Reflections on my top Spotify plays of 2018

It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for! I wonder why Spotify do this with over three weeks of the year still to go? Perhaps it is so that is isn’t overwhelmed by Christmas songs. And I wonder does the “year” therefore comprise 11 months and a little under a week?


This year I expected (yes, I have been thinking about this) that the influence of my children’s use of our Spotify would become apparent. To a degree it has, with the Greatest Showman soundtrack featuring heavily. I thought I expected George Ezra’s Shotgun to be way ahead of everything else, but it wasn’t.  

The top two are both songs (or perhaps more properly recordings) which I have tended to use to endeavour to get my children (and myself at times) to sleep. Number 2 is a recording by Gordon Hempton, Ocean Dreams, nearly an hour of ocean sound. I have listened to it in full waking as well as as a sleep aid, and it is quite an aural trip:

The number one is Ekkehard Ehlers’  Plays John Cassavetes 2. Based on a recurring sample from the Beatles’ “Goodnight” Again it’s a wonderful listen for non-sleep related purposes also! Here is a video of it on a one hour loop, if you have spare time after Ocean Dreams:

Number 3 is “HImlico’s Map”, with Mick Lally speaking over Shaun Davey’s music. This is the opening of Davey’s “The Pilgrim”, and also the opening of a playlist I put together called, um, The Pilgrim.


Here’s an extract from The Pilgrim sleeve notes:

Himlico’s Map: Colum Cille Leaves Derry. Mick Lally, Narrator and Helen Davies, metal-string harp. Himlico was a Carthaginian who was sent during the 6th or 5th century B.C. to explore the coastline of Western Europe. Although his original report is lost it is thought to form a basis of a poem by Avienus, a 4th century A.D. official of the Roman Empire. An extract from this, one of the earliest written descriptions of the Celts, is followed by three of a number of verses ascribed to Colum Cille at the time of his departure from Derry in the 6th century A.D.

Here is “Himlico’s Map / Colum Cille Leaves Derry” on YouTube, with a fairly trippy visual accompaniment:

OK, I’m not going to go through each one like this… honest. I do think the playlist is a fairly accurate reflection of what I listen to, although I have been listening to quite a bit of fairly honest-to-goodness guitar-based rock lately which hasn’t made it to this (nor has much by way of country, and only a few electronica). I also listen to a fair bit of the Beatles, Sinatra and Dylan, but possibly too diffuse a range of tracks for one to make it. I also have some playlists which are basically multiple versions of the same song or piece – for instance this one of various interpretations of Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude . Quite a few of these versions feature in my annual top 100. That probably pushes the classical percentage, already pretty high, even higher.

Spotify also produce a playlist called “Tastebreakers” which is supposedly “a playlist of songs from genres and artists you don’t normally explore” Whatever about the artists bit, I can’t say that the genres are unfamiliar. A fair bit of jazz, a fair bit of country, a fair bit of soundtracks … it isn’t that far from my familiar furrows.



Happy St Cuthbert’s Day with Chris Watson

Today is St Cuthbert’s Day. I must admit he wasn’t a saint I’d heard of before coming across Chris Watson’s work. 

Watson has had an interesting and highly varied career. Formerly a member of the post punk group Cabaret Voltaire, he turned to recording the natural world.  Many of the bird songs on the RSPB website are recorded by him. He also has created soundscape recordings.  Like Gordon Hempton his work both documents vulnerable soundscapes and draws our attention to what we are losing.

A few years back he released In St Cuthbert’s Time, an attempt at sonic archaeology to reconstruct what the Holy Island of Lindisfarne might have sounded like at the time of St Cuthbert. From

Celebrating the exhibition of the Lindisfarne Gospels at Durham Cathedral, Chris Watson has researched the sonic environment of the Holy Island as it might have been experienced by St Cuthbert in 700 A.D. ‘The Sounds of Lindisfarne and the Gospels’ manifests a remarkable tapestry of location recordings made on and around the small island off the Northumbrian coast – a place of pilgrimage for Christians and familiar to busloads of schoolkids across the North East – where Eadfrith, the Bishop of Lindisfarne wrote and illustrated the titular Gospels during the late 7th C. and early 8th C. Each part reflects a particular season – ‘Winter’ is defined by cold, hard, constant North Sea winds and the sound of migratory flocks; ‘Lechten’ by busy bird calls and a strange unidentified, almost human-like woop and sploshing waters; ‘Sumor’ is a panorama of crickets, deep moos, bees, and cuckoos surrounded by water; ‘Haefest’ again by cornucopia of bird calls, and swooshing, almost industrial/industrious textures. You’ll have to use your imagination, but we’d reckon he’s vividly succeeded his aim to “reflect upon the daily and seasonal aspects of the evolving variety of ambient sounds that accompanied life and work during that period of exceptional thought and creativity”. It’s a blissful, evocative, thought-provoking listen – so typical of Watson at his very best

Play That Funky Classical Music White Boy

Raiding the vast (and out of copyright) canon of classical music has been a recurrent theme in popular music, from Frank Sinatra to The Farm to Eric Carmen (though Carmen’s All By Myself was the subject of a neat twist – Rachmaninov’s music was out of copyright in the U.S. but not the rest of the world, so his estate did end up receiving a share of royalties)

From the later 1960s, parallel with the rise of electronic music more generally, a subgenre of funky, synth-y arrangements of classical pieces developed. I’m not totally sure what to call this. The playlist above is intended to draw in a range of artists and approaches. Lamb’s Gorecki and William Orbit’s work are the most recent. I must admit while these seem respectful and true to the original, there is a kind of excess reverence and I rather prefer the more of-their-time versions of the late 60s and 70s.

The most prominent example of this kind of thing is Wendy Carlos’ soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange, not available on Spotify so not on the playlist above. For me, the most characteristic example of this kind of thing is Deodato’s version of opening theme from Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra. Deodato manages to make an already bombastic piece even more bombastic, and also much much longer. The road of excess leads to the palace of … well, something, but probably not wisdom:

As the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack is one of the biggest selling albums of all time, it is reasonable to suppose that the most prominent exposure of the work of Ludwig van Beethoven’s ever was in Walter Murphy’s A Fifth of Beethoven, a disco version of probably the most recognisable bars of music of all time the opening theme of the Fifth Symphony:

Perhaps understandably, pop/electronic musicians seem particularly drawn to reworking the dramatic, impressionistic pieces of late Romanticism. Mussogorsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is a perfect example, and Isao Tomita’s reworking of the Great Gate of Kiev doesn’t disappoint:

Finally, in case all the above seems a little snarky and sneery, this kind of music does create some genuine magic. I’ll end with Deodato’s version of Ravel’s “Pavane pour une infante defunté”, which takes the already fine original and makes something both respectful and new out of it:

“Be Still”, Agnes Hunt RHSM – poem in Glencomeragh, Co Waterford.

“Be Still”, Agnes Hunt RHSM – poem in Glencomeragh, Co Waterford.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


I have posted photos of Glencomeragh in February and photos of Glencomeragh in August. Glencomeragh was a Rosminian retreat centre near Kilsheelan (which is in Tipperary, but Glencomeragh is across the Suir in Waterford) which has more recently been home to the Holy Family Mission.

This poem is on a slightly faded board near Glen Falls, at the end of a boardwalk. On the other side of the board there is another poem I will perhaps post sometimes. The slideshow above shows each stanza as it is laid out on the board. This is just beside Glen Falls:


Agnes Hunt is the winner of the 2012 Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty Humanitarian Award for her work for the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas:

The grounds for the Award were quoted as follows: Agnes was the first woman to be appointed to the chaplaincy in a male prison in England, 34 years ago; she continues to keep contact with long term prisoners up to the present time and she was nominated due to her commitment and empathy towards prisoners abroad and their families at home.


Anyhow, here is the poem:


Be still –

In fair Glencomeragh

where mighty oaks

from tiny acorns grow.

Majestic trees

Whose silent roots

Nourish with sap

The life of branch and shoot.


Be still – where willows droop

to kiss their image

in a shady pool

and water lilies

raise their heads

to glimpse the playful petals

on a dappled bed.


Be still –

where mountain streams

cascading from the heights

glint gold and silver,

as the rising sun,

lights up their daybreak dance

and with a sunkist blessing

sends them on their way

to dance their mirthful dance.


Be still –

where pond on pond

pour out their waters

in a joyful bond.

And passing pilgrims

on their earthbound way

atop a footbridge

are inspired to pray


Be still –

where standing stones

rise stately from the earth,

statue-like and solid

as the rocks

that gave them birth.

Keeping vigil night

and morn

firm ‘gainst sun and wind and storm.


Be still-

Praise God

For lordly oak

For drooping willow

For stately standing stones

For dappled ponds

For blessed abundance.

Be still,

in fair Glencomeragh.

For the heart of God

is beating all around.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.



báisteach, fearthainn, ceobhrán,brádán,ceathanna, múrtha, scrabhanna báistí, aimsir cheathach,aimsir spairniúil, craobhmhúr (agus neart eile) – Irish words for Irish rain

Often it is said that “Eskimos” have fifty, or a hundred, or hundreds, of words for snow. I had vaguely picked up that this was discredited … although it turns out that only the “strong version” of this is debunked.

A recent tweet by Peter Reason asked:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>.<a href=””>@RobGMacfarlane</a&gt; and others, is there a word for that lovely soft sound the rain makes as it falls on vegetation? Not really a patter, not a hiss, not really a murmur. Or do words fail us here?</p>&mdash; Peter Reason (@peterreason) <a href=””>July 29, 2018</a></blockquote>

The twitter exchange that followed didn’t establish an English word, but it did lead me to this Irish Times letter from 2006:

A chara, – Although I enjoyed Frank McNally’s discussion of the Irish language and rainfall (An Irishman’s Diary, May 25th), I feel he seriously underestimates the accuracy with which Irish can reflect “meteorological reality”. He mentions that Eskimos may have up to 49 different words for snow and feels that the Irish should have accumulated a similar number of words or expressions describing rain from “centuries of sodden experience”.

A perusal of Ó Dónaill’s Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla reveals that we Irish have no shortage of expressions when it comes to describing precipitation. Rain may simply be described as “báisteach” or “fearthainn” but the story does not end there. The words “ceobhrán” and “brádán”, of course, describe drizzle or misty rain and one might also say: “Tá sé ag draonán báistí” The expression “tá sé ag dríodarnach báistí”, although not contained in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, also describes this type of light rain. “Ceathanna”, “múrtha” or “scrabhanna báistí” describe showers of rain while “aimsir cheathach” or “aimsir spairniúil” describes showery weather. The word “craobhmhúr” is also useful in describing scattered rain or a light shower.

“Breacbháisteach” describes occasional rain (presumably of the type that causes difficulties with windscreen wipers) while rain blown on the wind (of the type that gets your trousers wet no matter which way you point your umbrella) might be described by “seadbháisteach” and, come to think of it, “seadbhraonta” might also cause problems for those wipers.

Unfortunately, the type of rain described by “spréachbhraon fearthainne” (a sprinkle of rain) was not that experienced by most of the country during the past month and the following may be utilised instead to describe this heavy, torrential rain: “batharnach”, “clagairt”, “clagarnach”, “dallcairt”, “forlacht”, “gleidearnach”, “stealladh”, “tuile” or “tabhairt mhaith báistí”.

Or why not “péatar”, “liagarnach”, “ragáille or “bús báistí”? In Munster Irish “ag cur foirc agus sceana” corresponds to “raining cats and dogs”, while in Connemara this might be expressed as “ag cur sceana gréasaí”. “Ag cur balc báistí” might also be heard in Ulster. “Ag cáitheadh báistí”, “tuile liag”, “caidhleadh”, “clascairt” or “léidearnach báistí” would also useful here. It may in fact be the case that we more than match those Eskimos and their snow

Finally, although Ó Dónaill translates “báisteach leatromach” as “local rain” this is almost certainly the kind of rain “meant for the guy beside you at a football match but deflected on to you by his golf umbrella”.- Is mise,

BREANDÁN Ó CRÓINÍN, Roinn na Gaeilge, Coláiste Mhuire gan Smál, Ollscoil Luimnigh.