BBC Radio 2 Folk Show, plus reviews from Living Tradition and English Dance and Song Magazines
Sadly the link will have expired by now, but last week Mark Radcliffe from BBC Radio 2’s folk show played one of the songs from my album – Fin as Oshin. Evidently amused by the tale of the song, he gave a humorous account of what it’s about! If you don’t know the song, I’ll fill you in: it’s an old Manx Gaelic ballad which tells the tale of Finn and Ossian (characters prevalent in much ancient Celtic folklore) going out to hunt. While they’re out, a character called Orry is getting up to no good. Finn and Ossian’s daughters tie him to a chair by his hair and set him on fire. Naturally he objects to this, and retaliates by cursing them and burning their house down. When Finn as Ossian come back from hunting, they’re not too happy with Orry for burning the house and so the unfortunate fellow meets a sticky end, being torn apart by horses. A happy ending then(!)
I was also pleased to receive reviews of my album from two well-respected Magazines in the folk and traditional world: The Living Tradition, and English Dance and Song Magazine (the latter of which is published quarterly). Both reviews are in print form and you can also read The Living Tradition’s review of my album online here.
Below I have posted the two reviews in full, for anybody who may like to read them!
The Living Tradition (Issue 103)
The resurgence of the Celtic languages and musics of these islands over the past few decades has seen the blossoming of much vibrant creative artistry. The path has not been easy and there is still much to be done, but it’s fair to say that the music of Gaelic Scotland and Ireland is more widely known than that of fellow Q-Celt, the Isle of Man. Despite being declared officially ‘extinct’ by UNESCO in 2009 (a classification which was reversed after protests from Manx speakers!), Manx Gaelic (Gailge) is experiencing a cultural resurgence with language and music at its heart. As someone who has long been impatient for the island’s richly gorgeous music to reach a wider audience, Ruth Keggin appeared like a beacon of light on my horizon. A fine interpreter of Manx Gaelic song, Keggin also gives lecture-recitals about Manx culture and its place within a wider Celtic context. Released on Keggin’s own label, with the support of Culture Vannin, Sheear is a finely realised and mature work.
As might be expected, Manx culture shares with its Irish and Scottish relations a certain amount of linguistic, melodic and mythological elements, the latter of which is displayed inSheear’s title track, Fin As Oshin, about the legendary figures which appear throughout various Celtic nations. Importantly however, the strongly individual identity of Manx music is proudly illuminated, such as on the three Carvals (vernacular religious songs) and the tragic song of three fishermen drowned at sea, Tree Eeasteyryn Boghtey, which haunts and discomposes with its eerily thrumming drone effects. The historically central role of fishing to the island is continued on Arrane y Skeddan (Song of the Herring), a variation on the stunning tune usually associated with one of Mann’s best-known songs, the sheep-tragedy Kirree Fo Niaghtey, made popular by Horslips among others. The living tradition is also well represented with recently composed songs and tunes from Manx writers and there is also a stunning translation of She Moves Through The Fair. Throughout, Keggin’s strong and true voice is underpinned by warm musicianship and judicious arrangements.
My only quibble would be with the two English-language tracks, which somewhat unsettle the album’s atmospheric coherence and arguably have the least aesthetic power. But no matter – I look forward to discovering many more Manx cultural riches from Ruth in years to come. If you haven’t already done so, begin your journey here.
English Dance and Song Magazine (Autumn 2014)
UNESCO declared the Manx language dead in the 1990s; a torrent of letters from children in that language made them change their minds! One of the most effective ways of promoting Europe’s minority, potentially declining languages is through recordings of its songs. The Isle of Man could scarcely have a better advocate for its language than the recordings that Ruth Keggin has made in this exquisite album. A culture that has traditional songs with melodies of the quality of ‘Arrane y Skeddan’ or ‘Graih Foalsey’ and singers with the assuredness and emotional depth that Ruth brings to her singing deserves all the support and attention that it can get.
Linguists tell us that Manx is a close relative of Scots and Irish Gaelic, but these ears liken the traditional melodies to the soulful tunes of Breton ‘gwerz’. A half of the tracks here are traditional and in the Manx language, then there a few modern compositions in Manx. These are either sung unaccompanied or to subtle, adventurous and effective backings from herself or the five accompanists. She sings a Manx translation of ‘She Moved Through the Fair’ and there are two songs in English: a lovely light treatment of a version of ‘The Sour Milk Cairt’ and the last track, ‘Holdfast’. Perversely, for an album that bristles with enthusiasm for a regional language, it is this final offering that stands out in some very classy company. With words written by her cousin Breesha Maddrell to a setting by Stef Conner, Ruth performs an excellent song in a way that is superb and memorable.