Jesse Rowan - The Songs

At first a song comes to my attention because of its interesting melody. But if the words don't mean anything to me I don't learn it. I like a sense of poetry in the lyrics of modern songs, and a well-constructed message that calls to my heart. The story in the old ballads is important to me. I love those exciting murder ballads, the unrequited love stories, the magical myths of days gone by. As a child my family moved around every few months to a year and in every school library, where I retreated in my spare time, I escaped into the Myths, Legends and Fairytales section. 

When I first learn a song I listen to my favourite  version, and emulate the singer as closely as possible. But I find as time goes on I grow into the song and it becomes my own, and if I listen to the original version again I find I am singing it differently. It becomes like a well fitting set of favourite clothes, rather than the crisp newly ironed and unfamiliar feeling I get from reading the words as I start to learn a new song. 

Perhaps I'll change a few words if I think a mondegreen has occurred, and occasionally I've committed a few of those myself when trying to decipher a strong accent on a rough recording. Sometimes I add a verse to complete the end of the story, or drop a verse if I don't feel it's central to the story and the song might have been a bit too long for the listener. Often I find several versions of the same song, perhaps one from the American tradition and another from the English or Irish tradition, and I find new verses in one that complete the story, so I combine versions. 

I've picked up some songs from the singing of others in the Canberra folkscene, but mostly I rely on old recordings and CDs for my sources. I've also pored through collections of books in libraries and private collections looking for long lost gems, and the internet has brought the world of traditional singing to my door.


Some favourite songs:

(Click on the links below for short audio samples.  Taken mostly from rehearsal recordings - we're working on the real recordings at the moment.)


Craigie Hills A Kiss in the Morning Early by Mick Hanley
Green Grow the Rushes O Heather on the Moor
The Connemara Cradle Song Black is the Colour
Star of the County Down Roger the Miller
The Sweet Forget-me-not Anachie Gordon
Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore Mary and the Soldier
High Germany The Two Sisters
The Flower of Magherally The Cruel Sister
The Rambling Irishman When I was a Fair Maid
The Verdant Braes of Skreen Pretty Fair Maid
Farewell to Nova Scotia Bonny Light Horseman
I Courted a Wee Girl Horo Johnny
The Queen of Argyll by Andy M Stewart The Maid in Her Father's Garden


What is a Mondegreen?

A mondegreen occurs when the listener misinterprets what he or she hears and hence inadvertently sings a new version of the song. The word was coined by Sylvia Wright who heard this Scottish ballad as a child:

"Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands, or to where hae ye been? 
Hae slain the Earl of Moray, and Lady Mondegreen. 

Scottish ballad historians will no doubt be scratching their heads over the sudden appearance of the previously unannounced "Lady Mondegreen".  It should of course have read "and laid him on the green".  

John Carroll has devoted a webpage to mondegreens. It's good for a chuckle: