WONDERS - a most remarkable debut album
I first became smitten
by the music of the Scottish band Rise on Fiona Ritchie's wonderful "Thistle
and Shamrock" program. I didn't catch the name of the group, but I knew I
had to keep searching until I could get my hands on "Uncertain Wonders"
and the particular song that had captivated me so. Two months later, success!
The band Rise, although shy about sharing personal information, was kind enough
to finally give in -- due to my relentless badgering -- and write down their thoughts
about the music. I asked specifically about the influences that went into the
creation of probably my favorite track, "Time and Tide," as it relates
to Scotland's beloved bard Robbie Burns and the similarity to another track I
like, "Gloomy Winter," on Dougie MacLean's great "Tribute"
Rise wanted to "keep the feel of a traditional Burns-type ballad
while utilising the the power of modern instrumentation and production. We combined
an intelligible lyric, telling an age-old story, set to a traditional melody then
wrapped it up in a modern arrangement and tried to play it with as much feeling
Check out the CDBaby.com
link at the bottom of the page and listen to "Time and Tide" and
their other songs to see for yourself why they have become such a "word-of-mouth"
phenomenon. You'll find it's hard to pick a favorite track - because Rise and
"Uncertain Wonders" are simply terrific in every way!
Debbie Dawson: vocals
Gerry Geoghegan: guitars,
vocals, sax, keyboards, bodhran
Elaine McCombe: bass guitar
Kris Manvell: drums, percussion, keyboards
reason we do not say too much or put out bios and talk ourselves up is that we
really feel that it should be about the music. Who and what we are is not important.
The music is. Music and lyrics mean different things to different people. Everyone
responds to music differently. It is a very personal thing. Since we were asked
for our thoughts on our songs, here goes. Your own take on the songs is as valid
as anyone else's. All we can say is this is what the music means to us. This is
a collection of songs which goes some way to expressing a few of our thoughts
and, I suppose, our outlook on life.
UNCERTAIN WONDERS - The birth
This album grew from a band that Debbie, Gerry, Elaine and
Kris were playing in a few years ago, called Precious. We were playing
Gerry's arrangements of Celtic Folk music from Scotland, Ireland and America,
employing Gerry and Elaine's past Folk experience. We played some 'Alternative
Country' and songs by the likes of Nanci Griffith and Alanis Morrissette. We would
then plug in and play Van Morrison, Dougie MacLean, REM, U2, Steve Miller, Cranberries,
Radiohead and Sting covers. We would also throw in some blues-based stuff and
a bit of Jazz. The gigs would sometimes last for 3 or 4 hours! We loved doing
it and played to very receptive and appreciative audiences. However, deep down
we wanted to write our own songs. Kris wrote quite a few poems whilst working
up in Orkney and faxed them to Gerry to encourage and provoke him to turn his
mind to writing songs again. Slowly but surely songs started to emerge from Gerry
that excited the band enough to reform and invest money in their studio. Two years
later, in January 2002, we had released our debut indie album 'Uncertain Wonders.'
The verses of the lyric to this song are an adaptation of
'The snowy-breasted pearl' by George Petrie. This can be found in 'The words of
a hundred Irish songs and ballads - Old favourites from "Danny Boy"
to "The Fields of Athenrye"' published by Bookmark, a division of Ossian
Publications of Cork, Ireland.
The chorus is suggested by Rabbie Burns in
'Now Westlin Winds', particularly:
'Come let us stray our gladsome way And
view the charms of nature;' as well as,
'I'll grasp thy waist, and, fondly
prest Swear how I love you dearly'
and most particularly by Robert Tannahill's
'Gloomy Winters Noo Awa'
'Come my lassie let us stray O'er Glenkillochs
sunny brae Blythely spend the gowden day 'Midst joys that never weari O'
you compare Tannahill's 'Gloomy winter' to Burns' 'Westlin winds,' Burns' intensity
is much greater. The premises of both works are very similar, but the Burns' is
reaching for something much more profound than a simple celebration of nature.
The melody is traditional and we combined it with a passage adapted from 'The
song remains the same' by Led Zeppelin.
The idea of new words for an old
tune came about because of Dougie MacLean's version of 'Gloomy Winter' on his
album 'Whitewash' from 1990. He used the same traditional tune but the whole of
Tannahill's poem. It's written pretty much entirely in 'Scots' and extols the
beauty of nature:
'Lav'rocks fan the snaw-white cloods Siller saughs wi'
downy buds' and 'Neath the brae the burnie jouks.'
While clearly works of
genius, the tune and words didn't seem to complement each other entirely effectively.
No matter how much you loved the song, the words and music did not sit comfortably
together. Essentially for us, the words lacked the intensity of feeling that the
melody displayed. Tannahill's poem is great and fabulously descriptive, but it
lacks the emotional depth of the beautiful, deeply melancholic traditional melody.
wanted to use the tune but match it thematically to something more emotional and
lyrically to something more immediately melancholic. We also wanted to try to
keep the feel of a traditional Burns-type ballad while utilising the power of
modern instrumentation and production. We combined an intelligible lyric, telling
an age-old story, set to a traditional melody then wrapped it up in a modern arrangement
and tried to play it with as much feeling as possible. That's really how 'Time
and Tide' came about and got on the album.
song is unusual as it tells the story of the Glencoe massacre in the Highlands
of Scotland from the point of view of one of the soldiers who carried it out.
It is the story of clan against clan and it is a story that is repeated the world
over. This makes it familiar to many people of different nations. The William
in the song is King William of Orange, politically manipulating things like it
was a game. The MacDonalds did sign the oath of allegiance he required of all
clans, albeit a little late due to incredibly inclement weather (apparently some
of the worst snow falls in many years). King Billy, via the only too willing John
of Stair, still had them assassinated. We have tried not to romanticise the events
but rather show the graphic nature of the acts and the feelings of guilt that
must have affected the perpetrators.
It took us all ages to convince Gerry
that this song was worth keeping, and to get him to play it live was even harder.
When the rest of the band heard this it made the hairs on the back of our necks
stand up - it was so powerful. This is one of our favourites that Gerry has written.
He wrote this in an hour during a lunch break.
ALL I HAVE
about how people sometimes react to new ideas. If you tell them about how you
have had a new idea or something new that you have come to believe in, they turn
away and won't even consider your point of view. At times, because we don't eat
meat and dairy products, our families and friends have at best misunderstood us
and at worst turned against us. If you don't fit in, stand up for what you believe
in, or if what you say is deemed untraditional or unfashionable you can be treated
as an outcast. All we do is make our own choices and we believe everyone should
be free to make their own choices too - as long as it doesn't encroach on others.
This is a song that Gerry wrote the music to and Kris and Gerry wrote the words
Like many people in Britain, we all grew
up empathising with the Native American peoples. Films like 'Little Big Man' deeply
moved us. The book 'I buried my heart at Wounded Knee' was so moving and disturbing
that Kris couldn't finish it. In a way Native Americans always represented, to
us both, the under-dog and a simpler, closer-to-the-earth kind of lifestyle.
be honest, it fitted the whole 'hippy' ideal that had become popular again when
we were growing up. We were the kind of people who gravitated towards alternative
lifestyles and ways of thinking. The subject of people trying to be at one with
nature and living with the land appealed to us. Whether it was the Celts, the
Pagans or the Native Americans the idea of a closer, more spiritual relationship
with the earth was very inspiring. We have thought a great deal about these things
since and come to the conclusion that we felt as empathetic to the buffalo as
we did the Native Americans that depended so much on them. We realised how the
Native American and the Buffalo lives were inextricably linked. This was one of
the first songs Gerry and Kris wrote together. Gerry wrote the music and adapted
the lyrics from a poem that Kris had written.
TRUE LOVE'S EYES
a song about being enslaved after a failed uprising or after a war when you are
on the losing side. A woman watching her lover being taken away knowing she will
never see him again and that they will not grow old together. It could as easily
apply to an African woman watching the slavers taking her man away or be set during
one of the crushed Highland uprisings. It might bring your own tale of rebellion
and defeat to mind wherever you are. There are incidents in every culture's history
such as this. A modern folk song which Gerry has written based on the Celtic tradition.
This is essentially a song of equality. We are all human
beings sharing the same planet. We all come up against similar situations and
problems in life, so we need to respect, understand and support one another. If
you find yourself in the same boat it's only common sense to pull together and
put aside differences. This song was written by the band from a poem Kris wrote
and to which Debbie put a melody.
GREAT BIG LIFE
This is a
song about parents and family and how often they are not about love but about
obligation and duty. The old saying 'you can choose your friends...' is so true.
Instead of respecting and appreciating one another in families, it is so often
about barely tolerating one another. It is often about suffering and perpetrating
abuse that you would never tolerate from a friend or anyone you respected. 'Family-arity'
breeds contempt! The voice of the singer represents the conscience of the old
man which at first seems to be coming out of a radio. This conscience then asks
him to think about and consider the way he has dealt with people and look back
and assess his past honestly. This is something he has been avoiding. The conscience
then turns to the old woman character. A telling line is when the old woman or
mother figure is asked 'did you take the time to shatter all their dreams?' So
often older people seem to resent younger people. They behave as if they don't
want them to enjoy their opportunities. Embittered themselves, they want to poison
the young with their resentment and disappointment. Of course it works the other
way too, but it tends to be older people who are in control and so should know
better. The tired myth that 'older means wiser', which is gradually fading thankfully,
still holds sway with so many people who have given up thinking. This is another
song that Gerry and Kris wrote together whilst Kris was working in Orkney trying
to goad Gerry into writing music by faxing him nightly with reams of poems.
A song written by Gerry based on his relationship with his
partner of 11 years. The lyric tells how he truly cares for her, trying to understand
and respect her as a true friend should. It's also about how they both look to
each other's needs. It is a real love song for modern times. It tries to be realistic,
moving away from the popular romantic vision that everything is perfect. No one
is perfect but they are still lovable! The song is about the second phase of being
in love when the depth of association with, and understanding of, the other person
is what makes it magical. It's about how the other person pervades your being
to such an extent that you think about them 1000 times a day and it becomes a
feeling of them being constantly present in your consciousness. It's not about
fancying them - although that is part of it. It's about knowing everything and
accepting it - the good with the bad, the pleasant with the unpleasant, the beautiful
with the ugly. It is the state beyond lust. It is the state that makes relationships
enduring and worthwhile. It is about emotional synergy.
is a song which really expresses a lot of what we believe. This is the embodiment
of the songwriter's art as far as we are concerned. Offering something valuable
which might be worth considering. This is the level of writing to which we aspire.
It is our Anthem for better times. Huge, daring words expressing something very
radical. Many people do not even realise how ground-breaking and revolutionary
this song was. They just know they love it. 'Imagine there's no countries... nothing
to kill or die for'... 'and no religion too'. Could this be more poignant and
relevant for these times? This was written 30 years ago! How many other songwriters
have stated their vision with such clarity and simplicity? For a lot of people
it is just an unattainable fool's dream. For some people it is just a matter of
These are some of the traditionally-sung words
of the song. There are some other verses but these three are the most commonly
sung. The last verse has actually become a kind of chorus that some people put
between the other verses.
The melody is traditional but we slightly adjusted
it on the line 'Me and my true love' and the word 'Lomond' and extended the chord
sequence to change the feel.
The idea of doing this song was to present
the feeling of the song apparent in the lyric. We'd all heard it a million times,
but it was nearly always turned into a piece of light opera. It had become devalued
and twee. A vehicle for tenors in kilts to sing by the fire on cheesy Hogmanay
shows. The versions we heard growing up showed a disregard for the meaning of
the lyric and the emotional possibilities of the melody. The song became hackneyed
and evoked little feeling in us. It was a Scottish cliché. There seemed
to be no emotive quality left in it.
Once, on the train to Oban which goes
right passed the head of Loch Lomond affording travellers a stunning view, Gerry
heard a middle aged Japanese tourist explain to his wife that this was the loch
in the song. When she obvously didn't understand what he was saying he sang the
last line over and over again and pointed out the window. She immediately sprang
to her feet and started clicking away on her camera. The lady clearly knew the
tune because he was singing 'bunny bunny bink' repeatedly.
We wanted to
take the tune and the words and try to put them back into a romantic context.
The song is not really about the loch -- it's about death, parting and loss. The
'low road' is the road of the spirit world which the dead travel along as opposed
to the 'high road' of the physical world of the living. Spirits travel faster
apparently hence the 'I'll be in Scotland afore ye'. Someone once told us the
song refers to the thoughts of a prisoner sentenced to death during executions
conducted in London after the failed '45 Jacobite rebellion. This seems plausible
but we couldn't swear to it.
It's interesting that the protagonist refers
to returning to Scotland after death instead of going to heaven as you might expect.
We think the inference might be that the ghost of the dead warrior would rather
hang around where he and his love last said goodbye than leave for the afterlife.
There's passion and commitment for you. The taking of the different roads suggests
that the warrior's love is present wherever his death is about to take place.
She wants to spend every last minute near him, support him through his last day
and finally witness his death. Imagine the pain and feeling of helplessness in
this. Imagine the depth of feeling and strength of character in these actions.
We slowed it right down, wrote new guitar chords in D-tuning,
added a second theme played on the guitar because it has no chorus, added some
synth sounds for atmosphere and in a bizarre move got Gerry to sing it. This came
about when he sang a dummy vocal in the studio to show the band some new bits
that might be good to add to the tune. We liked the feel of what came out so we
bulied him into doing the vocal the same way on the real track. We've tried to
show our respect for the song and catch its serious overtones with our melodic
and harmonic treatment of it. The words remain very enigmatic but there is enough
referencing in the lyric to allow the 'lamenting' quality of this very sentimental
old song to come out. That's the way we liked to play it -- with respect for its
sincerity. We're not sure how our version will go down in Okinawa though.
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