One of the many enjoyable parts of Martyn Joseph’s ‘Pipefest’ weekend was joining in with a lullaby led by Karine Polwart, ‘Hush a bye my bairnie‘. Although I missed the singing workshop where it was taught I had heard the song at her gig in Edinburgh in August. She had us all joining in with at least three harmony lines and I wasn’t the only person still singing the simple refrain several hours later. And yesterday, and today. A version collected by Moffat has the chorus:
Hush-a-bye, my bairnie.
Hush-a-bye, my bairnie.”
It’s a lovely song and it sounded wonderful with so many singers joined together. Even though the words are so simple it conveys something about being home and safe and loved, although there’s also a sentiment about being quiet which doesn’t quite fit with the rest of this blog. I’m more interested in encouraging people to sing the songs that make a difference.
Martyn Joseph’s song ‘Clara‘ tells about a young nanny singing to a small child and the powerful difference that made to his life. It could have been a lullaby:
“Through long nights she’ll hold him close and sing gently in his ear”
Years later the melody comes back to him, bringing hope and a reason to carry on, and when they meet again in their old age she sings for him again and helps him change his view of his childhood. The chorus says:
“Hope we all have a Clara,
singing songs unknown
Songs for the healing,
and songs for the coming home”
‘Songs for the coming home’ is the title of the album Martyn released last year, but it captures a lot of what his music means to me and many other fans who find grace, encouragement and solidarity in the songs that he writes. His new album of Springsteen songs ‘Tires rushing by in the rain’ includes sleevenotes from Martyn saying that through Springsteen’s songs “the vision became bigger and the despair a little smaller… they simply made me feel like I wasn’t alone in the world”. I’m confident that many Pipefest attendees would testify to a similar relationship with Martyn’s music.
I’ve been challenged recently wondering what song I really want to sing – if there was one key message I wanted to convey to people listening to me or to my life. I love the mockingjays in Suzanne Collins ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy – birds that repeat the songs they hear and which pick up notes of hope, a lullaby and a song of protest at different key points within the story. If I had my moment to sing one song, to convey one message, what would it be?
It probably wouldn’t be a folk song about manslaughter, although Bella Hardy’s ‘The Herring Girl’ went down well in the Pre-Pipefest open mic. It probably wouldn’t be a song about plagiarism either, although I am quite pleased that I managed to channel some of my recent stresses into a song with a positive ending. Perhaps my ‘Baking Bread’ song about being authentic or Yvonne Lyon’s ‘Tiny Things’ about noticing the small moments of beauty are stronger contenders.
Rereading The Hunger Games trilogy recently, particularly ‘Mockingjay’ I was struck by all the ways the malevolent authorities sought to silence people, and the efforts the rebels had to go to in spreading their message of truth. It reminded me of the similar measures employed by Mr Universe in the film Serenity. Perhaps one sign that you’ve got a valuable or vital message is that some of those in power are trying to stop you from communicating it. I have to be thankful for the freedom of speech and religion I have in the UK, but if I’m thinking of spiritual powers, I guess I do believe that there is an enemy who does not want me communicating any message of hope or truth or life. And I think he can be quite insidious about it, rather like some of Screwtape’s fellow demons in the C.S. Lewis book. If all that is needed to shut me up is a bit of a distraction on television or the internet, or some apathy or a low mood, that’s probably more effective than a more obvious attack. I’m not saying we should see spiritual forces at work everywhere we look, but if I believe I have an important, life impacting message to impart then it makes sense to look at what is stopping me from singing it out loud.
So that’s two questions – what song am I meant to be singing, and what is stopping me from singing it? I’m still thinking about both of them – but I have been drawn back to another song from the weekend which has meant a lot to me in the past and with a sentiment I feel is worth sharing. Late on the Friday night, a few of the hardiest Pipefesters were still in Fylde Common Room singing songs from the Martyn Joseph song book, ‘Notes on Words’. And we played and sang an old song from an album I own on cassette tape, ‘An Aching And A Longing’ although the track has been rereleased on the compilation album, ‘Thunder & Rainbows’.
The song is called ‘Precious’ and I guess I’m sharing it with you here. And if I practise the simple chords I might be singing it a bit more.