IONA is an island between Ireland and Scotland, anchored deep in the artistic roots of Celtic culture. The name, IONA, was brought to the New World and used in New York, Nova Scotia, Idaho, Minnesota and elsewhere. Since 1986 IONA has been the name of our collaboration dedicated to reinterpreting the traditional music of the Celts.
Weaving ancient strands together into our own original acoustic arrangements, we have been inspired by our travels in the Celtic lands, our studies of these traditions, as well as our classical and folk backgrounds. New World Celts - Holding Our Own!
During the beginning of constitutional monarchy in England, the Scots, who firmly believed in the Divine Right of the Stewart kings, were outraged as Parliament chose alternate foreign royalty with weaker claims to the throne. George I, imported from Germany, bore the brunt of their wrath and the time honored weapon of satire abounded. This particular song rudely targets the bevy of incredibly ugly mistresses he brought with him. We combine the song with a Breton dance, to reflect the Jacobite alliance with France.
What is the Summer to Me?/The Ships of Carnarvon. Elke Baker on fiddle joins us for this haunting set of Welsh tunes. Written in the 19th Century as a lament for a lost love, Beth Ywr Haf I Mi lends itself to a variety of interpretations as an air. We segue into a rather odd combination: a boating song about the ships of Caernarfon, a harbor town in Gwynedd, North Wales, set to a Norwegian tune.
Unsure of the state of mind of her beloved, Sovay, a bold lass, decides to put him to the test. Disguising herself as a highwayman, she accosts him and demands his worldly goods which he promptly relinquishes save the ring she has given him. When he stubbornly refuses to give up the ring, she allows him to pass. The following day she pays him a visit. Finding him distraught over his losses, she reveals her subterfuge and returns his possessions. "However," she informs him, "had you handed over the ring, I would have shot you dead!" We pepper the verses of the song with variations of a traditional dance tune from central Brittany.
My Dark Haired Boy. One of Barbara's vast repertoire of "nasty man" songs, as she calls them. Domhaill, that villain, goes off to marry another sweet young thing in Newry. This time all the wailing and gnashing of teeth is done in Irish. Micah Solomon provides the ominous chords on keyboards.
The dance traditions of Brittany are kept alive and well through the fest noz (night festival), the Breton equivalent of a ceili(dh) or square dance. Many of the dances are performed with hands or arms joined as a line dance, with half the village, from toddlers to grandparents, executing intricate footwork and arm movements that boggle the mind of the uninitiated. At our performances, Susan Baker frequently teaches and leads a simplified line dance to this accompaniment of our interpretation of the Tamm Diwezhan (3rd Part) of the Gavotten ar Menez from the upland area of Western Brittany.
We are joined every year during our stage show at the Maryland Renaissance Festival by Pipe Major Robert Mitchell. Not only is Bob a good friend and a fine musician, he is also very tolerant when Diana's errant bow threatens to reveal to our audiences the dark secret of what is worn under the kilt! Over the years we have attempted to transform these stalwart jigs into a complete audience experience...
Song of the Blue-Gray Cuckoo. Long the symbol for an unfaithful lover, the European cuckoo lays its eggs in other birds' nests. We have arranged this song as a round for voice, flute and mandolin - as in what goes around comes around - or beware being cuckolded!
Bernard, who has always been a closet bagpiper, explores his fantasy through the magic of Micah's mixing studio and has a grand time playing with himself: melody (chanter), harmony (regulators) and drones all on flute. He follows the traditional Banks of Locheil with an adaptation of the ancient Irish air, Lagan Love, into a slow Scottish march. Barbara uses the song to duet with herself as the eerie "Bean Sidhe" you can hear in the background.
The Jacobite wars of the 18th Century provided endless fodder for the wags and satirists of the era. In this satire of the Battle of Falkirk Muir (1746), the defeat of the pompous English General Hawley is recorded for posterity. His dragoons panicked and fled at the sight of a mass of screaming, claymore wielding, bagpiping, kilt-wearing Scotsmen. The highlanders assuming the retreat was an esoteric war tactic, pressed on down the hill and found neither hide nor hair of the English at the bottom. A bloodless victory was had by all. Our kind of war! Into the beat of the war drum we weave a Jacobite march commemorating Bonnie Prince Charlie himself.
One of the the top forty tunes played in tourist shops and hotel lobbies all over Scotland, this is, admittedly, a chestnut. It is also one of our favorite songs and worth doing again. Our slow treatment shows off both the beauty of the song and Barbara's vocal range, which makes it our most requested performance piece.
The Wassail traditions of the British Isles have been passed on to us in America through songs and our custom of caroling during the Christmas season. The term "Wassail", from the Anglo-Saxon for "be well", now refers to a potent warm drink. Going wassailing appears to be a centuries old excuse for getting your neighbors to ply you with alcohol!
Another of Barbara's "nasty man" songs: Guy courts girl. Girl actually believes guy. Guy goes off and marries someone else. Girl gets heart trembles. The tune probably began as a waltz. We play it more as a march since the words, from a broadside ballad, are definitely a call to arms!
Barbara Ryan - Lead vocals, guitar, bodhran, tambourine.
Bernard Argent - Wooden flute, whistles, vocals, doumbek.
Diana McFadden - Cello, bouzouki, mandolin, guitar (on Hieland Men/Wha'll Be King), vocals.
Elke Baker - Fiddle on Bethh Ywr Haf I Mi/Llongau Caernarfon
Robert Mitchell - Highland Pipes on Atholl Highlanders/Kesh Jig
Micah Solomon - Keyboards on Gur E Mo Ghille Dubh Dhonn
Produced by Barbara Ryan & Bernard Argent.
All arrangements by IONA or members thereof. All words and tunes traditional except where noted.
© Barnaby Productions 1994.
Recorded by Micah Solomon at Oasis Recording, Inc., College Park, MD. (301) 588-4133
Digitally Edited and Mastered by David Glasser at Airshow, Springfield, VA.
Photographs by Mark Turner
Mugs made by Al Lemmons
Graphic Design by Steven Parke
Layout & Disk Design by Bernard Argent & Barbara Ryan.
Bernard's flute made by Eugene Lamb, Fanore, Co. Clare, C & D whistles by Glenn Schultz,
Thin Weasel Woodwinds. Diana's bouzouki & mandolin by Flatiron, cello by Weaver.
Barbara's bodhran by Charlie Byrne, Thurles, Co. Tipperary, guitar - Ovation Legend, voice by nature and hard work.
Undying gratitude for the support without which this album could not have happened, to Susan Baker, Loralyn Coles, our families, Joyce Argent, Betsy McFadden, Nancy & Argus Tresidder, Chris & Mark Ryan, to Mary Cliff for her generous promotion, Cheryl Mitchell for her help with Llangau Caernarfon, Maryland Renaissance Festival and Southern Maryland Celtic Society for being there fron the outset, Micah Solomon for not shooting us in cold blood (and for being a real sport!) and to our wonderful, loyal friends and fans who've believed in us.
Bookings and more info. on the music:
IONA - (703) 426-1450