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Darwin Song Project - Karine Polwart

Mike Harding | 17:56 UK time, Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Karine Polwart writes:

You could argue there's something slightly incongruous (and a wee bit symbolic) about piling eight folkies into a big house for seven days to create songs inspired by a man for whom time was everything.

Especially so, you might think, for writers inspired by music that's evolved through centuries and generations of tinkering and forgetting, not a single craftsman's hand. 
There will be some evolving to be done with them still I'm sure, but every writer had their own hand in songs born out of that house that I'd be chuffed to have written myself.

Bellowhead's Rachael McShane fell for the pre-Beagle Darwin the dropout in her delicate 'Heavy In My Hands', whilst Chris Wood riffed on the Boys Own meets Club 18-30 wonder and turtle soup of his subsequent tropical adventures.  With his typically humane eye, Jez Lowe conjured the back story to 'Jemmy Button', a kidnapped Tierra Del Fuegan native turned London dandy and one of the side characters of the Beagle voyage.

Meantime, Mark Erelli pivoted his instantly memorable 'Kingdom Come' on the misery-making of the parasitic icnumen wasp, whilst Megson's Stu Hanna gave life to the haunting, incanting 'Mother Of My Soul', based on a Norwegian poem uncovered by the writer's friend. Google.

Indiana's Krista Detor had already had me bawling my eyes out with a lullaby to Darwin from his wife Emma, but then had us all laughing our asses off to the sardonic Bessie Smith style creationist's retort to Mr Darwin 'No Man's Gonna Make A Monkey Out Of Me'.

Emily Smith too was drawn to Emma Darwin's story in several songs and her intimate 5/4 time co-creation with Chris Wood was one of the week's tender highlights for me.

It was the way Darwin's family and home life and scientific and philosophical ideas dovetailed that really got me too. The death of his 10 year old daughter Annie cemented many of his ideas about natural selection and prompted my song 'We're All Leaving'.

But as for writing new folk classic in seven days?

Give me four billion years and I'll produce a masterpiece. No bother.


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