FolkWorld #81 11/2023
© Innes and Campbell Communications / Smithsonian Folkways / Pat Tynan Media

Folk for Kidz

Lullabies from Scotland, New Folk Songs for Children, and a Bird's Song.

Lullabies from Scotland

Claire Hastings releases a heartwarming record, Lullabies from Scotland, a beautiful collection of traditional and contemporary Scottish folk tunes.

Claire Hastings

Artist Video Claire Hastings @ FROG

Glasgow-based singer-songwriter and talented ukulele player Claire Hastings is set to release her third studio album Lullabies from Scotland. A beautiful collection of traditional and contemporary Scottish folk tunes, and featuring one of Claire’s own compositions, the record is a charmingly wholesome listen and is inspired by her daughter Nuala who has just turned two.

Lullabies from Scotland comprises old and new songs, some well known, and others less so. The lead single from the album, Dream Angus, released on Wednesday 31 May, is relatively popular among Scottish households, however Claire textures the tune with different instrumentation and musical layers.

My Little One is a beautiful track composed by Claire for Nuala. Reflecting on the hopes all parents have for their children’s future, the song has more of a pop feel in comparison with other tracks on the record, and touches on themes of love, kindness and individuality. The track is layered with delicate vocals, soft percussion and elegant strings with a catchy melody.

Claire Hastings

Artist Audio Claire Hastings "Lullabies from Scotland", Luckenbooth, 2023

Claire explains: “My daughter is always a great source of inspiration to me, and she was a real driving force behind this record in particular. My Little One is for her, and she even helped me write it! She tinkered a few keys on the piano one day and the little tune inspired the entire melody of the song.”

Minnie o Shirva’s Cradle Song is one of the more upbeat tracks on the album, and is well known throughout Shetland, yet less so in the rest of Scotland. It is a traditional song said to have been sung by Minnie, a single woman who acted as a local midwife on the island. Claire was initially attracted to the song for its playful melody and lyrics depicting a wholesome Shetland lifestyle.

The Dumfries and Galloway-born musician was inspired to create her latest album when searching for traditional Scottish lullabies to sing to her daughter. As she struggled to find many online, she decided to put together a collection herself and was fascinated by the music she found. Although not a Gaelic speaker herself, Claire felt it was important to include a song from the Gaelic tradition (Gille Beag O), as well as Scots, as a vast amount of Scottish lullabies are sung in Gaelic.

Claire continues: “I wanted to create a delicate folk album of relaxing songs, not just for families with children, but for everyone to enjoy. In my opinion, lullabies are about more than singing a baby to sleep; they are an important part of passing on cultural knowledge and tradition. The perfect way to listen to the album would be to curl up with a hot drink or glass of wine to unwind, and I really hope listeners will enjoy this more laid back offering.”

Adding to Claire’s vocals and ukulele on the album are Tina Rees on piano and flute, Charlie Stewart on fiddle and double bass, Signy Jakobsdottir on percussion, Alice Allen on cello, Tom Gibbs on piano and Innes White on guitar and who also produced the record.

A folksinger, songwriter and ukulele player, Claire Hastings won the BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year in 2015. She has since toured extensively as both a solo artist and with her band, with standout performances including BBC's Friday Night is Music Night alongside Lulu and Jamie Cullum and BBC's Hogmanay 2021 performing Auld Lang Syne.

Of “Little Wilma Wiggly Worm,” Gardner says: “During a trip to the school garden, a four-year-old student named Wilder was sifting through the compost pile in search of tiny critters and found a beautiful, pink, wiggly earthworm, which we named Wilma Wiggly Worm. I used the children’s observations about Wilma to write the song, which we sing before sifting through the soil in the garden and reading nonfiction books about garden creatures. The song has since become a classroom favorite—a fun way to introduce composting and soil and, of course, earthworms and the other creatures that live underground and in the garden.” The accompanying video features Gardner’s drawings, animated by Cameron Burr.

New Folk Songs for Children

This summer, we've wiggled with Wilma the worm, said hello to new friends from around the world, and waved our flags to honor Harvey Milk. Now, these stories and more come to life on Cass McCombs & Mr. Greg's Lovable New Children's Collection.

Greg Gardner and Cass McCombs began collaborating together as Bay Area teenagers—skateboarding, making movies, sharing records, writing the sort of “silly songs” they’ve continued to write together well into adulthood.

Cass McCombs & Mr. Greg

Decades later, Gardner is now known as “Mr. Greg,” a longtime San Francisco preschool teacher, and McCombs is one of the finest singer-songwriters of his generation. Mr. Greg & Cass McCombs Sing and Play New Folk Songs for Children, out August 18 on Smithsonian Folkways, marks their first release together. It’s an album of original children’s songs that Gardner wrote for his own students, and that McCombs arranged with Folkways classics by Ella Jenkins, Peggy Seeger, Elizabeth Cotten, and Woody Guthrie in mind.

“Whenever we have a new project or we're learning about something new in class, I try to make a little song about it,” Gardner explains. “I've noticed that it's a fun way to introduce new vocabulary, learn about new subjects, and foster a positive and musical classroom community. The things that I remember most vividly as a kid are those things that I learned through song. At that age, not everyone wants to sit and listen to the teacher talk, or even listen to a book. But a lot of kids tend to become engaged when there's movement and song and rhyme.”

Gardner not only road tested his songs in his classroom over the course of several years, but also derived inspiration from what the kids were saying in class. “What they were talking about, what we were learning about,” he recalls. "The songs were informed by the children’s conversations and interests.”

Topics include earthworms, exercise, recycling, and origami, as well as the importance of friendship and finding beauty in what makes us different. In keeping with the progressive spirit of the Bay Area—and an activist streak coursing through contemporary children’s music—Gardner and McCombs also recorded tributes to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg and local hero Harvey Milk. It’s an album shaped by its community, featuring recordings of Gardner’s students through the years, as well as contributions from childhood friends, family, pets, the Chapin Sisters, Bongo Sidibe, Chris Cohen, and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

The San Francisco Bay Area’s singular countercultural history is always in the background of Greg & Cass’ songs. It is where young people are raised among the artifacts of the Black Panther Party, the Castro, beat culture, Haight-Ashbury, and People’s Park, among other revolutionary relics. The music illustrates a living history in progression. The environment is also present: the scent of the Pacific Ocean, the cascading skylines, and the California sunshine.

Mr. Greg & Cass McCombs Sing and Play New Folk Songs for Children

Artist Audio "Mr. Greg & Cass McCombs Sing and Play New Folk Songs for Children", Smithsonian Folkways, 2022

In helping Gardner realize his vision, McCombs aimed to keep the songs themselves “as simple as possible.” In his words, McCombs sought to “keep it close to Greg's vocal and a guitar. That's the essential arrangement. A lot of those old Folkways records are like that: just a banjo and a vocal or something. Plus, it’s children’s music: there's a lot that children don't care about, and they seem to respond when it's simpler.”

That charming simplicity can be heard in the breezy rhythm and natural bounce of highlights like “Together with You” and “Little Wilma Wiggly Worm,” which also features a crisp guitar solo from McCombs. On “Friends from All Around the World (Hello Version),” Gardner leads a morning singalong over a single electric guitar that wanders, but never far. Scattered throughout this song and its counterpart, “Friends from All Around the World (Goodbye Version),” are additional vocal snippets from Gardner’s daughter, fellow teachers, legendary skateboarder/musician Tommy Guerrero, and Folkways alumni Peggy Seeger and Michael Hurley.

“There are lots of kids in my class who speak another language in addition to English, or at least their parents speak another language other than English,” Gardner observes. “Every morning we read a little morning message that begins with a greeting in another language like, ‘Guten Tag, Starfish, or Hola, Starfish. Today is Thursday. Hoy es jueves.’ That kind of thing. We have a different greeting in a different language every week, and the kids are always really excited to learn them and really excited to make personal connections to the greetings like, ‘Hey, I know Spanish! I'm from Mexico City. Hola.” On “Friends from All Around the World,” Cass and I included some of our friends and people who have inspired us, saying hello in their native languages.”

Gardner and McCombs recorded all the songs in various San Francisco studios, classrooms, playgrounds, living rooms, backyards, and the SF Skate Club over months, often working from simple demos that Gardner shared with McCombs, many of them a cappella. But much like the Folkways LPs that inspired it, musically and visually, it’s a record whose sense of play, curiosity, and respect offers a bridge between generations and sensibilities—music that could resonate with a child just as immediately and organically as it would a discerning folk or indie rock fan.

“A lot of what’s called children's music is just folk music,” McCombs notes. “So I don't see a big difference between children's music and adult music. To me, it's the same.”

Gardner doesn’t either. “I don't know if I've developed much further than a five-year-old mindset myself,” he jokes. “I like all the stuff they're interested in doing. They like to sing. They like to dig in the sandbox. They like to make art.”

Part of the 75th Anniversary of Folkways Records, this album will come packaged in old-school Folkways Records textured black tip-on jackets with wrap-around paste-on artwork. Limited edition yellow vinyl will be available only from Smithsonian Folkways mail-order. The release contains an illustrated booklet with liner notes by Dublab’s Mark “Frosty” McNeill, as well as suggested activities for parents and teachers that correspond to each song.

In keeping with the progressive spirit of the Bay Area, Gardner and McCombs recorded tributes to the late Ruth Bader-Ginsburg and, on the lead single, local hero Harvey Milk. “Wave a Flag for Harvey Milk” heralds the visionary leader work and impact: “Harvey Milk believed in rights for all/He did not discriminate/He stood up for his people/Down by the Golden Gate/He spoke of justice, peace, and love/Things we all appreciate/And his influence is felt todayIn each and every state.” Gardner says, “A few years ago I created ‘Wave a Flag for Harvey Milk’ as a sing-along coloring book that I wrote and illustrated as a way to introduce my students to some of the positive things that Harvey Milk did for San Franciscans in particular and the LGBTQ+ community at large. Cass and the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus then added their musical magic to the song. This year, my students were overjoyed to see the illustrations from the coloring book come to life in a rainbow of colors by the talented animator Cameron Burr. I hope that this video inspires children and their grown-ups to follow Harvey's lead to make positive changes in the world.”

On “Friends From Around the World (Hello Version),” Gardner leads a morning singalong over a single electric guitar that wanders, but never far. Scattered throughout this song are additional vocal snippets from Folkways artist and legend Michael Hurley, Gardner’s daughter, and fellow teachers. “Friends From All Around The World (Hello Version)” comes from the daily morning routine in Gardner’s preschool classroom where the morning message begins with a greeting in a different language each day. The song reflects the swathe of languages spoken by the students and families in Gardner’s school community as well as those of friends from other regions of the world. This simple teaching song includes greetings in Spanish, Mandarin, Hebrew, Malay, and English by friends, teachers, plus Hurley, whose beloved debut album First Songs was released by Folkways in 1964. Gardner explains, “In ‘Friends From All Around The World,’ my daughter returns each greeting (listeners are welcome to do the same) and sends a special hello to Boone and Jocko, characters that live in many of Michael Hurley’s songs and illustrations. There's even a special hello from our family cat. Listen carefully for the meow.” The companion song “Friends From Around the World (Goodbye Version)” includes friends saying goodbye in a handful of different languages. This one features Folkways artist Peggy Seeger and legendary skateboarder and musician Tommy Guerrero, as well as sampled clips of Woody Guthrie and Ella Jenkins saying “goodbye” and “so long.”

The Bird's Song

Fil Campbell and Tom McFarland

Artist Audio Fil Campbell and Tom McFarland "Shoreline", Glenshee Music, 2023

The Birds' Song

Tom McFarland, The Birds' Song.

"Hello from Ballyneddan where we've just returned from the last leg of a UK folk club tour. It has been so good to be back out performing again and meeting up with old friends and making new ones. So now we're celebrating the launch of our new CD - the first in 6 years (I can hardly believe that it's been so long). Shoreline is released on all streaming services. Physical CDs are available directly from our website. A collection of original and carefully selected songs, this album was a joy to make. Some of the tracks feature a full band - we went a bit mad! - and some are paired down to our acoustic live sound - 2 vocals, guitar and percussion. The cover art is taken from a painting by the wonderful Colum McEvoy who illustrated Tom's The Birds’ Song book. It depicts Carlingford Lough looking from our house towards Carlingford town. If you open out the CD package you can see the full painting. This is the book of Tom's song, The Birds' Song, beautifully brought to life by Rostrevor born artist Colum McEvoy. The Birds' Song is a tongue in cheek parody about the world crisis of refugees/immigration in a language that children can understand. The 16 page A4 size book includes the sheet music and a link to listen to the song which is one of the tracks on the CD Together."

About Fil Campbell and Tom McFarland

Originally from Belleek in Co. Fermanagh, singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Fil Campbell has been a performing musician and singer since she was a teenager. Fil was brought up on the folk songs and music that was popular around the localities and townlands of Fermanagh and Donegal. Since the 90's Fil and her husband Tom McFarland who hails from Belfast have been singing and playing as a musical duo. Their unique combination of blending vocals, guitar, and percussion plus the ability to mix their original compositions with traditional and contemporary songs -- punctuated by the Irish gift of chat and craic -- has won the hearts and minds of audiences around the world.

Fil is well known locally for her work presenting both television and radio shows alongside her keen interest in community choirs and working with adult singers. With a critically acclaimed catalogue of eight studio albums and several independent recording projects the repertoire of Fil Campbell and Tom McFarland is both varied and eclectic.

Tom, working out of his own Ballyneddan Studio where he is at home both as an engineer and producer has played drums and percussion for singers as diverse as John Wright, David Knopfler, Finbar Furey, Ben Sands and many more. As a percussionist he is much in demand as a bodhran tutor and session player making appearances on numerous recordings. Tom’s interest in percussion stretches to instruments from all over the world. In his live work he plays, the bodhrán, the African Djembé, Latin American congas and bongos, the cajon, and basically anything else that can be shaken or hit including your normal drum kit.

Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Claire Hastings (by Elly Lucas); (3)-(4) Mr. Greg & Cass McCombs, (5)-(7) Fil Campbell & Tom McFarland (unknown/website).

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