Reading My Way Around the World

Friday 31 January 2014

Phil Campbell - what's in a name?

I was christened Philomena ... and from my mid teens was known as Phil.   When the internet started in the 90s the first thing most people did was to type in their name and see what came up ... and to my surprise I found a musician in California called Phil Campbell - I wrote to him, said hi, and he came back to tell me about this town in Alabama with our name!!!   What a laugh!   Have you a town with your name on it?

Fast forward a few years, and a record company that we were involved with in the late 1990s was about to release a single of mine when we discovered yet another Phil Campbell, a songwriter from Scotland, who was also just releasing a single at the time.   So we decided to give my name a more feminine touch and changed the spelling to Fil.   Now mostly I like that change, although occasionally a new confusion arises, how do you pronounce your name?  Well I suppose it's an improvement on them thinking I was a guy!  You can't win!!  

Still a few years later I heard about a gathering of Phil Campbells happening in the town of Phil Campbell ... how I would have loved to have been there, but it was too far away.  

2011 was the 100th anniversary of the town - a small place in the centre of Alabama and once again one of the Phils (as we are now collectively known) decided it would be fun to have another gathering of people with the same name as the town.   Once again I wasn't able to make it but several others were planning to go.   

But two months before the big day, in April 2011 - disaster - a series of tornadoes hit that area of America causing untold devastation - our town was badly flattened, more than 400 people were out of their homes and 30 people died ... The school, firestation and several other key buildings were destroyed.  Phil Campbell, AL had a population of just over 1000 people.
Phil Campbell, AL, taken from the Police Station - photo courtesy of
Photo from the National Weather Service in Huntsville, AL 
So instead of taking part in the celebration parades in June, the Phil Campbells from around the world got together to raise money for a Habitat home and 20 of my namesakes made it to Alabama to help with the clean up.  

This has been a wild experience - having a connection with people just because of our name - and I've met (over the Internet anyway ) so many lovely people - a pilot, a journalist, an author, a singer, a TV producer, a minister - people from Sydney in Australia, to Brooklyn, England, Alaska, Chatanooga and many many here in this part of the world.

So what's next?    Well, a film .... called I'm with Phil - has been made of the event, the gathering, the destruction, the rebuild and the continued connection that we all have with a tiny town in America.  

There's a Kickstarter campaign starting to help raise funds to promote the film and raise more money for the town.  And once day I'll get to visit it.

I'll be back with more posts about PC Alabama in future months.

How about you?   Has any strange connections happened because of your name?

Friday 24 January 2014

The Spinning Wheel

For quite a while I've been wanting to write blogs about well known women's Irish songs and here's No. 1 in what will hopefully become a series.

The Spinning Wheel (John Frances Waller)

Mellow the moonlight to shine is beginning
Close by the window young Eileen is spinning
Bent o’er the fire her blind grandmother sitting
Is crooning and moaning and drowsily knitting

When I first learned this as a little girl I pictured this beautiful young girl gazing longingly out of the window, dressed of course in a perfect long skirt, with long hair and an angelic face!!   The old lady was knowingly sitting in the corner  ....   

I can still see the sash window, the moon shining, the wood outside where the young lovers ended up walking ...  Isn't it funny the pictures that stay in  your head with a song:))

Delia Murphy
The Spinning Wheel is one of the most famous Irish folksongs  and was one of the first songs I learned as a child.

The Spinning Wheel was written in the late 1800s by John Frances Waller (1909-1894) and it's said that the melody is actually French, although it quickly became known as an Irish song.   Really, it was a parlour song that was part of the Anglo Irish tradition, nothing at all to do with traditional Irish music, but more to do with an idealised quaint way of life.  It quickly became a favourite for young girls to sing and instantly brings back memories of a gentler way of life.

Well known singers of the song
It was one of the songs recorded by Delia Murphy in her first recording session in 1936, one of the songs that made her a star and she in turn was the person who made the song popular.

Later, it became the first international hit for Mary O'Hara, although she didn't even want to record it.   Delia sang it at her husband's inauguration as the first Irish Ambassador to Australia and she said that if it's sung correctly you should feel the spinning wheel turning.  In our TV series - Songbirds, the First Ladies of Irish Song - it was the only song that we found that had been recorded by all the featured ladies - Ruby Murray, Margaret Barry, Bridie Gallagher, Delia Murphy and Mary O'Hara - and they all sang it in very different styles.

Mellow the moonlight to shine is beginning
Close by the window young Eileen is spinning
Bent o’er the fire her blind grandmother sitting
Is crooning and moaning and drowsily knitting

Eileen a chara I hear someone tapping
Tis the ivy dear mother against the glass flapping
Eily I surely hear someone sighing
Tis the sound mother dear of the autumn winds dying

Merrily cheerily noiselessly whirring
Swings the wheel spins the reel while the foot’s stirring
Sprightly and brightly and airily ringing
Thrills the sweet voice of the young maiden singing

There’s a form at the casement the form of her true love
And he whispers with face bent “I’m waiting for you love
Get up on the stool through the lattice step lightly
And we’ll rove in the grove with the moon shining brightly”

The maid shakes her head on her lip lays her fingers
Steals up from the seat, longs to go and yet lingers
A frightened glance turned on her drowsy grandmother
Puts one foot on the stool spins the wheel with the other

Lazily, easily swings now the wheel round
Slowly and lowly is heard now the reel sound
Noiseless and light through the lattice above her
The maid creeps then leaps to the arms of her lover

Slower and slower and slower the wheel spins
Lower and lower and lower the reel rings
E’er the reel and the wheel stop their ringing and moving
Through the grove the young lovers by moonlight are roving

The songwriter: 
John Francis Waller (1810 - 1894) was born in Limerick, educated at Trinity College, Dublin and was called to the Irish Bar in 1833. He became a contributor to and ultimately editor of the Dublin University Magazine, usually writing under the pseudonym of "Jonathan Freke Slingsby"

He published several volumes of poems and also wrote popular songs, including Cushla Ma ChreeThe Spinning Wheel and Song of the Glass. He was responsible for the explanatory notes and a life of the author in a new edition of "Gulliver's Travels" written by Dean Jonathan Swift


If you're interested in spinning as an art I found this fascinating blog from a lady in Scotland.

Have you any memories of the song?  

Saturday 4 January 2014

Nollaig na mBan - Women's Christmas

In parts of Ireland, particularly the South West of the country, the 6th January or Feast of the Epiphany or Little Christmas is also known as Women's Christmas, or Women's Little Christmas - when the hard working women put up their feet after the long Christmas period and the men took over to do all the cooking and cleaning.  In some parts children bought presents for their mothers and grandmothers that day but that has now been taken over by Mothers Day.  It's still a very common practice in Kerry and Cork, where restaurants report almost 100% female clientele  on that night according to the Discover Ireland website.

Nollaig na mBan - pronounced nu-llig nah man - was totally new to me until last year when one of my neighbours decided to revive the tradition up here ...

We were more than 50 women together, enjoying left overs from everyone's Christmas and a good old natter - a wonderful extension of the Christmas festivities.  Looking forward to a repeat of it this year.

Traditions are changing now .... Everyone's back to work on Monday 6th this year .... When I was at school the 6th January was a holy day - nothing started back until the 7th and if by some stroke of bad luck that we had to go back to school on the 3rd or 4th we still always had the 6th off.

The tree always stayed up until the 6th as well - it was considered bad luck to take it down early ..... I'm so tempted to clear everything away today but I probably won't - chicken! ... it seems silly having it up until Monday and then having to face it at the start of a busy week ... but the child in me still wants to keep the smell of pine needles in the house and the air of the holidays still around.

It's sad too to put away all the cards, but I love having one last read of everyone's messages, reply to a couple more emails and get the place ready for the new session of classes, bookings and creative projects to tackle.  

Here's a lovely song from 4 gorgeous women - T with the Maggies are Mairead from Altan, Moya from Clannad and Triona and Mairead from the Bothy Band.   Singing Mother Song

What are you doing to end the holiday?   Will you leave your tree and decorations until the last minute or did you have them cleared away on Boxing Day?