Category Archives: Aqaba

Write Here, Write Now: 6.12 – The King of Rome

June Tabor – The King of Rome.  “lifted up on shining wings”.

This is it. The song above all others on the album that amazes, pitches and soars. June Tabor’s voice carries on the air, light as a breeze. gusting up in the upper reaches of the sky, pushing the words higher and higher with each exhalation. And there’s tenderness there as well.  “Come on dowwwn, your majesty. I knew you’d make it back to meeeeee. Come on down, myyyyyy lovely one. You made my dreeeeam come true“. Long, soft syllables show the love.

The soundscape is immense, with her voice balanced by the low hum of the synthesizer, and the faint violin tones helping to mark out the space.

Hopes and dreams against expectation. Sometimes the ground does feel awful near. Conquering enormous odds to make the unworkable happen can bring enormous joy. When is it right to ignore sense and go for what feels right? Who gets swept away when a storm blows in? Who makes it through?

A superb song to end an album on. I’m glad to have made it through Aqaba. Even with songs referencing Rome, New York and Jordan, it felt like a very English collection. There weren’t any great discoveries in listening to the twelve songs, though it was good to find out a bit more about them. Some I liked, some I didn’t.  Her voice has an austerity that is sometimes resonant and clear, but sometimes goes to places I can’t enjoy, but always commanding respect Maybe something a bit lighter tomorrow.

Write Here, Write Now: 6.11 – Mayn Rue Plats

June Tabor – Mayn Rue Plats. A beautiful elegy.

June is in full, clear, ringing voice here – no self-pity, only compassion, as she sings a tender call from a burning building to those who live after her. I hadn’t heard of the Triangle factory fire of 1911 that killed 146 garment workers as they worked their 9 hour shift on the upper floors of a building whose doors had been locked to prevent staff from taking unauthorised breaks. A preventable tragedy​ that took the lives of immigrant Yiddish and Italian men and prominently women.

9/11 was not the first time people jumped from a building rather than face the terrible flames inside. Reportedly, a couple came to the window, took a last kiss, and then leapt together. Morris Rosenfeld, who wrote the poem which forms the words of the song, worked in the Triangle factory, so probably felt more keenly than most the loss of colleagues.

The emotion is conveyed by the clarinet and violin strings that work the wrought anguish for those who died so needlessly. The violin hovers in the air, wavering, growing stronger and wrapping itself around the clarinet which sobs in classic klezmer style. Finally the violin strings suddenly soar up in a keening tone, heavenwards.

Mayn Rue Plats – I think that translates as my resting place – that such peace has to be pictured among the heat and violence of the factory fire is a powerful image.

Death on such a terrible scale in clothes factories did not end in 1911, even though it apparently set in motion many changes in regulation to ensure more health and safety in the workplace. A fire in 2012 and a building collapse in 2013, both in Dhaka, accounted for more than 1,200 deaths – producing clothes for shops in Europe and the US – Walmart, Benetton, C&A, Monsoon, Mango. It’s still with us.

 

Write Here, Write Now: 6.10 – Seven Summers

June Tabor – Seven Summers. Downbeat downpouring

Summer with June and it’s raining a lot of the time. The piano is playing sombre bass chords while she waits hopelessly for summer sun. Time drags, as does this song. It’s a bad weather equivalent of Verdi Cries – when the rain falls and there’s nowhere to go, stare listlessly out of the window at grey slate skies with this pouring out of the stereo.

Good times guaranteed for all. OK, not good times, but pleasant catatonia, maybe. At least there aren’t any folk song stylings in this one. No YouTube clip for this one, or even lyrics page. for some reason it’s been given the cold shoulder.

Write Here, Write Now: 6.9 – The Grazier’s Daughter

June Tabor – The Grazier’s Daughter. Chewing the cud

Nine songs in and three to go, the languor is beginning to set in. Not as unlistenable as Bogies Bonnie Belle, this song is still a tedious bit too folky for my tastes. I mean, good show and all that for telling a cautionary tale, such as you might see in a tabloid or on the local news, in a purely a capella style. But the warbly wobbly style, lengthened syllables, and unusual stressses on words make this not much fun to have in the ears.

What would you do to protect your children? Would you identify your son’s girlfriend as a threat, take her away secretly, sell her off as a slave and then lie about what happened to her? Somehow that feels like overplaying the maternal role.

There’s no YouTube clip,. which may be a blessed relief

 

Write Here, Write Now: 6.8 – Verdi Cries

June Tabor – Verdi Cries. Odd holiday memories

I do remember this song from previous listens to Aqaba – because it is so distinctive, not to say utterly different to the other songs on the album. Disjointed sounds stutter and parp into each other, it’s the sort of music that rewards close attention.

Bass synth and piano chords open the song and form a sombre floor to the whole song. June starts her story, almost a different song sung at the same time, it’s a carefree, dreamy sound that doesn’t match the airless tones produced by the piano and the trumpet warbling away.

I read that the song was written by Natalie Merchant (10000 Maniacs) during time spent in the Chautauqua Institution, a lakeside resort in western NY state specialising in music. I can believe that. June Tabor’s version sounds like the singer is wandering the lonely halls of an old wood panelled building with high ceilings, cool on a hot sweltering summer day.

The more I listen to it, the more the odd instrumental accompaniment fades away, and the more even her odd phrasing and Merchant’s incidental lyrics dissipate, leaving just the wondrous tones of June’s voice. Not a song I’d despair for not hearing, but probably good played loud on stereo speakers on a humid midsummer afternoon, with all windows open – too listless to even turn the damn thing off.

 

Write Here, Write Now: 6.7 – The Reaper

June Tabor – The Reaper. A short slice of life

I’ve been deliberately not looking at the track listings on this album before listening to the next consecutive song, so there is an element of surprise to the song that comes up for the night. And this was a surprise.

A short song, when I saw the title, I assumed there was a connection with death. Listening to it through, there’s a clear link to war, and with the blood-red poppies, to the First World War in particular.

It starts with June’s bare voice, and then the violin and synth join in the moment the lyrics turn to the word ‘sons’ – like a painful memory kicking in and ebbing out. The music accompanies and  gives solace to the voice, continuing beyond the end of words, like memories of those who have died continues beyond their death, before cutting out like the clean swipe of the reaper’s blade.

At first, part of me wanted this to be just a song about cutting corn – no need for heavy-handed metaphors. But it has much more richness than that. Even the reaper response to the mother’s “Just barely grown, yet gone away”:

“Away away” the reaper sighs
“Got down like corn on an autumn day”

Are these his words? Or hers, the reaper only interrupting to sigh during her lament?

Of course it is a melancholy song. Yet June sings it in a neutral clear voice, almost sounding unaffected by emotion. The song meets death and comes through, unafraid. Life continues, thanks to the sacrifice of those who have gone – John Barleycorn must die, indeed.

It is quite a hypnotic song, cyclical, with sweet melodies – quite a reassuring song of death.

This version (below) is more spirited than that on Aqaba, though it has its charm:

 

 

Write Here, Write Now: 6.6 – Bogie’s Bonnie Belle

June Tabor – Bogie’s Bonnie Belle. Oh, dear God.

Now I try to hear the best in everything I listen to, but this really is an awful, awful song. Words can hardly describe how wretched a listening experience this is, but I’ll do my best.

Reading about the song, it turns out to be a bothy ballad – sung by itinerant manual labourers staying in uninhabited hovels of an evening. I can well believe it. June Tabor certainly seems to channel a crude rough voice even within the beautiful tones of her rich singing voice.  Flat, shortened notes with barely a melody in this wheedling, barking monstrosity of a song, she sings once loud, once soft, as if deliberately trying to lose all traces of her vocal art.

And yes, the nasal, extended syllables beloved of the direst English folk songs are present and correct.

I feel like I need a warm bath after this a capella aural drizzle. I’d be happy if I never have to listen to it ever again. I won’t even​ bother to comment​ on the lyrics – they are just as miserable. Just be pleased there’s no YouTube clip to endure for tonight’s blog. I just hope tomorrow doesn’t bring as bad news from the UK.