The refugee crisis is not a new phenomenon. Actually nothing has changed that much. Already in the 18th and 19th centuries, the oceans were filled with slaves, convicts in transit, and emigrants of all sorts.
First of all, there were those who had no choice and were taken by violence. There were not only enslaved Africans, but children were seized off British streets and sold into servitude to America. Peasants were cleared from the Scottish highlands and forced by their landlords to emigrate; Nova Scotia is full of their offspring (let me remind you of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1751 novel "Kidnapped"). Last but not least, plenty of the lower classes were press-ganged into the British Navy.
Even in the late 18th centuries some people found slavery loathsome. Possibly inspired by seeing an overcrowded slave hulk, Scotland's national bard Robert Burns wrote "The Slave's Lament" in 1792.
It was in sweet Senegal that my foes did me enthral, For the lands of Virginia,-ginia, O: Torn from that lovely shore, and must never see it more; And alas! I am weary, weary O. All on that charming coast is no bitter snow and frost, Like the lands of Virginia,-ginia, O: There streams for ever flow, and there flowers for ever blow, And alas! I am weary, weary O: The burden I must bear, while the cruel scourge I fear, In the lands of Virginia,-ginia, O; And I think on friends most dear, with the bitter, bitter tear, And alas! I am weary, weary O:
Secondly, there were the desperate, those who chose to go by their own accord. Many Irishmen trying to escape the famine back home were recruited to work on the North American railroad construction, or ended up as soldiers for the Union in the American Civil War (1861-1865).
The Irish song "By the Hush" (a.k.a. "Paddy's Lamentation;" the title is a corruption of the Irish phrase Bi i do thost = Be quiet) is a recurrent combination of the subjects of emigrating and getting involved in other countries' wars. It is played during a scene in the Scorcese film "Gangs Of New York" (2002), where immigrants are recruited straightaway into the Army as they come off the boat. As they board their cargo ship, coffins are lifted onto the quay.
And it's by the hush, me boys And be sure to hold your noise, And listen to poor Paddy's lamentation For I was by hunger pressed, And in poverty distressed, And I took a thought I'd leave the Irish nation. Oh you boys, now take my advice; To America I'd have you not be coming For there's nothing here but war, And the thundering cannons roar, And I wish I was back home in dear old Ireland
They may have been cargo to their carriers, but they were humans. And humans survive by story and song. Says Matthew Crampton. His Human Cargo is a collection of song texts (without any musical notation or chords but additional background information). Ballads and broadsides from "All Around My Hat" to "Wayfaring Stranger" are chronicling the horrors of the overseas trip and are trying to present popular folk songs as the true words of the people.
"The Quiet Lands of Erin" (a translation of an Irish exile song, "Árd Tí Cuain," by Joan O'Hara) is also included in this anthology, the lament of a Country Antrim man now based across the North Channel in Scotland longing for his native mountains and glens. Cornish singer-songwriter Jake Walton had heard it from the Fureys and recorded it himself.
Jake Walton started out in the late 1960s. He took his inspiration from Bert Jansch and Donovan whose fingerpicking paved the way for many to follow. In addition. Jake was fascinated by the lore and music of the Celtic countries.
In the early 1970s, he met dulcimer player Roger Nicholson who was looking for an accompanist. The sights and sounds of this medieval instrument caught Jake's imagination. Both toured for several years and recorded six albums together. In the mid 1970s, Jake heard a hurdy-gurdy in a Parisian nightclub. Again, Jake fell under a spell. He subsequently became one of the pioneers of a hurdy-gurdy revival in Britain.
During the 1980s he recorded two solo album, before forming a seminal partnership with Yorkshire singer-songwriter Jez Lowe. They toured extensively until the end of the 1980s. Jake continued, often with Breton musician Eric Liorzou. That's why I caught them at 2002's Irish Folk Festival tour, "A Blast From The Past," performing alongside the Alan Kelly Band, Slide and Geraldine MacGowan.
This song collection contains his best work, complete with lyrics, sheet music, chords, and comments in both English and German. Sunlight and Shade is titled after a song dedicated to the Romany people who used to travel in their horse drawn wagons.
The selection is kicking off with "The Music Makers," a poem written by Arthur O'Shaughnessy in 1873 and set to music by Jake. It is kind of a motto, says Jake, and requests to sing it to the souls of the old minstrels and troubadours as an invocation for their inspiration.
We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams, Wandering by lone sea-breakers Or sitting by desolate streams; World losers and world-forsakers, On which the pale moon gleams: Yet we are the movers and shakers Of the world forever it seems.
It is just one of many lyrics put to music. There's poetry from Walter de la Mare, Elizabeth Coatsworth, William Butler Yeats (the well-known "Innisfree"), Robert Louis Stevenson and George Russell. From the tradition he selected ballads such as "The Bonny Labouring Boy," "The Trees They Do Grow High" and "The Curragh of Kildare." Robert Burns provided "The Gloaming Grey," and Jake himself wrote about "Tristan and Isolde," the environmental song "Gold and Silver" and an adaptation of an old Gaelic prayer, "Celtic Benediction."
Deep peace of the running wave to you, Deep peace of the flowing air, Deep peace of the quiet earth to you, Deep peace of the shining star, Deep peace of the son of peace to you, For now and evermore.
Last but not least, Jake and Jez Lowe have composed an instrumental, "Appleby Gallop," for the hurdy-gurdy, while the dulcimer provided the inspiration for "The Spinning of the Wheel."
Photo Credits: (1ff) Book/CD Covers, (3) Jake Walton (from website/author/publishers).