Story of the Song – Iron from Stone
I had very nearly written all of the songs that would appear on the Sabbat album. Just one left to write. The whole album had been a joy to write and record, but what would that last song be? As ever, when I need inspiration I took Oscar for a walk to clear my head and think. The previous song, Time Machine, had come to me on a walk with Oscar almost in its entirety. He’s obviously quite an inspiration. It was a cloudy day, rain threatening, but that often meant a much quieter walk. I went to the old railway line that had been converted into a lovely long path that bordered the river Adur – it was our usual walk location before the pandemic. Off we went.
I’d already recorded the classic folk song Scarborough Faire and I sometimes wonder about the people who wrote these songs. Passed down over generations, changed, adapted, the original songwriter lost in the mists of time. Yet their songs are still sung and recorded sometimes hundreds of years on. Scarborough Faire is such an enigmatic and magical song. The lyrics are confusing. Sung like a spell, or a message. Telling a list of seemingly impossible tasks this poor woman has to do before ‘she’ll be a true love of mine’. There are many theories as to what the song means. One of them is that it is a list of impossible things the human woman of the song has to do before she can be with her lover, who happens to be a man from Elfland, from Faerie, a part of the song coming from a folk song called The Elfin Lover.
I liked that. So my thoughts turned to those two lovers. The verses go from ‘then she’ll be a true love of mine’ to ‘she once was a true love of mine’. So it sounds like she managed to do all of those things but then something went wrong. My thoughts then turned to the Realm of Faerie and the folklore of our interactions with that World and its peoples. It’s a vast and sometimes confusing series of tales that offer differing reasons as to why the Faerie no longer regularly interact with our World. We can see the lore in the tales of the Tuatha De Danaan who retreated through the Hollow Hills, the burial mounds of the Old People, to become the Sidhe of Irish Faerie Lore. Similar tales can be found in many other areas. So what compelled them to retreat from us?
There is other folklore surrounding the Faerie’s seeming dislike of iron. I say seeming dislike, because once more it doesn’t seem to be something that you can unequivocally say about all of Faerie, but it’s definitely there. So my songwriter/storyteller got thinking about why that might be. The reason I came up with, and the one I placed within Iron from Stone is only my own thoughts, but it did make sense to me. So I carried on pondering as I walked with Oscar that day.
I saw the original songwriter of Scarborough Faire ‘ride out one morning, just as the day was dawning’ nodding to the Sun and heading across the Moor to a standing stone that stood beside a flowing river. Two elements that also get my Awen flowing. I’ve taken my guitar many times to the stones of Merrivale to just sit and play for the Ancestors, and sometimes they have guided my hands and voice to create a new song. So that was what I was imagining. He gets down from his horse, sits back against the stone, quill in hand, starts to hum a melancholy tune (Scarborough Faire’s melody) and waits. Does he dream the rest? The Sun grows colder, a shadow falls across the stone and a hand wakes him. Eyes blinking he sees the dark silhouette of a gentleman who says he was called by the melody he was singing, and that he has a tale that might fit with that tune.
He begins to tell his tale. A tale of love and of loss.
So how does it end? Where does iron fit in with the story?
The Awen that led me down that road made me think of the Arthurian myth of the sword from the stone. Like many people, I see that now as an allegory of the blacksmith’s magical art of forming metal from ore – literally iron from stone. We had already had bronze swords, and stone axes, but it feels with the Iron Age humans really got their teeth into war on a much larger scale. Maybe the Faerie watched as we developed that technology, then turned it upon each other. Maybe that was the final straw, and they gave up on us and closed the doors on their World. I don’t know. As it says in Iron from Stone ‘I just tell stories with song’. But in my mind that’s what led to those ‘doors closing from the will we were imposing’, and thus their tale ended.
But stories last beyond the teller. And thus the song Scarborough Faire is still sung, and their tale remembered, and now hopefully that folklore has been added to just a little more.