The Tradition is alive. It passes in a straight line to the distance, capturing mediaeval songs of the common people, handed down through the oral tradition because of the illiteracy of the majority. Scholars trying to capture its history can only see the songs disappearing in the swirls of time, perhaps to the origins of Celtic instruments in the Middle East – but no-one really knows where the instruments of the common people were first created, no-one is really sure where the rhythms of traditional English and Celtic music started.
Over the past 200 years the picture is clearer, the mists of the oral tradition pinned, first on paper and then on recordings. Along the way, the swirls of the tradition have captured the songs of sailors, farm workers, murderers, victims, lovers wronged, lovers united, defenders, of the rights of the common man against the state or the powerful individual, mystics, fairy land and the world on the edge of our senses. These have been captured in a distinct musical style best played acoustically so the songs can be transmitted to future generations, the music made from instruments with strings or reed which would be recognisable to the earliest traditional players.
And some time over the past few years, the Tradition has swirled to the North-East of England, to the village of Wall near Hexham and the border with Scotland. The Brothers Gillespie have tapped into the Tradition and brought it right into the world of social media, at the same time both fresh and old. Have a look at their Facebook page and you can see the two brothers talking about The Fell, their new album. They see it as being a creation of the musical calling they want to pursue ever more deeply. The songs, nine of them, all come back to the Fell above the village of Wall where they grew up – a hill that is a benevolent presence for them, a place where spirits live and they can tap into the old language.
The album itself? I thought I was listening to well played traditional songs until I looked at the text on the CD cover. There is one traditional song on the album (‘The Road To Dundee’), one by Michelle Shocked (‘Blackberry Blossom’), and one song (“Northumberland’) with lyrics by the Northumbrian Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, one of the Georgian poets who also called on the English tradition rather than the path towards Imagism, taken by Pound and Eliot et al.
The remainder of the songs have been written by the Brothers Gillespie – and I‘ve actually been listening to well-played new songs tapping into an older, deeper sound. Listen to ‘Golden One’ in the video below and you will hear how the Tradition flows through their work, musically, lyrically and in spirit – but in a way so thoroughly modern that the fourth track on the album, ‘Tina’s Song’, concerns the court case of Tina Rothery and her refusal to pay the £55,000 legal fees of Cuadrilla in the recent anti-fracking court case.
The Fell taps into themes and tunes that I feel I have known all my life (but haven’t because they’ve only just been written) and, like all updates to the tradition, are simultaneously part of the music of past centuries and also entirely new and relevant. Details of upcoming gigs may be found on the band’s website.
Artist’s website: https://thebrothersgillespie.com