Cymru

Janet Russell

I used to listen to a show called The Thistle and Shamrock on NPR from the mid-80s on through to the late 90s, when the local station stopped carrying the show. Every week, Fiona Ritchie would offer up the most wonderful music from the Celtic world, and I was so in love with it all. It was this show that introduced me to Dougie MacLean, Talitha MacKenzie, Loreena McKennitt, Capercaillie, Silly Wizard, and I could go on and on.

When I became involved in the local Celtic music community, I was pointed in the direction of Horizon Records, which carried the biggest collection of Celtic Folk CDs in the area. I was able to find Dougie, Loreena, Talitha, and all the others who had become an integral part of my life. But there was one artist I never could find, and the guys at Horizon could not order, 'cos they'd never heard of her and she did not show up in their database.

Her name was Janet Russell, and she was a Scottish Traditional performer.

I had come to believe that I had gotten her name wrong and I would never be able to find her music. This grieved me no end, because Ms. Russell transformed my outlook on Celtic Folk and gave me hope that I might someday be able to sing in that way. She did this with just two songs, the two Fiona Ritchie showcased on T&S one weekend. I was lucky enough to be taping this particular show, which also featured Dougie MacLean's 'Over My Mountain' (which I made a video for because the song can't be readily found anywhere, if you don't know where to look. Even the band I used to manage, Kilmoulis, had never heard of this song, and they knew a great deal about Dougie). Listen to it and immerse yourself in its glory.



This show also introduced me to Scottish Mouth Music by way of Talitha MacKenzie and Martin Swann. But I digress.

Fiona played two songs by Janet Russell; 'Old Woman Is Watching' (aka 'Weave and Mend') and 'Band o'Shearers.' I was gobsmacked and utterly enthralled. I played that tape over and over again, learning every word of the lyrics and emulating the accent to the best of my abilities. A decade later, I began singing the songs, particularly 'Old Woman Is Watching,' at the local UU church when one of our coven elders, Lady Neith, would do the lay-led service for one of the Sabbats. 'Old Woman Is Watching' was the song I sang for my professional singer grandmother. It was also one of the songs I sang for falkenna when I was in England. Of course, I'd sing the songs a capella and came nowhere near the absolute glory of Janet Russell's musical prowess, but I did my best and I began to cherish that tape with every passing year. Cassette tape isn't known for its durability or longevity, so I was really scared that I would lose this music before I could find a proper Janet Russell album. When I could, I would make copies of the tape, and copies of those copies. Eventually, the sound became so hissy, it was pretty hopeless that I would be able to preserve it in any viable way.

Over time, the copies and copied copies broke or disappeared, and the original tape also broke. And I had resigned myself to the belief that I would never hear these songs again, nor would I be able to find any Janet Russell music at all. Goddess knows, I had tried. I even wrote to Fiona Ritchie in the hope she could help me retrieve this music or point me in the direction of a place where I could find it. But she did not remember the songs and even inquired about whether or not I had the name of the artist right.

But all that changed today. I was looking for the lyrics to 'Band o'Shearers' because I wanted to be sure I was singing parts of the song correctly. It is sung in Scottish slang, so it's a tad garbled in areas, not that I am complaining...the Scots can do no wrong (except to kill Archibald Cunningham). Imagine my utter surprise when I saw the name Janet Russell! So I began a frantic search to see if I could find the album this song was on.

I found it. I FOUND IT!!! After 26 years, I found Janet Russell and the album on which both 'Band o'Shearers' and 'Old Woman Is Watching' are featured. And I can order it. And I am going to order it. And I am going to cherish it and keep it safe for as long as I am alive and still relatively sane.

And I'm making You Tube videos for at least these two songs, so other people can hear them, and be as in awe of Ms. Russell as I have been all these long years.

Honestly, I almost cried when I found the album a few hours ago. Hell, I'm near tears writing about it now. I only wish Aunt Tudi were here to share this monumental moment with me. She was perhaps the only one who knew how marrow-deep important this was to me. It'll probably be next month before I am able to order the album, but I will beg, borrow, or steal to get the fundage before I let this opportunity pass me by. It's just too important to my existence for that to happen. That may sound extreme, but music is the single most beloved thing in my life, and songs like the one Janet Russell recorded have been instrumental in the creation of the person I am today.

Finally, I will be able to play these songs for Lady Neith, and Davis & Kathleen (2/3 of Kilmoulis), and anyone else who is curious about them, or knows anything about me and realise how intrinsic Janet Russell's music has been to my life.

I'm not sure if I've sufficiently conveyed the profound importance finding this album is, but I cannot stress enough how wondrous this day has been, simply because I did a search for lyrics. This...THIS is why I adore the Internet. I don't care what anyone says, the Internet is more than a technology habit or a minor diversion for millions. It is a miracle. An absolute miracle.

Okay, I am off to attempt not weeping with complete joy. It's unbecoming. Ha Ha!
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UNC has a NPR station that plays T & S every Sunday at 7pm. if you cannot get 91.5, then look online, I'll bet you can listen online. and ITunes has podcasts, I'll bet you can find it. I love the weekend on 91.5, Back Porch music, Prairie Home Companion and T & S.
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! I'm so thrilled for you! And to think - you'll not only get those beloved songs, you'll get MORE!! What a thrill! Seriously, Tin. Did you find it on Amazon, or what?

(While my pleasure was likely not as great, I have been thrilled to overjoyment in finding an album I'd once lost, available on Amazon. I ken yer ecstatic gibble!)
Nope, Amazon doesn't even know who she is probably. I stumbled across the album searching for the lyrics, at her label's website. They don't even charge in dollars, like the Shriek's Malicious Damage. I have to pay in pounds, which means it's probably gonna cost me right around 20 bucks, but I figure that is less than a dollar for every year I've hunted for this music, so I'm calling it a DEAL.