On the fringe of the battle for religious supremacy in Ireland, a clash takes place between the poet-king Suibhne and the cleric Ronan . The monk dismisses the old druid usurping his territory and his regal symbols: Suibhne will be obliged to fly through the air in a magical delirium.
Folk Roots, London, 1992, Bob Walton
'...I suspect that the Frenzy of Suibhne should more properly be regarded as contemporary art music rather than folk or roots music...the musicianship is excellent...Suibhne becomes more comfortable each time. Pretentious? Hard to tell. Remarkable? Definitely.'
On the edge of the battle for the religious dominion of Ireland, the clash between Suibhne the poet- king and Ronan the monk takes place. The new monk dismisses the old druid usurping his territory, and taking possession of his symbols and functions. His bell will induce Suibhne to flight removing him outside human society caught in a magic frenzy.
Covered with feathers, feeding on water and watercress, Suibhne is obliged to wander without respite in the woods of Ireland.
Singing his madness, appropriating himself of the language of trees and animals he goes again through the stages of the old initiation way.
celtic and bardic harps, harmonium, mouth organ, psaltery, keyboards, vocals
uilleann pipes, highland bagpipe, dulcimer, harmonium, psaltery, bodhran, tin and low whistles, keyboards, jew's harp, voice
voice, violin, cello, small percussions
acoustic and electric guitars, bouzouki, pedal bass, harmonium, small percussions, voice
Special thanks to
Matteo Avagliano, Melita Cataldi, Sandro Chia, Sandro Gentili, Seamus Heney,, Enrica Salvaneschi
And for their musical support Aldo Mugnai & Piero Bubbico
Music by Corsi, Daneo, Greppi, Sabatini except* Traditional Original Sampling by Whisky Trail
Cover painting by Sandro Chia
Photo by Paolo Nannini
Illustrations by Valentina Corsi
Recorded by Stefano Lugli at Planet Sound, Bottai-Firenze, between 1989-1991
Mixed at Studio Emme, Calenzano-Firenze, May 1992
Editing and Re-mastering in Firenze by Mario Fabiani at Idea-Suono Studios, April 1998
Editions: Fanzines 1999
1. The Trespasser
High up on the hill, Ronan Finn , the monk marks the boundaries of his new monastery.
One can see his black figure from miles away silhouetted against the sky, as he directs the new works. The great bell is placed on the tower and swings on its axis, the powerful strokes of the bronze bell pour forth in deafening intensity breaking banks and flooding with sound the whole territory of Dal Araidhe.
2. The Shout
Suibhne, son of Colman Chuar and powerful king of that territory, is woken up by the strident sharp peals of the bell; he is very angry and gets ready to issue his cry. He grabs the great bagpipe and ties it around his waist. The powerful bag enlarges, fills with air, the well placed seams distend, the tongues tremble and vibrate like the wings of a heron; sound of the wind on a mountain top, bellow of a deer in the tempest, singing of stones: all this is his cry.
Then the monk's book, his precious Psalter finely chased with miniatures is thrown into the small fresh water lake.
However after a day and a night, an otter plunges into the deep waters of the lake and returns to Ronan the book undamaged.
3. The Battle
Suibhne arrived in the centre of the battle where he eventually lost his reason and his intellect. He arrived early, before anyone else. He was at the head of his army and his army was powerful and menacing, like clouds loaded with hail. Suibhne arrived running; he was completely naked and exceedingly angry. He arrived in front of Ronan who, with his eight psalmists, was blessing his armies. Suibhne threw a sharp, cutting arrow against the monk but the shaft struck only his small bell that was hanging around his neck and bounced high up in the air. Then Ronan admonished him sharply and cursed him. This is what he said: that he may be a bird among other birds, naked, for ever.
Then the two armies clashed, and the sounds were those of a herd of stags. They bellowed mightily three times and the sounds filled the clouds in the sky. Suibhne lifted his head up and a dark wave came over him. He was visited by a dreadful frenzy, a trembling of the fingers, the legs, the heart. His sight darkened, his weapons fell from his powerless hands and he disappeared in the air like a bird, taken over by madness and a magic frenzy.
Suibhne leaped in the air lightly, high up and started to fly. He ran toward the top of the trees without rest, exhausted without listening to sound or voice.
Crazy and devoid of reason, he wanders everywhere, exploring plains, countryside, naked mountains. Suddenly there is a painful thrust in his chest, a flash of light in his eyes, then darkness comes over and he sees no more.
6. The Flight
To wake up is like coming out of a hard, slow, painful tunnel. Suibhne brings his hands to his face: Feathers. Soft feathers. He picks himself up ready to get up, but stumbles, falls down, gets up again: he has disgusting claws instead of feet, wings instead of arms. He spreads his wings their whole length, moves them inexpertly, stumbles over his new body which he doesn't know how to use, tries to fly without falling down and crashing to the earth. Vertigo comes upon him, he shivers caught by the crazy sound of the wind. The landscape changes continuously like chords spreading swiftly in the air. Places and object are tiny but incredibly sharp on the ground, you can see the small fox crunching on a sharp bone.
Suibhne is nearly mad, he is hanging on the branch of a yew tree: he is exausted. While he is resting Eoran sees him. Eoran the beautiful: Eoran who has been his wife when he was rich and lucky.
Welcome to the thou guiless mad one
Thou art most welcome of the men of the earth
Though at ease am I my body is wasted
Since the day I heard of thy ruin
I would fain that we were together
And that feathers might grow on our bodies
In light and darkness I would wander
With thee both day and night
8. Madmen Dancing
Happy Glen Bolcain: a valley protected from the winds, the home of madmen. All the mad people of Ireland gathered there. It is the perfect meeting place as it gives great pleasure.
Mad people dance there, in groups.
9. Suibhne's Dance
Suibhne is dancing in the middle of the glade. He is alone. The others are watching him from the side of a circle. He dances breathlessly, the dance gets faster and more violent as the imaginary flames get higher and higher.
10. Fools Parading
The madmen laugh, they cackle, their eyes roll in their sockets, they shout like as possessed.
Water of bright Glenn Bolcain listening to its many birds
Its sheltering holly and its hazels
Its leaves its brambles its acorns its delicious fresh berries
Its nuts its refreshing sloes
Water of bright Glen Bolcain
Listening to its many birds
Its sheltering holly and its hazels
Its leaves its brambles its acorns
Its delicious fresh berries
Its nuts its refreshing sloes
11. The Mill
Never should he have left Glen Bolcain, home of many apple trees that protected his head, but he was too attracted by the mill, that white busy forge, and the swirling of the wind-vanes as they wheeled faster and faster. He was also attracted by the attention the old guardian bestowed upon him: every day she invited him to come, she would flatter him with many courtesies, she would prepare for him delicious food which she served him in small delicate morsels. Every day the woman would dare him until one day she provoked him. Then Suibhne started to jump. The old woman watched carefully then leaped too. Immediately Suibhne took another leap, jumped over the mill and outside. The old woman did likewise. Finally Suibhne stopped, exhausted, hungry and crazed on the top of a high ivy covered branch: a profound sadness came over him.
My dark night has come round again
The world goes on but I return
To haunt myself I freeze and burn
I am the bare figure of pain
Frost crystals and level ice
The scourging snow the male voiced storm
Assist at my requiem, my heart goes cold
Over starlit moors and plains
Plucking his watercress
To his thorny cold lonely den
The shadow of that Sweeney goes
With watercress for his herds
The freezing water for his meal
Bushes for companions hillside for his bed
The harper who lulled me to rest
Where is his music now
My people too my kith and kin
Where did their affection go
In my heyday on horseback
I rode high into my own
Now my memory throws me down suddenly
Fear not the whistling sound of the wind
Through a tunnel of trees in the fall
Fear not the small feathers you left
On the twigs of a spiky yew tree
And fear not the branches that hold
Your long streaming hair while you are fleeing
The curse of an impotent monk
Fear not to find yourself bare and unborn
Like a wild egg before it is hatched
Suibhne is afraid of his own shadow, he wanders aimlessly from one place to the next, shaken by doubts, left to himself, shivering and delirious. He floats for hours held up by the wind currents as in a dream. For days he perches on a branch looking in front of him with a glazed eye, an empty head, dulled by cold and frost. At times he wakes up with a start at a sound, and flies off, frightened, fluttering.
15. The Hag
Suibhne is roaming aimlessly. He hears again the insistent voice of the old woman.
He is the string of an instrument: in tension, high sounding. The old wrinkled hag is the plectrum striking him, the nail that touches him, pinches him, whips him, the tip of the finger that plays an arpeggio, that hooks him and tears him apart while striking him. Suibhne is the string of the instrument, he vibrates, he trembles. The hag is the finger that touches him, pinches, hurts, skims lightly, tickles, handles. Under such striking knocks, Suibhne echoes, resounds, roars, vibrates, screeches,: the jumping hag obliges him to go on jumping too, until he gathers himself into the tiniest knot, and lets himself be lifted up into the sky, with his wings folded under him.
I'm gliding in the fresh air at the edge of my dream
Riding the clouds and suspended on my wings
Unearthly sweetness shakes my breast
Dizziness strips my senses
I feel I'm nothing but a kite
Three mighty shouts did sound
The armies clashed and roared
Just like a heard of stags bellowing war cries
Vertigo hysteria unsteadiness giddiness took me away
I feel I am nothing but a bird
I know I'm flying but at the same time I'm still
Passing from darkness through the flash of lightness
From the Carn Cornan Peak to the summit of Crota Cliach
I feel the wind holding me
At times a pervasive light scent evokes in his memory flashes of light, a thin line on the horizon brings to his mind the waiting armies ready to enter battle and he thinks he can smell the steaming horses.
At times the sound of hunting horns in the morning mist is enough to bring to his mind fragments of remembered things. Or the flutter of wings evokes the perfumed mead drunk in pleasant company and the feel of silk against his chest.
18. The Warrior
Crazy, hallucinated, luminous Suibhne rides fiery horses brought to him from far off lands. He prepares for battle, ties around his waistline the shield and the sharp arrows and proceeds to fight imaginary battles, throwing himself in the fray. He is heading thirty men, alone, he calls his men to counter-attack, he encourages them: but when he turns around, no one is there.
19. Five heads
Once I passed over Sliah Fuaid on a dark black gloomy night
On the hill I beheld five heads having been cut off in one place
Said one of them of a sudden harsh was the voice to me
A madman of Ulster follow him so that you drive him before you to the sea
I sped before them along the path and I set not foot on the ground
Both goat head and dog head then began to curse
Suibhne never stopped flying: He flew day and night until he could move no more, then he dropped, exhausted, in the thickest part of a forest.
20. The Labyrinth
Murmurs, rustlings hide an insistent sound, the round sound of a drone. The wind carries it and widens it into space. The sound comes to life, varies, moves, modulates, implodes, explodes grinds and sends out notes squeezed and pulverized into complex figures. The great bagpipe plays. Suibhne gets up and listens. The sounds go by and one by one Suibhne puts them together, puts them in order, reconstructs bits, fragments, pieces of a puzzle, slivers, until the great tangled skein becomes a musical score. The drones keep on grinding their notes Suibhne unravels the skein and finds the thread of the hidden musical score, he can proceed then through all the paths and arrive to the road that takes him out of the labyrinth.
21. Secret Alphabets
Suibhne goes from branch to branch learning the names of every branch and every tree. He goes through the wood and winds its branches on the highest part of the birch tree, he is on top of a leafy oak, he admires the colour of the alder, the flowering valerian, he tastes the watercress growing near a rich spring. He hides under a holly and hears one by one the whispering poplar leaves. Thus Suibhne orders what is scattered and knows each plant and knows the secret letter belonging to each tree, the real level of each musical note. Suibhne sees the salmon streams, he dives and floats quietly in the waves of the sea, swims in the currents of the river observes the expanse of the horizon and the merry-go-round of the stars reflecting in it. He washes in the clear cool water of the stream that comes straight from deep down, takes a long cool swallow in the palm of his hand, plunges his head in deep: discovers the best fountain of Leithed Lan, the fountain of Dun Mail.
22. The Stags
Suibhne learns wisdom from the stags, their strength, their music. From the top of a hill he calls his deer and they answer, each as he calls their name:
The stag of lofty Sliabh Ebhlinne
The stag of sharp Sliabh Fuhaid
The stag of Ealla the stag of Orbhraidhe
The fierce stag of Loch Lain
The stag of Shimhne the stag of Larne
The stag of Line of the mantles
The stag of Cuilhgne the stag of Conachail
The stag of Bairenn of two peaks
Oh mother of this heard thy coat has become gray
There is no stag after thee without two score antler-points
23. The Last Leap
Silence had just cancelled the sound of beating hoofs, when from the mill came forth the most dreadful shrieks and wheezes. The old wrinkled hag, the witch comes out from the back of the millstone. She wraps her clothes around her swollen stomach and then throws her rags away in lascivious attitudes she gnaws her teeth, she rolls her long skirts out, to show her horrid naked, flaccid flesh. She stamps her feet raising clouds of white flour. She provokes Suibhne showing him her wrinkled, flaccid breasts, she shrieks at him, insults him, reminds him of his past folly: "Show us a leap, like you did before" Then their bodies clash with great noise both throwing themselves into tremendous leaps.
Suibhne takes the first leap, then another, then another always faster, the old hag imitates him, jumping higher and higher, higher than smoke raising. Their bodies clash with great noise, they press to and against each other they clash again and wriggling, rocked in an uneasy embrace, they fall to the ground and roll over panting heavily. They bounce from one side of the hill to the other, they take tremendous leaps. They are insatiable and tireless until Suibhne takes a tremendous leap to the top of Dun Sobairce. The old hag follows likewise, she takes the same bound but crashes against the cliff over the foamy sea with a tremendous noise. Then her body broke into hundred of little pieces, slivers of tattered flesh.
24. The Millstone
High above, the new miller is watching. The vanes of the immense windmill project an enormous moving shadow, as it goes on grinding.
Suibhne follows the perpetual movement: he knows he will never go back, but will keep on, go on forever higher and higher, entering into the fragile furrows designed by the spiral which moves in regular revolutions made by the enormous stone of the cosmic windmill that is over the sky of Ireland.
And Suibhne, new miller of the great cosmic mill, watching from above, starts telling his story...