27 October 2016

A Celtic Halloween

by Eve Fisher

When you say folk music in America, the first thing that comes to most people's mind is Peter, Paul, and Mary, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and music that's a mixture of politics and sweet ballads. Folk music in Britain? Try some of the dark stuff. You want to know how to cheat the Fairy Queen? Kill a monster or two? Go crazy? Be killed by a werefox? Try old British folk songs.

Back in 1969, a British group called Fairport Convention issued their fourth album, called "Liege and Lief". It's been credited as the beginning of the "British folk rock" movement, and in 2006 it was voted "Most Influential Folk Album of All Time". I love this album, because it's chock full of traditional British and Celtic folk material, done with an edge and a steel guitar. And the amazing vocals of Sandy Denny.   Let's just say it makes for a good, alternative Halloween sound track.

My personal favorite on Liege & Lief is Reynardine. Listen to it here:

A Scarfolk Council-issued card to remind you you're always being followed."Your beauty so enticed me
I could not pass it by
So it's with my gun I'll guard you
All on the mountains high."
"And if by chance you should look for me
Perhaps you'll not me find
For I'll be in my castle
Inquire for Reynardine."
Sun and dark, she followed him
His teeth did brightly shine
And he led her above mountains
Did that sly old Reynardine

And, to prove that fairy tales can come true, they can happen to you, try this (fairly obscure) movie by Neil Jordan, "In the Company of Wolves", starring Angela Lansbury as Granny, who tells her granddaughter Rosaleen stories about werewolves, wolves, innocent girls, dangerous strangers, and full moons... (See the trailer below:)

Back to Fairport Convention and the eerie "Crazy Man Michael":

Pair that with Francis Ford Coppola's "Dementia 13", set in an Irish castle, and you'll probably check under the bed at night.  And lock all the doors.  Maybe burn a little sage...

Of course, sometimes they aren't crazy.  In "Grabbers", directed by Jon Wright, a small rural Irish village is taken over by monstrous sea creatures who love the typical Irish day:  constant rain and drizzle.  The creatures are killing off as many people as they possibly can, as gruesomely as possible. But they have one weakness – alcohol. If you're drunk, they can't kill you.  So, the whole village takes to steady drinking...  Laughs, gore, and terror, what more can you ask for?

The remainder of the instructional booklet, complete with a helpful quiz.A poster from a Scarfolk Council anti-people campaign.
BTW, all the photos above are from "Scarfolk, England's creepiest fake town,".  A big shout out to AtlasObscura.com for a great article.  Check out, also:
Carmilla, the first vampire story by Sheridan LeFanu
The Essential Guide to Living Lovecraft
Traveling Thru Transylvania with Dracula
Satan's Subliminal Rock Music Messages

Finally, two things:  first of all from Pink Floyd, a wonderful song that is, perhaps, the Addams Family lullaby, "Careful with that Axe, Eugene":

And for a last video, check out Michael Mann's 1983 movie, "The Keep".  It is World War II in German-occupied Romania. Nazi soldiers have been sent to garrison a mysterious fortress, but a nightmarish discovery is soon made. The Keep was not built to keep anything out. The massive structure was, in fact built to keep something in...

Happy Halloween!


Paul D. Marks said...

Fun post, Eve. And with Fairport Convention and Dimentia 13 you've really brought back memories from bygone days. Sandy Denny wrote one of my favorite folk-ish songs, Who Knows Where the Time Goes, though I have to say I kind of like Judy Collins' version, though I like both. Also, when I think of British folk music, I think of Pentangle and John Renbourn. Good music. Good memories. But I have to admit I don't know Grabbers...

Robert Lopresti said...

YOu had me as soon as I saw Liege and Lief. I love Fairport Convention (and Steeleye Span and Pentangle). But cheerful American folksongs? We can offer as many murder ballads as you like: http://criminalbrief.com/?p=11015 And have you ever heard the Griesly Bride from Australia? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUtsgIQZHag

Happy H day!

janice law said...

I am also a big LeFanu and border ballads fan.
Great to have some in your post.

Eve Fisher said...

Oh, Rob, I know there are murder ballads in America - I was just pumping up the Celtic side. But I love "Little Omie Wise"... eerie and deadly and all the rest of it.
Paul, I've always loved Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, who did "Alison Gross", "Twa Corbies", and "Cam Ye O'er Fra France".
Janice - I entirely agree about LeFanu!

And do check out "Grabbers"!

John Floyd said...

Fascinating column, Eve! Never heard of Grabbers, but it sounds great.

Unknown said...

I enjoyed your column, Eve, and I've added GRABBERS and THE COMPANY OF WOLVES to my Netflix queue. Do you remember Tom Lehrer's "The Irish Ballad"? It's very much in the tradition you describe. Here's a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47bKTtIwrO4

Elizabeth said...

Steve Martin, besides being an actor, author, & Mensa member, is a highly skilled self-taught banjo player & composer. This is him & the Steep Canyon Rangers playing a murder ballad he wrote, "Pretty Little One":


David Dean said...

Grabbers is very entertaining and scary. Dementia 13 is also quite good, if a little disjointed at moments. Thanks, Eve! Love the music selections, too.

Eve Fisher said...

BK, LOVE the Tom Lehrer song (but I've always loved him). Thanks for the link, and thanks, Liz, for the Steve Martin link!