Nov 9, 2021
Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer play music for Contra Dances. Find out why there aren’t more songs sung at such dances.
What is the D song? Marc Gunn shares how a New Orleans jam session found a little gospel in an old Scottish song.
Welcome to Pub Songs & Stories. This is the Virtual Public House for musicians to share the stories and inspiration behind their music with your host Marc Gunn. Subscribe to the podcast and download free music at PubSong.com.
0:33 - WHAT’S NEW?
2:19 - UPCOMING SHOWS
3:11 - STORY OF A LIFETIME OF DANCING
Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer effortlessly blend traditional material with contemporary sounds. Their performances showcase new interpretations of old songs alongside original self penned tunes and new contemporary songs that are entirely at home in the tradition.
They also perform at Contra Dances. Contra dance is a folk dance made up of long lines of couples. It has mixed origins from English country dance, Scottish country dance, and French dance styles in the 17th century, according to Wikipedia.
I have loved their music for many years. In fact, you can hear their music on this podcast, and my Irish & Celtic Music Podcast. I also have an interview and performance from them from my Celtic Invasion of Wales. That was released on my Celtfather Music & Travel podcast.
Today, Vicki and Jonny will tell you how and why they wrote their song “Jiggle the Old Bones”.
8:09 - “Jiggle the Old Bones” by Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer from Sleep Deprivation
Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer are full-time musicians. Like many musicians, their lives were impacted by Covid. So if you enjoyed that song, go buy the download or buy any of their albums. I’m not sure which album to recommend, because I love them all. But this song from Sleep Deprivation is a favorite in my family. It gives me a thrill every time one it plays on their Spotify playlist and they squeal with delight. I think that sums up Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer’s music to me.
14:04 - SUPPORT WHAT YOU LOVE
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14:24 - NEXT TIME
I have a great story from the band Coast. They talk about a horrible accident at sea with a cowardly captain and some amazing passengers who stood up to the challenge.
14:40 - STORY OF MINGULAY BOAT SONG
“Mingulay Boat Song” is a fantastic song. I’ve heard many versions of the songs over the years as it was popular not only among Celtic music fans but also among Renaissance festival fans. I don’t remember where I first heard the song. Sadly, iTunes is no help. My iTunes was overhauled in 2011. So the earliest versions I have are by an MP3.com band, Celtic Nots, and the Flying Fish Sailors. I’ll be honest, neither of those versions stood out to me.
I also recorded the song in 2006 or 2007 with Captain Black Jack Murphy. So who knows…
Let’s start with the history of the song, then I’ll talk about my recording of the song.
The song was written by Sir Hugh S. Roberton in the 1930s, according to Wikipedia. Roberton was a Scottish composer from Glasgow. He founded the Glasgow Orpheus Choir. This was a widely-acclaimed choir that focused on Scottish folks, Italian madrigals, plus some works by many of Europe’s most-famous composers. He also wrote “Westering Home” and “Mairi’s Wedding”. He was knighted in 1931.
However I found the song, it was the summer of 2009 when I was at Jamie Haeuser’s home on the North shore of New Orleans when two of her friends came over, Michael Younger and Big Jim. We had a blissful afternoon jam session. We sang countless songs. This was when Jamie’s voice first stood out to me as sounding really good with mine.
“Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye” was one that sounded particularly good together. But it was “Mingulay Boat Song” that stood out the best.
Jamie grew up in New Orleans. She has a particular fondness for the music of New Orleans, blues, jazz, gospel, and also Celtic music, of course. But that day as I was singing “Mingulay”, Jamie did something exceptional with the song. She gave it this bluesy gospel background vocal. It was magical.
Sometimes when you’re playing music with others, you do something so special. Everyone is overcome with joy and elation. That was one of those moments. I remember feeling SO excited, like “What just happened?!” It was incredible.
And it sat with me. We sang the song now and then. Each time we would vary things up. Each time, we danced around that first time. It was not quite there, but it was always fantastic.
In 2011, I wanted to record several CDs in one sitting. I typically record music live. Just me and the autoharp. I can then layer on other instruments. I just needed to make the time to do it.
In October the year before, my daughter Kenzie was born with a heart condition called Tetralogy of Fallot. I didn’t really have much time to record while my wife was pregnant. I certainly didn’t have much time after my daughter was born. So I came up with a cool idea. I would rent a house somewhere and spend all weekend recording.
My wife had a friend in Lexington, Kentucky at the time. So I booked a house in January 2011. We drove up there, snow on the ground. She drove to Lexington all day. I recorded the music for what would eventually become three albums: St Patrick’s Day, Don’t Go Drinking With Hobbits, and Scottish Songs of Drinking & Rebellion.
There were a lot of great tracks that came out of that recording session. That music would establish my musical style for the next five years. One of the tracks the great tracks that came out of that session was “Mingulay Boat Song”.
The song was played in the Key of C. The base recording of my vocals and autoharp was solid. It was slow and languorous. It had so much soulful feeling. But it was the overdubs that made it stand out. That was kind of an accident.
After I got home, I sent the tracks off to musicians to record. Daniel Briggs was my main musician for that album. He added bass and a very simple strum pattern on his octave mandolin. He also sent some background harmonies. Mostly, I loved his tracks. But when I finished mixing the track. It still didn’t stand out. It needed Jamie Haeuser… or at least what Jamie did on that jam session years earlier.
She wasn’t available at the time so I thought I’d give it a try. Two things stood out to me. First my USB digital interface had a limiting feature. That means if something gets too loud, the device cuts off the part that peaks. I am not a techie. I kind of randomly set it up. The limiter was way too high for this song. If you know what you’re listening for, you can hear me hit some powerful notes and it changes the sound of the vocals a little. Different from what I was originally singing. That gives it part of its really cool sound.
But I can’t discount my vocals. I tried to imitate what Jamie had done back in 2009. It came off incredible. It’s by far my favorite song on the album. However, it was really hard to pull off during live concerts. It took a couple years to master singing it in the same key. Frequently, I would blow my voice by the time the song was. My voice was much more gruff after that.
That said, I no longer sing it in the Key of C, which is the key it was recorded in. I found during live concerts, my voice was too low to be heard easily. It took a while. I raised it to the key of D. Even higher and more difficult to sing. Somehow, with lots and lots of practice, that became easy too.
The final thing I want to say about the song is that sometimes I call it the “D Song”. That’s because one day at the beginning of 2020, my wife called out at a brewery and said, “Play the D song”. I had no clue what she was talking about. And ironically, she had no clue the song was in the key of D. But somehow I figured it out and that’s become our inside joke.
Alright, without further adieu, let me sing to you “Mingulay Boat Song” in the key of D.
Pub Songs & Stories was produced by Marc Gunn. The show is edited by Mitchell Petersen with graphics by Miranda Nelson Designs. You can subscribe and listen wherever you find podcasts. You can also subscribe to my mailing list. You will get regular updates of new music, podcasts, special offers, and you’ll get 21 songs for free. Welcome to the pub at www.pubsong.com!
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