LIANE HANSEN, host:
From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.
Canadian musician Loreena McKennitt became smitten with Celtic music in the late '70s. But it wasn't until she visited an exhibition of Celtic artifacts in Venice 20 years later that she began to appreciate the richness of Celtic culture. That's when she learned about Celtic history from the inner reaches of Mongolia to the Greek islands, from Turkey to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.
Loreena McKennitt communicates her love of Celtic tradition through her music. The song "Caravanserai" is an example. It originated in Turkey where 10,000 Celts were thought to have lived in the 3rd century.
(Soundbite of song, "Caravanserai")
Ms. LOREENA McKENNITT (Singer): (Singing) We crossed the river beds all etched in stone, and up the mighty mountains ever known beyond the valleys in the searing heat, until we reached the caravanserai.
HANSEN: "Caravanserai" appears on Loreena McKinnett's recording "Ancient Muse." But the version you just heard comes from her new release, "Nights from the Alhambra," which preserves a concert she gave in Spain's Alhambra Palace.
And we are privileged to have Loreena McKinnett and her band here for a live performance in Studio 4A.
Welcome to you.
Ms. McKENNITT: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.
HANSEN: A small question about "Caravanserai." You've written it. It has Silk Road influences. Did it surprise you that the Celts' influence was so widespread?
Ms. McKENNITT: They never formed themselves into, let's say, a nation. They were really a vast collection of tribes that have fanned out. So with the Celts, their influence would have been really just one more of many cultural groups that were coming and going in this geography at that period of time.
HANSEN: There's a song you're going to play for us, "Bonny Portmore," which actually does come from Ireland. What would you like to tell us about it before we hear it?
Ms. McKENNITT: Well, what's interesting thing about "Bonny Portmore" - Ireland, as was much of Europe, heavily forested at one time. But in Ireland's situation, ship building developed in the north, up around Belfast. And once that started, then a lot of the forest in Ireland started disappearing in order to support that ship building. So this song focuses on that corner of Irish history. The other thing, the Celts had a deep love and reverence for trees. In fact, some of them felt that the souls of their ancestors were embodied in the trees because in some ways they're almost like silent witnesses to history as it goes by.
HANSEN: Let's hear the song.
(Soundbite of song, "Bonny Portmore")
Ms. McKENNITT: (Singing) O bonny Portmore, you shine where you stand and the more I think on you the more I think long. If I had you now as I had once before all the lords in Old England would not purchase Portmore. O bonny Portmore, I am sorry to see such a woeful destruction of your ornament tree. For it stood on your shore for many's the long day till the long boats from Antrim came to float it away.
O bonny Portmore, you shine where you stand and the more I think on you the more I think long. If I had you now as I had once before all the Lords of Old England would not purchase Portmore. All the birds in the forest they bitterly weep. Saying where shall we shelter or where shall we sleep? For the oak and the ash they all cutten down. And the walls of Bonny Portmore are all down to the ground.
O Bonny Portmore you shine where you stand. And the more I think on you the more I think long. If I had you now as I had once before. All the lords in Old England would not purchase Portmore.
HANSEN: "Bonny Portmore," performed by Loreena McKennitt. Would you like to introduce the members of your band that are here?
Ms. McKENNITT: Yes. Yes. On cello, I have Caroline Lavelle from Britain, and Hugh Marsh on fiddle from Canada, and Brian Hughes on guitars. He originally lived in Canada. Now, he's living in Los Angeles. So that's my three musical companions.
HANSEN: I was going to say perhaps I should refer to them as musical companions…
(Soundbite of laughter)
HANSEN: …rather than…
Ms. McKENNITT: No problem.
HANSEN: …rather than your band. Next, you're going to play a tune called "Stolen Child." Now, this is a song that goes back to your very first recording…
Ms. McKENNITT: Yes.
Ms. McKENNITT: Yes.
HANSEN: How does this fit in with the others?
Ms. McKENNITT: I went rummaging around some of W.B. Yeats material and came up with the "Stolen Child." What's interesting about W.B. Yeats, he was very, very infatuated with the Celtic mythology. And, in fact, mythology that expanded past the Celts. And he is believed to be one of small group of people in Ireland at that time that through the rediscovering of the Irish heritage in bringing that forward to the people at the time, reacquainting their sense of identity. But then, actually, went on to fuel the push that occurred in Ireland in the early 1900s towards their self determination that led up to a civil war and then the partition of (unintelligible) from the rest.
HANSEN: "Stolen Child."
(Soundbite of song, "Stolen Child")
Ms. McKENNITT: (Singing) Where dips the rocky highland of sleuth wood in the lake. There lies a leafy island, where flapping herons wake. The drowsy water rats. There we've hid our fairy vats full of berries and of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, o human child. To the waters and the wild with a fairy, hand in hand. For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.
Where the wave of moonlight glosses. The dim gray sands with light by far off by furthest rosses. We foot it all the night, weaving olden dances. Mingling hands and mingling glances till the moon has taken flight to and fro we leap. And chase the frothy bubbles, while the world is full of troubles and is anxious in its sleep.
Come away, oh human child. To the waters and the wild with a fairy, hand in hand. For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.
Away with us he's going, the solemned eyed. He'll hear no more the lowing of the calves on the warm hillside. Or the kettle on the hob, sing peace unto his breast. Or see the brown mice bob, round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child, to the waters and the wild with a fairy hand in hand for the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.
HANSEN: "Stolen Child" performed by Loreena McKennitt and her musical companions.
I'm not sure Yeats could have envisioned his works set to a Fender Stratocaster.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. McKENNITT: Well, it seemed because, I mean, when it comes to that fellow, I've had - he had many thoughts about it. And it's been a very deliberate thing to introduce an electric guitar to it because part of my quest has been to reach into history and find those relevant things and bring it to a contemporary position. Some of the sentiments that he's speaking about that are really timeless and saying, you know, the world is full of weeping, more than we can understand, those hard places, those harsh moments. And that it isn't always pretty and comfortable and so on.
HANSEN: You're going to leave us with the song called "Penelope." This was actually influenced by a trip to Greece.
Ms. McKENNITT: This one - I went to an island called Hills, and I stayed in this garden house that was sitting in the middle of this orange orchard and I was just infused with these blossoms.
And I would listen an audio recording of Homer's "Odyssey," and I was startled to find that in Homer, he had himself perhaps been in Hills. And that led me to create a song that spoke to some one going away. It could be a loved one that's been lost forever. It could be people who immigrate to another place. So I waned to write something that captured the sentiment of when someone goes away.
HANSEN: Before you play, I'd like to, first of all, thank our producer Christine Arrowsmith(ph) and our engineers here in 4A - Drew Reynolds and Rob Byers, and tell people that Loreena McKennitt's "Nights from the Alhambra" is available on Verve Records.
And to thank you all for coming in and playing for us today in Studio 4A.
Ms. McKENNITT: Thank you. It has been a great pleasure.
(Soundbite of song, "Penelope's Song")
Ms. McKENNITT: (Singing) Now that the time has come, soon gone is the day. There upon some distant shore, you'll hear me say. Long as the day in the summer time, deep as the wine dark sea. I'll keep your heart with mine till you come to me.
There like a bird I'd fly, high through the air. Reaching for the sun's full rays, only to find you there me. And in the night when our dreams are still or when the wind calls free. I'll keep your heart with mine, till you come to me.
Now that the time has come, soon gone is the day. There upon some distant shore, you'll hear me say. Long as the day in the summer time, deep as the wine dark sea. I'll keep your heart with mine, till you come to me.
HANSEN: You can relive Loreena McKennitt's performance in Studio 4A at npr.org/music.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.