Song and Memory

The Boxties’ repertoire is eclectic – songs from Ireland, England, Canada, Samoa, folk and gospel, a bit of tango and who knows what else as their range expands.

What leads singers to a particular song (when they’re not writing their own, of course)? 

It’s a frequently query in interviews with musicians, and often the answer has something to do with the memory of special experiences, particularly those of childhood.

But not always.

Members of the Boxties reflected on the question of whether particular songs reminded them of different times and places, or special memories, and came up with a variety of responses.


For me every song comes with some kind of attachment. I first learnt Bold Riley sitting around the campsite at Woodford (folk festival) just over a year ago and instantly fell in love with it. At that time, Boxties was not even an idea yet, but I remember thinking that we had to perform this song and Ashreya had to sing the lead. When we sing Bold Riley now, I think about that time and not only is it an amazing reminder of how far we’ve come in a year, but it also makes me think of how perfectly things can work out if you want them to.


Mostly the answer to this question is no. I don’t know why, but I feel incredibly in the present in Boxties when we sing and play. My mind doesn’t call on my memory in any strong way. I feel moved all the time, but those feelings feel like they are created right there and then, as opposed to being attached to a previous experience.

I find myself visualising places and scenes, but they are purely fictional places I know I’ve never been. Sometimes I imagine things like smells or sounds or feelings like the wind on my face. But these aren’t my own memories in any specific way (because of course I have actually felt the wind on my face numerous times).

The only exception so far is Prairie Town where (fortunately and unfortunately) I do have experiences I have lived through, and which tend to find their way to the surface when we sing it. 


(In which Annie derives a systematic approach to the question of what draws her to a particular song)

The Seven Stages of Falling in Love with a Boxties Song

(Cases in point: Arlington, Seven Bridges Road, Prairie Town)

  1. Hearing the song
  2. Feeling like it reminds you of something, possibly from childhood
  3. Lying awake at night trying to remember what
  4. Running the lyrics through your head, over, and over, and over
  5. Increasing vividness of visual imagery
  6. Realisation that you didnt see these things in person
  7. Heightened appreciation for lyrical and musical poetry of a song  

Which reminds me, we also need to do Away But Never Gone


Both Anachie Gordon and I Know My Love evoke strong memories of childhood. Mum used to play a lot of traditional Irish tunes around the house and I guess that has filtered through into my life as a musician. I’m having a particularly good time learning I Know My Love as I used to pretend as a 10-year-old that I was a member of The Corrs and dreamed of one day performing the song for an audience.

All our other songs so far were learnt in school or with the Boxties, so they don’t really remind me of another time in my life. However Prairie Town is a song that evokes a strong sense of an imagined life. Whenever I sing this song I can create a vivid image of wide fields of wheat under brilliant clear blue skies. This is such an enjoyable experience - to be able to inhabit another world, even for a brief moment, and because of this Prairie Town is always one of my favourites to sing.