Tanya Brittain: Hireth

Lost and Found

Listening Post 313. Hireth is Cornish for a species of nostalgia, akin to the Portuguese saudade, that expresses insatiable yearning. On her first solo album, singer-songwriter Tanya Brittain comes magnificently close to quenching this singular thirst. Across 10 tracks she captures pregnant moments on the brink of change; waltzes us back to lost golden ages of song, from the English Renaissance to the 1960s folk revival; and promotes a language that’s been on the precipice of extinction since the eighteenth century but refuses to die. Born in South Yorkshire of Breton ancestry, Brittain instantly felt at home on moving to Cornwall in 2006 (Breton and Cornish are one another’s nearest linguistic kin); she learned Cornish, started a bilingual English-Cornish career (books, articles, lyrics) and became half of the award-winning folk duo The Changing Room. Hireth sparkles with deft accompaniment, crisp new songs, some well-chosen traditional numbers and Brittain’s voice, comforting even in threat mode. In Just Go Quietly she zooms in on a relationship rupturing with invocations of murder (video 1). Oh Alas shows a woman in love hesitating to declare herself (video 2). The breakup scene lasts long enough for one last spin in Genev Dons (Dance with Me, video 3); while in Dy Sul Vyttin (Sunday Morning, video 4) a woman peacefully watches her lover as he sleeps. Arguably the album’s defining track, Girl on the Northern Line tells of a child whose parents accidently leave her on a train, a brief experience that becomes a lasting life-as-a-journey trope (video 5). From interludes on the razor’s edge between before and after, Brittain fashions transitions spacious enough for her characters and listeners alike to get lost. In her captivating way, she suggests that those who have never discovered something essential in themselves while straying into unknown territory might profit, now and then, from taking a wrong turn. (Trelawny’s Reach)

Language note: There are six living Celtic languages. Cornish belongs to the Brittonic branch, which also includes Breton (mutually intelligible with Cornish until the Middle Ages) and Welsh. The concept of hireth also appears in Welsh (hiraeth) and Breton (hiraezh). The Goidelic branch of the Celtic languages embraces Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx.

Tanya Brittain: Hireth
Tanya Brittain: Vocals, piano, organ
Alan Pengelly: Piano accordion
Mark Barnwell: Guitar, bouzouki
Annie Baylis: Violin
Mattie Foulds: Percussion
Ben Nicholls: Double bass, bass guitar

 

 

Just Go Quietly
Lyrics & music: Tanya Brittain


Don’t underestimate what I can do for you/Don’t push me, don’t take me for a fool
‘Cos I can kill you with a word
/There’ll be murder in the third
And you’ll go quietly 

You’ll find me laid bare in all my glory/In the pages of a well written story
You think it’s funny? Think again honey
‘Cos you’ll go quietly 

Don’t judge a book by the cover/Don’t judge a love by the lover
I’m a dark horse, and a strange force/And you’ll go quietly 

So, don’t worry about the girl in front of you/Just go, I’ve got better things to do
Things you don’t need to know
/Faces I don’t need to show
Or you’ll go quietly
/Please go quietly … just go quietly 

 

Oh Alas
Lyrics & music: Traditional

Oh! Alas, I am in love/My mind I cannot tell, when we are together 

Oh! Alas, I am in love, and cannot speake it
/My mind I dare not move nor ne’er can break it
He doth so farre excel all and each other/My mind I cannot tell, when we are together

But Ile take heart to me, I will reveale it
/Ile try his constancy, Ile not conceal it
But alas, but alas, I doe discover/I cannot break my mind, when we are together 

The more I strive to hide, the more it flameth/These pains I cannot bide, my wits lameth
And it hidden be, will burn for ever/
Unlesse I speake my mind, when we are together 

I think ’twere good I tride, and went to prove him
/And lay all feare aside, stoutly to move him
But when I am going to speake, my tongue doth quiver/ And will not break my minde, when we are together

 

Genev Dons / Dance with Me (Miss Havisham’s Lament)
Lyrics & music: Tanya Brittain

On the album, Brittain’s Cornish waltz is also reprised in English as a bonus track, under the title Dance with Me (Miss Havisham’s Lament), the parenthetical reference to the character from Dickens’ Great Expectations who inspired the lyrics.

(From the Cornish lyrics)
Once upon a time I dared to dream/He came to me and loved me as if I was a queen
Now days and weeks and years mean nothing to me/Such a tragedy
Get out of my head, nothing has changed/Not even the hands on the clock rearrange
Go back where you came from, I bid you farewell/I hope you burn in hell

But you can dance with me/Nothing’s ever quite what it seems
Dance with me/In the castle of my broken dreams
Like moths around a flame/You just keep coming back again
Whatever your motive may be/Dance with me

Do you know how broken heart feels/Could you handle the pain and the hand that fate deals
Let me look at you now if I may/And all that life has worn away
Get out of my hair go out and play/Look but don’t touch, ‘cos her heart will betray
Go back where you came from, I bid you farewell/Your dreams can burn in hell

But you can dance with me/Nothing’s ever quite what it seems
Dance with me/In the castle of my broken dreams
Like moths around a flame/You just keep coming back again
Whatever your motive may be/Dance with me

Could there be a crueler fate/Than to make my baying public wait?
No sun upon my yellow skin/While I’m without him
Get out of my house, it’s all just a game/Pocket by nature and pocket by name
Go back where you came from, I bid you farewell/I’d rather burn in hell

 

Dy Sul Vyttin / Sunday Morning
Lyrics & music: Traditional

(From the Cornish lyrics)
Sunday morning, you in my bed/Daylight has just broken
In this moment you are sleeping/Warm and snug on my chest
Lost in some far-off world/That awakens far out of sight

I love you/You are the guardian of all my being

I check my watch/Eight hours have already passed
Do I wake you with my kiss?/Do I bring you back home into my life?
Do I wake you? Oh, no, no/This precious moment will not last

 

Girl on the Northern Line
Lyrics & music: Tanya Brittain

When I was nine
/My parents left me on a train on the Northern Line
And I’m still travelling

Passengers they come and go, some they stay a while
Some leave early way too soon, some go the extra mile 

When I was sixteen/As full of life and as beautiful as I’ve ever been
I went travelling


Passengers they come and go, some they stay a while
Some leave early way too soon, some go the extra mile 

Thursday’s child has far to go
/Much further than you’ll ever know, and I’m still travelling
I’m the girl, on the train/Destination life, there and back again
I’m the girl, on the underground/I’m lost and found, but I’m still travelling 

Into the night/I saw the pyramids, the deserts and the Northern Lights
And I’m still travelling

Passengers they come and go, some they stay a while
Some leave early way too soon, some go the extra mile 

 


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