She Moves Through The Fair

From: Levent Varlik, 18 May 1998

I've received the article below from the All About Eve List (a great band, a great list!) today. It's about the song "She Moves Through The Fair". Actually I always wonder if it's really "Moves" or "Moved", 'cause I've listened lots of covers under both titles. The original mail belongs to Lorna Piper rom the AAE List:

You may be interested to know that although this song is regarded as traditional it was in fact written this Century and is probably still, technically, in copyright - see article below for info.

If you were fortunate enough to see AAE perform this live their intro, with a single drum beat repeated, made this song even more powerful and emotive than other versions I've heard.

Lorna Piper

She Moves Through The Fair
If you’ve seen the film "Michael Collins" recently, you will have heard one of the most famous of Irish folk songs, "She Moves Through The Fair", sung by Sinead O’Connor, used poignantly in the build-up to the hero’s assassination. Although many a record sleeve copyright notice describes the song as "traditional", it was in fact written by a twentieth-century songwriting partnership, who might not be as well- known as the Gershwins or Lennon and McCartney, but who deserve much credit for their part in the folk music revival of the early part of this century.

The song’s words are by Irish poet Padraic Colum (1881 - 1972), a contemporary and close friend of James Joyce. According to Norman Jeffares’ book Anglo-Irish Literature, Colum’s poem is a translation from an Irish traditional piece.

The tune, based on ‘an old Gaelic tune’, is by Belfast born Herbert Hughes (1882 - 1937), folk song collector and arranger, editor of Irish Folk Music magazine, music critic of the Daily Telegraph, and father of ‘Spike’ Hughes, the well-known writer on jazz and opera. Probably his best known song is his setting of Yeats’s poem ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’. Although set for piano and voice in the tradition of Victorian parlour music, Hughes’s arrangements show great respect for the modal melodies and rhythmic quirks of the folk singers whom he would have heard. Several can be heard on reissued historic recordings by John McCormack and Kathleen Ferrier.

The original poem has four verses. Most modern recordings omit the third, as does the recently republished sheet music (Irish Country Songs, edited by Fiona Richardson, Boosey and Hawkes). This verse runs:

"The people were saying no two e’er were wed
But one has a sorrow that never was said.
And she smiled as she passed me with her goods and her gear
And that was the last
that I saw of my dear."

I suspect most modern ‘folk’ recordings derive from Fairport Convention’s made in 1968, which in turn derives from the singing of the Irish traveller Margaret Barry, who recorded it in London in the 1960s. Her vocal style is very mannered but her sense of rhythm, pitch and drama give her version great power. Curiously, McCormack’s version, recorded in 1941, with the great accompanist Gerald Moore on piano, has these lines but omits the verse containing the phrase ‘She moved through the fair’, which is bizarre. He begins the last verse, ‘I dreamt it last night, my dead love came in’, which compares with Barry’s superior ‘Last night she came to me, my dead love came in’, which is much spookier. Barry sings verses 1, 2 and 4, so she has clearly got the song from a source other than McCormack’s recording.

The omission of verse 3 is a shrewd artistic judgement. Goods and gear are a bit too worldly for the overall ghostly atmosphere of the song. You get the feeling with the shortened version that the lover always was a ghost. The omission brings the song much closer in spirit to the world of traditional ballads - nothing is explained, nothing rationalised. You can put anything your imagination fancies into the great gap between the lovers’ parting in verse 2 and their nightmarish reunion in the final verse.

c 1997 Unicorn issue 59 John O'Dwyer

Lorna Piper. Probably one of the more mature Angels

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