Vinyls bring grief

franklin

Sir John Franklin and his crew were captured in this 1847 painting by W Turner Smith called The End In Sight

Some years ago, for some reason which seemed logical at the time, I got rid of my record player and quite a few of my vinyl records. Thankfully I kept a fair number.

Last week, I got around to buying another record deck, dusting off the vinyls and re-discovering my old music. I lived in Ireland for several years, in Dublin. My parents are Irish. I’ve loved Irish music since I was in my teens. One of the vinyls I’ve played several times this week is “Promenade” by Kevin Burke and Mícheál Ó Domhnaill. I’d forgotten, of course, what a great album it is. It was made in 1978. They were young men, but at the peak of their creative powers. Masterful musicians. There are several standout tracks on the album, but the one which always ‘gets to me’ is “Lord Franklin”. It is a traditional song, which surmises the dream which Lady Franklin may have had when her husband went missing, searching for the North West Passage. Franklin and 129 men on his two ships, Erebus and Terror  were apparently stranded for three years in the frozen north, and all eventually perished in 1847.

Going onto the internet, and looking for the later achievements of Mícheál Ó Domhnaill, I was then shocked to find that he had died in 2006 from a fall at his home, at the age of 54. I was deeply saddened by this – not that I ever met him, or saw him perform live, but that song has been part of me for many years; part of my youth I suppose.

Further browsing then told me that one of Franklin’s ships had been discovered only last year, around Queen Maud Gulf. “I am delighted to announce that this year’s Victoria Strait expedition has solved one of Canada’s greatest mysteries, with the discovery of one of the two ships belonging to the Franklin Expedition,” said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The location fits in exactly with Inuit stories at the time of Franklin’s disappearance, which were discounted as the worthless ramblings of savages by the authorities of the day.

There are many versions of the song, “Lord Franklin’, but none as beautiful, to me, as the Burke / Ó Domhnaill version. Here is a live recording from 1982, with a nice introduction by Mícheál :

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4 thoughts on “Vinyls bring grief

  1. Thanks Mike. I hadn’t even heard of these guys (or the Lord Franklin story.) Their musicality is amazing. There are so many accomplished musicians like this is Ireland. In 2010 I heard the Máirtín O’Connor Trio for the first time at Womadelaide. Their technique just blew me away – yet they were so subtle, quietly-spoken and self-effacing. Such a refreshing contrast to the “Rock Gods” who windmill arms while strumming three chords in an attempt to make it look difficult!

    • Glad you enjoyed it Rob. Kevin Burke is still going strong, and is recognised as one of the greatest living Irish fiddlers. Both he and Mícheál were in one of the great Irish bands, The Bothy Band, back in the 70s. His sister Triona was also in the band. I have several of their vinyl albums. Mícheál sings some beautiful songs in Irish. Here’s one with the Bothy Band:

  2. This is gorgeous Mike – thanks so much for introducing me to it – knew the story but this is a really moving rendition of it. I camped under Mt. Erebus and Mt.Terror (named after Franklin’s ships) in Antarctica – such a tragic story.

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