Thursday, January 30, 2014


Image from Biography

Bob Dylan's Ramona came out in 1965 -- here Dylan sings it in Manchester. According to a comment on, Ramona was a name he used in letters to Joan Baez.

In the song, he says "There's no one to beat you, no one to defeat you, 'cept the thoughts of yourself feeling bad."

He tells Ramona her sorrow stems from "forces and friends that hype you and type you, making you feel that you must be exactly like them."

The bard says he "cannot explain that in lines."

Yet many have related to these lyrics and many have sung this song. Sinead Lohan for one.

Mr. Bojangles

Image of Bill "Mr. Bojangles" Robinson from Polonia Music

Mr. Bojangles, a song written in 1968 by country artist Jerry Jeff Walker. The original 45, uploaded in 2010, can be heard here. This bittersweet ballad has been sung by many others, most notably in my memory, Bob Dylan.

Another well-known rendition was by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Here with the poignant tale of the old minstrel Bojangles is the late great Sammy Davis Junior, performing  in 1989, the year before he died.

And here, with deep feeling, is the inimitable Nina Simone.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Girl of the North Country

Image from 90s woman

Bob Dylan sang a lot of sad ballads about travelling, loss and parting. When this song came out, every girl with long hair (and that was most of us) identified with the mysterious woman described.

Here he sings it with country singer Johnny Cash. This, however, is not the version I remember; Dylan himself sang it in deep blues.

Bob Dylan is still touring and singing. Last week, the Guardian reported that in March, there will be release of the CD, DVD and Blu-ray to celebrate that long-ago party that took place in 1992.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Knocking on Heaven's Door

Image of young Bob Dylan from

Bob Dylan was a great bard. This was a ballad I listened to when I lived briefly in the West End, many years ago. I had a new Bernina, and was taking in sewing for Central Africa Imports on Fourth Avenue. Leaning over my machine or gazing out over the balcony to at English Bay, I'd listen to this Dylan song over and over.

Many years later, it was sung by Guns and Roses. But for me, the original was the definitive version.

Monday, January 27, 2014

It's all over now, Baby Blue

Baez and Dylan, 1963, from wikipedia

The lyrics are hard-hitting, but not easy to understand literally. Could the song be addressed to Joan Baez, as some believe? Or was he saying goodbye to a part of himself?

Who knows? Maybe the question of who Baby Blue was isn't even the right question. In any case, the song was sung by Joan Baez and many other greats,  including The Animals, Bonnie Raitt, Judy Collins and Marianne Faithfull.

That's as well as the great bard and composer Bob Dylan himself.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Doll heritage

In October, my favourite aunt died in St. John's, Newfoundland. Last week I received a package of mementos from her estate.

Along with some family photos, china teacups and other odds and ends, I have inherited some of the dolls Auntie Doris collected. She and Uncle Carl had no children, but she loved dolls.

The ones in the photo are Welsh and Scottish ladies in national costumes, along with one dressed in Brussels lace. Two other dolls have bisque faces and hands. Beautiful.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Morning fog bank

All week we've had morning fogs and sunny days.

This bank of fog was lying over the downtown area in front of the North Shore mountains on Thursday morning.

It gave way to warm spring-like weather by midday.

When we walk through the fog, it may be useful to wonder:

What is it we're not seeing? Even this picture looks foggy.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Food, fun and fellowship with Golden Ears Writers

The third Tuesday of each month is the regular "Lobby Night" of the Golden Ears Writers of Maple Ridge. Tuesday, three mentors from the Southbank Writer's Program at SFU in Surrey spoke about this summer opportunity for writers who want to hone their craft. Southbank runs May through mid-August, on the fourth floor of Surrey City Centre Library, next to SFU Surrey.

Katherine Wagner hosted, and photos by Ronda Payne have been posted on Facebook. Thanks Katherine and Ronda! We enjoyed dining with you at the Big Feast too.

Although Southbank was originally intended to serve writers from the Fraser Valley, we've also had writers from New Westminster, Vancouver, and Burnaby. Surrey Central Skytrain station is just minutes away.

Even though Maple Ridge is on the north side of the river, we've been told the new Golden Ears bridge makes it a quick and easy commute.

Interested? Come to the Southbank information session on February 8 between 12 and 2.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Turn Turn Turn

Image of album cover from Cave records

First earnings -- this was the cover of the first album I played on my turntable, the first record player to enter our house.

I was sixteen, and my first job financed the music -- well, the first real job. I was a clerk in The Hub, the local news stand, souvenir and record store.

I had spent the summer of my fifteenth birthday cleaning, feeding and exercising horses at the Trail Ride place at the lake. But that was more a fun summer activity than a real job.

When I listened to this song by the Byrds as a teen, I failed to associate it with its cultural roots. In fact, it is based nearly word for word on Ecclesiastes 3 in the Bible. This link is to the King James Bible, the lovely poetic one I grew up with, which has since been replaced by modern versions.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Garden Song

Image from Drip Irrigation Systems

The Garden Song is a ballad about the joys of working in the garden to grow one's own produce.

I well remember the first time I heard this song in the early eighties. I was riding along a country road near Victoria, with friends of friends who had just had a new baby.

Somehow, the song, the baby, and my then single and childless state stirred my unstable emotions and caused me to embarrass myself by bursting into tears.

I've loved the song ever since, and so do a lot of others, including the legendary Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Here John Denver sings it at the invitation of Kermit the Frog, and here the song is performed by its writer, Dave Mallett.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Parting Glass

Picture from United Nations of Beer

The Parting Glass is a traditional air -- the last song sung before the evening ends, with a well-wishing for the road. There's a sadness there too. As a young folksinger, I loved this one.

Here it is sung with poignant harmony by the intrepid Makem and Clancy -- that's Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem of Clancy Brothers Fame.

These two were definitely the heart of this group. Liam was the soloist in many of the group's classics, and one of Tommy's most unique songs was The Cobbler.

Tommy Makem died in 2007 in New Hampshire at the age of 74. His funeral was of course a musical event.

Liam was the youngest and most talented Clancy Brother, with the best voice. Before his passing in 2009 age 74, Alan Gilsenan made a film about his life. Called The Yellow Bittern, it was a fitting tribute and for those who remember the heyday of the Clancy Brothers, a trip backwards in time.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Boots of Spanish Leather

Image of Spanish leather boots from aventuraecuestre

When I was in high school, I dreamed of visiting Spain and began to study Spanish. Hearing the beautiful young Joan Baez sing this gave that song and that dream power, as did my Maja perfumed soap, and my black lace mantilla.

Bob Dylan wrote this ballad and published it in 1964, on the album called "The Times They are a'Changin," after its the title track.

Here is a poignant rendition by the Lumineers, and here is the equally bluesy version by Dylan himself.

Oddly enough, though I have visited many countries on various continents, I still have never been to Spain.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Mason's Apron

Image from Gibbins of Suffolk

My grandfather, Pop Pitcher, was a stonemason in St. John's. I adored him when I was a toddler, but saw little of him later. Perhaps in his working days he wore a mason's leather apron as he worked in stone. The regalia of the members of the Masonic Lodge also includes an apron, inheritance from the guild of the Middle Ages. A few years ago when my daughter and I were visiting the ancestral places and Mom's side of the family, we heard "The Mason's Apron" played by The Masterless Men, a group named for the historic band of Irish lads who left their British masters to fend for themselves in the wilderness of the Avalon peninsula.

They made this choice rather than as stay on under the thumb of the British navy that had press ganged them into service. Made popular by Sean Maguire, The Mason's Apron is performed here by Matt Molloy and the Chieftains.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Fiddler's Green

Image: Fiddlers Green Pub, Portaferry by wikimedia

Fiddler's green is an imaginary afterlife, filled with joy and music, a Celtic Elysian Fields.

Narrated by a dying fisherman, the song voices his last wish: "Wrap me up in me oilskins and jumper; no more on the docks I'll be seen." As he bids adieu to his comrades, he hopes for  their reunion "one day in Fiddler's Green."

This is a place "where fishermen go if they don't go to hell." I first heard this song performed live by the Masterless Men in St. John's in 2003, and immediately bought the CD.

Liam Clancy accompanies himself on the concertina, and Barney McKenna, who is either a banjo player who fishes or a fisherman who plays the banjo, sings with the Dubliners.

The Tragically Hip have used the title for a song of their own.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Nightingale's Song

Nightingale image from Birds of Extremadura

Here are the Dubliners singing this bittersweet  ballad. Luke Kelly also sings the song. By my lights, the Clancy Brothers do it best.

This old folk song is also called The Brave Grenadier. A soldier courts his love, and  they "kiss so sweet and comforting" as they cling together. She asks if he will marry her, only to be told he has a wife in his own country. Even so, they enjoy the song of the nightingale together, as they sit by a spring.

As recorded for the British Library, the real bird sounds like this.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Image from the National Library of Australia

This searingly tragic anti-war song by Eric Bogle speaks of the Australian war veterans of the Battle of Gallipoli, World War I. After being issued a "tin hat and...a gun," the young narrator goes to fight against "Johnny Turk." The two sides fight, "stop to bury their slain," then return to the battle.

When the "crippled, the wounded...the legless, the armless, the blind, the insane, those proud wounded heroes of Suvla" return to Circular Quay, fellow Australians turn their faces away. As time goes by, new generations no longer remember the war or the reasons for it.

This ballad has been sung by Liam Clancy, John McDermott, The Pogues, Australian John Williamson and many others.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Wild Colonial Boy

Image from Andrew Bottomley

"The Wild Colonial Boy" is another outlaw hero of  ballad fame. Jack Duggan, born in Castle Maine "of poor but honest parents" goes off to at age sixteen to rob the rich and help the poor, becoming "a terror to Australia."

Duggan also shoots James McAvoy, but the lyrics give no reason. Mere wildness? Or is McAvoy perhaps a bad hat? Of course we must be careful not to confuse the character in the song with contemporary actor; this old ballad predates him by quite a long chalk.

Duggan himself meets a sticky end. He is caught in a shoot-out with the troopers and dies of his wounds, "still firing at Fitzroy."

According to Mainly Norfolk, this ballad has many versions, with the hero's name varying as Doolan and Dowling and so on. The dates of "his wild career" and other details change as well.

Here is the old ballad sung by the young Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem. The Irish Rovers performed the song as well.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Brennan on the Moor

Image of Dartmoor by Carol Tulpar

Like Roddy McCorley, Brennan is a dashing hero from County Tipperary, but unlike the martyred Roddy McCorley, he's not political. Highwayman Willy  Brennan is a kind of Irish Robin Hood.

In this ballad, after the Mayor of Cashel tries to apprehend him on the road, Brennan gives his wife as secret signal by asking her for a ten penny piece. Instead of a coin, she "hand[s] him a blunderbuss from underneath her cloak."

With this, he holds up the mayor, and repairs to the moor with a price on his head. His later downfall is attributed to "a false-hearted woman" who "cruelly betrayed" him. This leaves questions. Would that traitor be his wife? If so, why does the ballad refer to her as simply "a woman," when she's been mentioned before? Some versions have Brennan killed at the crossroads, then returning as a ghost.

Here's Declan Nerney with the song, and here are the Clancys.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Roddy McCorley

Image from Our Lady of the Elms Elementary Library

In 1798, a young Irish Republican from Toome Bridge in Country Antrim was hanged as a rebel from the bridge.

The lament that was written after his death is still well known and widely sung. Groups including The Kingston Trio, The Dubliners, Shane MacGowan, The Wolfe Tones, The Irish Rovers, and of course, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem have performed this dirge for the young hero with the "golden ringlets."

Here it is played by the band Glenmore, and here it is played by Vincenzo Angelo on the tin whistle. Here's a tin whistle lesson taught by Ryan Duns of Boston College.

Moyard House in Belfast hosts a Roddy McCorley Society.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Shoals of Herring

Herring photo from The Herring File

With my Newfy blood and my fondness for Irish folk music, I love Ewan MacColl's fishing song, Shoals of Herring. I first heard it sung by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem from the front row of the Queen Elizabeth theatre in Vancouver in 1968. None who sing this soulful song can compare to the late Liam Clancy, last survivor of the Aran sweater clad group who made Irish music an international phenom.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Butcher's Boy

Book cover image from Wikimedia

Recently listening to Folk Alley radio has brought many memories of songs we used to sing in the late sixties, a heyday of folk music.

Many of these were doleful old ballads with many versions. According to the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, this was an old folk song from England. In the version they sing here, it begins with the setting "In London City."

Here Kirsty MacColl has it as "In More Street, where I did dwell."

Ryan's Fancy has a Dublin version, and in Newfoundland the song records the tragedy as happening in Jersey city.

In 2012 Jessie Ferguson concurs with the Dublin location.

The Butcher Boy is also a crime novel series by Thomas Perry, later made into a tragicomic movie.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Dr. Barry prepares to operate

Photo by Rebecca Barnes

Dr. Barry had a great Christmas holiday. When it wasn't raining in Dublin, he was on the golf course.

Now he's back in the hospital, all decked out in his scrubs in the OR.

And the moment he gets done the day's surgery, he'll be on the helicopter on his way back to City West

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sunbeams reflect off Christmas tree as season ends

January 6 is Old Christmas Day, the date of Christmas according to the old Julian calendar, as opposed to the currently used Gregorian one.

These sunny morning light beams somehow reflected off the shiny decorations on the tree.

Meanwhile, the raffia angel waits patiently on the treetop, hands folded in prayer.

Now Old Christmas Day ends the season. It won't be long now till the seasonal decorations are down.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

George prepares for his return to Edmonton

George was on the plane to Edmonton this morning, and he wore his warm cap with ear flaps, along with the hooded fleece coat.

Outside the Lower Mainland, Canada is having cold weather, with snow building up. That trend, of course, includes Edmonton, as George well knows.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Puzzlers go one more round in honour of Renoir

I dreamed of jigsaws last night, and as I woke up this morning, I saw puzzle pieces in my dreams.

First there was the excess of having done three jigsaws; unusual shapes and orientations of the puzzle pieces added to the level of challenge.

Blurry brush strokes by Renoir made it hard to distinguish one thing from another. Which pink was whose face? Suit back, or dog hair?

Now the puzzle backlog is complete. We'll do a new one next year. Or two. At most.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

George supports the Edmonton Oilers but he's no redneck

In his long and checkered career, George has been many things.

An old-time Havana gambler in a white suit and yellow silk shirt with a pink rose as a boutonniere.

A Victorian gentleman in a quilted smoking jacket.

An elegantly suited business executive on the red eye to Dubai and on to Moscow.

Is he an oil man now?

During a moment of relaxation, he's wearing the Oilers shirt, but the pin-striped pants suggest he is not exactly working the Oil Patch.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Like a bird -- or several -- on a wire

As Leonard Cohen sings "I have tried, in my way, to be free."

This is the year to be free of negativity, snap judgments and more.

I'm up for it, helped by several days of listening to Folk Alley radio through the holidays. This will be the year of music on my blog.

Happy New Year to all. Sing, play and be happy.