Cathedral of Memory

(C)opyright © 2011 Frank Blair All Rights Reserved.

A "cathedral of memory" was a medieval variation of an ancient mnemonic technique called "method of loci" or a "mental walk." Using this method, you would imagine a building or place, such as a cathedral or a palace, and place objects or people in it along a path that you walk as you go through the place. Ideally, you would associate stories that tied the objects to each other ... and to what you wanted to remember. In order to recall the information, you would take a mental walk through the building, interacting with the people and things you had placed along the path.  Those interactions helped you to visualize the stories connected with what you wanted to remember. Using this technique people were able to accurately recall vast quantities of information without the use of images, books, computers, or smart phones.

I use it here as a metaphor for the songs themselves.  Every time we sing a song, keep an old song or tune alive, or write a new one to describe some part of our experience we are contributing to our collective Cathedral Of Memory.

- frankblair

Track List

1. Captain Carswell/The Gallant Return/The Dundee Predicament
2. The Sun's Coming Over the Hill
3. Arthur McBride and the Recruiting Sergeant
4. In the Shadow of the Rockies
5. The Empty Chair
6. A Man's A Man for A' That
7. The Blue Cockade
8. Ordinary Man
9. Braw Sailin' On the Sea
10. Caledonia
11. Rain Shadow


1. Captain Carswell / The Gallant Return / The Dundee Predicament

(trad / © 2010 Frank Blair, Gabriel’s Legacy Music) / © 2010 Frank Blair, Gabriel’s Legacy Music)

The first tune is a 2-part variation of the 4-part, 2/4 pipe march written by Pipe Major William Lawrie (1881-1916) of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

The second is an original 2/4 march called "The Gallant Return" in honor of the 51st Highland Division's liberation of St. Valery-en-Caux in WWII. Earlier in the war the 51st was forced to surrender at St. Valery after running out of ammunition and food while fighting a rear guard action that made the rescue at Dunkirk possible.

The third tune is an original quick jig called "The Dundee Predicament." Dundee, OR is a town near where I live where the road narrows from four lanes to two and a single traffic light in the middle of town has a tendency to back up traffic for miles in both directions. This is especially acute during the summer as tourists and Portlanders travel through the Willamette Valley wine country and to/from the Oregon coast. The carriage and tempo of the tune bear no resemblance to the experience of this phenomenon.



2. The Sun’s Coming Over the Hill (© 2004 Karine Polwart, published by Bay Songs Ltd.)

In 1985/86 I attended a Jesuit institution of higher learning in Kansas City, Missouri called Rockhurst College (now University.) Among the degree requirements were a few hours of both theology (the search for religious truth via reason) and philosophy (the search for universal truth via reason.) One of my first classes was called “Four Questions on Persons” taught by Fr. W. L. La Croix., S.J wherein I was introduced to a work by the French philospher Albert Camus called “The Myth of Sisyphus.” 

In Greek mythology Sisyphus was a king who offended the gods by thinking himself their equal by reporting and commenting on the sexual indiscretions of Zeus. As a punishment for his hubris, Zeus ordered Thanatos to chain Sisyphus in Tartarus. Sisyphus, however, tricked Thanatos into chaining himself, thus making it so that no mortal could actually die. As a further punishment for his trickery, Sisyphus was forced to push a giant boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down into a valley and begin again the next day.

One of the things that Fr. La Croix argued was that in his writing, Camus suggests that the single, great philosophical question that pertains to humanity is whether or not to commit suicide.  We all, either tacitly or explicitly, answer that question every day, much as Sisyphus does. If we continue to live we have decided that there is something to live for.

This song reminds me of that and, despite the heavy context, is a happy song. My friend William Morris provides backing vocals.


Six rain-laden summers and she still had an eye for me
She’d kiss me each evening and told me she’d die for me
Then she ran off the road full of whiskey and irony
She always meant what she said

So I took to the whiskey so I could recall
The taste of her mouth on my mouth, that’s all
And I tried the same trick with a truck but it stalled
The engine was better off dead

Oh, oh the nights are long
But life is longer still
Oh, oh the nights are long
But the sun’s coming over the hill

The taste never left me, I don’t guess it will
And it caused me to supplement whiskey with pills
But there was something inside of me that I couldn’t kill
Believe me, I really did try


There’s some say you get what you deserve but they’re wrong
Sometimes you just get what you’re given and then it’s all gone
Sometimes it’s enough to be sufficiently strong
To daily decide not to die


I can’t say there’s many things that I wouldn’t change
There’s better times gone than those that remain
But I can find joy in the sound of the rain
You have to find joy where you can


3. Arthur McBride and the Recruiting Sergeant (trad., arranged and adapted by Paul Brady)

I’ve always loved this song and have recorded it several times in different arrangements. This is my favorite. The song itself is probably originally of the Napoleonic era and shows up in print in Donegal in the 1830s. Most of the versions that are commonly sung have been pared down and sometimes modified to fit a contemporary conflict, in many cases World War I. This particular version was edited and arranged by Paul Brady. It fills out the story to make it much more interesting and less abrupt. 

Throughout much of modern Irish history, the recruiting sergeant was one of the most hated people in the country. The various social, economic, and political realities at play often left few options for employment except joining the British army. If you were left at home, you became a symbol of oppression and treachery to your own people. If you were sent to fight a war or hold a country abroad, it’s unlikely you would make it back. Even if you did, you were stigmatized.

If you’re playing along, this is arranged in open-G tuning (DGDGBD) and played in the key of C.


I had a first cousin called Arthur McBride
He and I went a-walking down by the sea side
Now mark what followed and what might betide
For it being on Christmas morning
All for recreation we went on a tramp
We met Sergeant Harper and Corporal Ramp
And a little wee drummer intending to camp
For the day being pleasant and charming

"Good morning, good morning" the Sergeant did cry
"And the same to you gentlemen" we did reply
Intending no harm as we meant to pass by
For it being on Christmas morning
But says he "My fine fellows if you will enlist
It's ten guineas in gold I will slip in your fists
And a crown in the bargain for to kick up the dust
And drink the King's health in the morning

For a soldier he leads a very fine life
He always is blessed with a charming young wife
And he pays all his debts without sorrow and strife
And he always lives pleasant and charming
And a soldier he always is decent and clean
In the finest of clothing he's constantly seen
While other poor fellows look dirty and mean
And sup on thin gruel in the morning"

But says Arthur "I wouldn't be proud of your clothes
For you've only the lend of them, as I suppose
And you dare not change them one night for you know
If you do you'll be flogged in the morning
And although that we are single and free
We take great delight in our own company
And we have no desire strange faces to see
Although that your offers are charming
And we have no desire to take your advance
All hazards and dangers we barter on chance
For you would have no scruple for to send us to France
Where we would get shot without warning

"Oh no," says the Sergeant, "I'll hear no such chat
And I neither will I take it from a spailpín or brat
For if you insult me with one other word
I'll cut off your heads in the morning"
And then Arthur and I we took up our odds
And we scarce gave them time for to draw their own blades
Our trusty shillelaghs came over their heads
And bade them take that as fair warning

And the little wee drummer we flattened his pouch
And we made a foot-ball of his rowdy-dowd-dowd
Threw it in the tide for to rock and to roll
And bade it a tedious returning

As for the old rapiers that hung by their sides
We flung them as far as we could in the tide
"Now take them out, devils," cried Arthur McBride
"And temper their edge in the morning"

And we having no money, paid them off in cracks
And we paid no respect to their two bloody backs
But we lathered them there like a pair of wet sacks
And left them for dead in the morning
And so to conclude and to finish disputes
We obligingly asked if they wanted recruits
For we were the lads who would give them hard clouts
And bid them look sharp in the morning

4. In the Shadow of the Rockies (© 2001 Maria Dunn, (SOCAN/ASCAP))

"When the war is over, when peace is restored, and when we come to normal life, when we shall send our immigration agents to Europe again as we did before, do you believe that our Canadian immigration agents, when they go among the Galicians and Bukovinians (Ukrainians), that these different races will be disposed to come to this country, when they know that Canada has not met its pledges and promises to these people, who have settled in our midst ... if it be said in Canada that the pledges which we have given to immigrants when inviting them to come to this country to settle with us, can be broken with impunity, that we will not trust these men, and that we will not be true to the promises which we made to them, then I despair for the future of this country."

 - Sir Wilfrid Laurier, former Prime Minister of Canada, September 1917


Written by Canadian singer-songwriter Maria Dunn, this song deals with the forced internment of mostly Ukrainian immigrants at the Castle Mountain camp in Alberta during WWI. They were specifically recruited to settle and farm in Western Canada but were deemed "enemy aliens" when hostilities broke out (Ukraine being part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire at the time.) Many were interred. Many worked in coal mines. Those at the Castle Mountain camp were forced to work on roads, bridges, and other improvements to what would become Banff national park for $.25 a day and live in conditions described as "grim" and "harsh." (For comparison, the average daily wage in 1913-14 was about $7.00)


Young stranger, as you walk these trails of beauty
And you feel the mountain air caress your face
As you play in the shadow of the Rockies
Remember who toiled in this place
Please remember who toiled in this place

They courted our labour and called us to settle
The great Canadian plains
But how fickle the love of a fair young Alberta
For her enemy aliens

Oh pity the young man in 1914
Who hadn't a job or a trade
And doubly so the man from Galicia
For he was soon detained


Our invisible hands worked in nature's cathedral
For the pleasure of tourist and town
Six days a week at slavery's wages
Still we were not wanted around

In a camp that lay beneath Castle Mountain
Rotten food and sodden tents
The most glorious place in the world is ugly
When seen through a barbed wire fence


Our footsteps and voices have long since faded
From these pristine forest paths
Yet many's the mile and the hour we trudged here
To our place of labour and back

If you listen, young stranger, the wind in the pines
Or the water over the stones
You may hear the songs we sang to each other
To remind us of our homes




5. The Empty Chair (© 2011 Frank Blair, Gabriel’s Legacy Music)

I’m quite open about the fact that I have a horrible time naming things. This is an original waltz that went without a name for several months. Finally one day I was flipping through a book on Papal coins and noticed a phrase – “sede vacante” (or “the throne being empty”) – which refers to the period between the death of a Pope and the election of a new one. The phrase is often struck on coins minted for the Vatican City during those times to indicate that there was no sitting Pope in whose name the coins were struck. It can also refer to a vacancy in a Bishopric during a transition of any kind. I liked the turn of phrase and anglicized it to “The Empty Chair.”

I purposefully run it into the tail end of “In the Shadow of the Rockies” because I thought it was evocative.

6. A Man’s A Man For A’ That

Written by Robert Burns in 1795, this song sums up much of Burns’ view of the world from many sources: from his liberal ideas that sympathized with the French Revolution and social and political reforms that followed to his participation in Freemasonry which teaches a universal value in mankind without regard to station. I’ve always liked and finally decided to record it.


Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that.
Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The Man's the gowd for a' that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an' a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that:
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that:
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities an' a' that;
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.



7. The Blue Cockade

“The Blue Cockade” first appears in print in the 1730s but probably originates a little earlier than that as an anti-Jacobite song. By the time it’s in wide circulation the anti-Jacobite sentiments had largely been lost and the lyrics changed as they were distributed – the cockade changes colors many times to denote the area where the song was being sung. This version still has one hook that hints at its origins – “now I’m forced to join the Orange and the Blues”. The “Orange” refers to Dutch mercenary forces and “Blues” to Scots Presbyterians who were being sent to Ireland and parts of Scotland to route out Jacobite sympathy by William II of Orange.

I also like this song because anger is a part of the jilted lover’s emotional palette and it comes across in a very raw, unusual way in the song. William Morris provides the piano and backing vocal tracks.


Twas on a Monday morning as I tripped o’er the moss
Little thought I gave to listing til some soldiers I did cross
The company enticed me to drink their health all round
And the bounty
And the bounty
They gave me five guineas and a crown

My head was full of drink love and I did not think of you
Now I’m forced to go and join the Orange and the Blues
Our ship lies on the anchor for to ride the rolling tide
Fare ye well love
I’ll return love
In the springtime when I make you my bride

Twas early in the morning just at the break of day
The captain called his orders and my love marched away
“Now mind your ranks and files boys, march from your native shore”
Fare ye well love
Fare ye well love
Fare ye well love, you’re the lad that I adore

But I hope you’ll never prosper and I hope you’ll always fail
At everything you venture I pray you’ll ne’er do well
And the very ground you walk upon may the grass refuse to grow
Since you’ve been the
Since you’ve been the
Very cause of my sorrow, grief, and woe

It’s true my love has listed now he wears the blue cockade
He is a handsome young man, likewise a roving blade
He is a handsome young man, now he’s gone to serve the king
Whilst my very
Whilst my very
Heart is breaking for the want of him

8. Ordinary Man (© 1985 Peter Hames)

This song comes out of the political scene in England during the 1980s – the Thatcher era – and was written by Peter Hames. I came to the song via Christy Moore. The political and economic debate raging in the U.S. lately reminds me of that time in England – similar arguments, solutions, red herrings and failed policies that only really hurt those without representation (the majority of the middle and working classes.) Inordinately, if conservatives win out, as it was Thatcher was in power, the rich prevail and the worker suffers. I expect it will be the same here.


I'm an ordinary man, nothing special nothing grand
I've had to work for everything I own
I never asked for a lot, I was happy with what I'd got
Enough to keep my family and my home
Now they say that times are hard and they've handed me my cards
They say there's not the work to go around
And when the whistle blows, the gates will finally close
Tonight they're going to shut this factory down
Then they'll tear it d-o-w-n

I never missed a day nor went on strike for higher pay
For twenty years I served them best I could
Now with a handshake and a cheque it seems so easy to forget
Loyalty through the bad times and through good
The owner says he's sad to see that things have got so bad
But the captains of industry won't let him lose
He still drives a car and smokes his cigar
And still he takes his family on a cruise, he'll never lose

Well it seems to me such a cruel irony
He's richer now than ever he was before
Now my cheque is spent and I can't afford the rent
There's one law for the rich, one for the poor
Every day I've tried to salvage some of my pride
To find some work so's I might pay my way
Oh but everywhere I go, the answer's always no
There's no work for anyone here today, no work today

And so condemned I stand, just an ordinary man
Like thousands beside me in the queue
I watch my darling wife trying to make the best of life
And God knows what the kids are going to do
Now that we are faced with this human waste
A generation cast aside
And as long as I live, I never will forgive
You've stripped me of my dignity and pride, you've stripped me bare
You've stripped me bare, you've stripped me bare.



9. Braw Sailin’ On the Sea

I learned this song from the singing of one of my earliest and strongest influences, both as a singer and a guitarist: Tony Cuffe. It's always been one of my favorites and I tried a few times to integrate into repertoires of various bands with varying degrees of success. It tells the story of a young sailor who visits his sweetheart when he finds that his ship is to set sail. He wants something of a stronger commitment before he leaves but she tells him she's changed her mind and turns him away, giving him back his promise ring.

There's a good version, very similar to this one, in John Ord's "Bothy Songs and Ballads" and a reference to another, somewhat older version in the manuscripts of William Motherwell (1797-1835.) This version most likely dates from the 1810s to 1840s. I never could come to a DADGAD arrangement that I liked so this is in standard.

There cam a letter yestreen
Oor ship mon sail i' the morn
'Alas', cried the bonnie lad
That ever I was born

And it's braw sailin on the sea
When wind and weather's fair
It's better be'en in my love's airms
O gin that I were there

He's gane untae her faither's hoose
At twelve o'clock at noon
This lassie being proud-hearted
She would not let him in

And it's braw sailin on the sea
When wind and weather's fair
It's better be'en in my love's airms
O gin that I were there

He's taen a ring frae his pocket
It cost him guineas three
Sayin, 'Tak ye that my bonnie lass
And aye think weel o' me'

But she's taen a ring from her pocket
It cost him shillings nine
Sayin, 'Tak ye that my bonnie lad
For I hae changed my mind'

Oh it's better drinkin Glasgow beer
It's better drinkin wine
It's better be'en in my love's airms
Where I've spent monie night's time

And it's braw sailin on the sea
When wind and weather's fair
It's better be'en in my love's airms
O gin that I were there

It's better be'en in my love's airms
And oh gin I were there



10. Caledonia

Another tune from Ord’s “Bothy Songs and Ballads”, I first learned this song twenty-five years ago. William Morris and I used to sing it as a duet around that time and I’ve always wanted to do something with it. It was, in fact, this song that formed the kernel that became “Cathedral of Memory” and brought William out to Oregon help on some other tracks. (I feel compelled to point out that it, also, is a happy song… in the end.)

A sailor and his true love
Sat doon tae mak their moan
When by came ain o their countrymen
Sayin' rise up my bonny lassie
Mak haste and come awa
There's a vessel lying bound for Caledonia

Oh said the sailor, are ye willing for tae pay
Five hundred guineas
Afore on board ye gae?
I'll pay them plack and farthing
Afore on board I go
If ye'll tak me tae my bonny Caledonia

Oh said the sailor her money we will tak
And when we're on the sea
We'll throw her over deck
Or sell her for a slave
Lang ere she win ava
And she'll never see her bonny Caledonia

Well said the captain, well that'll never do
For there are nae slaves
Sold intae oor country noo
They'd hang us ane and a'
They would hang us every man
If we sold her for a slave to Caledonia

Well said the sailor she's lying doon below
She's bound hand and foot
Ready overboard to throw
She's bound hand and foot
Ready overboard to throw
And she'll never see her bonny Caledonia

So the captain away tae the fair maid he has gane
Says what is the reason
That ye're lying here sae lang
An' what is the reason
That ye're lying here at all?
For you've paid your passage dear tae Caledonia

Oh said the lassie, oh woe is me
That ever I was born
Sic hardships for tae see
For the sailors got a lassie
He likes better far than me
And it causes me to weep for Caledonia

So the captain away to the sailor he has gane
He's ta'en him by the neck
And him overboard has thrown
Saying tak this cup o' water
Though the liquor be but sma'
And drink your lassie's health tae Caledonia

They've sailed east and they've sailed west
Until they reached the land
That they a' loved the best
For the winds they did roar
And the seas they did beat
And they've all arrived safe to Caledonia

Well they hadna been there
But three quarters o' a year
When in fine silks and satins
He's made her for tae wear
When in fine silks and satins
He's made her for tae go
Noo she's the captain's wife in Caledonia



11. Rain Shadow (© 2011 Frank Blair, Gabriel’s Legacy Music)

This original tune was inspired by Czech and Bulgarian horos and the odd oud taqsim that I found on YouTube one afternoon. The predominant rhythm is Greek 7s (3-2-2) but there are a few bars of 9 and 10 to make it more interesting and difficult to keep time to. 

When doing solo gigs in places I haven't played I very often introduce the bouzouki and play this tune as an intro to something the 'zouk is better known for, style-wise. The title refers to the area on the East side of a mountain where little rain falls since the clouds have to dump moisture to make it over the mountain. I was led down the path to Eastward looking perdition by Andy Irvine, Gerald Trimble, and Roger Landes. Special thanks to Mark Powers (




 "The Empty Chair", "Rain Shadow", "The Gallant Return", "The Dundee Predicament" (C)opyright © 2011 by Frank Blair, published by Gabriel's Legacy Music

"The Sun's Coming Over the Hill" (C)opyright © 2004 by Karine Polwart, published by Bay Songs Ltd.

"Arthur McBride and the Recruiting Sergeant" traditional, adapted and arranged by Paul Brady.

"In the Shadow of the Rockies" (C)opyright © Maria Dunn, 2001 (SOCAN/ASCAP)

"Ordinary Man" (C)opyright © 1985 by Peter Hames

All other tracks are traditional, arranged Frank Blair.

Recorded during May 20111 at The Magic Closet, Portland, Oregon.
Engineered by Ian Watts
Produced by Frank Blair

All CD art (C)opyright © Used with permission.

Art direction by Frank Blair.

I would like to take some time and space to thank everyone who made this project possible: Kathleen, my wife, Ian Watts, the engineer at The Magic Closet and the many, many friends who have supported what I do through the years.

For booking or other enquiries, please send email to

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