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GUEST,Corwen Broch Origins: The Great Silkie (68* d) RE: Origins: The Great Silkie 21 Nov 18

We recorded the Play O'de Lathie Odivere version of this recently on our CD Fishe or Fowle, along with various other Selkie pieces (Seal Woman's Lament, Seal Woman's Sea Song etc).

We anglicised the dialect somewhat, singing broad Scots in an English accent just sounds wrong, but we did it in its full length, 93 verses, 25 minutes. We used the Sinclair tune collected by Otto Andersson.

Although its often claimed to be a Victorian forgery, I suspect its not, or at least not just that. The piece is divided into 5 parts, and the dialect of each varies exactly as you would expect if it were collected from various singers in fragments. Dialect is very local in Orkney, and would have been more so in the 19th century, and the piece reflects this.

The piece makes sense, but still follows ballad logic and does not, for instance, include details such as the heroine's name which I suspect a Victorian forger would have added.

There is a tradition of performance called a 'foy' in Orkney, which is defined in the Orkney Dictionary as an entertainment consisting of readings and music. The primary entertainment at a foy is a reading, by several people, of a text somewhat like a play text. It is very like a read through of a play, sometimes containing songs, and occasionally symbolic items of costume, but not acted in any way (the performers usually sitting around on chairs on stage). This is a written literary art-form. The Odivere text bears a great similarity to other foy texts and I suspect was at some point a composed foy which has cross fertilised with oral tradition, inspired by it and inspiring it. One could suspect a distant linkage with ring-dance traditions from Iceland and the Faroe islands as well as earlier forms of entertainment from elsewhere in the UK.

The primary source for Odivere cited by Traill-Dennison, a minister's wife called Mrs Hiddleston, was a real person with a known interest in folklore and quite well known locally for her musical skills. If Odivere was composed, then it was by her, in which case a piece of folk culture composed 170 years ago by someone inside that tradition is still 'genuine' as far as I'm concerned.

Ultimately having read a lot of genuine and Victorian ballads Odivere simply feels authentic, though possible slightly improved, rather than having the heavy fingerprint of Victorian composition upon it.

Anyhow it's simply a masterpiece of both poetry and storytelling, wherever it came from.

You can read our rendering into singable English here:

Or you can hear it here:

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