Songwriter Graeme Miles,
whose songs were popularised by Vin Garbutt, The Wilson Family, The
Teesside Fettlers and Martyn Wyndham Read, died on March 29 in a
Middlesbrough hospice. He had just received his Gold Badge from the
EFDSS. Born in Birmingham, Graeme moved to the North East of England,
where Vin took his song 'Ring Of Iron', about the Middlesbrough steel
industry, out on the road with him. Other popular songs included 'The
Shores Of Old Blighty', about conscripted servicemen being ferried
across to Germany. The Wilsons sang many of Graeme’s songs, including
'Sea Coal'. Mike Wilson wrote on Facebook: “The great Graeme Miles
passed on earlier today, the Father of Teesside's now world-renowned
songwriting tradition and a lovely, witty, intelligent and caring man…
Rest easy mate, you've left us all with more than enough.” Martyn
Wyndham Read and Iris Bishop sang Graeme’s song 'My Eldorado' in Australia.
Miss Felicity Blake,
vice-president of Cymdeithas Genedlaethol Dawns Werin Cymru (The
Welsh Folk Dance Society), died in early February. Miss Blake, who
lived over the Welsh border in Chippenham, Wiltshire, had been in ill
health and in hospital for some time.
Nick Keir, talented
songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with Edinburgh-based trio The
McCalmans, passed away with colon cancer on June 2, 2013. His last CD,
The Edge Of Night, is reviewed in this issue of Folkwales Online
Nick was born in Edinburgh, and he attended Edinburgh
Academy and Stirling University, Formerly with Finn mac Cuill and 7:84
(Scotland), Nick wrote many songs for The McCalmans, and he also
performed solo and in The Tolkien Ensemble in a career stretching over
five decades. He emerged as a songwriter of rare talent and a
compelling performer. In April 2012 he was diagnosed with cancer.
Although unable to travel, he did a number of concerts for The
Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which won him fantastic reviews.
The Edge Of Night was recorded in
the winter of 2011/2012 before Nick became ill and in many ways marks
the pinnacle of his career so far, revealing a harder edge to his songwriting than before and featuring many of the new songs which won
him such fantastic reviews in the 2012 Fringe.
Californian folk fiddler Sue
Draheim, who was well-known and respected in the 1970s
British Folk Scene, passed away in the arms of her partner Wayde Blair
on April 11 in Berea, Kentucky. She developed inoperable brain cancer.
Sue was born in Oakland, California, where she began to
study violin at nine years old, inspired by an old 78rpm of Fritz
Kreisler playing 'Liebeslied'. She studied classical music in school,
but ran away many times to Berkeley, where her interest in traditional
folk music began.
In the late 60s she joined Jim Bamford and Mac Benford
and formed Dr. Humbead's New Tranquility String Band And Medicine
Show. One highlight was their appearance alongside Howlin' Wolf,
Quicksilver Messenger Service and eccentric guitar magician John Fahey
at the 11th Annual Berkeley Folk Festival. At that time there was a
large community of musicians living in Berkeley, and Sue’s house,
known as The Colby Street House, was the centre of much music-making
and the exploration of mind-altering elements characteristic of the
Mike Seeger, brother of well-known folk hero Pete
Seeger, came to California from the East Coast and was blown away by
all the traditional music being played almost 24 hours a day at The
Colby Street House. He recorded an album for Folkways called Berkeley
Farms on which many of these musicians, including Sue, appeared.
Local gigs and a lot of busking got Sue’s friends all through those
days of "free music for free money."
Sue won first prize at the Pulaski Old Time Fiddlers
Convention in Virginia. While there, she also played on an album
recorded by Janet Kerr of Leader Records in London entitled Blue Ridge
Mountain Field Trip.
In 1970, Sue met Joe Cooley, the great Irish button
accordion player from County Galway, who was living in San Francisco.
She and Joe formed the Gruneog Ceilidh Band, and performed on Saturday
nights at Harrington's Bar in San Fransisco. Sue said: “This was a
great turning point in my focus; Irish music became definitely it -
Later that year, Sue travelled to Britain to meet and
play with musicians over here. She was introduced to John Renbourn who
was recording at Livingston Studio, working with Bill Leader. He was
delighted to meet an American fiddler, and asked Sue to play on some
tracks for his album, later entitled Faro Annie. Melody Maker thought
it would be interesting to do a story on "the blonde fiddler from
California," so journalist Andrew Means wrote an article entitled If
You Knew Susie.
Sue was brought to the attention of Ashley Hutchings,
who was forming a new band at the time. She became the fiddler for the
first incarnation of the Albion Band; the line-up was Simon Nicol,
Dave Mattacks (both ex-Fairport), Ashley, Royston Wood (ex-Young
Tradition) and Steve Ashley. Many field recordings were made of this
group, but no studio tapes. Several cuts do appear on various volumes
of Ashley Hutchings' The Guv'nor CDs.
After the Albion Band’s break-up, Sue started working
with John Renbourn along with Jacqui McShee, Tony Roberts and Keshav
Sathe, and recorded A Maid In Bedlam. The group toured for five years
in France, Germany, Denmark and Holland. Sue also played on Richard
Thompson's first album, Henry the Human Fly, and on John Martyn's
early album, Solid Air.
In 1977, Sue returned to the US and joined the
all-women Any Old Time String Band. She reverted for a time to playing
classical music, and freelanced in several Californian regional
orchestras and The Lamplighters, a Gilbert and Sullivan troupe. She
also toured with Western Opera Theatre for a number of seasons,
continuing to perform classical and baroque music occasionally in
various groups on the freelance circuit.
In 1999 she joined the Celtic folk band Golden Bough
and reconnected with her greatest musical love, the music and tunes of
the British Isles. Sue also joined the Celtic folk duo Caliban and the
Celtic rock band Tempest. In 2011 she moved to Berea, where she played
for contra dances with the Sea Change band.
Lawrence McKiver, a
founder and the longtime lead singer of the
Shouters, a Georgia group representing the last community in
America to perform
ring shout - a centuries-old black form of ecstatic worship that
marries singing, percussion and movement - died on March 25 on St.
Simons Island, Georgia. He was 97.
The ring shout, rooted in the ritual dances of West Africa and forged
by the Atlantic slave trade, is believed to be the oldest surviving
African-American performance tradition of any kind, and is centered in
region of the coastal South. "The shouters, historically, had a
separate body of songs that were used expressly and exclusively for
the ring shout," Art Rosenbaum, the author of
Shout Because You're Free, a 1998 book about the tradition, said.
"They are not the spirituals or gospel songs or hymns or jubilees that
you'd hear in the church."
Lawrence, the Shouters' last original member, appeared
with the group until he was in his mid-80s and was widely acknowledged
as the ring shout's chief custodian. He lived in Bolden, a tiny
community about 50 miles south of Savannah, and he had long helped
perpetuate dozens of its traditional shout songs - including 'Kneebone Bend',
'Move, Daniel', 'I Want to Die Like Weepin' Mary' and 'Hold the Baby'
- whose subject matter can range from the devout to the secular and
from the joyous to the apocalyptic. With the founding of the McIntosh
County Shouters in 1980, Lawrence introduced the ring shout to wide
audiences throughout the country.
Despite its name, the ring shout entails little
shouting. That word refers not to the singing but to the movement:
steps in a ring. "Shout" has been said to be a Gullah survival of
the Afro-Arabic word "saut," the name of a ritual dance around the
Kaaba, a sacred site in Mecca.)
Laurence was the Shouters' songster, as the lead
singer is known. A shout typically begins with the songster singing
the opening lines; other singers, known as basers, reply in
call-and-response fashion. The group's "stick man" beats a syncopated
rhythm on the floor with a tree branch or broomstick as other members
clap contrasting rhythms. The circular steps for which shouting is
known are by no means dancing. To avoid dancing, which is considered
sinful in some Christian traditions, shouters may neither cross their
feet nor lift them high.
After the American Civil War, the tradition endured in pockets where
freed slaves had settled. By the mid-20th century, however, as Gullah-Geechee
communities were increasingly swept aside by rising property values,
the ring shout was presumed dead. But in 1980 two folklorists, Fred C.
Fussell and George Mitchell, were astonished to find it still being
performed - a robust modern link in a chain stretching back
generations, in Bolden, a coastal area in McIntosh County, Georgia. In
Bolden (or Briar Patch, as the community is also known), ring shouting
was, then as now, a vital adjunct to worship at the Mount Calvary
Baptist Church. It was typically performed there on New Year's Eve,
also called Watch Night, to shout out the old year and shout in the
The folklorists encouraged the people of Bolden to take the shout
public; under Lawrence's stewardship, a touring group, the McIntosh
County Shouters, was assembled. Over the years, the group (typically
four men and five women, all related by birth or marriage) has
performed at City Centre in New York, the Kennedy Centre in Washington
and the Spoleto Festival U.S.A. in Charleston, South Carolina, as well
as on many college campuses. In 1993, the McIntosh County Shouters
were awarded a
National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the
Lawrence was born in Bolden in April 1915. His mother, the former
Charlotte Evans, was a shouter, as were his maternal grandparents, Amy
and London Jenkins, slaves who were the wellspring of most of the
shouts performed by the community today. He was educated in local
segregated schools and served in the US Army during World War II.
Afterward he spent much of his working life as a shrimper, a job in
which, he said, he "hauled till my hands be so sore till blood come
Performing with the Shouters, Lawrence took pains to
explain to audiences the messages from slave to slave that were
encoded in the lyrics of some songs. Introducing ‘Move, Daniel’, he
said that Daniel was not the Daniel of the Bible, but was a slave that
had stolen some meat from the master's smokehouse. The words of the
shout - 'Move, Daniel/Go the other way, Daniel' – were the
instructions to Daniel about how to flee from the master's whip. The
American Library Of Congress recorded
The McIntosh County Shouters in a presentation lasting nearly an
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Irish harper, singer and historian
Gráinne Yeats, who was one of the
first professional musicians to revive and record the clársach, the
ancient wire-strung harp, passed away on April 18.
She was born as Gráinne Ni
hEigeartaigh in Dublin, Ireland, and was raised bilingually in Irish
and English. As well as obtaining a degree in history from Trinity
College Dublin, she studied piano, voice and harp at the Royal Irish
Academy of Music in Dublin and also studied traditional songs and
music from the Irish-speaking (Gaeltacht) areas of Ireland. She wrote
and researched the history and music of the Clársach (wire-strung
harp), and she was one of the first professional musicians to revive
and record this ancient traditional instrument. She wrote entries
about Turlough O'Carolan and other Irish harpers in the New Grove
Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
She was married to Michael Yeats, a
Fianna Fáil politician and the son of the poet W. B. Yeats. She had
three daughters: concert harpist Caitríona, Siobhán, RTÉ broadcaster
Síle and a son, Pádraig.
Musician and artist Maireid Sullivan
said: “I had the great honour of conducting extended interviews with
her on two occasions; first, in 1999, for my book Celtic Women in
Music, and again in October 2000. She was in her mid-70s when I
interviewed her on film at her home.” A short excerpt from that
interview can be seen
Richie Havens, whose percussive guitar and a soulful
sensibility to play his way into musical immortality at Woodstock in
1969, improvising the song Freedom on the fly, died of a heart attack
on April 22 at his home in Jersey City. He was 72
Richie embodied the spirit of the
sixties, espousing peace and love, hanging out in Greenwich Village
and playing gigs from the Isle of Wight to the Fillmore (both East and
West) to Carnegie Hall. He surfaced only in the mid-1960s, but before
the end of the decade many musicians were citing him as an influence.
His rendition of ‘Handsome Johnny’ became an anti-Vietnam War anthem.
He moved beyond his sixties triumphs
to record more than two dozen albums, acting in films, championing
environmental education and performing in 1993 at the first
inauguration of American President Bill Clinton. In 2003, the National
Music Council gave him its American Eagle Award for his place in the
nation's musical heritage. Kidney surgery forced him to stop touring
For the hippie generation, he will
live forever on the stage of the Woodstock festival, which he had the
honour to open because the scheduled opening act was stuck in traffic.
Richie, his guitarist and percussionist arrived by helicopter. They
had been booked to go on fifth and were supposed to play four songs,
but other performers were late, so he played on for two hours and 45
minutes. His clarion encore, Freedom, made up on the spot and
interspersed with the spiritual Motherless Child, was legendary – as
he later said: “Freedom came from a totally spontaneous place."
In his late teens, Richie moved to
Greenwich Village, where he wandered the clubs working as a portrait
artist. He also discovered folk music, and he was soon playing several
engagements a night at clubs like Why Not? and the Fat Black Pussycat.
His hands were very large, which made it difficult to play the guitar.
He developed an unorthodox tuning so he could play chord patterns not
possible with conventional tunings. The style was picked up by other
folk and blues singers.
"A person looking at him might think
he was just flailing about," the guitarist Barry Oliver said in the
magazine Guitar Player. "But the way he flailed about was so musical,
and it went perfectly with what he was portraying. He's a good example
of not having to have to be a technically perfect guitarist in order
to come across."
He signed with the influential manager
Albert Grossman and got a record deal with the Verve Forecast label.
Verve released Mixed Bag in 1967, which featured ‘Handsome
Johnny’, which he wrote with the actor Louis Gossett Jr, Follow, which
became one of his signature songs, and a cover of Bob Dylan's ‘Just
Like A Woman’.
In 1971, he released the only single
that would put him in the American Top 20, ‘Here Comes the Sun’,
written by George Harrison. He acted in a few films, including
Hearts of Fire (1987), which starred Bob Dylan
Richie devoted energy to educating young people on ecological issues.
In the mid-1970s he founded the Northwind Undersea Institute, an
oceanographic children's museum on City Island in the Bronx. He later
created the Natural Guard, an environmental organisation for children,
to use hands-on methods to teach about the environment. This
seriousness of purpose showed in many areas of his life. "I'm not in
show business," he said. "I'm in the communications business."
He played many songs written by Dylan,
and he spent three days learning his epic ‘A Hard Rain's A-Gonna
Fall’. A man who heard him practicing it stopped him on the stairs as
he headed for the dressing room of a nightclub, and told him it was
the best he'd ever heard the song sung. Richie said: “And that's how I
first met Bob Dylan."
Douglas, a stalwart
activist for and champion of Scotland's traditional culture in several
spheres, passed away on Friday April 19. She was a folk club
organiser, a ballad singer, a songmaker, an author, Scottish Arts
Council member, a writer and a storyteller. Sheila, a retired teacher
living in Scone, Perth since 1960, became Dr Douglas when she studied
for her PhD degree at Stirling University. She wrote a book, The
Sang’s The Thing.
who wrote and sang songs about West Virginia coal-mining towns and
working-class women, died on Friday, April 19, at the age of 75. She
influenced bluegrass, folk and country singers like Emmylou Harris and
Allison Krauss, who inducted her into the West Virginia Music Hall of
Fame. She was born in 1935, but one critic, Robert K. Oermann, called
her voice: "The sound of the mountains in the 19th century."
She grew up
poor in West Virginia's coal country, listening to the Grand Ole Opry
broadcasts and the unaccompanied singing in church. She brought those
sounds with her to Baltimore, where she moved to work in a factory
when she was still a teenager.
to perform her own compositions in the 1960s. They often featured
something new; a woman's perspective in a genre more accustomed to
songs from the viewpoint of husbands and coal miners.
pioneering Jamaican folk music researcher and 1967 founder of the
Jamaican Folk Singers, died in April, aged 85, at the University
Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston. Dr Lewin's research is
captured in her eight books, among them Rock it Come Over - The
Folk Music of Jamaica and Some Jamaican Folk Songs. She
worked extensively with jailed convicts and had also done audiovisual
educated at two Jamaican schools and at the Royal Academy of Music in
London and Queen's University at Belfast. In a 2007 interview with The
Daily Gleaner, she described herself as: “Someone who has always
really been involved in music and people, and especially people who
are close to Jamaican roots".
the Canadian singer-songwriter from Big Pond, Cape Breton, whose
powerful voice explored genres from country to folk to gospel, died in
April following complications from surgery. She was 68. Always seeming
an unlikely star, Rita worked tirelessly over decades to gradually
become a beloved fixture in Canadian culture, with her greatest
success coming only after she was in her 40s. Her spotless,
astonishingly full voice carried a light Celtic lilt that only
sweetened her dulcet tones, but she was a versatile singer who could
coax grittier notes from her voice as well.
the steel-guitar innovator and ethnomusicologist who started playing
on the streets of Santa Cruz on the Californian coast, committed
suicide in April at the age of 59. A legend in the world of blues and
roots music who integrated style from all around the world into his
music, Brozman’s bold playing style was unmistakable.
Born in New
York on March 8, 1954, Brozman was a world traveller who seemed to
thrive on collaborating with the best musicians he could find from
many different musical traditions. His trademark guitar sound came
from National steel guitars that he spent his life collecting, often
joking that if he had to buy many of his most prized guitars again
now, he could not possibly afford them. He recorded over 20 albums,
beginning with Blue Hula Stomp in 1981. His most recent record
was Fire In The Mind, released last year.
the great Memphis folk and blues artist, passed away at the beginning
of May after a battle with cancer. Sid, an anthropologist by vocation
and musician by avocation, had a great knowledge of traditional and
contemporary roots music. In addition to his solo work, he played in
several bands and was the executive radio producer.
music journalist and broadcaster Mike Regenstreif said: “I first
discovered Sid in 1993 when Sing Out! magazine asked me to review an
album of Sid’s called Twice Told Tales. Although he was a
veteran performer by then, it was the first time I heard of him. The
album, now long out-of-print, blew me away, and it’s been a favorite
of mine ever since. Sid was not a prolific recording artist, and when
his next album, A Little Bit of Rain, came out in 2003, I
eagerly reviewed it for both Sing Out and the Montreal Gazette.”
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