Christine Sparks | Robin: The Robert Burns Collection, Vol. 1

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Robin: The Robert Burns Collection, Vol. 1

by Christine Sparks

"Christine Sparks has the quality of voice that Robert Burns' words deserve - both are masters of exposing raw, natural emotion, creating timeless masterpieces." Watt Nicoll, Guru to the Stars
Genre: World: Celtic
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. A Man's a Man for A' That
5:42 $0.99
2. Ca' the Yowes to the Knowes
3:58 $0.99
3. Ay Waukin O
4:29 $0.99
4. Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation
4:47 $0.99
5. Robin Shure in Hairst
3:51 $0.99
6. Ae Fond Kiss
3:25 $0.99
7. The Banks O' Doon (Third Version)
4:50 $0.99
8. Wha'll Mow Me Now
3:05 $0.99
9. The Gardener Wi' His Paidle
3:49 $0.99
10. Duncan Gray
3:49 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
The Robert Burns Collection Vol1 - "In the heart and of the heart"

Christine Sparks: Vocals, Guitar, Piano, Whistle, Bhodhran, Melodica
Stuart Farquharson: Harmonicas, Accordion
Signy Jakobsdottir: Percussion
Chris Greive: Trombones, Didgeridoo
John Sparks: Guitars, Bouzouki
Colin Cunningham: Upright Bass
Unknown Flautist: Flute

Original Arrangements by Christine Sparks
Production by John Sparks and Danny Mitchell
Recorded at The Garage
Mixed at Carlton Studios
Re-Mastered by Nick Lewis - (Brighton Mastering)


I'm reading "The lost Glen" by Neil Gunn at the moment and from within the pages of his book, the words call to me.

As I start recording my new Burns album, so I search for the right words to describe the journey. Words that tell of the longing and connection I feel with these songs, and the need to be part of their being. Words that are the source of the feelings that become the sounds, that become the songs, that become the album.

If I force them they do not come - yet I open the pages of this book .... and here they are..........

"When a woman has a golden voice and sings with great art, the song can yet be borne. But when the same woman croons to herself a tune out of the heart of her race, then she is moving forces beyond her art's knowing or caring."

"Motherhood and childhood, of the one and the many, with all the passions that have gone to their making and the memories drawn off. With no more why of wherefore than exist love and life and death."

So - here is the reason I come back time and time again to the simplicity of the song.

I have been singing for many years now and yes, I love to develop my "art", with all it's twists and glamour and trickery. I practice turns and grace notes until they appear effortless. I feel the need to get it "just right", and sometimes, when I do, it is indeed a thing of beauty.

I can sing like almost anyone if I put my mind to it.

But if I still my mind and let flood my heart, I am me and not me. I am nothing and everything. Being without weight, form or limit..........and that is effortless ...... and then the pages open and these words appear:

"And then up through this voice of the race came the singer's own voice, in notes that grew rich, spreading out and sank once again to the land"

From the beginning of this journey back to the old songs, John (my fiancée and co-producer) has always known the importance of this simplicity. Just sing the songs, he says. And I do, and I will, and here they come........................

A Man's a Man for A' That

There are moments in this life that stand alone. They have nothing to be compared to, or to be judged against. These treasured moments of pure presence resonate with energies that flow from our physical self and are simultaneously reflected and interpreted by those around us. In such moments, we are vibrating at a higher level of consciousness, where fear and doubt have no voice.

Music lives in such moments. Laughter lives in such moments. Humanity heaves and sighs as one breath through such moments. As I write this, my palms begin to sweat, and my breath quickens. For me, holding the vision creates the moment. I am there, and quickening with it. This is how it feels to sing the songs of Robert Burns.

On travelling to Dalrymple in Ayrshire recently, I could feel the pull of such a moment sharpening my vision. The clouds were heavy with cold February, and my heart was slow and steady. Since starting to read his letters, I have been swimming around in the life of Robert Burns, and in this moment, I could feel the storm of the man, reflected in the quick, grey clouds. Having just recorded the guitar and vocal for "A Man's a Man" I was considering the singing of the verses in the minor key. When you read these words, and consider the yoke of circumstance that weighed heavily on the Burns family, it can be nothing but a tragic observation that begins:

"is there for honest poverty that hangs his hied and a' that
The coward slave we pass him by, we dare be poor for a' that
For a' that and a' that, our toils obscure and a' that
The rank is but the guinea's stamp, the man's the gowd for a' that"

And yet - the truth resonates with bright promise…..the man's the gowd for a' that. So there's the moment of presence. Toil is but a human condition, and, like slighted love, is surely "sair to bide".

However, if we define ourselves by our toils and labours, we are but dust delayed. Burns knew this with every ache of his shoulders, and every tremor of the night terrors that racked him for most of his adult life. He knew instinctively of the sanctuary of creation in both words and music. He saw what he knew, and knew that he was driven to give words to the truth of the struggle. When you read the words of this incredible song, and consider the final verse, the vision rings with absolute clarity. I feel the need to add a little to the story. In the spirit of Burns himself, I have added a line or two at the end, and coaxed the melody a little, as my heart heard it played.

"For a' that, and a' that
It's coming yet for a' that
That soul to soul, the world ower shall brothers be, shall sisters be, shall ever be…….for a' that"

Now there's a vision that quickens the heart and sets free the soul.

So - back to my journey. As I sang the song aloud, and came to the final verse, I looked up at the clouds, and the sun burst though with sudden radiance. In that moment I was at one with the sky and the earth, and I felt the understanding of pure presence flow through me.

I am learning with every song. To trust in my ability to connect, and to breathe fresh truth into beautiful words. This album, for me,is not about paying homage to a mighty man, or kneeling at the feet of genius. It's about finding the song in the wind or the smell of the corn, or the changing of the seasons of humanity. Before Robert Burns wrote the words or collected the verse, the songs were there.

It's a grand journey and a constant pleasure to discover them afresh.

Ca' The Yowes To The Knowes

Yesterday I recorded the guitar and piano parts for Ca’ the Yowes as the latest edition to my new Burns album, "Robin - The Robert Burns Collection Vol1".

I had set aside a few hours to do this, and I had lit the candle. I always light a candle when recording – concentrating on the flame enables me to focus on the feeling of the song without distraction. It allows me to be completely present and in the now.

As I light the flame I always think of Ernest Levy’s book “The Single Light”. Ernest was a Holocaust survivor born in Bratislava. He lived through the holocaust, surviving seven Nazi concentration camps, and losing half his family, including his father, a brother and a sister, before settling in what was to become his beloved Glasgow for the latter 48 years of his life.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ernest who was a great musician and cantor. We spoke of the power that music has to transform suffering into hope. He spoke with such passion and Joy that I immediately went home and bought his Autobiography “The Single Light”. There I read of the imagery of the single flame.

Ernest tells of how, during a forced march to Belsen towards the end of the war, he picked up a sardine tin discarded by a German guard hoping there might be something left to eat. However, instead of drinking the remaining oil, he fashioned a wick and lit a flame round which he and fellow inmates gathered in the darkness to sing the Hanukkah hymn Maoz Tzur. At The Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, he again lit the wick in the sardine tin, telling assembled MSPs and guests: “We sang, and it gave us hope. This tin gave us light.”

The image of the single candle burning in the tin has never left me, and neither has the light that shone in that wonderful man’s eyes. There is something about a flame that represents both the eternal spirit and the transient nature of each passing moment. We are here now, and gone, shifting and flickering in form and feature. We are mere messengers of forever. I will never know the suffering that Ernest endured. I do however know that music spoke to him when words failed, and that I can understand.

So – yesterday I lit the flame in peace and silence. The snow outside caught every sound, blanket-soft. For the first time during the recording of this Robert Burns album, John set up the equipment round me so that all I had to do was press the buttons and play. There was nothing to distract me.

And so – I played the guitar and then sang. One take for each. I didn’t even put on the headphones, as I felt guided and safe. Whatever sounds came through me would be the sounds of the song itself.

Within ten minutes, the song was there. The guitar part simply came from messing around with shapes on the fretboard. I have a very limited knowledge of guitar chords, and don’t even know what the finished chords are. I knew that I was looking for a sound that was soporific and perpetual. There is a heaviness about Ca' The Yowes. Robert Burns wrote such beautiful words that sing themselves, almost in sadness. I can’t really explain this, but it feels like beautiful resignation.

The album and this song, Ca' the Yowes, in particular, I dedicate to Ernest Levy who died in August 2009. The bearer of light, song and hope for so many.

Ay Waukin O

The Snow fell thick and fast last night. I sat in my living room and watched the transformation. Everything appears newly born and uncovered. It made me think of the relationship that I have with the Burns songs I am recording. The words and melody are there, and have been for a very long time, but I want to sing them with fresh heart - to lightly dust fresh snow on ancient lands.

It has taken a long time for my heart to move on from a Parcel O Rogues. I have been twisting this way and that, playing around with songs, melodies and instrumentation. Finally, feeling completely lost, I posted a question on Facebook asking for some guidance.. "any favourite Burns songs out there?" I had told myself that I would record whatever the first song was that came back to me. It seemed as good a way as any to choose - to let the universe decide. Back came Elaine Robertson, an old school mate from thirty years ago, quick and simple, with the song - "Ay Waukin' O" . Thank you Elaine.

So here we go again.

I first approached this song as a woman who has lost her lover - who is now alone and grieving - blurring her eyes wi' weepin' - so says the song. Try as I might though, with every note I sing, I feel joy. The bliss of anticipation. The sweet sadness that brief parting holds. And now I know.

I am lying in bed, chasing sleep with foolish hope. The church clock strikes and another hour is taken from me. It is in these quiet hours that race and yet lengthen that I can be most present. All is silent - all is my love - all is now.

As with A Parcel O Rogues, this song also features the piano. I tend to get the chord structure there, letting my hands fall until my heart pulls. Once the foundation chords are there, I record the piano and lead vocal. The rest of the instrumentation should be carefully chosen and dance around the song without disturbing the equilibrium. Oh yes - and harmonies - only a couple sparingly placed. The song will let me know when it's ready. That much I have learned - to listen to the song and what it's saying, however much the ego is tempted to promenade!

This is a joyful journey - an album of the twilight hour. I was reading Neil Gunn's "The other Landscape" yesterday and came upon these beautiful words that best describe that place betwixt one world and another.

"Many are susceptible to the peculiar power of the twilight particularly in lonely places. Two orders of being - the visible and the invisible, pause on the doorstep of this grey hour"

It is a pleasure and an honour to unveil that voice which comes from me, but is not of me. My mother often tells me that my Grandfather dearly loved Robert Burns, committing many poems and songs to memory. Though we never met, I feel his warm hand on my shoulder ..................."Aye, you're doin fine lass, keep goin'"

Parcel of Rogues

Recording the vocal for Parcel of Rogues. Six hours later and I'm still searching for the spirit of the song. I was so sure that I had the voice when I was singing in the car or round the house, but as soon as I have to be completely at one with the piano part and connect, I feel lost. I will try to explain.

In every song there is a spirit that want to sing through me. I am just the channel. This spirit is a woman in her early forties, but feels much older. She is gracious and sad. The girl still sings in her heart, but experience has arrested her instincts. She knows the soil and the stillness of the land. She watches progress and grows weary with the dying of the old ways. The land is flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone.



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