Songstories #12 – The Water Is Wide

This was a track on Romantic Fiction 2. A traditional Irish song, I first heard it on Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review live album, sung as a duet with Joan Baez.  I noticed it had a lot of shared lyrics and melody with Carrickfergus, one of my favourite Irish songs and resolved to do my own version.

I wasn’t sure how to do it, but was then listening to a track I’d done with Alison Tunnicliffe (then Henessy), the violinist and singer in the first version of the Innocents. We’d been thinking of doing more traditional songs, as that was her main interest, and we’d recorded versions of The Snow It Melts The Soonest and Lowlands Away.  For the latter, I’d set it in a melancholy reverb-drenched field of electric guitars with a faint tomtom sound in the backdrop. Probably influenced by some Springsteen tracks.  Alison left the band later  and we didn’t do anything public with those recordings.  I decided to use the same idea for The Water Is Wide.

The essence of the arrangement was to keep it minimal, but just having me singing it over so many verses with the same backing was going to be a bit boring, so I decided to use different singers. I’d worked with Valerie Densmore in the first lineup of the Houdini Box and she’d already played oboe on one of the other Romantic Fiction 2 songs; I’d never heard her sing, and what a beautiful voice she turned out to have. That’s her on verse 2 ‘There is a ship …’ . The harmony there was Mary Robbs, who had recently joined the Innocents to replace Alison on violin. Again I didn’t know she could sing, and was pleasantly surprised. (Since then I’ve heard her belt out Bat Out of Hell at karaoke at throatburning volume!).  The last piece of the puzzle was the Decibelles, a three-piece a capella group I’d got to know, including Karen Austin (Indigo Rose) who joined the Innocents later.  They’d sung on another track on the CD, I.O.U.  and it took them hardly any time to work out a lovely three-piece take on the verse ‘Love is handsome …’  The last verse, reprising the first, is me and Valerie. Although this came after the Wolf album, it’s probably the first track I’d ever recorded where I was fully happy with my own singing, and found what I thought was a good enough voice.

I love hearing this again because it reminds me of friends as much as because it’s a good track.

Romantic Fiction 1 and 2 are now combined as a pay-what-you-want album on Bandcamp. Please enjoy!

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