Friday, 10 January 2020

Fairy Tale Friday--Ash Girl (Emily Portman)

Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

We have been looking at musical versions of Cinderella (meaning versions from a musical) but this week I would like to look at a musical version (meaning music from a song).
Image result for aschenputtel painting"
This version is by one of my favourite folk singers Emily Portman from her award winning second album Hatchling.

According to her Bandcamp page:
Emily Portman is a singer, writer and concertina player from Glastonbury and hailed as ‘one of the new British folk scene’s most beguiling presences’ (Uncut). Emily is the 2013 holder of the BBC Radio Two Folk Award for Best Original Song; an accolade which reflects her power to conjure darkly surreal netherworlds where folklore and myth collide with urban landscapes. 

If you want to hear more about her, please go here:MY NEW OBSESSION EMILY PORTMAN

This song includes many elements from the oldest versions of our tale—the helpful animal to give her food or milk when she is being starved by her stepmother, the blood and pain and sacrifice that it takes to get to the ball and the grave of her mother being a helpful place. This is no wonder as Emily Portman has a master’s degree in folk music. But being Emily Portman she has made it dark and surreal. Almost grotesque in its beauty.

I find it interesting that the song mentions the little red calf whose milk will wash the soot and the scars away. It reminds me of The Rough Face Girl whose skin was scarred from the popping of the fire but was made as soft as silk after bathing in the lake.

In many tales the hazel tree was planted on her mother’s grave and she watered it with her tears. It is the tree imbued with the spirit of her mother that grants her wises for a dress and shoes. In this version, the white dove in the hazel tree  pecks at her own breast covering our heroine with a torrent of blood that changes to a crimson gown. It’s  like a fairy tale form of Stephen King’s Carrie but with a happy ending not the death of everyone at the prom.  It also puts me in mind of the Louisiana flag where the pelican slashes her breast open feed her babies with her own blood. Everything we do involves sacrifice.

The last part reminds me of the test that our heroine often has to go through. Here she must be brave enough to actually step into the open grave of her mother. She must face the worms and her worst fears—she must see her true self. Then the grave will turn into a carriage and horses and take her away from this life that is no life. But in order to escape, she must face her own demons. Powerful stuff.

Here are the lyrics, that read like a poem. If you have read my book Wounds: New Openings Into Old Stories then you will definitely see the influence of this song on my writing. 

Ash girl, ash girl with your coal black eyes
Coal black eyes that have given up burning
Go down, go down to your father's yard
Help will be at hand
For the little red calf will give you milk
To wash the soot and the scars away
'Til your skin is soft as silk
Changed from its colour of ashen grey

Ash girl, ash girl with your mouth that's forgotten
Your mouth that's forgotten about upturning
Go down, go down to your hazel tree
Help will be at hand
For the little white dove will peck at her breast
'Til the ruby blood in torrents runs down
Down onto your waiting skin
Then it will change to a crimson gown

Ash girl, ash girl with your feet that are tethered
Your feet that are tethered with no hope of leaving
Go down, go down to your mother's grave
Help will be at hand
For the grave will open, inviting you in
To feel the worms against your skin
Don't let the fears pull you down
For brave ones there's treasure to be found
Step into her grave and cut all your losses
The worms will turn to rubies rare
The grave will change to a carriage and horses
Ready to take you the devil knows where.

Ash girl, ash girl with your coal black eyes
Coal black eyes so brightly they're burning
Remember the name your mother gave
Before she let go of your hand
Remember your name and pull at the reins
Your hour is calling, there's no time for stalling
Remember your name and pull at the reins
They'll follow the turn of your hand

Now the little red calf can sleep in the hay
The little white dove can sleep in her nest
The fire will sleep, they can tend it themselves
And under the earth your mother can rest

If you would like to hear her singing, please go to the link below on her Bandcamp page:

That’s all for this week. Stay tuned next week as we begin to look at silent film versions of our classic tale.

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