She Moves Through the Fair: Hazel O’Connor″

This comes from O’Connor’s 1995 album, Private Wars, which was only released in Germany. The album  is apparently quite difficult to get hold of now, but fortunately the song also features on the 2003 anthology, A Singular Collection (less fortunately, A Singular Collection is also out of print and seems to have risen in price since I acquired my copy).

Hazel O’Connor is an actress, a singer, a musician and a songwriter. She first came to prominence in the 1980 film “Breaking Glass”, which she starred in and also wrote and performed all the music for. Although labelled with a ‘post-punk’ tag, she has recorded music in a variety of styles. The album Private Wars is often described as being a return to her Irish roots (she was born in Coventry, England, but her father was from Galway, Ireland).

Her version of “She Moves Through the Fair” is an unusually muscular one. It features drums quite heavily, but also fiddles and, I think, tin whistles; all traditional instruments, but there is a ‘rock’ feel to the energy with which they are played. O’Connor’s voice is strong and high in the mix. This is no airy fairy atmospheric evocation of Olde Ireland!

O’Connor sings all four verses of the modern version. She is quite close to Colum’s original words, for all that she sings “mother/father” and “dead love”.

In addition to the noted variations, O’Connor also sings “move here and move there” (as opposed to “go”) in verse 2. In verse 3, she sings “And I watched as she went with her goods and her gear”. Verse 4 runs:

I dreamt it last night that my dead love came in
So softly she moved that her feet made no din
She came close beside me and this she did say
“It will not be long love ’til our wedding day”

O’Connor then repeats the last line and we are left with a lengthy instrumental playout.

All in all, this is a wonderfully entertaining version. It isn’t played as an atmospheric ballad like may of the other versions; it isn’t trying to be overtly traditional, nor does it have a classical leaning. It stands in a class of its own.

I’m very fond of this version; I would never have discovered it if I hadn’t started this project.


She Moves Through the Fair: Odetta″

Odetta, “She Moved Though the Fair” (1963). Youtube.

Odetta Holmes (1930-2008) was a classically trained singer who became a key figure in the American Folk Revival of the 1950s and 60s. She brings a welcome outside perspective to the song, infusing it with American blues-folk. Her classical training tells in the way that she sustains the long, slow notes. It’s very much a vocal-led interpretation, with an acoustic guitar in the background.

Odetta sings a fairly standard variant on Colum’s lyrics, albeit with a gender change (the brothers are absent, hands get laid on but her own love is both like and as the swan). She sings verses 1, 2 and 4, and starts by calling him My own love in the first verse, but he is My young love when he comes in in the last verse (no dreaming, and no ghosts).

She Moves Through the Fair: Davy Graham (and Jimmy Page)″Davy Graham, “She Moved Through the Fair” (1962)″Davy Graham, “She Moved Thru the Bizarre / Blue Raga” (1967).

Davy Graham (1940 – 2008, also known as Davey Graham) was a British guitarist, born in Leicestershire to a Guyanese mother and a Scottish father.

These are both instrumental versions, notable for Graham’s innovative DADGAD guitar tuning on the first and for the (additional) eastern influence on the latter. Graham is widely considered to be a virtuoso guitarist and his playing has been influential on other musicians in both the folk and rock worlds.″

The Yardbirds, “White Summer” (1968)

Jimmy Page, then in the Yardbirds, famously based his instrumental, “White Summer” on Graham’s recording “She moved thru’ the Bizarre/Blue Raga”. There is, or was, some controversy surrounding the lack of acknowledgement of this debt. Page then moved on to Led Zeppelin, taking “White Summer” with him. It appeared as part of a medley with another song, “Black Mountain Side” (based – also without acknowledgement – on Bert Jansch’s version of the traditional British folk song “Blackwater Side”). A studio version is available to listen to on YouTube.

There’s a great post on Guitarkadia on Graham’s influence on Jimmy Page and beyond.

There’s a nice tale, related here, about the episode:

In 1963, Davey Graham recorded “She Moved Thru the Bizarre,” a unique guitar arrangement of the traditional Irish song “She Moved Through the Fair.” Graham’s version was a complex instrumental piece based loosely on the original that incorporated Indian influences. Page’s version, titled “White Summer,” is nearly identical to Graham’s. The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin releases do not credit the piece’s original authorship and history. Apparently irked at the lack of acknowledgement to song and arrangement, Davy Graham approached Jimmy Page at an English music awards ceremony and greeted him with, “Hello Robert”.

She Moves Through the Fair: Anne Briggs″

Anne Briggs, “She Moves Through the Fair” (1963).

Anne Briggs, from Nottinghamshire, sings the Colum version a capella in a voice that is pure and unaffected. She has said that she learnt the song from Margaret Barry (this statement appears in the liner notes of the anthology, A Collection).

Although Briggs recording career was brief (she was a ‘reluctant star’), she was closely involved in the nascent English folk revival of the 1960s and was an inspiration to many of the luminaries of that movement, including Sandy Denny, Maddy Prior and June Tabor. I believe that Denny learnt “She Moves Through the Fair” from Briggs, and then took the song with her to Fairport Convention. Briggs was romantically involved with Bert Jansch, who has also recorded the song.

Briggs’ version of “She Moves Through the Fair” is one of my favourites. To my mind, this recording is the first truly modern interpretation; Briggs’ recording was certainly responsible for the song’s subsequent popularity during the 1960s and beyond.

She Moves Through the Fair: Kate Bush and Rolf Harris (snippet)

I’m a bit behind the times here, but I discovered today that Kate Bush has recorded ” She Moves Through the Fair” with Rolf Harris. (Thanks to MatsMusicBlog for the heads up). The following Youtube audio-only snippet worked when I found it, but be aware that this is an ‘unauthorised leak’ and may be removed.

STOP PRESS: New Kate Bush album, Director’s Cut (reworked songs from This Woman’s Work and The Red Shoes) released 16 May 2011: CD, box set, vinyl. (Does NOT feature “She Moves Through the Fair”)

She Moves Through the Fair: McCormack and MacEwan″

John McCormack, “She Moved Thro’ The Fair” (1941). YouTube.

McCormack (1884-1945), an Irish tenor, was responsible for an early wave of popularity for the song. He may have been singing it earlier than the stated date, which is that attached to a recording.

He sings a modified version of Colum’s lyrics (verses 1, 3 and 4). In the first verse, he sings mother/father, not brothers/parents, and he commences the final verse, I dreamt it last night /That my dead love came in. There is a distinct emphasis on the word dead.″

Sydney MacEwan, “She Moved Thro’ The Fair”. Youtube.

A Scottish tenor and Catholic priest, MacEwan (1908 – 1991) was also a friend of McCormack’s. He was active as a singer throughout the 30s, 40s and 50s, but I have been unable to date his recording of this song. The lyrics he sings are essentially the same as those sung by McCormack, with the following variation at the beginning of the last verse: Last night she came to me /My dead love came in.

She Moves Through the Fair: Terry Callier

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Terry Callier, “It Will Not Be Long Love, ‘Til Our Wedding Day”

Terry Callier, an American singer, made his mark with his debut album, The New Folk Sound Of Terry Callier, but this recording – Live at Mother Blues 1964 – was made before that, although it was not released until much later (2000). Callier subsequently moved into a more soulful, disco-tinged vein – and after that, was ‘rediscovered’ by the UK trip hop pioneers, Massive Attack – but here we have Callier in the raw. His rich, mellow voice hovers above the simple guitar figures in the background, and imbues the song with the a hint of jazz.

I’m not sure why the song is listed under a line from the chorus, instead of its usual title (or a variant thereof); perhaps Callier, the sound recordist, or the record label were unfamiliar with the song and failed to place it in context. Or perhaps they wished to divorce it from its origins – who knows?

There is another song on the same album, “Lizzy Mae”, that caught my ear. This, too, is a traditional song, but it took a bit of effort to link it (correctly, I think) to the traditional English song “Lucy Wan” (here sung by Jim Moray, in a not particularly traditional arrangement), not least because of the variance in lyrics (Callier omits all the gumpf about greyhound’s blood etc., instead sending the inscestuous, murderous brother off on a ship – presumably in exile). Anyway, the fact of the variation in this song’s title, as well as the lyrical variations, uggests to me that Callier was working within an oral tradition, and would have learnt these songs by hearing them; thus it is not surprising that titles and lyrics have become altered.

In fact, it may well be significant that Callier’s version of “She Moves Through the Fair” follows Colum’s lyrics as closely as it does, possibly standing testimony to the strength and resilience of those lyrics.

The following is my own transcription of the lyrics as sung by Callier:

My young love said to me, “My mother won’t mind,
And my father won’t spite thee for thy lack of kind”.
And she lays her hand on me and I hear her say,
“It will not be long, love, ’til our wedding day”

Then she stepped away from me, and she moved through the fair.
And so fondly I watched her move here and move there.
And she turned to go homeward, with one star awake,
as the swan of an evening moves over the lake.

Last night she come to me, my dead love come in.
And so softly her feet moved, oh they scarce made a din.
And she lays her hand on me, and again I hear her say,
“It will not be long love, ’til our wedding day”

He follows the majority of singers in singing only three of the verses (1, 2 and 4). In verse 1, he follows common variations by omitting the brothers and using the word ‘spite’ insead of ‘slight’. Another common variation is the laying on of hands, as it were, instead of Colum’s original stepping away and coming close.

Variations that seem to be unique to this version include the changes of tense (“lays her hand on me”; “she come to me”), which are probably due to Callier’s own (presumed) speech patterns, and the phrase “I hear her say” instead of Colum’s “this she did say”. There are a few extra monosyllables – “so” and “oh” – that seem to have been introduced to fill in perceived spaces. Oh, and while Callier uses Colum’s “As” for the swan (rather than “Like”), he seems to introduce an indefinite article for the evening itself (I can’t quite make out if it’s “a” or “an”, but I’ve written it as “an”).