A lovely variation on an old-time/bluegrass sessions favourite. I’ll be posting up the standard version later in the year – but in the meantime, caveat musicus: DANGER – this is the OTHER version!
Annie Staninec (fiddle), Luke Abbott (viola)
Annie is a major west-coast bluegrass and old-time fiddler, solo and with a number of bands. Luke sings and plays old-time and bluegrass on ‘a bunch of stringed instruments’ and is part of the brilliant Toneway Project that teaches music by ear online.
A few passes through Google turned up nothing about Last of Harris’s intriguing title. The tune’s origins seemed pretty obvious though. In my mind’s eye I could see it all: the ship’s stern, the gulls above the silver wake, the mountains of the Isle of Harris misting away over the horizon as a Hebridean fiddler sets sail for the New World.
A poignant theme that deserved to be illustrated, I thought, and contacted Harris-based photographer Stefan Davies, explaining that the tune ‘presumably relates to the experience of emigrating to the US from the Isle of Harris’. He kindly sent me a wonderful photograph to upload.
Sorted – a great post for this week!
And then, last night, quite out of the blue, Google sweetly offered me a search result I really didn’t want to see: ‘Last of Sizemore’. ‘Don’t click!’ whispered my sinking heart. ‘Don’t go there!’ But I did. And read. And oh, abbamoses.com – how could you be so cruel…
‘There are a number of musically unrelated ‘Last of’ tunes: Last of Callahan, Harris, etc. Usually they go along with a story of the last tune played by a fiddler on his deathbed or at the gallows.’
I fall on my sword. Blushing. But truth has come too late to press memory’s delete. For me, Last of Harris will always evoke, not poor Mr Harris about to meet his Maker, but Stefan’s image of the Isle of Harris – quite simply too beautiful to be left out.
For this very first post in my new fiddle tunes blog, I thought I’d treat you to something unusual that I came across while hunting out old-time versions of this week’s featured tune, Billy in the Lowground. And so we begin with a story, a riddle, a rhyme – and dance away into a tune played fit to charm Old Nick himself…
Anna and Elizabeth (Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle), accompanied by Jefferson Hamer and Eamon O’Leary (The Murphy Beds)
The Devil’s Nine Questions was learnt from the 1920s-40s singing of Texas Gladden and Mrs. Rill Martin, Virginia. Comment on Irish music forum The Session has Billy in the Lowground originating in centuries-old Scottish and Irish reels.
Anna and Elizabeth illustrate some of their songs with story-scrolls turned on frames known in the States as ‘crankies’. The duo is touring the UK and Ireland in May, in London on 8th (Musical Traditions/sold out) and 19th (Green Note, Camden). Check out their full itinerary on their website: http://www.annaandelizabeth.com. The Murphy Beds are at: http://www.murphybedsmusic.com
Every couple of weeks or so I feature a tune that's caught my fancy – audio/video clips of brilliant musicians playing great, perhaps uncommon tunes to learn by ear. Most are from the English and American Old-time traditions; some hail from other musical worlds ‒ Scandi, perhaps, or French. But whatever you play ‒ fiddles or frets, free-reeds or fipples ‒ I hope you enjoy catching these wonderful tunes!