My Mum died today.
Yesterday I was the last of the family to see her. The family were given an exemption from the COVD travel and visiting restrictions because she was in palliative care. She was 101, just got over the line so a good innings, as they, but very sad nonetheless.
She couldn’t talk yesterday and was largely unresponsive so I sat there and played some of the favourite hymns that we would listen to when I took her for drives in the country. I tried to singalong as best I could.
There were also a few songs of Celtic origin. Comes By The Hills sung by that 14 year old in Celtic Thunder. Always tears me up as Dad loved it. It’s a beautiful song- and the cares of tomorrow can wait til this day is done.Then there was My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose. Eddie Reader recorded it and she signed the CD in Melbourne to “dear Robbie” my Dad Robin. Feeling rather maudlin, drinking whisky I sent an email telling her of the pleasure and melancholy Dad and now I got from listeing to her. She sent a lovely note back. And then there was Danny Boy. It sent a tremble up my back and I’m sure Mum was feeling it too. It is a beautiful song, an irresistible melody, it requires considerable vocal range, has moments of romance and and also great sadness. How many songs sing of the lovelorn feeling the footsteps of their lover on their grave?
So, as I grieve, I have been listeing to a lot of hymns and in particular Danny Boy. Somewhere Over The Rainbow is often touted as the best song ever but can it match this song for the pathos? And like the best songs, it can be fucked up if you are tempted to over egg it in whatever direction. Today I’ve listened to many versions. Some like Eva Cassidy are ok but she hasn’t the range. Sam Cooke introduces a lot more swing to it but loses the sadness. Some of the big voices like Bryn Terfel and Tom Jones are too focussed on those big notes and lose the delicate stuff. But there are some lovely versions though in various categories.
Luka Bloom and Johnny Cash aint got the range but they get inside the pathos.
Andy Williams and Elvis sing it beautifully. Andy is super sweet but who does sweet better than the Moon River hitmaker? And Elvis, in the Jungle Room, has just that bit of swing to it without straying from the core – it’s a sad love song.
Harry Belafonte covers all bases – beautiful voice and conveys the sadness. A bit over the top on the vibrato on the versions I have heard but yep pretty damn good.Silver medal.
DRUM ROLL- in my book the best version of the best song is Scotland’s finest tenor Kenneth McKellar. Yes the singing can be a bit mannered but with that you get the discipline of perfect diction and absolutely unwavering holding of the the notes. The strings do their best to swamp the song- that melody is so damn irresistible, but Kenny cuts through. Remarkable power and delicacy , covers the high and low notes while other singers favour one end. And he doesn’t leave the sadness behind.
So goodbye Mum.
Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side.
The summer’s gone, and all the roses falling,
It’s you, it’s you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow,
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow,
It’s I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow,
Oh, Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so!
But when ye come, and all the flowers are dying,
If I am dead, as dead I well may be,
You’ll come and find the place where I am lying,
And kneel and say an Ave there for me.
And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me,
And all my grave will warmer, sweeter be,
For you will bend and tell me that you love me,
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me!