It’s hard to imagine a voice more suited to lullabies than the clear, gentle tones of Jackie Oates. But this CD is part of a project that is far more than just a perfect vehicle for Jackie’s voice and can be appreciated all the more for that.
It’s easy enough to waste hours arguing over what is or isn’t folk music and even putting the word ‘traditional’ in front doesn’t necessarily stop the debate. But songs that have been passed down, orally, from generation to generation are pretty much a shoo-in and many lullabies certainly meet that criterion. So, it’s surprising that, as Jackie points out, “They have been tucked away in song collections, manuscripts and memories and given little real status in the traditional song repertoire.” She has been hunting down these songs for the past 18 months and, as well as this CD, her project will result in a lullaby archive being established in the library at Cecil Sharp House.
We all know what lullabies are; quiet, soothing songs to lull young children to sleep? You’ll perhaps have a re-think when you hear some of the songs assembled for this collection. True, the majority have the gentle, calming tone you’d expect but, so often, the lyrics tell a very different story. As Jackie puts it, “Through these unique songs children often uncomprehendingly become a parent’s confidant, hearing of the joys, grievances and anxieties of the adult world. At other times they are moral tales, bribes for good behaviour or spells to comfort.”
In addition to her trawl through the British and Irish cannon, Jackie has looked further afield, particularly to the Scandinavian repertoire and two tracks feature Icelandic singer, Bara Grimsdottir. These tracks nicely illustrate both the ambiguity and the dreadful warnings that lullabies can contain. Bi Bi Og Blaka, sung first in Icelandic by Bara and then by Jackie in English, seems innocent enough, telling of little children roaming on hills, playing with lambs. But is it referring to the practice of forcing children out onto the hills to search for lost lambs? There’s little ambiguity in Sofou unga astin min. The song warns first of some peculiarly Icelandic night terrors, “Often I saw black sand burning the green meadow. In the glacier cracks are rumbling deep as death”. Good advice to keep away from active volcanoes but the song then takes a very different theme, “Sorrow will teach you soon, while the day is quickly decaying, that men love, lose, cry and mourn.” (Thanks are owed to You Tube user ‘irracionalful’ for the translation.) The nights are dark in Iceland and so are the lullabies.
The English language songs tend not to be so stark, though one of the oldest, The Wexford Lullaby, emphasises that the parent won’t always be around to protect from the perils of the world whilst Little Fishes advises children to learn their school lessons well if they are to survive. The opening track, Dream Angus, provides a gentle contrast with its image of Angus dashing over the heather to ensure children have dreams to see them though to morning. He does sell the dreams, though, and at what price isn’t revealed. The notion of a dream seller will always evoke Lindisfarne’s Meet Me OnThe Corner, that’s always seemed to be something of a druggy song to me. So maybe Angus isn’t so innocent after all.
Whilst attention naturally focuses on the lyrics of these songs, the arrangements have been carefully thought through. They are never intrusive and always supportive. Jackie’s fiddle and her use of Chris Sarjeant (guitar) and Belinda O’Hooley (piano) are a guarantee of quality whilst the connection to Bara Grimsdottir brought her collaborator, Chris Foster, into the mix, adding further class to a top-notch instrumental line up.
The CD release will be followed by an April tour for a trio made up of Jackie, Belinda and Chris Sarjeant. The tour is given an interesting twist as the evening performances will be supported by afternoon lullaby workshops for 0 – 4 year olds.
Review by: Johnny Whalley
Exclusive Folk Radio UK Show: Lullabies – hosted by Jackie Oates
Jackie Oates has recorded an exclusive one-hour show for Folk Radio UK in which she’ll be talking about Lullabies as well as playing some of her favourites by artists such as Laura Veirs, Emily Portman, Eliza Carthy, Caroline Herring and many more.
The first broadcast will featured on Folk Radio UK on Monday 11th March at 10:00am and then repeated on:
Wednesday 13th March at 1:00pm
Thursday 14th March at 2:00am
Saturday 16th March at 8:00am
Sunday 17th March at 9:00pm
Lullabies Tour April 2013
Fri 12th South Holland Centre, Spalding Tel: 01775 764 777
Sat 13th Howard Assembly Room, Leeds Tel: 0844 848 2727
Thurs 18th Quay Arts Centre, Isle Of Wight Tel: 01983 822 490
Fri 19th The Forge at The Anvil, Basingstoke Tel: 01256 844 244
Sat 20th Folk Weekend Oxford at The Old Fire Station, Oxford
Weds 24th Exeter Phoenix Tel: 01392 667 080
Fri 26th Cowdray Hall, Midhurst Tel: 01730 810 947 / 07884 142 043
Sat 27th Folk House, Bristol Tel: 0117 929 9008
Sun 28th The Hive, Shrewsbury Tel: 01743 234 970
The trio for the Lullabies gigs will feature Chris Sarjeant, Belinda O’Hooley or Mike Cosgrave