Category Archives: Song Entry

The Very First Hundred Years Late Radio Feature

That’s not just a picture, it’s an embedded player from Bandcamp, so you can listen right now…

I read Musicophilia: Tales of Music and The Brain by Oliver Sacks when it came out in 2007. This book outlined through a number of case studies the effects that music has on the brain and how these effects can be harnessed to provide effective therapeutic treatment for people suffering from a range of neurological conditions, from Tourette’s Syndrome to Parkinson’s to Alzheimer’s and dementia. It’s a fascinating subject, one I touched upon in previous entries, and I highly recommend the book (and anything by Oliver Sacks generally).

I was approached by the organisers of a crowdfunded indiegogo project called ‘Music for Memories’, whose objective is to bring mp3 players and access to music to sufferers of Alzheimers and dementia in several retirement homes. When I heard about it, I wanted to help, and they suggested I record a podcast for inclusion in their program. I always find it very interesting to go through all the different versions of a song down through the years, and I had already conducted a lot of research for my 1914 album and found some interesting vintage recordings that I could include. I would love to do a more thorough feature on each song, but I am limited to using recordings that are in the public domain.

I had been preparing to write a blog post about ‘Old Folks At Home’, so I made it a podcast instead. This being Hundred Years Late, I’ve called it a ‘Radio Feature’ instead of a podcast. Thanks to the people behind Music For Memories for asking me to make this. I quite enjoyed it, so I might make some more podcasts if people like listening to this one. Below are links to where I found the recordings used in the podcast.

Felix Arndt – Old Folks At Home (1914) downloaded from home2b.nl.
The Manhansett Quartet (c. 1895) from The Internet Archive
George J. Gaskin (1899) from The Internet Archive
Henry Burr (1910) from The Internet Archive
Alma Gluck & Efrem Zimbalist (1914) from The Internet Archive
Stanton High School (1955) from Florida Memory
Hundred Years Late (2014) from the album Some Popular Songs from 1914 Arranged for Modern Sensibilities & Recorded Using Modern Methods

The Press Release

Hundred Years Late
Presenting
SOME POPULAR SONGS from 1914
Arranged for Modern Sensibilities
& Recorded Using Modern Methods

Album out DECEMBER 15th on Bandcamp
The Slumber Boat video now on YouTube.

This unique album features twelve modern reinterpretations of songs which were written, published, recorded, or released in 1914.

Musician and songwriter David Nelligan began this ‘music archive revival project’ Hundred Years Late last year as part of his masters research, and has been encouraging modern musicians to delve into the archives and put their own spin on the songs they discover there. The idea is to celebrate the musicians and songwriters of the past, and encourage modern musicians and songwriters to engage with archival resources and participate in a kind of inter-generational cultural cross-pollination. Throughout the year, David has been curating his own favourite songs from the archives and enlisting some of his favourite musicians to help him record them, while writing a blog highlighting some wonderful songs from 1914 and the stories of the people behind them.

The somewhat formal style of the time, the lack of a modern rhythm section, and the scratchiness and general poor sound quality of these old recordings can make songs from this era inaccessible to modern listeners. But when performed and interpreted by modern musicians, the songs seem suddenly vibrant and relevant again. There’s a tenderness, a naïveté, a melodramatic sincerity about the lyrics that seems so fresh and free of cynicism. Musically, there’s a wide variety of styles covered. Some songs are playful and jazzy, others melancholic and avant-garde. Then there’s blues, gospel, rock and pop, but not as we know them. They don’t write them like this anymore.

You are cordially invited to come and listen to this strange and nostalgic album of cover versions.

The album will be available on Bandcamp on Monday December 15th.

To whet your appetite, Hundred Years Late have produced a charming animated video for lullaby The Slumber Boat. It is sung by guest vocalist Lynda Cullen, a Cork-based singer-songwriter whose album Paper Boat was released earlier this year to critical acclaim. The sleeping baby illustrations used in the video are in the public domain, taken from a magazine published in 1914.

The general health and well-being of the public domain is one of the issues that inspired this project. If culture can be locked up in copyright restrictions for 95 years, then remix artists across all genres and media are limited to using vintage material. Rather than complain about what can’t be done, this project aims to demonstrate what can be done with the public domain. All the artwork used for the project is in the public domain, or licensed for reuse under Creative Commons. The songs covered here are of course in the public domain, and the Hundred Years Late recordings of them are also licensed under Creative Commons. Here is the track listing, with links to archive recordings…

1) When You’re A Long Long Way From Home
2) Where My Caravan Has Rested
3) You Broke My Heart To Pass The Time Away
4) The Monotone (Ein Ton)
5) I Want To Be Like Jesus
6) Oft In The Stilly Night
7) If I Were The Ocean And You Were The Shore
8) The Slumber Boat
9) Can’t You Hear Me Callin’, Caroline?
10) Old Folks At Home
11) Crossing The Bar
12) I Cannot Sing The Old Songs

SOME POPULAR SONGS FROM 1914 marks a surprising change of creative direction for David Nelligan. His band, The David Nelligan Thing, released alt-pop-folk-rock album ‘Dark Matters’ in April last year to some acclaim, followed in August by the stylistically divergent electro-synth-pop E.P. ‘Who Is Synthia?’ which notably put Shakespeare’s poetry to music. His academic pursuits necessitated a brief hiatus from the band, during which time this Hundred Years Late album came about. If you would like to know more, visit hundredyearslate.com

Come Back to Erin

I was thrilled to receive another musical submission this week. Paul O’Regan, making music under the name RavenConspiracy, has remixed and reinterpreted a song called ‘Come Back to Erin’, using samples from a hundred year old recording. I asked Paul to write something about what he’s done, so here’s Paul explaining it in his own words.

I chose this song because it I wanted to work with something that connects to Ireland. Although written before 1914, the lyrics of the song could easily be transmuted to a wife or partner waiting at home for a husband or loved one who had joined the British Army in WWI. This version of the song was recorded around 1914 so I thought it would fit in nicely with the centenary of WWI.

Not being a musician in the traditional sense and with no singing voice to speak of I embarked on creating an electronic track using this original recording as a core component. To that end, many of the sounds in my track are sampled from the original. These samples were then sliced, edited and effects added to form various hits, melodies and vocal pieces within the track. After the arrangement was down, I then set about adding automation to effects such as filters, delays, distortion etc. I used a combination of automation envelopes and real-time automation recoding (such as the filter sweeps in the bassline).

The interesting thing about the song ‘Come Back to Erin Mavourneen’ is that it was written by an English balladeer Charlotte Alington Pye Barnard around 1868. The song became synonymous with Ireland for obvious reasons but like ‘It’s A Long Way to Tipperary’ it was not written by an Irish person.

Well done to Paul. It’s great to hear something so unexpected, such radical and imaginative reinterpretation of the source material. I’ve found a nice version of the original sound recording Paul used, and it doesn’t immediately make you think of EDM. I’m really pleased that the enthusiasm for this project is crossing traditional boundaries and mixing disparate genres. If you like what you hear on this track, I recommend you check out RavenConspiracy on Soundcloud.

As Paul said, the song was written by Charlotte Alington Pye Barnard in the 1860s. This English composer, poet and balladeer – who wrote under the pseudonym ‘Claribel’ – also wrote I Cannot Sing The Old Songs, which I covered myself for this project a few months ago.

This version of ‘Come Back to Erin’ on YouTube features an original Edison Blue Amberol cylinder being played on a working cylinder player. Here it was sung by Orville Harrold. A short film made in 1914 by Sidney Olcott also used the name ‘Come Back to Erin’. Olcott was a Canadian-born filmmaker of Irish descent who made several movies in Ireland in the 1910s. According to his Wikipedia page, only the outbreak of World War I prevented him from building a permanent studio in Beaufort, County Kerry. You can watch the entire film on YouTube.

Many thanks to Paul O’Regan again, for a wonderfully different interpretation of a beautiful old song.

For Bloomsday

It’s June 16th, the day when literary appreciators all over the world remember the work of James Joyce. Today is Bloomsday, named for Leopold Bloom, protagonist of Ulysses. The events in the novel unfold on June 16th 1904, Joyce having apparently picked that day as it was when he had his first outing with Nora Barnacle, a walk in Ringsend.

A hundred years ago today, on June 16th 1914, four years before the initial publication of Ulysses in serialised form, Christine Miller recorded a song called ‘Oft In The Stilly Night’ in Camden, New Jersey. The words were written by Thomas Moore (who died in 1852). Joyce himself was familiar with this song, referencing it in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as a song sung by Stephen’s family on the eve of his departure. The lyrics evoke old memories and departed friends, and deeply affected Stephen as he prepared to emigrate in order to fulfil his artistic ambitions. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man wasn’t published until 1916, so Joyce could well have heard Christine Miller’s 1914 version of the song before he wrote that passage. His love of music was well-known and Joyce was by all accounts a very good tenor singer. He won a bronze medal in Ireland’s Feis Ceoil on May 16th, 1904, exactly one month before his first date with Nora. Joyce was encouraged to enter the competition by his friend, and winner of the previous year’s Feis Ceoil, John McCormack. Joyce and McCormack even used to practise singing together. There’s a good chance they sang Oft in the Stilly Night together in 1904.

John McCormack was Ireland’s most famous singer in the first half of the twentieth century. In 1903 he won Ireland’s Feis Ceoil. By 1914 he had toured much of Europe and America, made many records and was an international singing star. Here’s a recording of John McCormack in 1914 singing ‘A Little Love, A Little Kiss’.


John McCormack, 1914

McCormack recorded a version of ‘Oft In The Stilly Night’ in 1907. I haven’t found a version of this recording to share with you, but he recorded it again in 1940. As a much older man, perhaps he understood the wistful lyrics a little better. When he recorded this in 1940, he wasn’t to know that his friend James Joyce would be dead within a year. Perhaps Joyce heard it before he died, it is noted in his biographies that he paid careful attention to the career of his old friend and singing companion.

The final version of the song I wish to share is my own. I found it to be a very touching song, universal and timeless in its appeal. Wistful and nostalgic as it is, there’s something very sweet about the lyrics. They’re as relevant today as when Thomas Moore wrote them over 160 years ago. I arranged it quite simply, voice and finger-picked guitar for the first half with bass, kick-drum, electric guitar and a vocal harmony joining in for the second half, a piano chiming in near the end. For the artwork, I’ve composited a photo of Joyce and McCormack together, as it was these two men who inspired my Bloomsday cover of the song, and of course, Christine Miller who sang this song a hundred years ago today. On that day she also recorded ‘The Slumber Boat‘, which I also covered. With all these coincidences arising from this day and this song, I wish you all a Happy Bloomsday.

Play a Simple Melody

Irving Berlin wrote the words and music for the 1914 musical ‘Watch Your Step’, which included the song ‘Play a Simple Melody’. The musical was a ragtime revue starring the popular dancers Vernon and Irene Castle, who you may remember from my post on unsung jazz pioneer James Reese Europe. Relatively few songs have the cultural importance to merit their own Wikipedia page, this song’s got one. It notes that the song was one of the few true examples of counterpoint in American popular music – a melody running against a second melody, both with independent lyrics. The parts are musically independent and very cleverly also lyrically contradictory. The lyrics of the first melodic line yearn for a simple melody “like my mother sang to me”, melody in the old simple style of bygone years. The second melody line calls for music in the more exciting modern ragtime style.

Polo Moro recorded this wonderful version of ‘Play a Simple Melody’ for Hundred Years Late. I absolutely love the fiddle on it. And the good old-fashioned harmony. Really excellent work by Polo Moro. He had this to say…

A duet by Bing and Gary Crosby (listed on the label as “Gary Crosby and Friend”) was a hit recording in 1950. This was the main inspiration for my re-recording. Procuring a ragtime band, traditionally clarinet, trumpet, trombone and banjo was not feasible, so I have subbed in violin, mandolin, acoustic guitar, and what is known as a banjuitar, a banjo head strung with 6 strings in guitar tuning.

Its worth noting too that these music hall compositions were a strong influence on Paul MacCartney in his formative songwriting years, echoes of ‘Simple Melody’ can be heard in ‘Octopus’s Garden’ from the Abbey Road album, with very similar chord progressions.

 

You can hear more from Polo Moro on reverbation. Here’s that version by Gary Crosby and Friend… Gary Crosby’s vocal stylings seem to be making Bing laugh. I like when Bing says “Steady, steady!” It’s quite funny. He then adds, “Don’t lose your head.”

I also found this fun version of the song from The Muppet Show, Jean Stapleton singing a duet of ‘Play a Simple Melody’ with Fozzie Bear. Jean Stapleton was a popular American actress of stage, television and film (I knew her from her guest appearances in 1990s sitcoms). She died last year, aged 90. Fozzie Bear is still alive and well.

-Singer 1-
Won’t you play a simple melody

Like my mother sang to me?

One with good old-fashioned harmony.

Play some simple melody.

-Singer 2-

Musical demons set my honey a-dreaming.

Won’t you play me some rag?

Just change that classical nag

To some sweet musical drag.

When you play from a copy of a tune that is choppy

You’ll get all my applause, simply because.

I wanna listen to rag.

 

All these modern versions left out the opening verse section which is included on the 1916 recording by Elsie Baker (credited as Edna Brown) and Billy Murray (linked in the image below, the one disguised as an embedded player). Maybe the verse section was left out in later versions because of the use of the word ‘darkies’. Or maybe it just wasn’t as catchy. Casual racism in the archives, I’m getting déjà vu.

This image represents the earliest recording of the song I could find. Click to listen to it on US National Library of Congress website, National Jukebox.

The Murder Machine

The Murder Machine

I’d like to introduce an interesting and unusual song sent to me by a band called Yearning Curve. Instead of interpreting an archived song, they’ve used snippets of the text from Pádraig Pearse’s 1914 essay ‘The Murder Machine’ in a new composition. Pearse’s essay on the inequities of the Irish education system and the dysfunctional realities of imperialism and occupation can be read in full on UCC’s Corpus of Electronic Texts. Yearning Curve’s version of ‘The Murder Machine’ also includes modern-day sound-bites, painting a sound-picture of an Ireland swathed in corruption, still offering up its young to an indifferent imperial ruling class a hundred years after Pearse’s essay. In this post, Bairbre from Yearning Curve tells me a bit more about ‘The Murder Machine’…


 

“A machine vast, complicated, with a multitude of far-reaching arms, with many ponderous presses, carrying out mysterious and long-drawn processes of shaping and moulding…”
– Patrick Pearse,
The Murder Machine (1914)

‘The Murder Machine’ is the title track from our debut album inspired by Patrick Pearse’s book, ‘The Murder Machine’ (1914).

Using lines from Pearse’s book, samples from the infamous bankers tapes, Vincent Browne in full flight and Bertie Ahern on the steps of Dáil Éireann, we wanted to explore the idea of ‘The Murder Machine’ and the relevance of it in our time.

Although Pearse’s book deals mainly with the early 20th century education system, ‘The Murder Machine’ of the corporate world is surely as oppressive as anything the imperialist world could dream up as we struggle daily with the grinders of poverty, inequality and conformity.

I read somewhere once that Bertie Ahern kept a photo of Pearse on his desk and the irony of that couldn’t be lost on those who are living in the Ireland that Ahern and his policy-makers have left behind. The ‘Murder Machine’ song is some attempt to reclaim our history in the spirit of those who visioned a fair and free future for all of us. Kind of like Jinx Lennon, but not funny. 

Listen here:
https://soundcloud.com/yearningcurve/themurdermachine
Album out May 1st:
https://soundcloud.com/yearningcurve/the-murder-machine
—–

What is ‘The Murder Machine’? 
The personal and political meathooks, 
the myriad ways we can be ground up? 
And why make music about it?

—–
http://www.breakingtunes.com/yearningcurve
http://www.facebook.com/yearningcurve
http://www.twitter.com/yearningcurve

Creation vs Destruction

Creation vs Destruction

‘I Cannot Sing the Old Songs’
sung by Richard José in 1905. The 1914 version by Louise Homer unfortunately can’t be embedded in WordPress.

So far, every musician I’ve talked to has been very positive about the idea of reinterpreting archived material. But I’ve received zero submissions so far (apart from this one on this blog post, which was great). To be perfectly honest, I haven’t been as dynamic and forthright about promoting this idea as I could have been. I’ve been absorbed in my studies, and of course in the other areas of this project – listening to archived music, researching the people who wrote and performed it, and recording new versions of some of the songs I’ve stumbled across so far. The idea behind this blog, musicians, is that you can make something really creative and worthwhile by digging in the archives and finding any song recorded or published in 1914 that you like enough to learn, perform, arrange and record. Maybe you just want to sing it to the camera on your computer. Or maybe you want to record a video of a choral group in a cathedral performing a song you’ve found for them (if I don’t do that first). Maybe you’ll have your own imaginative ideas. There are many music archive resources available online, and a Music Resources section on this blog. You can do it in your own style, and put your own spin on it. Then you could write something about the experience, or any historical context you found interesting, or just your thoughts on the song.

In order to demonstrate to you that this idea has potential, I’ve done two different versions of an old song. I found it on the National Jukebox website, as sung by Louise Homer in 1914. The song predates that by some time since its writer and composer, Claribel, died in 1869. ‘Claribel’ was the pseudonym of Charlotte Alington Barnard, an English poet and composer of ballads and hymns. ‘I Cannot Sing the Old Songs’ couldn’t be a more fitting song for this project.

I Cannot Sing the Old Songs (Traditional Arrangement)

Initially I recorded a pretty minimal piano version, quite faithful to the original, then I added an organ and some harmonies. I came back to it a week later and some subversive impulse compelled me to put a slightly discordant bluesy guitar line over the last verse. I kept remixing the song, changing my mind back and forth as to whether to keep the electric guitar. Hearing the subversive melody so often, I started to sing along with it. Eventually another subversive idea occurred to me – to re-record the song using this as the vocal melody, with minor chords and heavy distortion. I have a bit of a history with this kind of thing. I used to do a minor version of Amazing Grace with my band. And I uploaded Minor Silent Night with new lyrics to YouTube on Christmas Eve a few years back. I’ve also written new music for Shakespearean poetry, perhaps his first foray into synth-rock. Some may see this as sacrilege. But I think reinterpretation helps to keep art alive. That’s valid even if you don’t happen to like what I’ve done with it.

Of course, musical taste is a hugely subjective thing. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. When I deconstruct a song and put it back together in my own style, it’s as much an act of destruction as it is a creative act. The listener’s personal taste determines my guilt or innocence. Have I befouled a sacred piece of art? Or have I reinvented and reinvigorated it? There are enough opinions out there for both views to be perfectly valid. These thoughts of individual aesthetic preferences, of creation and destruction, informed my new mix of ‘I Cannot Sing the Old Songs’.

I Cannot Sing the Old Songs (Creation vs Destruction Mix)

I went for heavy distortion and heavy emotion, encoded and compressed with destructive algorithms, ready for this digital realm of infinite distraction. I’ve been studying Audio Processing this term, and I’m kind of shocked to get down to the nuts and bolts of just how destructive these audio codecs are, especially the MP3. My immediate reaction to it, as evidenced by this mix, has been to process every signal with distortion and other effects, so there’s no acoustic fidelity left for the codec to destroy. Instead I tried to make the digital seem visceral, keeping it decidedly lo-fi, awash with feedback and noise – evoking the hiss and fuzz of my teenage practice rooms half a lifetime ago, which in turn tied me in to the theme of the song and its emotional core. I think my emotional response to the material is evident in my vocal performance (or what’s left of it with all that distortion).

Hundred Years Late on Bandcamp

The image I used for the cover is in the public domain and attribution details are included in a post entitled Designing Hundred Years Late. You can also click the image above to check out Hundred Years Late on Bandcamp, a wonderful website that facilitates musicians in the sharing of their work. I hope to upload many more songs in the coming months.

It’s a very different approach from the one I took to all the 1914 songs I’ve recorded so far. I had been keeping it to bass / drums / piano / vocals, with occasional organ, guitar and ukulele. This song sounds like a spaceship landed in the playlist. It’s brash, obnoxious, incongruous, subversive. And like the guitar line that spawned it, I’m still ambivalent about whether it belongs there, whether it is in fact creativity or a manifestation of a darkly destructive impulse. As I trace the map of ideas and influences back through my own thoughts, of all the things that fed into this reinterpretation, objectivity becomes impossible. I’m never entirely sure my own subversive aesthetic preferences will resonate with other people. I’ll continue to vacillate, I expect, and I’ll keep working on writing a masters thesis that gets to the bottom of these and other questions. For now, there’s these songs, this project, this open call to musicians. Like it or not, you’ve got to admit you didn’t expect this from a ballad written in the 1800s. Musicians, are you starting to see the potential here?