Should poetry be read or listened to? As a modern person, I tend to the former – I like to pause and reflect on what I’ve read. Time was, though, when people would sit round the hearth and listen to the words of bards and storytellers and learn those words to pass on. This, I think, is Jessie Summerhayes’ starting point with Rúnian. She describes the album as a poem cycle – all the words are hers – but it could equally well be thought of as a series of modern folk tales drawn from early literary works such as The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Norse sagas.
Jessie is the daughter of Adam Summerhayes so it’s only natural that she should recruit her father and Murray Grainger, his partner in The Ciderhouse Rebellion, to improvise musical accompaniments to her poetry. The music is appropriately sparse, just fiddle and accordion and is sometimes given space to stand alone – the ten minute epic that is ‘The Harrying Of The North’ being a prime exemplar. Music and words such as these are deeply immersive: you have to give them your full attention – no doing something else while you’re listening.
Rúnian begins with ‘Oars In The Breakers’, the story of the Viking invasion of Lindisfarne but this isn’t the earliest tale. That may go to ‘The Fire Of Vengeance’ which tells of Saxons invited to Britain to help repel a Norman invasion but instead turned on their hosts. The same year a volcanic eruption in Central America filled the sky with a cloud of ash. You don’t get to hear about this stuff in GCSE History and I must admit that was compelled to search for the facts behind some of these stories.
‘Young Water Eyes’ is a lighter tale of the first recorded cider-making in England. Of course, the story is wrapped up in the legend of Hereward The Wake and more resistance to the Normans more than a century after the Conquest and then we have the story of the harrying of the north – it’s tempting to use the word “harrowing” to describe Jessie’s word if it didn’t seem corny.
Jessie takes the pressure off us with ‘A Silken Golden Chain’, a tale of magic (at least possibly), ‘The Jet-Worker’ and ‘The Dyemaker’s Daughter’ although she interweaves a Norse myth into former. Finally, ‘Golden Hoards’ is about hidden Roman gold and how to find it.
Alongside the CD the poems are also collected in a book entitled Rúnian which contains these eight poems plus two others and I do feel the need to own a copy, being a better reader than listener particularly as I’d prefer Jessie’s voice to be a little higher in the mix. But then we might ask, is this a CD of music or poetry?
Artists’ website: www.theciderhouserebellion.com
‘Young Water Eyes’ – official video: