Wednesday, 19 February 2014


Students used to be a revolutionary force. That was when university education didn't mean a lifetime of debt or slipping under the net. I'm happy to see some spark of protest still kindling.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Sweet Dreams Sebby

Jackie's Five Stringed Viola at the Tithe Barn Nailsea

In Iceland, women have been known to cross lava fields knitting. Jumpers and dreaming is how I’d describe this new album from Jackie Oates. A well-knitted jumper has the same creative charm as a well-constructed lullaby; love and anxiety going into each stitch and note. In the video link below Jackie is singing some material from her new album Lullabies in her favourite yarn and knitting shop in Oxford. It looks like crafting heaven to me. The album is based on the research she’s been undertaking for the Cecil Sharp museum and has all the comfort value of a good yarn shop and all the covetable technique of knitting.

I picked up my copy of Lullabies at a folk gig on Friday and asked Jackie to sign the inside to my friend’s baby boy Sebby. Sebby loves music but he isn’t so keen on sleeping so Lullabies is the perfect compromise.
     Every time I go to see Jackie, she always has lots of interesting background story to each song. I always learn something new about folklore. It’s demonstrative of how thoroughly she is involved in the folk scene. Her knowledge enriches her music. The album is full of beautiful lyrical folk songs which have been sung to children from all over Britain, Scandinavia, Australia. She uses local instruments, and in the case of the Icelandic songs she allows the original language to be sung by the folk singer Bara Grimsdottir before offering her translated verses.
     Jackie’s voice is smooth, sweet and beautifully imperfect. The melodies weave their way into your life and come back to you when you’re feeling happy, lost or insecure. Lullabies made me think about how music stays with and clings to you. My sister and I are connected by the music experienced during the transition between waking and dreaming but we’ve both taken different things from the songs my mother crooned at us as children. Those differences spring from the uniqueness of the child; the individual character of the listener.
     I found it interesting that in her descriptions of the songs, Jackie points to the idea that lullabies are not just for children but also for parents. A particular favourite of mine is the Icelandic song ‘Sofuðu Unga ástin Mín/Sofi Sofi Barnið’ which expresses the parents’ fear and protective instinct for the child. In her notes she translates a fraction of this song; “Old bones and toy box./ We should not stay awake/ through dark nights.” Fear of the unworldly - of what might come in the night - can keep adult and child awake. These words keep us conscious that sleep protects us; if we close our eyes then we may dream of some place easier and kinder. Child mortality would have worried parents more when the songs were originally dreamed up but I still see that fear in the eyes of my friends when their children are sick; the feeling of hopelessness and the need to nurture. Thus, lullabies begin to open children up to the concerns of the adult world, gently ushering them towards independence and self-sufficiency, as well as teaching them language and melody.
     The album artwork by Brad Waters illustrates the themes of the album perfectly, a girl or woman encircled; nest-like; asleep. A charm or magic circle cast by those who love us, to keep us safe.


Lullabies album artwork by Brad Waters, ECC Records 2012 

This is a lovely, gentle and thought-provoking album. It makes us analyse our roots and pulls us back into the dream world of childhood.