Friday, 29 June 2018

My new obsession--Emily Portman


Image result for emily portman

I am so enamoured with Emily Portman. 

She has a master's degree in folk music  She has a voice like an angel under water. A strange and haunting voice, sometimes harsh and discordant, sometimes melodic and ethereal. She sings about the darkest fairy tales, murder ballads and mythology.

Like me, many of her ideas come to her in the Dreamtime.

I want to BE her.

I love her the way that I love Kate Bush and Loreena McKennitt for their unusual voices and storytelling. She is like the musical version of a Pre-Raphaelite painting. Literary subject matter, exquisite attention to detail.

I first discovered her when I was writing my Murder Ballad Monday series where I was researching every different version I could find of Child Ballad 10 (The Twa Sisters.) She does a haunting version of this song which you can read about or listen to {HERE}

I do not know why I never investigated her other songs until now. But once I heard them, there was no going back. I found her BANDCAMP PAGE where you could digitally download her albums, but i was hoping for a proper CD with beautiful artwork on the cover and liner notes to answer my questions.

Luckily I found her HOME PAGE and she was having a sale on her CDs. You could get three of them

The Glamoury
Hatchling
Coracle

all for £20 plus postage. Plus she said she would autograph them! I realise that CDs are dinosaurs...digital is in and artwork and liner notes are out. So i was extremely thankful that she was selling them off so i could get a piece of beauty as well as the music.

If you like these songs, please do go to one of her pages and buy them.

I just want to share with you my favourite songs from The Glamoury. I have not had the chance to listen to the other CDs yet. However, liner notes tell me that the first song on Hatchling is a lullaby from Leda (who was raped by Zeus in the form of a swan) to her hatchlings. The poem LEDA AND THE SWAN by Yeats has long been a favourite. I can't wait to listen to it properly.  

Song one:
Tongue Tied. This a version of the fairy tale The Seven Ravens (similar version-- The Seven Swans) Basically, a mother wishes for a daughter and curses her seven sons who who are turned into ravens. The only way for them to be freed from their enchantment is for the sister to be silent for seven years as she weaves and stitches them seven shirts made from sharp thistles (some versions say stinging nettles). In most versions she marries and has children and her mother in law, fearing she is a witch, steals the babies and accuses her of cannibalism.  She cannot speak to defend herself or else her brothers will be ravens forever. At the moment of her execution, the seven years are up and she cries out and gives the shirts to the ravens who are transformed and plead her case. Sadly, she wasn't able to finish the shirts as she was about to be burned at the stake and so her youngest brother retains one raven's wing.

Listen to it here (helpful lyrics included.)
Song two:
Stick Stock. A favourite childhood tale of mine full of murder, cannibalism, reincarnation and revenge. The Juniper Tree has a stepmother murdering her stepchild (in this case a daughter in a sort of "jealous of her beauty in Snow White sort of way", but i have also seen it where the brother is murdered.)  The mother cooks the child and feeds it to the unwitting father, but the brother who knows what happened will not eat. He gathers her bones (sometimes tying them in a silk handkerchief) and buries them under the juniper tree. The spirit of the murdered child is reborn into a songbird who sings a refrain that says:


 My Stepmother slew me 
My dear Father ate me 
Little brother whom I love 
Sits below, I sing above


In many versions the bird sings the song around town exchanging the tune for gifts for the family, such as a pair of boots for the father, a toy from the brother and a millstone for the stepmother. As a child i spent hours trying to picture how a tiny songbird carried any of these things but particularly a millstone. The gifts are given and the stepmother is crushed under the weight of the millstone and dies. In a few versions (though not this one) the death of the stepmother reverses the death of the child and they are transmogrified from bird form back to human.

This is one of her discordant and angular songs, but i love it.

Listen to it here (helpful lyrics included):
Song 3:
Hide. I was just struck in the solar plexus by this song. I had no idea what it was based on. Since it involves the killing of a horse and using it's skin as well of themes of an abusive spouse my first thought was it was a version of Donkeyskin. But no. This is based on an old  ballad The Wife Wrapped in Wether's Skin. The ballad is about a man who marries above him and his wife refused to do her duty (either in the bedroom or with cooking and cleaning). He cannot beat her because of her high status, but he can beat his animals and so he kills his mare (or sheep or other farmed animal) and covers his wife with the skin and gives her a good hiding. In the traditional ballads, the beating "fixes" her attitude and she behaves. It is a comedy ballad about how to get your wife to stay in line. Emily Portman has turned this into both a feminist and animal right's anthem. The refrain of
Hide Woman Hide/ She won't lay down her pride is extremely powerful and the double meaning of the word hide a really good choice.

Listen to it here:

Song 4:
Grey Stone. A song about a Selkie. In traditional folklore a Selkie is a seal who can take off her skin and become a woman. If her skin is stolen, she will have to remain a human and marry the man who stole the skin and bear his children, though she will forever long for the sea. In this song a daughter reunites her mother with her seal skin .

Listen to it here:
The harmonies in this are exquisite. They vibrate like a harmonium.

I cannot wait to explore these albums further. I suspect they will give me many dreams that will turn into short stories.

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