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My Singing Bird

by Martha

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Barbry Allen 05:00


These are traditional songs from Ireland and Appalachia that I've learned from recordings of singers I admire. We recorded them at St. Andrew by-the-Lake Church on Toronto Island in the Summer and Winter of 2015.

Many thanks to my dear friend Alex Samaras who made it happen, to Patric McGroarty (Saint Clarens) for his beautiful sound engineering, and to Jane, Joyce, Michael and all the good folks at St. Andrew’s.

Also thanks to all my sweet family and friends who have supported me so much in making music. Special thanks to Kathleen and Alec, Ivy, Ty, Isla, Sean, and MB. 

I love singing these songs. They have deep roots and I am only beginning to scratch the surface of this rich tradition. If you'd like to know more, you could look into the music of traditional singers such as Jean Ritchie, Sarah and Rita Keane, and Joe Heaney to name only a few. You could also look into folk revival singers such as Paul Brady, Maddy Prior, Andy Irvine, and The Watersons. Thanks for listening!

The Singing Bird 
I learned this lovely little song from Sinead O'Connor’s Sean- Nos Nua record, but I just found out that mum and dad sang it all the time when I was small. To me it's a bright spot of longing lifted up by joy.

She Moved Through the Fair 
I've been singing this song for many years and I'm not even sure who I learned it from. We always listened to The Long Note on CKLN when I was little and I must have heard it then. I love the beautiful imagery and the intimacy of the final verse. 

Barbry Allen 
This is a very old and well-loved ballad that was popular in Scotland by the 17th Century and made it's way to Appalachia. Sean suggested I learn Jean Ritchie's wonderful version for a tribute show we did recently, and I've stuck very close to it. One thing I love about these old ballads is how much of the story is left to the imagination. Ivy and I think that William must have been of higher social status than Barbry and wouldn't acknowledge his love for her in public. That interpretation really brings the characters to life for me.

A Stor Mo Chroi 
I learned this beautiful emigration song on Ty's suggestion from Maura O'Connell's Wandering Home record. ‘A stor mo chroi’ is an Irish term of endearment that means roughly 'treasure of my heart'. The words 'a run' in the final verse mean 'my love.' Joe Heaney would sing this song to share the heartbreaking reality of emigration with his audiences. When a young person left for North America, they often would never see their loved ones again.

The Green Fields of Canada 
The version here was shortened and adapted from Planxty's by my mum Kathleen for her show The Hollow Square. The final verse expresses hope for a new life in Canada. In the show that hope was set side by side with the tragedy of The Great Hunger when so many fled Ireland but never reached Canada, dying on ships and in the fever sheds of Grosse Ile. The vivid imagery of this song gives a sense of how wave upon wave of emigration hollowed out communities in Ireland.

The Shamrock Shore 
I learned this 19th Century ballad from a video of Paul Brady singing in a pub. Many of the songs I sing are on a smaller scale and rooted in the lives and loves of individuals, but this one has a historical sweep. I think the call for solidarity in the face of oppression still resonates today.

Black is the Colour of my True Love's Hair 
This well-known Appalachian love song has been sung by many wonderful artists, my favourite version is by Nina Simone. Rather than trying to emulate a well-loved rendition as I often do, I actually set this song to a new tune. The tune comes from a song called "Christmas is Now Drawing Near at Hand." It was sung by Lal Waterson on The Watersons' Frost and Fire record. 


released May 16, 2016


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High Park Records Toronto, Ontario

I love to sing old songs, especially unaccompanied, in my approximation of the old style. I was fortunate to grow up in a musical family on Toronto Island. Singing was just what we did right from my earliest memories. My incredible mother Kathleen McDonnell and sister Ivy Mairi have always been my musical mentors and my inspiration. I am forever grateful to them.
-Martha Farquhar-McDonnell
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