Songs of Witchcraft & Magic

by Various Artists - Witchcraft & Magic

This collection of songs reflects the significant part that magic has played in our culture. They connect with myths and folktales that take us back to the distant past; but they also represent a living and evolving tradition. The magic of these songs still exerts power over us today.

The CD contains a 32 page booklet about the songs and their connection to witchcaft.



These songs are a striking demonstration of the breadth and variety of magic from the brutal revenge of The Brown Girl, through the bizarre transformations of The Two Magicians, to the haunting mysticism of The Bells of Paradise. Magic inhabits the borderland where the psychological and the spiritual meet. It can be severely pragmatic, but may also involve the mysterious depths of the mind and the liberation of the spirit.

The world of these songs the world of magic is not remote or rarefied. It is a vivid and compelling world of powerful emotions and intense experiences. A world not just of humans but of animals seals, serpents, hares, horses, and even mackerel. A world of anger, cruelty, love, fear and courage. A world of brilliant colours scarlet, green, purple. Of silver wands, velvet mantles and tinkling bells. A world of moonlight, blood and the roaring of the sea.

It is also a world of humour. It is surprising how many of these songs have a vein of dark humour running through them. Magic is obviously far too important to be taken entirely seriously. And both magic and humour centre on the unexpected.

There is also clearly a connection between magic and art. Perhaps that is one of the reasons these songs have inspired such evocative and finely judged performances from the musicians who feature on this CD.

1 The Two Magicians 
Trad 

Bob Fox and Stu Luckley 

2 Broomfield Hill 
Trad 

Ruth Barrett 

3 The Bitter Withy 
Trad 

Tom Brown 

4 The Bells of Paradise 
Trad 

Alva 

5 Willie's Lady 
Trad 

Martin Carthy 

6 Young Orphy 
Trad 

Frankie Armstrong 

7 Juniper Gentle & Rosemary 
Trad 

Magpie Lane 

8 The Bold Astrologer 
Trad 

Keith Kendrick & Sylvia Needham 

9 Thomas the Rhymer 
Trad 

Ron Taylor & Jeff Gillett 

10 The Brown Girl 
Trad 

Gill Berry 

11 The Laily Worm 
Trad 

Craig, Morgan, Robson 

12 The Selkie 
Trad 

Hector Gilchrist & Liz Thomson 

13 Alison Cross 
Trad 

Malinky 

14 Notradamus 
Al Stewart 

Peter Bellamy 
1
The Two Magicians
Bob Fox and Stu Luckley
Sample not available
2
Broomfield Hill
Ruth Barrett
Sample not available
3
The Bitter Withy
Tom Brown
Sample not available
4
The Bells of Paradise
Alva
Sample not available
5
Willie's Lady
Martin Carthy
Sample not available
6
Young Orphy
Frankie Armstrong
Sample not available
7
Juniper Gentle & Rosemary
Magpie Lane
Sample not available
8
The Bold Astrologer
Keith Kendrick & Sylvia Needham
Sample not available
9
Thomas the Rhymer
Ron Taylor & Jeff Gillett
Sample not available
10
The Brown Girl
Gill Berry
Sample not available
11
The Laily Worm
Craig
Sample not available
12
The Selkie
Hector Gilchrist & Liz Thomson
Sample not available
13
Alison Cross
Malinky
Sample not available
14
Notradamus
Peter Bellamy
Sample not available

Folk North West

Derek Gifford

This album has been compiled by and produced for The Museum of Witchcraft at Boscastle in Cornwall by WildGoose Studios. It contains some of the best songs which reflect the significant part that magic and witchcraft has played in our culture. They are also performed by some of the best interpreters of traditional song including Martin Carthy, Bob Fox and Stu Luckley, Frankie Armstrong and the late Peter Bellamy.

All the recordings, bar one, are taken from various albums by other record companies as well as WildGooses own.

The renditions of the performers need little comment other than to say they are all of a very high standard. The material is nicely varied in spite of the restrictions of a themed album.

I suppose with an album of such a high standard it might be considered churlish to pick out particular tracks but among my favourites are The Two Magicians from Bob Fox and Stu Luckley, Martin Carthys Willies Lady and Alvas arrangement of The Bells of Paradise which has a haunting drone accompaniment behind it. Hector Gilchrist and Liz Thompson also do a lovely version of The Selkie a good old song which has always been one of my favourites.

There is also a mysteriously labelled Bonus Track. This is The Chase Song performed by Graham King with his partner Kerriann.  Why? Who? you might ask. Well, Graham is the manager of the museum at Boscastle and both he and Kerriann are good singers so why not have a contribution from the boss too?!

The album is accompanied by a 36 page booklet containing the words of the songs and extensive research notes as well as some delightful illustrations. As with Dead Maids Land reviewed elsewhere in this edition of FNW this is a collectors item useful as a substantial reference work as well as being a reet good listen!

Its available from WildGoose or The Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle whose web site is www.museumofwitchcraft.com or telephone  01840 25011.

Netrythms

David Kidman

This well-filled CD is an unusual addition to the WildGoose catalogue in more ways than one, not least in that it's a compilation (produced in partnership with The Museum Of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall) whose contents have been licensed from existing releases, many on labels other than WildGoose. That fact alone would tend to fragment the disc's sales potential and provide a different marketing focus from the normal releases from that stable. Let's examine the mission statement printed in the liner notes, then: "This collection of songs reflects the significant part that magic has played in our culture. They connect with myths and folktales that take us back to the distant past, but they also represent a living and evolving tradition. The magic of these songs still exerts power over us today." No argument there as far as I'm concerned - it's an inviting prospect, and arguably sufficiently catch-all to be able to embrace some marvellous music and songs. Every listener would no doubt provide their own wish-list, but I honestly don't think that a significantly more spellbinding or enchanting (sorry!) selection could have been conjured from the catalogues. Sure, one could argue the toss about the actual versions or song variants used, or the interpretations, religious or otherwise, of the stated themes, but one cannot argue with the unstintingly high quality of the performances selected for this disc. Artistes of the calibre of Martin Carthy, Frankie Armstrong, Fox & Luckley (an uncharacteristic typo calls him Buckley), Craig Morgan Robson, Tom & Barbara Brown, Magpie Lane and Malinky for a start, with equally-billed supporting cast including Vivien Ellis & Giles Lewin, Ron Taylor & Jeff Gillett, Gill Berry, Hector Gilchrist & Liz Thomson... tempted yet?! Oh, and Peter Bellamy's magisterial Fair Annie rendition of Al Stewart's Nostradamus rounds off the disc - well officially, ie. before the bonus track (The Chase Song by Graham & Kerriann). The latter is one of just two tracks not drawn from existing releases (the other being The Bold Astrologer sung by Keith Kendrick & Sylvia Needham). And Ruth Barrett's recording of Broomfield Hill comes from a less-easily-available disc. The virtues of this exceedingly well-filled and satisfyingly sequenced disc are legion, not least the immensely attractive digipack presentation, which takes the form of a hard-cover book containing full texts as well as intelligent liner notes pertaining to the individual legends, lore or traditions within the songs. This bewitching disc which casts a powerful spell on a listener; I should foretell healthy sales figures.

Runa

Ian Read

The Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall is a must visit for anyone; the sheer quality and quantity of the items contained within the museum has to be seen to be believed and there really is nothing that replaces seeing with your own eyes the artefacts our ancestors used in their magic. Despite flooding and no doubt the usual travails attendant to running a successful business, the management have kept the Museum open?this is a worthy thing in my view.

This CD is a compilation of songs and ballads from the British folk tradition that the Museum people have compiled and its a real must buy item. Others have spoken here about the importance of folk music to an understanding of any tradition and this collection of 15 tracks of 72 minutes length only serves to reinforce that view. Anyone involved in this tradition who is a folk buff will have his own opinion as to which tracks he would like to include in such a compilation and I would certainly have selected differently but, taken as a whole, I doubt I or anyone else would have selected better. The better known tracks include The Two Magicians, Thomas the Rhymer and Alison Cross but there is so much more on offer. Performers include the late, great and sadly missed Peter Bellamy; the great and still going strong Martin Carthy; favourites of mine like Magpie Lane, Malinky and Tom Brown; and theres a whole lot more talent here too.

The full?colour, glossy booklet attached to the quality digipak contains 36 pages of lyrics and relevant research material on each track with photographs of items from the Museum itself. I am certain that the success of this superb album will prompt them to release a second one and, if not, I shall pester them mercilessly. This first offering really is that good. Do not let it slip through your fingers.

Mardles

Mike Everett

This is a compilation album put together by the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle in association with Wild Goose Records.

The album opens with one of the finest duos ever to grace the folk scene, Bob Fox and Stu Luckley, with a version of The Two Magicians. Many well known artists appear, such as Martin Carthy, Frankie Armstrong, Magpie Lane, Malinky and Peter Bellamy and many well known songs of the supernatural are featured, like The Bitter Withy, Alison Cross, The Laily Worm, The Selkie and one of my personal favourites, Thomas The Rhymer.

Interesting information about the songs, as well as all the words, is provided in a booklet forming part of this well packaged and illustrated digipak, but although the source of the tracks is given there is sadly no information about the artists. One track, The Bold Astrologer, has been recorded just for this album by Keith Kendrick and Sylvia Needham as the version by Royston Wood and Heather Wood from their No Relation album on Transatlantic Records was not available because of problems with copyright. Another specially recorded track features Graham King, the owner of the museum, singing a unique version of The Chase Song.

But isnt this an excellent idea and way of getting folk music to a wider audience? I hope sales at the museum go well and that a second volume follows soon  and please can a version of Tam Lin be included next time?

Whats Afoot

Sonja Andrews

Compiled and produced by the Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle, Cornwall, in partnership with WildGoose Records. this is an interesting collection, nicely packaged with the words and very extensive notes on the fifteen selected songs.

A variety of performers sing songs with magical connections. There is a wonderful rendering of Willie's Lady from Martin Carthy at his best. Bitter Withy from Tom Brown comes over well with concertina. and if you enjoy melodious harmony you need look no further than Juniper Gentle from Magpie Lane and the Laily Worm from Craig. Morgan & Robson.

Some songs are from recent albums, while others, like Nostradamus by Peter Bellamy, go back many years. This 'themed' album is a good way to hear many good singers perform songs that deserve to stand out on their own merit.

Stirrings

Paul Davenport

Collections of songs on witchcraft and magic are surprisingly thin on the folky ground given that we are in the Age of Aquarius and Harry Potter. Surprisingly thin because, to the best of my belief, the last such was Dave & Toni Arthur's Hearken to the Witches Rune (Leader, 1970). That offering had only eight tracks and, perhaps inevitably, versions of two of those songs appear on this album: 'Alison Cross' and 'Broomfield Hill'. Let us begin by saying there is a uniformly high standard of performance on this album and artists include Martin Carthy ('Willie's Lady') and Frankie Armstrong ('Young Orphy'). Malinky perform a creditable 'Alison Cross' and the inclusion of Peter Bellamy singing 'Nostradamus', albeit a modern song, is welcome and appropriate.

One might ask, however, whether the museum would have equally welcomed a selection of Heavy Metal classics with magical references? Is it the folkiness or the magical references which merit selection? In this respect the additional track which utilises the testimony of a Scottish witch named Isabel Gowdie is a controversial inclusion with the refrain 'in the Devil's name' whereas Gowdie's original has, 'in Our Lady's name'. Gowdie of course referred to the 'Old Religion': Catholicism.

Personally I would also have included some of these songs but I do regret the omission of some of the obscure but much more deserving material which is available. Where is Lizzie Higgins? She could have claimed some credentials for inclusion here. There is much here that is well known and easy to access. Magical these songs may be but they are certainly not occult. Perhaps there's a point to be observed here that although the selection is made by experts in one field, they are not necessarily experts in folk song (the reverse has, in the past, also been painfully obvious.)

Now to the theme. Magic is an area of human activity which, some might argue, achieved its zenith in western society only a hundred or so years ago. Under the sponsorship of the likes of Aleister Crowley, MacGregor Mothers and Dion Fortune, the Edwardians included magic in the world of the drawing room and the country retreat. At the same time other Edwardians, Cecil Sharp, George Butterworth, Ralph Vaughan Williams et al, cycled the country lanes and byways searching for songs and dances among the 'peasantry' of England. Back in those golden days before the carnage of two World Wars there were educated people who really did think that this sort of stuff was at the roots of their culture.

Wildgoose have done something very brave here. There is a sense of the zeitgeist in this offering. While BBC4 celebrates Edwardian food and society, the folk scene is sitting on a goldmine of Edwardiana which reminds us that the wheel keeps turning and people now aren't so different from people then. There is a genuine interest in magic amongst the young and notso-young stimulated by modern fiction and TV series such as Butty and Charmed. Oddly, J K Rowling never includes a rhyme or song in her Harry Potter books, which underlines the fact that she writes fiction. In real magic there is singing and plenty of it. Wildgoose have reminded us of what puts the chant into enchantment.

Shire Folk

Tony ONeill

This compilation of 'Songs and Ballads from the British Folk Tradition' was put together by Graham King of The Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle and Doug Bailey of Wild Goose Records.

I know this to have been a long term project of Graham's and can honestly say that it was well worth the wait! I should say that most of the songs are familiar to the reviewer, apart from the debut of Graham and Kerrian who sing 'The Chase Song'; lyrics from traditional sources but put to the tune of 'Twa Corbies' by Graham. Overall the impression is of a well thought-out and balanced collection, which has been a pleasure to review.

The fifteen tracks are each by a different luminary of the folk world and are too numerous to list here (you'll have to go to the Wild Goose website for details!), suffice it to say that there wasn't one 'duff' track amongst them. The CD presentation is extremely good including 36 pages of well-illustrated, informative research notes and song lyrics, giving a deep and fascinating insight into the worlds of witchcraft and magic.

Sing Out USA

CN

While most of the songs included on this compilation are fairly familiar to most folkies, putting them together in this way (with notes and illustrations from the intriguing Museum of Witchcraft, although more details on that institution, including more than a Web address, would have been welcome) is a masterstroke.

Taken together, they form a body of work that argues quite persuasively for magic and witchcraft as a force in the world. Many of the performers are unfamiliar, and a few are rather dry (Ruth Barrett's take on "Broomfield Hill" fails to capture the playful spirit at the heart of the song, for instance). But there are also outstanding cuts, with Martin Carthy typically excellent on "Willie's Lady" and Bob Fox and Stu Luckley breathing fresh life into "The Two Magicians." Of course, riddle songs fall into magic, and they're represented here by "Juniper Gentle & Rosemary," a variant on a Child ballad. What's especially fascinating is how deeply magic is interwoven into folklore and readily accepted, on a far deeper level than the fairies of Victorian image (the real fairies, or fey folk, weren't the gentle winged creatures of 19th century myth, by any means - listen to "Thomas The Rhymer"). A couple of the songs - the aforementioned "Thomas" and "Alison Cross" are strongly associated with vintage Steeleye Span, and it's a testament to those performing the songs here, especially Malinky, that they manage to overcome those versions to imprint their own personalities on the music. The odd one out here is "Nostradamus," from the pen of AI Stewart rather than the tradition, but Peter Bellamy's version puts the patina of ages on it.


A fascinating concept album that leaves you thinking.

Canadian Folk Music

Robert Rodriquez, New York

Produced as a collaborative effort by Wild Goose Records and the Museum of Witchcraft, located in the Cornish community of Boscastle, this is what one might call a compilation or sampler recording, a sort of �best of� on a specific musical theme, in this case a collection of traditional British songs and ballads centering in on the strange and ghostly world of witchcraft and magic. Here are songs and ballads that hearken back to even older archetypes found in myths and folktales reaching back to an antiquity deep in the recesses of human memory and a strand of oral tradition certainly older than recorded history itself. Here are songs and ballads that range in mode and imagery from stories of brutal revenge, duels arcane and futuristic prognostications and prophecies to bizarre transformations, haunting mysticism, and occasional bursts of wry humour and playful wit that underlie the darker and more baleful elements of magic. The themes, motifs and plots of many of the songs found on this recording can be traced through definite folklore links to very old myths and folktales found in numerous cultural traditions, ranging from Celtic legend to classical Greco-Roman mythology, and from old Norse stories to tales found as far a field as ancient Egypt and locales farther to the east.

To begin with, the number of cuts on this recording is a bit of a mystery. The excellent and detailed 36-page booklet that comes with the CD officially lists 14 songs, along with their lyrics, as well as much valuable background information on the sources and origins of the songs and their folkloristic links to world folk beliefs and traditions and older narrative motifs and archetypes. But magic often is its own wonder and delight, for we learn that there is an additional cut, a bonus track, about which more later. Lovers and devotees of the canon of Child ballads will find this recording a pure delight, for ten items from Child's collection are included: numbers 1, 6, 19, 35, 36, 37, 43, 44, 113 and 295.

Of the songs that are not from Child, several deserve mention. Peter Bellamy's stark rendering of the Al Stewart piece �Nostradamus� is a powerful evocation of the life and prophetic verses of the 16'h-Century French mystic and visionary whose life and work have been the subject of much controversy and debate even into modern times. Alva's version of the hauntingly mystical �Bells of Paradise� is most intriguing because it conflates the birth of Jesus Christ and the Grail legend so inextricably linked to Arthurian romance. Another extraordinary effort is Tom Brown's version of the apocryphal ballad �The Bitter Withy�, which contrasts the very human figure of Christ as a young boy wishing acceptance from a trio of rich children and the grimly tragic events that follow from that encounter, in which the magical appearance of a bridge of sunbeams plays a central role.

As to the great narrative story-songs found on the recording, some of the performances are truly classic and most memorable. Frankie Armstrong's �Young Orphy�, a British ballad version of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, is pure spellbinding storytelling, with the elf-king's realm taking the place of the Greek underworld of Hades. Martin Carthy's �Willie's Lady� presents us with a series of detailed magical charms and spells centering upon a woman whose pregnancy has been delayed by the evil machinations of her husband's sorceress mother. One of the most potent musical evocations of magic is Gill Berry's version of �The Brown Girl�, in which a spurned maiden takes a dark revenge upon her former suitor and, at his deathbed, promises to dance upon the summer grass while he lies beneath it in his grave. The Queen of Elfland makes appearances in several songs, such as when she restores to his own shape the luckless fellow who spurns the attentions of Alison Gross, and as the guide to Thomas the Rhymer's epic journey to Elfland. To be sure, magic also reigns supreme in the realm of shape-shifting and bizarre transformations. They are plentiful in such ballads as �The Great Selkie�, �The Two Magicians� and �The Laily Worm�, in which not only humans but seals, mackerel, birds, horses and hares regularly change from one shape into another as part of transformative spells. If, as in �Young Orphy�, music can create its own magic, then words also have their own power, as evidenced by �Juniper, Gentle and Rosemary�, with its arcane riddles propounded in a verbal duel of wits. And, last but not least, let us not forget the aforementioned bonus track, which comes in the form of a piece entitled �The Chase Song�, done to the tune of another Child Ballad, �The Twa Corbies�, and whose origin comes from the work of Robert Graves as found in his classic volume �The White Goddess�.

This is one of those recordings that in years to come is destined to become a folk classic. It is filled with musical images of shadowy landscapes: powerfully poignant, playfully wry and witty, tragic and darkly sinister, a borderland of narrative in music and song where the everyday normal world comes into contact with the otherworldly and the eldritch in all its magical panoply and musical power. The delights of this recording will be a double positive plus, both for fans of traditional music and song of the British Isles and for those who, like myself, are fans and devotees of the ghostly, the supernatural and the bizarre. It may indeed take me a very long time to get this recording off the CD player, that's how good and wonderful it is. Very highly recommended.