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Folkwales Online Magazine June 2013

Gwerincymru — o Gymru o’r byd



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 Magazine.


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 era.


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 - the best.”


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 McIntosh County Shouters, a Georgia group representing the last community in America to perform the traditional 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 the Gullah-Geechee 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: small, shuffling 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 new.

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 Arts.

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 out."


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 hour:


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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 here.

Gravel-voiced 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 last year.


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."

Sheila 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.


Hazel Dickens, 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.


Hazel began 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.

Dr Olive Lewin, 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 recordings.


She was 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".

Rita MacNeil, 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.

Bob Brozman, 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.

Sid Selvidge, 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.


Canadian 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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Contact: Mick Tems, Editor - Folkwales Magazine, 88 Manor Chase, Y Beddau, Pontypridd, CYMRU / WALES CF38 2JE Phone: 01443 206689

E-mail: micktems@folkwales.org.uk Website: www.folkwales.org.uk