Four of the songs were original compositions of mine, with an original instrumental by Ralf and a collaboration between us. The group name we used was Areesh which is derived from the Gaelic word arís which means 'again' or 'repeat'. The name was apt for a number of reasons. I was drawing from Celtic myths and legends for inspiration for what was originally intended to be a much larger project involving the re-telling of two of the great stories - The Children of Lir and Oisín's (pr: Usheen's) sojourn in Tír na nÓg (pr: teer na nogue - rhymes with vogue). This sense of repetition appealed to me.
The Children of Lir
In Irish mythology The Children of Lir were transformed into swans for 900 years. In that time they spent 300 years in a lake and there they sang songs of such power and beauty that there was peace in the land; all who heard were cured of ills and forgot their unhappiness and grievances. All the more magical as swans are mute! My song Bird Song (later adapted and re-written as Big Wing) is an evocative, uplifting piece expressing the transformative influence of song and beauty and was inspired by the story of the children, tho’ they set the bar pretty high for the rest of us songwriters! The song The Waltz of the Wind and the Waters is the opening track on that album and outlines the story of the children but unfortunately these are the only two tracks to make it through to the final recording re;ating to the Lir myth.
Usheen in Tír na nÓg
Tír na nÓg (Land of the Young) is another important part of Irish legend. This Celtic Shangri-La is a place where one never grows old and everything is perfect.
The mythical bard Oisín (pronounced Usheen) once travelled to Tír na nÓg and two songs on this album touch on aspects of his adventures. The Seduction of Usheen is a fantasy that he was seduced by a sorceress in his dreams. She was the daughter of the king of Tír na nÓg and, at her father’s behest, was trying to get Usheen to go with her to that magical kingdom by making him fall in love with her before they actually met. The words in Gaelic at the beginning translate as “Usheen is dreaming, is dreaming, is dreaming in the land, in the land between Yes and No”.
Usheen did go but, finding the perfection of life there somewhat predictable and missing his friends, he returned to the land of the mortals. He discovered that many hundreds of human years had elapsed and the old ways and all his companions were long gone. The spoken word piece The Harp Unstrung (with music by Ralf Schmidt) imagines that when Oisin left Tír na nÓg, his harp remained behind – never to be played again. Maire Nicholson featured this piece on her ABC radio show some time ago. When he touched the earth he was an old, old man and spent his last days recalling and re-telling the stories of his time.
The song Wings of Angels was also on the Song Shall Arise album - and the set was rounded out by Ralf's instrumental The Long Road Home. Wings of Angels, by the way, is the most popular song I have written according to Jango Radio with more fans liking it than all my other songs put together.
The word Areesh was also appealing because it sounds a bit like Irish - but with an accent. True story: a local Dutch folk dj - Hank de Weerd - played this disc when it was first released and he said on air - "the group is called Irish but they spell it Areesh"!
In the event, the recording was a long and frought business due to the absence of a band and my limited skills on guitar as well as a lack of money. Without Ralf's versatility the album couldn't have been made, however. He contributed bass, guitar and harmonica to the stand-out track Wings of Angels and wrote the violin part. Another 6 or 7 songs which were intended for the album either didn't get written - or finished - or recorded if they fell below par.