

This song was done by Sinead O’Connor, but we got to know it through Kate Rusby.  This one is a real six-hanky number and should come with a government health warning! 

10.  Tune:  Carron Streams 

This tune was written by the very brilliant Uillean pipe and low-whistle player Davy Spillane and can be found on his CD Shadow Hunter.  As far as I know, it has rather tragic origins since it was named after a girl who died. 

11.  Tune set:  Young William Plunkett/ Maggie’s Pancakes /Cathal McConnell’s 

Young William Plunkett 

Written by Turlough O’Carolan – that’s all we know about it!  Turlough O’Carolan was a very interesting figure, however and lived in 17th century Ireland.  He was blinded by smallpox as a young man and was encouraged to take up the harp so that he could earn his living.  He was very devout but also liked his drink. 

Maggie’s Pancakes 

It's a Scottish tune composed by fiddler Stuart Morrison of the Tannahill Weavers. The Maggie in the title is Maggie Moore who apparently makes nice pancakes.  Also apparently this tune is played at sessions in Australia (though I’ve never been there to check) and it is often played in Cambridge too. At some point the Tannahill Weavers played there live, and the tune must have been passed on to the local session players by the band members.  It must have migrated then to the Norwich session scene which is where we got it from.  It is also known as" "The Rainbow Tune" and was one of Stuart Morrison’s first compositions and has been recorded many times. 

Cathal McConnell’s 

Cathall used to introduce this tune as "Joe Ryan's not Denis Ryan’s, that’s all I know, peeps.

12.  I am stretched on your grave 

This song was done by Sinead O’Connor, but we got to know it through Kate Rusby.  This one is a real six-hanky number and should come with a government health warning!