On Thursday afternoon I went to buy my brother a birthday gift voucher from Basement Discs, his favourite CD shop. The trouble is, I love Basement Discs too. They are horribly expensive, but they have stuff you probably won’t find easily at your standard music shop. And when I go there, I end up splurging on music myself.
Right now, I’m listening to the Lyke Wake Dirge as sung by Pentangle, a group I discovered in my first year of university. Pentangle was one of the groups called “folk rock” because they played on electric instruments as well as acoustic, but sang folk music. This particular one is very old and is about the soul’s journey after death, through Purgatory. If you’re interested, here’s the entry in Wikipedia.
Pentangle is still around, though not with all the original members. Bert Jansch, a wonderful guitarist with a distinctive singing voice, passed away some time ago, and the members have all gone on to successful solo careers.
I remember the first time I heard this album, which is called Basket of Light. I was in the Monash University bookshop and this was the album being played. It was absolutely wonderful and I had to get it!
Ah. Now they’re singing “Hunting Song”, which is about an incident that happened in the life of King Arthur, when his half-sister Morgan Le Fay sent him a gift, a magic horn that would kill him if he used it.
Why would you love this music? I always have. As a writer, it gives me inspiration. It links in with the mediaeval fantasy I write. I play it when I’m writing, to get me in the mood. Another song on the album is “House Carpenter”, an American version of the British song “The Daemon Lover” in which the young woman leaves her husband and children for a handsome stranger and then finds out he’s a demon come to take her to hell. Hmm, sounds familiar in today’s YA fiction, except in paranormal romance the “daemon lover” is usually the good guy – go figure!
I bought another Pentangle album which I don’t have, “Sweet Child”, which has two CDs. I see it has “Sovay”, a song that inspired British YA writer Celia Rees to write a novel of the same name, about a girl who becomes a highway robber to test her boyfriend. She masks up and, in disguise, orders him to hand over the diamond ring she had given him and he tells her to get stuffed, that’s from his sweetheart. Later, she sees him at home and tells him that if he’d handed the ring over she would have shot him on the spot. It made a terrific novel, which I have in my library.
It also has “The Trees They Do Grow High” which I have only heard sung by Joan Baez, another fave of my teens, and is about a girl who is married off to a boy several years younger than herself to join their lands. Poor boy, he dies young!
Joan Baez was a favourite when I was still at school. I used to go to my friend Denise’s home and we would enjoy afternoon tea and do artistic things while we played her Baez and Judy Collins albums. I would work on my latest novel and she would set up her easel and paint. Later, we’d sing these songs and Bob Dylan’s; she played the guitar and she sang a lot better than I did.
I have also acquired a Steeleye Span album which includes a DVD, so I can watch them as well as listen. Steeleye Span have been in Australia in recent years. They get together for tours now and then. They actually did a lunchtime gig at Basement Discs, but nice as their lead singer Maddy Prior was, I couldn’t think of anything to say to her – too star struck! She has had a great solo career too. I discovered this group with an album called “Now We Are Six” which was playing at a shop called John Clement’s, which I think was the Basement Discs of its time.
They’re another folk rock group of the seventies. They sing a mix of songs from different parts of the British Isles and they’re fantastic! If you think their fan base has shrunk, all I can say is that their concert at Festival Hall in Melbourne was jam packed.
Again, folk songs tell stories, and if they’re common themes – stories you hear again and again – so is a lot of modern speculative fiction, both YA and adult. I wonder if people picking up the latest ballad sheet on sale in the streets of London groaned, “Oh, no, not another story about a girl who has lost her sweetheart and had to go rescue him from the fairies!” (The ballad of Tam Lin tells that story, in case you want to know, and Pamela Dean wrote a terrific novel using it, set in a 1970s American university campus).
I’m betting that some of the modern writers of YA paranormal fiction went back to old, old folk songs for their inspiration.
Anyone got any thoughts on this?