Sheila Stewart came to Bleddfa for the second year I taught there. She was invited by the course founder, Jenny Pearson, and left an indelible impression on all of us. Her traveller version of the Juniper Tree (‘Appley and Orangey’) was a deep and terrifying toure de force as she wove her astonishing voice in and out of the narrative. You can hear her singing in the video below recorded when she was still a young woman.
One of her unique contributions was what she called ‘the conyach’ which is a traveller version of ‘duende’ that permeates their singing and telling with such verve and life. She left us with a short poem of thanks for the time we spent together.
Sadly, Sheila died in 2014, but not after making a huge impact on both folksingers and storytellers and pretty much everyone she ever met. You can read her obituary from the Guardian here.
I’ve just found a redcording of Shiela singing ‘Appley and Orangey’, the Scottish Traveller version of the Juniper Tree. You can listen to it below and buy the CD here.
It has just been pointed out to me that there is also a great film called Where You’re Meant To Be made a few years ago that features Sheila not long before she died. Well worth a watch if you are interested in tradition, song and reinvention. A celebration of Shiela and her irrepressible feistiness!