Foxlight: Track notes by Iarla

Find out more about the songs on Foxlight

Where I have chosen to sing songs from what could loosely be referred to as the traditional repertoire I have sought to explore further and deeper than before and in different ways. Songs from little known sources that have never seen the light of day, poems lifted from the silence of history and given voice for the very first time, songs from obscure collections, strange versions of songs we thought we knew but surprise on hearing and songs with which I have a personal connection, having learned them from my own mother as a little child.  Other than these I have written more songs on this collection than on any on any previous release here are some notes regarding this selection.

Breacadh an Lae

Daybreak

A waking dream where I wonder who will live longest into the future. I see my wife asleep and dreaming; and I consider the impossibility of entering another’s dream. I ponder also on the future of my  family, my wife, my three little children. Their joyful dance around our bed in the last verse, a magical ritual and the moment of realisation of the inpenetrability of the childs world and the inescapable fact that with any luck it will be they who will persist  and live on. This is a song about  the simultaneous sadness, joy and grace that permeates life; punctuated perhaps more profoundly by the presence of children and the passage of time.

 

Fainne Geal an Lae

The Bright Ring of Morning

In my singing tradition there is a subset of songs known as vision songs. These are love songs wherein a beautiful, scantily clad woman appears to the poet in a daylight dream. Usually these songs are quite slow and epic in nature but this one is an exception. Light, dreamy and beguiling, the lyric paints a picture suffused with light and transience set in a delicate jig-time melody. This unique version comes from the recently uncovered Goodman Collection of West Cork and dates from the early 1800’s. This is the first recording of this song.

 

Neili Pluincead

Eleanor Plunkett

Famed for his instrumental music on the traditional Irish harp, Turlough O’Carolan  (1670-1738) represents the last great exemplar of a tradition of bardic and courtly music in Ireland stretching back to before the Roman conquest of Britain.  During his lifetime O’Carolan would ply his trade as a blind harper in the  writing and performance of music that spoke both to Irish sensibilities and yet showed considerable awareness of the baroque compositions emanating from Europe at the time. This piece is very well known as an instrumental particularly within the Irish harp tradition but is practically unknown as a l  love song for which he also provided the beautiful lyric.

 

An Sionnach san Ullghort

The Thought Fox

I remember one winter’s evening last year seeing a fox sitting quite still in the middle of  a circle orchard in my garden. He seemed to stare right up at the sky which was clear and starry. I watched him for a long time untl he slunk off in to the dazzling darkness (Joni Mitchell) I was struck by the purpose of his sitting there, his lengthy visitation to my garden and his apparent interest in the mysteries of the night sky. Further on I revisited poems by Ted Hughes and Sean O’Riordain  where animal/human encounters seen through the poetic  lens sometimes involve a secret communication, a tranference or exchange of consciousnesses, a sharing of perceptual experience. These thoughts form the source and basis of this song.

 

Seacht n-Eiri na Greine

Seven Suns

A few years ago whilst researching songs for another project I came across a treasure trove of  ancient  Gaelic spiritual texts spanning twelve centuries. These texts were composed by monks from the golden age of monasticism in ireland and by bards and poets of the period. They range widely in theme but this one has a particularly spiritual dimension. The monk praises god for each day of the week, giving to each a specific purpose and pre-disposition. Each day thus becomes  a self contained meditation.  Strung together they are seven days of prayer.

 

For the Heavens

This song dwells on the contrasting  values of  life on the open  road and the joys of family and home.  The lure of the city, the action and energy of life on the move lived at todays frenetic super connected  pace is juxtaposed if you will with the slower, deeper rhythms of home and its propensity for reflectiveness  which I characterise as braonacha neimhe  in Gaelic which translates as  ‘little drops of heaven’ falling ever slowly to each of  a us as a kind of reminder of what might really matter most in the end.

 

Imeacht

A Leavetaking

On my very first solo recording in 1997 I asked a poet friend of mine to re-imagine the vision song  genre for a song I wanted to record with producer Michael Brook. These large scale descriptive love songs usually operate in a mis en scene of bright daylight and dreamy surreality. Domhnall Ó Liathain my poet  friend inverted this to  occur in the dead of night. This time round he has written a poem on the loss of human ecology on the mountains and valleys where I was born and reared in west Cork in the south of Ireland. The customs of old, living off the land, the connection with bog and lake, pike and rake, the communal creation of song and story the sharing of mind that modernity has challenged are all meditated upon on this elegy or paen to a life lived no more.

By Iarla Ó Lionáird

Iarla Ó Lionáird is a sean-nós singer from West Cork, Ireland. Alongside his solo work, he has recorded with The Gloaming and Afro Celt Sound System. Main photo credit: Feargal Ward

Published on Wed, 26 October 11

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