Interview: Sean Breadin (Sedayne) 1


April 2008 - Inter­view by O.S.

All pho­to­graphs prop­erty of Sedayne.

Where lie the roots of your storytelling and your musi­cian­ship - and were they inter­twined from the begin­ning?

The first time music took on any sort of per­sonal import­ance for me was with the little wooden whistle flute my Grand­par­ents brought home for me from their hol­i­day in Yugoslavia around 1968 or so - so I would have been six or seven at the time. I took it along to the school recorder class and the teacher told me it wasn’t a proper musical instru­ment. Ever since I was drawn to little instru­ments - arte­facts, treen, eth­no­graphy and other bits and pieces of exotic junk, cargo & gew-gaws which tied in with the imme­di­ate cor­por­eal empir­i­cism of vari­ous aspects of folk­lore and tra­di­tional nar­rat­ive that were very much the land­scapes of my nat­ive Northum­bria and bey­ond, espe­cially Nor­way - so the one thing has aways exis­ted in rela­tion­ship to the other to the extent that I regard them as indis­tin­guish­able.

You have many dif­fer­ent musical pro­jects (Sedayne, Eleanor’s Vis­ceral Tomb, Shib­boleth, Venereum Arvum, DH7) Can you tell us the idea behind each one of them, and whether they focus on spe­cific musical and cul­tural themes?

The music is more import­ant than I am - I see my role as purely medi­umistic, so I use the vari­ous other names to record and per­form under to get away from the per­sonal. Sedayne comes from an ana­gram of Sean Breadin, like­wise Sab­rina Eden, which is the name I use for my You­Tube films. Eleanor’s Vis­ceral Tomb is my idea of the ideal band - I’ve been in lots of bands in my time, but none of them were ever too happy, so EVT is my happy band; just me with my eight track! DH7 came from my old post­code in Durham - since we’ve moved to Lan­cashire I’ve changed the name to The Ha-Ha (I tried FY8 but it didn’t have quite the same ring to it!). The Ha-Ha is another ideal band, albeit with the focus on elec­tron­ica, loops and sampling rather than the nat­ural sound of the vari­ous acous­tic instru­ments. Venereum Arvum is Rachel and I as a duo, which is a very happy band indeed, and Shib­boleth is my occa­sional duo with Clive Pow­ell which goes back to 1980, hence the name. There are other names I use too, such as Sun­dog, my Sham­anic Alter-Ego - which is to say, the sort of ‘Me’ I would have undoubtedly been had not sense inter­vened.

Why did you release ‘Horse-Head in Win­ter­land’ under your own name?

Horse-Head in Win­ter­land

Horse-Head was about set­tling old scores - going back to when I made that hurdy-gurdy in 1981; I wanted to revisit some­thing of my old self in that music, to get back to an ideal of a purely impro­vised acous­tic folk / noise aes­thetic which I was deal­ing with back then before get­ting side­tracked into try­ing to play early music. The ori­ginal idea of Horse-Head was to have it as a fake ‘newly dis­covered’ archive record­ing from 1981, which is why I used my own name, but for whatever reason I decided against this, but the name stuck. I did As I Live and Breathe (2003) as Sean Breadin too, which is one of my per­sonal favour­ites though not many people have picked up on it. As I Live and Breathe should really have been a DH7 pro­ject, but I field-recorded all the parts on loc­a­tion in Northum­bria and Rachel took lots of pic­tures of me doing so - so it was very per­sonal from the off, deal­ing with very par­tic­u­lar rural & post-industrial land­scapes of my child­hood, in par­tic­u­lar the demoli­tion of the old coal-fired power sta­tion at Blyth which I found par­tic­u­larly upset­ting.

When and why did you start releas­ing your own music as Plough Myth Inter­na­tional?

Plough­myth came from a dream I had around 1990 in which I couldn’t remem­ber the tune of “Mut­ton Pie” - you know those dreams where you’re about to do some­thing you really ought to know but you haven’t got a clue - so in this dream I came up with this tune, which didn’t fit the words at all but it was still in my brain when I woke up, so the tune became Plough Myth, after the first line of “Mut­ton Pie”: ‘Now my jolly lads if you want to learn to plough, come to Iron­heads and he’ll show you how…’ - thus some­how relat­ing the very mundane notion of “Mut­ton Pie” to the heav­enly notion of The Plough (Ursa Major). Over the years it sort of stuck, along with Har­vest Myth, so it seemed some­how right to use the name Plough­myth as a gen­eral head­ing for the music, but as to exactly when that was I’m not entirely sure - pos­sibly in the mid 1990s.

How did your cooper­a­tion with Mark Coyle and Woven Wheat Whis­pers come about? Since all new Plough Myth releases also appear on WWW, I take it you are sat­is­fied with the ser­vice? What role do you think the inter­net and digital labels such as WWW play in today’s folk move­ment?

Mark got in touch after read­ing of my work on Gerald’s site [Psyche van het Folk, O.S.], which was a year or so before he set up WWW. Deal­ing in hard-copy hand­craf­ted CD-Rs isn’t some­thing I’m very good at, or even main­tain­ing my web­site - in fact it’s a com­plete pain in the arse, so WWW is con­veni­ent on vari­ous levels, though I’m never sure what to charge which is why I’ve done a lot of free stuff recently. I’m deal­ing in doc­u­ments, rather than products - I think the idea of ‘the latest album’ is a com­plete ana­chron­ism, espe­cially when you’re deal­ing with music as a day-to-day phe­nomenon. Sun Ra had this notion with this Sat­urn label, with each disk being an edi­tion of a cos­mic news­pa­per! I think the inter­net opens out this pos­sib­il­ity, but I’m never too happy with pay­ing for mp3s, so I try to do stuff for nom­inal amounts or com­pletely gratis. I think everything of ours on WWW is either free or £3.75 - which is the price sticker on my old vinyl copy of Back into the Future by The Man­band, quite pos­sibly my favour­ite album of all time. I think it should be less - the import­ant thing to me is that people hear the music, but busi­ness is busi­ness. My own web­site is in the pro­cess of demoli­tion - just to free up some space for more free mp3s, like­wise the Myspace site. I’ll be set­ting up oth­ers soon - both for The Ha-Ha, Sun­dog & Venereum Arvum.

You’ve men­tioned that you admire the sim­il­ar­ity of story mor­pho­logy, even across national and lin­guistic bound­ar­ies. What is your view on the evol­u­tion of (Indo-European) folk­tales? How do you ima­gine they were told in dif­fer­ent eras and places, yet still main­tained a cer­tain cor­res­pond­ence of form with their ‘cous­ins’?

All nar­rat­ive mor­pho­logy is determ­ined by the hard­ware of the human brain, everything from basic syn­tax through to the clas­sical son­ata. This is the nature of lan­guage itself on a purely psycho-biological level, some­thing human­ity has been deal­ing with for the past 35000 years, or how­ever long it is since we first looked upon the world as ‘other’ and star­ted giv­ing things names, con­cepts, and nar­rat­ives. I once heard that the reason human beings suf­fer prob­lems with their teeth that other higher prim­ates don’t is because the human jaw has evolved to favour lan­guage rather than dental health - thus does Nur­ture tri­umph over Nature. Per­son­ally, as a Neo-Gnostic Jesuist* Marx­ist, I find that very excit­ing - and as a storyteller too, where one is aware of the func­tional nature of tra­di­tional nar­rat­ive mor­pho­logy in rela­tion­ship to both sub­ject­ive cog­ni­tion and object­ive cul­ture, and how the one might inter­face with the other through lan­guage. The fact that nar­rat­ive mor­pho­logy knows no lin­guistic bor­ders is telling in this con­text, in terms of both func­tion and struc­ture. For example the story vari­ously known as “Jack and the Good Help­ers”, in which Jack assembles a group of uniquely (and improb­ably) skilled indi­vidu­als to assist him along the way, is found in Wales, Ire­land, Eng­land, Scot­land, Nor­way, Sweden, and Rus­sia, ele­ments of which found their way into the stor­ies of Baron von Münch­hausen. In all of these vari­ations we find a fly­ing boat, either as the main point of the story, as in Nor­way, or as an aside, as in Wales, so one might pon­der the pro­cess but ulti­mately there are no answers. It’s like look­ing at a peacock’s tail and almost being seduced by the notion of a cre­ator because we can’t get our heads around the mech­an­ism of how such things came to be.

*Jesuism is a sec­u­lar human­ist philo­sophy foun­ded dir­ectly on the teach­ing & example of Jesus Christ with none of the reli­gious trap­pings so essen­tial to Chris­tian­ity.

Can you briefly sketch for us one of your favour­ite tales, or whatever comes to mind? What fas­cin­ates you about this tale?

This is a tran­scrip­tion of me telling my favour­ite ever story, which I call “Hare’s Guts”, together with my favour­ite ever tra­di­tional folk song, “The Inno­cent Hare”, or “Sports­men Arouse”, which people will be famil­iar with from both The Cop­per Fam­ily and The Young Tra­di­tion [see below this reply for tran­scrip­tion]. The story fas­cin­ates me because it oper­ates on just about every level ima­gin­able. One level it’s about vis­cera & excre­ment in a very mundane yet highly cere­mo­nial set­ting, and on another, it’s darkly Sham­anic, and as psy­cho­lo­gical as Moby Dick, deal­ing with some very primal & fun­da­mental res­on­ances - I shy from using the word ‘Arche­type’ because of the Jungian over­tones! Maybe we’re not so very in touch with these aspects today, which is why I weave in the song, and the riddle about the wee brown cow, both of which deal with some­thing pretty fun­da­mental to our rela­tion­ship with the darker aspects of a nature all but lost to us. On another level of course, it’s a polit­ical cri­tique of feud­al­ism - a cere­mo­nial humi­li­ation of author­ity, and yet a con­form­a­tion of it at the same time. It’s also a very funny story.


Hare’s Guts / Inno­cent Hare / Wee Brown Cow
(Tran­scrip­tion of Sedayne storytelling, Hallowe’en 1998. Sung lines in ital­ics; spoken word in plain text; descript­ive details in par­en­thesis)

Sports­men arouse, the morn­ing is clear, the larks are singing all in the air - repeat that - sports­men arouse, the morn­ing is clear, the larks are singing all in the air - not bad - try harder next time. Go tell your sweet lover the hounds are out - repeat that - go tell your sweet lover the hounds are out - saddle your horses, your saddles pre­pare, we’ll away to some cover to seek for a hare.

Verse two. We’ve search the woods and the groves all round, the trial it is over the game it is found. Repeat that. We’ve search the woods and the groves all round, the trial it is over the game it is found. Then up she springs, through brake she flies - repeat that - then up she springs, through brake she flies - fol­low, fol­low the musical horn, sing fol­low, hark for­ward the Inno­cent Hare.

That’s the chorus. Sing it again to get it right. Fol­low, fol­low the musical horn, sing fol­low, hark for­ward the Inno­cent Hare. Get­ting bet­ter. Our hunts­man blows his joy­ful sound, tally-ho my boys all over the downs - our hunts­man blows his joy­ful sound, tally-ho my boys all over the downs - From the woods to the val­leys see how she creeps - from the woods to the val­leys see how she creeps - fol­low, fol­low the musical horn, sing fol­low, hark for­ward the Inno­cent Hare.

Now sing this - a hop­per of ditches, a crop­per of corn, a wee brown cow with a pair of leather horns. It’s a riddle, about the hare - from Coun­try Antrim - a hop­per of ditches, a crop­per of corn, a wee brown cow with a pair of leather horns.

Because, here’s Jack, the poacher, the shaman, ven­tur­ing forth in his dream­ing, his wak­ing, his sleep­ing, telling the story in the ritual dark­ness of his very soul - the story that tells of how he comes to catch the Brown Hair of the Val­ley, because for sure he’s been after that hare now for more years than he cares to remem­ber - watch­ing it get­ting ever fat­ter, ever wilier, ever more elu­sive, as he comes ever more under its thrall.

Sing - a hop­per of ditches, a crop­per of corn, a wee brown cow with a pair of leather horns. This echoes the sen­ti­ments of an ancient Eng­lish poem - the stag with the leath­ery horns, the animal that lives in the corn - the animal that all men scorn - but the animal that no one dare name - aye, the animal that no one dare name. All along the green turf she pants for breath - our hunts­man he shouts out for death. Repeat that. All along the green turf she pants for breath - our hunts­man he shouts out for death. Relope, relope, retir­ing hare - relope, relope, retir­ing hare. Fol­low, fol­low the musical horn, sing fol­low, hark for­ward the inno­cent hare.

And this one night, when the wind and the moon is high, upon the very night of Hallowe’en, when the hare is stand­ing gaz­ing up at the moon trans­fixed - on this night does Jack’s dream come true, and so he catches that hare - and he kills that hare - and he knocks that hare down with a rock and hav­ing killed that hare he takes the knife out of his pocket and opens the belly of that hare and takes out its guts - and stands there - blood­ied in the moon­light, this great fat puss of a dead hare in one hand, and in the other - hares guts.

A hop­per of ditches, a crop­per of corn, a wee brown cow with a pair of leather horns - sing - a hop­per of ditches, a crop­per of corn, a wee brown cow with a pair of leather horns - sing - a hop­per of ditches, a crop­per of corn, a wee brown cow with a pair of leather horns - a hop­per of ditches, a crop­per of corn, a wee brown cow with a pair of leather horns - a hop­per of ditches, a crop­per of corn a wee brown cow - a wee brown cow - a wee brown cow -

And who should be watch­ing him but the game­keeper - the shaman, ven­tur­ing forth in his dream­ing, his wak­ing, his sleep­ing, telling the story in the ritual dark­ness of his very soul - the story that tells of how he comes to catch the Jack the Poacher of the Val­ley, because for sure he’s been after Jack now for more years than he cares to remem­ber - watch­ing him get­ting ever fat­ter, ever wilier, ever more elu­sive, as he comes ever more under his thrall - and - things have got so bad the man can’t even get a decent shite for the thoughts of Jack - retent­ive­ness being the only pleas­ure of the man’s life of course - hold­ing it in, week in, week out, so that he might indulge in one almighty monthly evac­u­ation by way of a purge to the ran­cid­ness of his very soul - but this night - see­ing Jack there - with the hare, so the con­trac­tions come early - a pre­ma­ture deliv­ery indeed, as the game­keeper must put his moment of tri­umph on hold, and dash behind a hedge to - unload, and not without some degree of dif­fi­culty, being without the lux­ury of lax­at­ives and tobacco, and a por­cel­ain goe­sun­der - indeed, the very com­forts of his monthly purge, as he squats down on the cold ground and labours long and hard to lib­er­ate the near-solid incum­bent of his bowel, and oh dear me - what a racket he’s mak­ing.

Jack mean­while, he’s won­der­ing what all the noise is about - so away over the hedge where here he finds the game­keeper, labour­ing and grunt­ing and sweat­ing and curs­ing and groan­ing until at last there emerges into the world, into the moon­light, at least treacle-black yards of the thing steam­ing with a mist that flows thick and mys­ter­i­ous over the earth, a shroud to the thing he bore, as the game­keeper looks down, wait­ing for stink­ing mist to clear, wip­ing the leav­ings from his arse with a small flat stone as his heart thrills to see what man­ner of thing he brought forth into the world. But that mist also hides the hand of the poacher - the poacher’s hand indeed, which seiz­ing so won­drous on oppor­tun­ity, depos­its the guts of the Brown Hare of the Val­ley onto the game­keep­ers leviathan of a jobby, so that when the mist clears, and game­keep­ers gets a bet­ter look at his glory - oh dear me, doesn’t the blood drain from his face at what he sees there? Mother, Mary and Joseph! I must have strained a bit too hard there, because I appear to have passed rather more than what I ought - rather more indeed than is either healthy or sens­ible for a man - and, mean­while, there’s Jack the Poacher, away down the road with the hare to the boozer, where he butchers it a with a clear and gives a por­tion each to the three unfor­tu­nate wid­ows of his broth­ers who were hor­ribly killed another story.

A hop­per of ditches, a crop­per of corn, a wee brown cow with a pair of leather horns - a hop­per of ditches, a crop­per of corn a wee brown cow - a wee brown cow - a wee brown cow -

And then, after an hour or so - in comes the game­keeper him­self, walk­ing a wee bit stiff, as you might expect. Tell us your troubles, quoth Jack the Poacher to the game­keeper - after all, isn’t it the truth that all men are equal in the tav­ern?

And so it is, the game­keeper tells his tale, recount­ing the legend of that great steam­ing incum­bent lay­ing out in the moon­light that was the prize of such strenu­ous labours on his part, but how, when mist cleared - oh dear me - there I saw in the moon­light that I must have laboured rather too hard because hadn’t I passed rather more than was strictly neces­sary or indeed health?

Of course at this point the whole tavern’s in abso­lute uproar.

Don’t laugh at me! roars the game­keeper - do not laugh at me - because -

(sig­ni­fic­ant pause as Sedayne looks over his audi­ence with a leer worthy of Johnny Rot­ten in the glory days; vari­ous mem­bers of the audi­ence bit­ing their nails in dread anti­cip­a­tion of the punch-line).

- By the grace of God, and a good stout stick - it’s all back up there where it should be!

(audi­ence erupts with gales of nervous laughter, over which Sedayne sings the con­clud­ing verse of The Inno­cent Hare):

- This hare has led us a noble run - suc­cess to sports­men every one. This hare has led us a noble run - suc­cess to sports­men every one. Such a chase she has led us, four hours or more. Such a chase she has led us, four hours or more. Wine and beer we’ll drink without fear, we’ll drink a suc­cess to the inno­cent hare!


To what degree to you see an inter­con­nec­tion between folk­take and folk­song?

Bal­lad nar­rat­ive seems to oper­ate in sim­ilar way to that of folk­tale, which is how we get innu­mer­able vari­ations on the same basic song form, right through Child and bey­ond. My favour­ite inter­net folk site, by the way, is the Max Hunter Folk Song Col­lec­tion, which con­tains 1600 field recor­ded folk­songs from the Ozark moun­tains. It’s a ser­i­ously won­der­ful place to be, and ser­i­ously sig­ni­fic­ant too - just look up Mrs Pearl Brewer and listen to her singing of “All Down by the Green­wood­side (The Cruel Mother)” and see what I mean. I’m not alto­gether sure if the two are con­nec­ted in any actual sense - very rarely do we find the nar­rat­ives of songs turn­ing up as stor­ies, or vice versa. Of course there are excep­tions - “King Orfeo (Child #19)” for example is the Greek Myth of Orph­eus, albeit in a bi-lingual bal­lad set­ting from the Shet­land Islands - but this is very rare.

How do you view the del­ic­ate bal­ance between tra­di­tion and innov­a­tion? On the one hand, you util­ise a great deal of tra­di­tional mater­ial, both in your music and your storytelling. At the same time, any­one who knows your music will con­cede that is often far from tra­di­tional, com­pared to how tra­di­tional folk music is usu­ally played. What do you con­sider your role within this tra­di­tion?

I have this trin­ity in which the three aspects of cul­tural pro­cess entwine: 1) The primal & the ances­tral - 2) The his­tor­ical & the tra­di­tional - and 3) The cre­at­ive and the exper­i­mental. Without being too delib­er­ate about it, I’m deal­ing with all three - sep­ar­ately, or together - most of the time. I don’t see myself as a musi­cian in any con­ven­tional sense of the word - I’m a free impro­vising instru­mental plur­al­ist primar­ily inter­ested in anom­al­ous sound, as I have been since my grand­par­ents bought me the little whistle flute forty years ago - at least since my teacher said it wasn’t a proper musical instru­ment! I’m not hung up on con­ven­tional sys­tems simply because I don’t under­stand them - it’s not how my brain works; I never hear any­thing as being ‘out of tune’ in terms of ton­al­ity - be it bird song or whatever - so what emerges is by way of a more cor­por­eal vir­tue, and this relates dir­ectly to my under­stand­ing of the instru­ments them­selves, but rarely, if ever, in any sort of tra­di­tional con­text. For example, when I’m singing purely tra­di­tional Eng­lish folk songs (by Eng­lish I mean in Eng­lish - so any­thing from Eng­land, Scot­land, Ire­land, Aus­tralia & Amer­ica basic­ally) I’ll use either a Hun­garian zither or a Turk­ish fiddle to accom­pany myself. Neither of these are tra­di­tional in any musical or cul­tural sense, but both these instru­ments empower my entire under­stand­ing of the songs on a purely sub­ject­ive level, which ulti­mately is the only level that mat­ters.
I love tra­di­tional music in a tra­di­tional con­text, but I’m not really part of that, only as a singer and storyteller, where I can be a bit of a traddy / pur­ist, but that’s just an aspect of what I am, because to accom­pany the stor­ies I’ll invari­ably be impro­vising on the crwth or cit­era, rid­ing the wind of a very vivid sort of spon­tan­eous imme­di­acy. Oth­er­wise I’m deal­ing with music on a very intu­it­ive, spon­tan­eous and impro­vised level the whole time - themes emerge, like­wise struc­tures, but as to the mor­pho­logy of those struc­tures I couldn’t say pre­cisely what they are in and of them­seves, or what they might be ana­log­ous to. Ana­logues do fas­cin­ate me - real or ima­gined - but there’s sel­dom any­thing con­scious about it. I might have a con­scious idea, but I’ve no notion as to what the out­come might be. For example, the whole char­ac­ter of Sun­dog is determ­ined by his col­lec­tion of Jew’s Harps (on the down­load bit of John Bar­ley­corn Reborn you can hear me impro­vising in the church of Kilpeck in Here­ford­shire, fam­ous for its Romanesque carvings, using the Jew’s Harp to inter­act with the res­on­ant / sac­red space of the church itself) and for a while I’ve been dream­ing about doing a music using just Jew’s Harps and pocket trum­pet, with only a vague sense of how this music would actu­ally work, but what actu­ally emerged was some­thing else alto­gether. I’m still work­ing on this, but there’s bits of it on a recent WWW free­bie and another on my Myspace site.
I sup­pose it’s rather like bak­ing bread - a very intu­it­ive pro­cess - but people have been bak­ing bread for count­less thou­sands of years but we con­tinue to do so out of a dif­fer­ent sort of neces­sity which isn’t so bound up with being self-consciously tra­di­tional or his­tor­ical, or in any way authen­tic, it’s just about bak­ing bread; like­wise the very act of pro­cre­ation - where would we be without it?

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