Having just returned from a fabulous weekend of music at the Cygnet Folk Festival, (and having played more tunes on the fiddle than I have for years) has put me in a reflective mood on the music I love and seem to return to again and again. The previous weekend I spent a day (and a night) at The Lake School in Koroit, playing and singing my heart out with so many friends I've made along the way. Leading up to all this was several weeks of pretty intense fiddle practice as I tried to make sure I'd be able to keep up with the amazing Ewen Baker as his "support" fiddler. Yes, the song writing has taken a break for a few weeks as I've become immersed in the treasure trove that is traditional music.
Traditional folk music has always spoken to me. I recall quite clearly being given one of those thin records (probably by a grandparent who picked it up for free as a promotion with the Herald or something) that came in magazines and books in the 60s and 70s. It must have been about 1974 and I would have been 11 (same age as my daughter Sofia is right now). In those days our parents were still able to protect us from much of popular culture (we didn't have TV and the radio was pretty much rusted on to 3LO or 3AR. I'm not sure if ABC FM had entered our lives yet at that stage. Dad had an enormous record collection but it was mostly Bach, Handel, Mozart or audio play versions of Shakespeare. I do remember listening to Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood over and over as well. of course there were hymns at church and Christmas music as well as the music on "Sentimental Journey" on Saturday nights on 3LO (which is where I learnt a bunch of jazz standards that would come in useful much later in my musical life) but I had almost no knowledge of the pop music my friends talked about at school.... Anyway, this thin record I mentioned turned up in a Shell Petroleum sleeve and was some kind of promotional thing, designed (I assume) to help identify Shell as dinky di Aussies. The record was basically the story of first European settlement in Australia and included versions of songs like Bound for Botany Bay, Moreton Bay and others. This record was so thin you had to sit it on another record to play it, and play it I did, over and over and over. I remember our parents went out one night and the poor lady babysitting us had to put up with me playing it about 6 times. In the end she said "enough, enough" and I had to go to bed (I went to bed later than the others, the benefits of being the eldest). Those were the first songs to speak to me that I can recall. I know them still, word for word.
Which brings me to the present... I've started recording my first solo album at Audrey Studios with the wonderful Craig Pilkington looking after all things technical. Most of the songs are down in their basic form (this is a folk record so I want to keep it simple) but there is still a lot of work to do between here and finished, so next weekend I will be launching a pledge campaign to help fund the record so I can get it finished and finally have something of my own out there. Part of the promotion for this will be weekly posts of videos I have made in the front room of our house with the help of the multi talented Gordon Tresider (where would I be without Gordon?). The first video will be of one of the songs on the album, but I'm starting this off with a bit of a preview. This song is The Lakes Of Pontchartrain and it's one of my all time favourite traditional songs. I first heard it sung at a folk festival in Horsham while I was playing in Tam'O'Shanter which would put in in 1983 I would think. All I could remember of it at the time was the timeless melody and the line "if it weren't for the alligators I'd sleep out in the woods". And that's one of the great things about traditional music. Some of the lines are unforgettable. Another of my faves is "give corn unto my horse mother, meat to my man John" from The Drowned Lovers (Nic Jones, Penguin Eggs) or "Ye see yon Birkie called a Lord, wha struts and stares and a' that" (Robert Burns) just to name a few. Anyway, some years later I discovered the Paul Brady version of "Lakes" and it's been right at the top of my list of traditional songs ever since, even though I had absolutely no clue what it was about. Knowing I was going to post my version of this song I thought I'd better do a bit of research. In the halcyon days of the folk singer I would have taken the train to Cecil House or one of the better libraries and lost the best part of a week buried in dusty old books looking for the origins of this obscure song, and I would have found seventeen versions collected from different counties in the UK and written a paper for publishing in the folk club monthly on my findings, then downed a porter and bread and cheese sandwich at the local pub, but that was then. I'm a 21st century folk singer so I brewed a cup of herbal tea, grabbed the iPad and consulted Wikipedia. It seems that "Lakes" is likely a bit of a combination of a song from the wars of 1812 when many Irishmen went to fight for the British or French armies in America and from the period of the American Civil War when there were confederate and union currencies, only one of worth depending on where you were "I cursed all foreign money, no credit could I gain". The last mystery is the origins of the Creole girl in the song. Creole could mean many things (from blonde born of European parents in America to dark of mixed parentage) but in my mind she's a dark haired beauty. Not that it matters, she's promised to another "and he is far at sea" in any case. As with many traditional songs "Lakes" has probably evolved from several songs which only adds to its mystery and appeal in my book.
So, here it is "The Lakes Of Pontchartrain". I hope you enjoy it.