Rorate Caeli

A playlist of traditional Celtic and English folk music

One of Rorate Caeli's contributors, noticing that my Blogger profile listed "Traditional Celtic" and "European and American folk" among my favorite music, and desirous to immerse his children in good music, recently asked me just what folk music I listen to with my children. In response to his request for the names of singers and albums of English and Irish folk music, I prepared the following playlist.
(He also sought Polish folk music, but sadly that is a serious lacuna in my collection.) New Catholic had the excellent idea that I share this playlist with our readers, many of whom might also have children or might simply appreciate good music.

The music and musicians are in no particular order:

Kim Robertson, Celtic harpist: Water Spirit, Moonrise, Wind Shadows, Wind Shadows II, Gratitude (with Virginia Kron on cello), Tender Shepherd. (Don't be put off by the "New Age-y" cover art and album titles: her music is strictly traditional, bare and simple gutstrung harp melodies with no vocal accompaniment.)

Patrick Ball, Celtic harpist: "Celtic Harp: The Music of Turlough O'Carolan." (Excellently played traditional Irish songs, on the wirestrung Irish clarsach with no vocal accompaniment.)

Connie Dover: "Somebody." Dover, an American, sings traditional Celtic and American songs. She's very good. I recommend you track down her song, "I Am Going to the West" on You Tube.

Archie Fisher: "The Man With a Rhyme." Fisher, whose fans have dubbed him "The Maister," is a Scots singer and guitar player who specialises in traditional tunes.

De Danann: "Song For Ireland." Irish vocalist Mary Black used to belong to this Irish band, and she sings a couple songs on this album, which has only traditional Irish music. I recommend you explore Mary Black's music, both with a band and as a soloist.

Clannad: Anam, and Banba. This Irish band may be something of an acquired taste. They do traditional melodies in a unique and somewhat modern style, along with their own modern, pop-influenced Celtic music. Kind of haunting, whispy vocals. You might recognise their songs "Harry's Game" (from the Patriot Games movie soundtrack) and "I Will Find You (from the Last of the Mohicans movie soundtrack).

Alisa Jones, etc. -- "Irish Dreams," an anthology of traditional Irish melodies and dances.

Altan: Island Angel, and The First Ten Years. Another solid traditional Celtic band.

The Bothy Band -- Live In Concert. Most musicians who sing and perform the traditional music of Ireland and Scotland owe some debt, even if indirect, to The Bothy Band.

The Bogside Zukes: "Sink or Swim." This is a lesser known American band who sing traditional Irish music in pubs and other small venues. For our 10th anniversary, my wife and I happened to hear them up close at an Irish pub in the Midwest, and we have this CD as a memento of the weekend.

The Chieftains: What I said of The Bothy Band is at least as true, if not more so, of The Chieftains. They've put out more albums than you could safely imagine, and I can safely say that anything by them is going to be excellent.

Therese Schroeder-Sheker, medieval harpist: "Celebrant: The Historical Harp," "The Queen's Minstrel," "Rosa Mystica," "In Dulci Jubilo." Lovely medieval and Renaissance-era songs played on traditional instruments, with some medieval chant or chant-style lyrics including hymns to Our Lady, the Rosa Mystica.

Sileas, a Gaelic harp duo. Plenty of fine music. In my opinion, you can't have too much Celtic harp music in your collection.

Planxty: Like The Bothy Band, this is one of the earlier generation of bands that helped make traditional Irish music popular in the latter half of the 20th century.

Maire Ni Chathasaigh, harpist: (Pronounced "Morry Nih Cassie") Ni Chathasaigh is one of the finest harpists alive today.

Robin Williamson: Another traditional Celtic harpist.

Jamie McMenemy: Vocalist and harpist who sings and plays the old Scottish and Irish songs.

Savourna Stevenson: Yet another excellent traditional Celtic harpist.

Alan Stivell: A Celtic harpist from Brittany, he plays traditional Breton music as well as folk music from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

Charles Guard: Celtic harpist and musician.

Mabsant: A Welsh group (their name is Welsh for "Patron Saint") that records and plays traditional Celtic music.

Ossian, with Billy Jackson: A Scots group.

Alison Kinnaird: A Scots harpist who has played with many other Celtic singers and musicians, including Ann Heymann and Christine Primrose.

Battlefield Band: This group may be classed with groups like The Bothy Band, Planxty, De Danann, etc. -- one of the older pillars of traditional Celtic music.

The Boys of the Lough: Another of the older bands, like Planxty or The Chieftains.

Rod Paterson, with Jock Tamson's Bairns: A traditional Scots singer and band, again one of the pillars of the older traditional music scene.

Marie Rhines, fiddler and singer of traditional Celtic music.

Martin Carthy, singer of traditional Irish music.

Alfred Deller: The Three Ravens, and Elizabeth & Jacobean Music. Deller, a gifted counter tenor, usually sang and performed classical music, but also explored traditional English folk music of long ago, and in fact the rediscovery of traditional folk music that began in the 1960s was due to inspiration from the exquisite recordings of Alfred Deller during the 1950s.

London Madrigal Singers: "Greensleeves" -- an anthology of traditional English folk ballads.

The King's Singers: "Annie Laurie -- Folksongs of the British Isles." In fact, most every album by The King's Singers is superb, but in this one they focus on traditional folk songs.

The Consort of Musicke: "Weelkes Madrigals & Anthems."

Davitt Moroney: "The Purcell Manuscript."

Paul O'Dette: "Lord Herbert of Cherbury's Lute Book."

Sirinu: "All Goodly Sports: The Complete Music of Henry VIII." Who knew the lustful tyrant and heretic who invented Anglicanism was in his youth a poet and musician? How much better the world would be today had he spent more energy on his musical gifts and less on adultery and brutally attacking the Church. This recording is really very, very good, and I hope you don't let the thought of the sins of his later years prevent you from appreciating the music he created in his youth.

I would also recommend almost everything by the late, great Sandy Denny, a modern "folk rock" singer from England (don't know why they called it that -- it was folk, not rock) who tragically died in 1978 after tumbling down the stairs at her parents' home. Her modern stuff was good, and she also sang the older folk songs. Look up her albums with the bands Fotheringay (you can't go wrong with a band named for the castle where Mary, Queen of Scots, was martyred) and Fairport Convention. You won't regret it, I think.

Of course you probably know that even traditional music, old folk music, includes some rotten or inappropriate creations. Such is the way of our fallen world. As you introduce your children to this music, you'll at times have to be selective, because sometimes old songs could be rather too earthy or even bawdy. (Just look at the varied music of the Carmina Burana manuscript.)

I hope you and yours will enjoy this music as much as I have. God bless your musical exploration and appreciation.