Sunday, June 15, 2008

Four Lullabies and an Anti-Lullaby

The only night I had spent in Portree, Isle of Skye, back in 1996, was not a good one, though it kicked off well enough: I hit on a girl at the pub and she invited me to go to her place with three of her friends. All of the girls turned out to be super-young single mothers who fled to the small Inner-Heberian town from England and elsewhere in Scotland. On our way along the bay shore We were joined by a man who turned out to be their dealer. He was the filthiest person I've ever seen in my life. His hands were pitch black and his jeans seemed not to have been changed in years. When, upon reaching the house I asked if I could take a much needed traveler's bath, he put me down for believing in baths.

It was a laughable bath experience, to be sure. The water was full of peat, completely brown and opaque. In the living room the friends were chain-toking and listening to the spooky "X-Files" soundtrack. I was not a smoker then and too tired to join in the festivities, so I spread my sleeping bag in the corridor and tried to sleep despite the music and the hard floor.

This is ironic, because Scotland is exactly the place where music can put you to sleep very effectively. I was reminded of this tonight while searching for a Youtube version of "Wild Mountain Thyme" a song which I play quite energetically. This version by Dick Gaughan and friends is literally a lullaby. It's the best I've found so far, although a snippet of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez experimenting with the chorus was a joy to discover.

As a service to Insomniac "Everywhere" readers, I hereby offer you a few more beautiful Celtic lullabies. With all due respect to the X-files, they're somehow preferable. Check out Christy Moore doing "John O'dreams," he mixes up the lyrics, flops ridiculously with the guitar, and it's still lovely. This song is not precisely an Irish folksong. The tune is nicked off of Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony, but Moore's Kildare accent would make an Irish folk song out of the Marseillese.

This one is just a guy playing in his home, in front of the most disfunctional webcam ever, yet it's a treasure, a real rarity: a Manx lullaby. I visited the Isle of Man on the same 1996 trip and was blown away by the musicianship there. The Isle is also noted for several other things: the cats there have no tails, the buses are horse-drawn, and from the top of the highest mountain, every ancient kingdom of the British isles can be seen: England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland.

Well, actually, there was yet another Celtic kingdom in the isles, and that's tiny little Cornwall, at the southwesternmost corner of Great Britain. Brenda Wooten is queen of the Cornish folk song, her voice is a fantasy. this little song is an anti-lullaby. It describes a sleepy Sunday morning and is the only tune here that is sung in an actual Celtic tongue. Cornish language resembles Welsh and Breton (while Manx is more closely linked to Irish and Scotish Gaelic), it is rarely heard, which makes the clip indespensible. Nonetheless, I also recommend this one of Wooten's, sung in English. it is equally peculiar in its melody, equally haunting and slumber inducing, better than melatonin and cheeper too.

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