I am often asked why I have included certain songs on my CDs, or what the inspiration was, so here are a few notes about the songs on my new CD 'Ye Olde Silent Inn'... love Beck xxx...
The wet, dark stones of ruined Wycoller Hall, not far from Haworth in West Yorkshire, haunted my thoughts and dreams from the moment I saw it. The walk down to the ruins, past wind-battered trees and mossy old walls seemed magical - every moment I expected to see faeries, or ghostly wraiths. So many memories and sad old stories. As I stood between the ruined walls and sightless windows, leaning against an abandoned fireplace and mantlepiece, all I could hear were rooks in the trees surrounding me, and whispers on the wind.
The Black Silk Handkerchief
I once fell in love with a traditional Irish song called 'The Holland Handkerchief' on a CD by American Celtic singer Connie Dover. Ever since that moment I knew I had to sing my own interpretation of it. It's such a wonderful story-song.
The Moon on the 13th
I was having a bit of a down day in the recording studio and things just weren't coming together for me. My mind and heart weren't in the right place. To try to turn things around and end the session on a positive note, I suggested 'having a play' and improvising something. Steve (my recording engineer and co-producer) said he had just been thinking the same thing! He started writing some music straight away and within about 15 minutes he was ready for me to step up to the microphone. I hadn't written any words, and Steve didn't want me to. He closed the curtains, hit record, I shut my eyes and thought of the twisting road across the moors to the Old Silent Inn from Haworth and just... sang... I think we created a little bit of magic.
Ye Olde Silent Inn
I have been very fortunate to have been invited repeatedly over the past few years to sing and perform in Haworth and Stanbury. For the past two years, when I have performed at the folk night organised by the Folk at the Wuthering Heights (at the Wuthering Heights Inn, Stanbury), I have stayed at the Old Silent Inn. I am an avid reader of books featuring true accounts of ghostly phenomena, and I had read all about the ghosts of the Old Silent long before I stayed there. I love the place. I love the name! I love its location. I love the stories. It's been such an inspiration. I wrote this little song about it, and then it developed into a whole CD loosely based upon stories and places that surround the Old Silent.
Down In Yon Forest
This is a lovely old carol. Nowadays it has religious connotations, but I found a different, old version of the words and it seemed to be about a knight, felled in battle and laid out o a bed, blood flowing from his wounds; his grieving lady by his side. I took it a step further... imagining a ruined hall in the woods, I could see the ghostly lady still haunting there, trying to find her lover. Sometimes, when the moon is bright and the vixens cry, the ghostly knight and his ghostly lady are reunited. I was imagining the ruins of Wycoller Hall as I was singing and recording this.
The Dark Stairs
This song is inspired by 'The Woman in Black' by Susan Hill - the most terrifying ghost story I've ever read. It is also inspired by one winter's night a few years ago, when I went to Plas Teg in North Wales for an evening with some dear friends. Plas Teg is a spectacular Jacobean mansion and is thought to be the most haunted house in Wales. I'll never, ever forget exploring this frightening, awesome house in the dark. The stairs haunt me the most. They felt almost alive beneath my feet. Apparently some of the timber might have come from the wrecked ships of the Spanish Armada. I asked my friend Chris Gill to write the music for this song. He has such a brilliant talent for creating atmospheres with his music. It is an honour to sing my words to his music.
There are a handful of places that truly make my heart sing and my spirit cry out. The moors around Haworth and Stanbury are just such places. When I walk on the moors near Top Withens, or Wycoller Hall, and feel the wind fiercely battering me, I feel so alive. I feel like I have new skin. I feel like I have shed some negative layers of myself - the wind takes them away and I start afresh. The spirits of the wind dance around me, push me and pull me, caress me and comfort me. It is all big skies and wild winds and letting go: being stripped bare, shedding and starting over - scarred and stronger. Once again, I asked Chris Gill to create the powerful music for this piece.
Lady of the Wind
John Carder Bush is a brilliant poet. Once I had decided to set this CD out on the moors, I was looking at some of John's poetry, and the words to his 'Lady of the Wind' sang to me and belonged. John very kindly allowed me to play with his words and to create a new song around them. I came up with a tune (it just fell out of the sky one evening - I'm sure the Lady of the Wind sent it to me), and John then kindly performed the poem. His son Raven Bush added some of the most beautifully sensitive violin I've ever heard. Raven and John are both very busy with their own music, writing and projects, so it was wonderful of them to find the time to create this song with me. I'm a very lucky girl :-)
I've always loved the words to this song... my small portion of Irish blood drew me towards it, and of course, it's a ghost story, so I was bound to love it. The only problem was that I didn't really FEEL the words in some of the upbeat traditional versions I've heard of this song. I'm very keen on tribal fusion bellydance and Indian folk painting and embroidery, and eastern singing, and somehow these influences managed to creep in when I was singing this song to myself in the shower one day. Perhaps strangely, I was reminded of Molly Malone and the cobbled streets of Dublin when I was walking around Haworth's main street, lined with stone 'setts'. Molly died of a fever, and I was reminded of the residents of Haworth in the past who died of typhus, dysentry, smallpox and consumption. Apparently up to 41.6% of children in Haworth died before the age of 6; average life expectancy was 24.
The Old Clock on the Stairs
This song is based upon a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 - 1882). I haven't used the entire poem, but I really love the story in this one. A creaky old staircase with an old clock ticking away as people are born, and die, and fall in love, and leave, and time passes, but the old clock sees it all. It reminds me of a children's story that I adore called 'Tom's Midnight Garden' by Phillipa Pearce, where the clock in the hall is a link between the past and present and timeslips occur when the clock strikes 13! My lovely friends Steve, Char and Sarah of 'Whalebone' very kindly found the time to add their beautiful guitar and fiddle playing to this song.
Her Soul to a Highwayman
Well... this one's mildly naughty - it's my 'Mills n' Boon' song. It stems from a pre-teen crush on Adam Ant, and a love of old black and white films featuring highwaymen and smugglers, pirates and brigands. In this song, a very naughty lady meets a ghostly (or perhaps vampire) highwayman in a moonlit clearing... Chris Gill very kindly provided the music for me, and Steve Palmer had to sit with me in the recording studio whilst I sang about 'nipples tingling and hardening'. He managed to not look uncomfortable :-)
What can I say?... If you've never walked out across the moors to Top Withens near Haworth, then you really must (if only because my CD will make more sense once you've experienced it (at the very least, look at images on the 'net and imagine the wind wuthering and howling). I wrote this song as a tribute to the wind, and the spirits of the wind, and the memories lurking in the ruined farmhouse at Top Withens. In this song, with my voice, I try to BE that mischievious, heartless wind.
Tales of a Wayside Inn
This is another poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 - 1882), which I have heavily edited, chopped and changed, but which, hopefully, still retains some of the original essence of an old haunted pub (of course, I had the Old Silent Inn in mind), in which, at certain times, the past comes back to life. I recorded this song 'live', in one take - the idea being to capture the spirit and feeling, rather than perfecting the performance technically.
The Mirror in the Deserted Hall
With some of the most haunting, atmospheric music by Chris Gill that I have ever had the privilege to hear, I created a performance based upon the idea of sitting in an upstairs room in Wycoller Hall, but in my imaginings there are still floorboards there, and a cracked, dusty old mirror on the wall (or maybe I'm in East Riddlesdon Hall - another very haunted and moody building in the area). I'm in a dusty attic and I'm alone, but very aware of the sound of children laughing, toys being moved around by unseen hands and an old rocking horse moving back and forth by itself. A ghostly nanny flits about, looking for the children, unaware that many years have passed since the fire that took them all away...