It is one of the great pleasures of my life when other people sing the songs I write.
I am absolutely in love with Bridie Jackson & The Arbour‘s recording of “Scarecrow”. The subject of the song suits Bridie’s voice so well – far better than mine!
My background is in folk music. Mostly Scottish, Irish, English and North American. They all have their moments of singular beauty, particularly when they overlap, Irish immigrant songs about travelling to America are a good example of this. Tunes about uprooting oneself carry so much emotion, there is a mix of nostalgia for the past and expectancy/optimism/fear for the future. A sense of place is very important, but also placelessness.
When I wrote the song I wanted the geography to be detailed but simultaneously nonspecific (even confused), or possibly a homogenized location drawn from elements of all the aforementioned countries. There are mentions of plants that do not cohabit (fern and long-leaf pine for instance). Fern is special to me as it holds early memories of my grandfather’s house on the Isle Of Skye, where I’d wade through acres of the stuff as a child, its rough leaves coming up to my chest, as exhausting as walking through deep water. Long-Leaf pine is significant as it’s what poor people’s coffins were mostly made out of in the USA at the end of the nineteenth century (I did quite a bit of reading into this while fact-checking my metaphors!). The seasons are also mixed up (it is simultaneously winter and autumn). In the song we find the lost soul of a young bride looking at a scarecrow dressed in her wedding gown. I figured both time and place probably get confused when you’re dead.
The most important thing for me was to write a story where there was no story. Too often folk songs feature characters who are the victims of extreme circumstances, but too often in real life we are the victims of a complete lack of extreme circumstances. This dead narrator was not killed by a jealous lover or a sinking ship or an ancient prophesy or a war. She’s just one of those people who dies of nothing.
I had a school friend who died suddenly aged eighteen. No one knew why. It happened instantly – there was nothing to blame, nothing to hate. It had a profound effect on everyone in my school year. Retrospectively it is where I draw the line between my childhood and adulthood. The moment I heard the news is one I have revisited many times in songs, in all sorts of ways, some direct and some less so. This is the most recent example.
I can’t imagine any singer who can pack all that into a single vocal delivery better than Bridie Jackson. I am very lucky.