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Vault Lines: Clara Tracey

Belfast-based artist Clara Tracey muses on a formative musical memory from her upbringing in Co. Fermanagh, ‘The Spanish Lady’ by Maighréad and Triona Ní Dhomhnaill

Photo by Monika Ruman

When asked to contemplate the vaults of my musical experience, I don’t really feel qualified, especially seeing as this is one of the few legitimately “cool” music magazines. As someone who came into an eclectic musical awareness really only in the last ten years, what went before feels like a fairly classic blur of A Woman’s Heart and whatever Gay Byrne and co were playing on nineties RTÉ (nothing against that tape to be fair which still takes me straight back into the back of the car on our first family holiday in Bunbeg ’92).

That said, there was no shortage of live music in our house – having a passionate primary school music teacher as my mother, she was constantly teaching us and half the local school children Irish songs phonetically (Bug Brain, Bay Ay Nock Amara). We even got to sing in the National Children’s choir in the NCH, performing Séan Creamer’s incredibly complex choral arrangements as ten-year-olds. As the eldest in the house, I used to strong-arm my (long-suffering) younger brothers and sister into the Sound of Music cuckoo choreography and had a penchant for playing the tin whistle for all four of us in the bath.

One of the songs that has followed me from that era into the present day is ‘The Spanish Lady’. I have memories of my dad singing the “whack for the toora” version when we were small and then later discovered the Ní Dhomhnaill sisters’ arrangement. My sister and I fell in love with this take, especially the harmonies and the “mysterious numbers” bit in the chorus, so we arranged it for piano and sang it in many’s a piano bar and even one rural French bakery over the years. The number’s mystery was actually solved during the writing of this piece by my best friend in Montréal. “She had 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 none, she had 19, 17, 15, 13, 11, 9, 7, 5, 3 and 1”, meaning “she had the odds and evens of it” – in other words: she had everything. Clara Tracey

Black Forest by Clara Tracey is out now via Pizza Pizza Records

is the editor of The Thin Air. Talk to him about Philip Glass and/or follow him on Twitter @brianconey.