Chris Caswell, American Celtic Bard, Harp Designer and Builder.

Chris Caswell, American Celtic Bard, Harp Designer and Builder.

 Oakland, California, USA
BandFolkCeltic

An evening with Chris Caswell is a journey with one of the finest players and makers of the Celtic harp: rich, fun, and infused with a deep delight. A seminal figure in the American Celtic music revival, Chris has been playing and building harps for the past thirty years.

Biography

Chris Caswell is one of the world’s finest players and builders of the Celtic Harp. His contagious delight in playing casts a bright spell over his audience, made even richer by his personal
engagement in every note. His music is infused by his Welsh and
Scottish heritage, and by the traditions of Europe, the Middle East, and South America. www.ChrisCaswell.net

He is also a respected performer on the Scottish bagpipes, Irish flute, tinwhistle, bodhran (Irish frame drum), and Scottish snare drum. A true Celtic bard, folk musician and singer, he is a natural raconteur, historian, musicologist, and teacher.

Lisa Lynne is a musician and composer who has gained worldwide recognition for her music featuring her Celtic Harp. She is a Billboard charting recording and performing artist who also works in therapeutic music. www.lisalynne.com

Aryeh Frankfurter is a performer who delights audiences with this uncommon approach to his folk repertoire. His abilities on Celtic harp, Swedish Nyckelharpa, and various strings have delighted audiences around the globe. www.Lionharp.com

During the seventies Chris served as a seminal influence in re-introducing the Celtic harp to American players - a renaissance that was centered in his native Northern California. It has been suggested that he helped provide the “blueprint for Loreena McKennitt and a host of others in the creation of what's commonly regarded as North American ‘Celtic music’ today.” Since he was very young, Chris has had an intense love for music. From his Welsh and Scottish background, he inherited an interest in Celtic Arts. By high school this included the harp, an instrument that had lain largely dormant for centuries in the British Isles.

In his teen years, Chris studied in Scotland with the renowned piper Donald MacPherson at the College of Piping in Glasgow and later with the equally respected Donald Shaw Ramsay. He studied harp with Alison Kinnaird in Edinburgh and worked with folklorist Peter Kennedy in Devon, England. This training served him well during his years of touring America and Europe with Robin Williamson and his Merry Band and the duo Caswell Carnahan. More recently, he has augmented his earliercomposition studies by working with the well-known composer and teacher Allaudin Mathieu.

HOLY WOOD (2001) is Chris’ solo bronze-strung harp CD. Played on this rare and hauntingly beautiful instrument of his own making it is his “roots” collection of music from The British Isles and France. CELTIC TIDINGS is his well-loved holiday CD. In addition, Chris is featured on more than thirty recordings including Bonnie Rideout’s multi-award winning GIMME ELBOW ROOM and Grammy nominated KINDRED SPIRITS. Chris was a featured artist on “A Scottish Christmas Tour” and “Live from the National Geographic” in the late nineties.

In the past thirty- five years, Chris has built around a thousand harps for musicians around the world. Caswell Harps are considered among the finest available and are known for their blend of tradition, craftsmanship, innovative technical design, and amazing sound.

Between his own playing, touring and harp building, Chris finds time to teach. He currently offers private and group lessons in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as workshops as an entertaining and educational adjunct to his concert appearances. A natural and joyful teacher, he has held harp retreats throughout the country, and has taught for years at several major music camps including Lark Camp in Mendocino, the Golden Toad Music & Dance Camp in Sonoma County and Alasdair Fraser’s Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddling School.

Chris has also been active in national music organizations. He has served as National Chairman of the Scottish Harp Society of America and was a member of the Judges Panel of the Western United States Pipe Band Association. He is a voting member of the Recording Academy. Locally, he has served as Pipe Major of the City of Petaluma Pipe Band, and co-founded the Sebastopol Celtic Festival, which is now fifteen years old - flourishing, and attracting major talent from around the world.

Recently, Chris was honored to appear in January 2009 as a guest of the Chieftains at the Wells Fargo Center in Santa Rosa, CA. He has appeared at numerous festivals and house concerts as well as performing and displaying his harps yearly in the Great Dickens Christmas Fair11. He is a frequent guest artist with The California Revels, and appeared at the2009 Festival of Harps in Oakland as well as the Sebastopol Celtic Festival and the KVMR Celtic Festival, Grass Valley.

Lyrics

Farewell to the House

Written By: Chris Caswell

Farewell to the House
Words and Music by Chris Caswell © 1983

Farewell to the house, remember its treasures,
Take leave of the oak and the ivy also,
To hold fast the fields that as children we treasured,
For we live now beyond all we know.

Chorus:
May we find home, home, where ever we roam,
Though night and storm lay between us.
Home, home, the morning will come,
With friends to restore us again.

Here's to the stories that cling to its chimneys.
Here's to the dances stepped out on its floor,
Here's to the family and friends that it's sheltered,
Who's shadows forget now its door.
Chorus: May they find…

When I'm weary with road behind and before me,
When old friends have fallen and young love has fled,
May fate and its fortune return and reclaim me,
At evening and lay me to bed.
Chorus: May I find…

Long may the arms of a loved one surround you,
Long may the face of an old friend be near,
Long may the walls of your kitchen resound with,
The voices of young children dear.
Chorus: May you find…
Repeat Chorus: May we find…

Sing the Day Exalted

Written By: Chris Caswell

Sing the Day Exalted
Words and Music © C2008 Chris Caswell

Sing the day exalted,
Sing the water and the wheel
The plowing and the parting,
The lilies in their field

Chorus (repeat to teach):
For the lark she rises early
Lay, you lovers, lay,
And the lark she sings the sweetest
At the dawning of the day.

Sing the touch and binding
Sing the winding and the cross
The crucible and finding
The lover and her loss

Chorus

Sing the midnight and her morning
Sing the rising and the fall
The poor boy and his yearning
Sing the lover of them all

Chorus (Last time repeat last two lines.)

The Banks of the Sacramento

Written By: Chris Caswell

The winter it is past and gone,
Blow my bonny winds, blow,
But I'll know no spring since Johnny's gone,
To the banks of the Sacramento.

Last fall this letter he sent home,
Blow…
Saying, the claims are staked and I have none,
On the banks…

Chorus: So blow my bonny winds, blow,
Blow my bonny winds, blow,
Come blow my boat across the sea,
To the banks of the Sacramento.

There's not much work in the towns nearby…
Unless you've got a gambler's eye…

I wish I owned an alehouse here…
For they spend all their findings on women and beer…

Chorus

I'll send you money when I can…
And we'll be married and buy some land…

Now farming's all the life for me…
Far, far away from the gold country…

Chorus

The Clan Tent Cavaliers

Written By: Chris Caswell


1. In the early mist of dawn you'll see us driving in the stakes,

Raising up our standards while the world slowly wakes.

An army of great heilan' men converging on the moor,

While we're waiting for the doughnut stand to open up its door.

2. From Anderson to Watson every family has its place,

A momentary nation raised on one wee acre space.

We'll preserve our ancient glories, and our history as well,

Buying every trink and bauble that the vendors have to sell.

For we're the worsted warriors; the clan tent cavaliers.

We never miss a highland games. You'll always find us here.

So come on in and sit you down and have a drop of cheer,

And we'll figure out a way of having you sit here next year.

3. Our kilts are low; our sporrans high; our hose a wee bit thin,
But like yourself, we're handsome folk, we're sure you'll fit right in.
We're friendly and good natured and the clan pays for the beer,
Which is how we know that you'll be sitting here with us next year.

4. We've memorized the clans and septs and all the surnames, too.
Proving we're all kith and kin, connecting us to you.
But if your name's not on the list, there's no need for despair.
We'll just look it up in a bigger book, it's bound to be in there.

Chorus

5. We'll shout for you our battle cry, though we're not sure what it means,
And here's a sprig of our family plant, but have a care - it stings.
We'll show you all our tartans: hunting; dress; and ancient, too,
While the chairman plays our piobroch on his granny's old kazoo.

6. Well some say we're but silly, others say we're clean bereft,
To sit here through the noon day sun in nine yards of the best,
But if you think we're crazy, then just take a look around,
At the loonies strangling pipes and pitching tree trunks at the ground.

Chorus

7. Just sign up on our database and pay the bitty fee,
For our homemade periodical listing all you get for free.
You can order crests and coats of arms, and have them in a week,
Along with baseball caps and tee-shirts with our motto writ in Greek.

8. What's that you say, your name's not here, it's no where to be found,
There's not a clan or sept or lowland house for you around?
Then you must be chief of all your ilk! We'll help you find a tent,
And we'll make high convenor of your own wee government.

For we're the worsted warriors; the clan tent cavaliers.
We never miss a highland games. You'll always find us here.
So come on in and sit you down and have a drop of cheer,
And we'll figure out a way of having you sit here next year.

So come on in and sit you down and have a drop of cheer,
‘Til we figure out a way of making you sit here next year.

Click and Drag

Written By: Chris Caswell


1. My cubicle's just five feet wide,

Click and drag, click and drag,

And my boss works on the other side.

Double click and drag it.

2. Them salaried boys have all the fun,
Click and drag, click and drag,
With a parking place for every one.
Double click and drag it.

Chorus: So drag, my bonnie boys, drag.

Click and drag, click and drag,

As long as you've an icon left,

Double click and drag it.

3. Well I met a tech named Sally Ashe,
With a thousand gigs and a big RAM cache.
4. She said, "Your hardware's what I need,
And my software's version 3.3."

Chorus

5. Her A to D was 24 bits,
And her process speed would give you fits.
6. But I said, "The truth I'll tell to you,
My software's only 2.2"

Chorus

7. She said, "My boy, there’s nothing wrong,
We'll just re-configure all night long."
8. So we went to mount and all looked fine,
But my system crashed the very first time.

Chorus

9. Well, computer life's a terrible life,
Now I work at home with my loving wife.
10. My latte’s burnt and my disk won't read;
Some days I long to be at sea.

Chorus X2

Nan's Song

Written By: Chris Caswell

Nan's Song
First verse and melody traditional. Additional words by Chris Caswell © 1982

Go build me a castle on some wild treetop high,

Where my true love can see me as he is passing by,

Where the turtledoves can hear me and come help me mourn,

For I am a poor stranger, and far from my home.

2. I once was a young girl in my father's country,
Where I danced through the fields and the forests so free,
Where a young man once courted with a smile and a sigh,
Like the wind in the treetops and the clouds rolling by.

3. But now I am old and the sunlight it won't warm,
And my own babies' children have babes of their own,
And all that I long for is their young hands to hold,
Where they weigh in my palms more than silver or gold.

4. At night in my dreams I'm a young girl once again,
And I dance through the fields with my babe by the hand,
And I wake in the morning with a smile and a sigh,
Like the wind in the treetops and the clouds rolling by.

Repeat first verse

Discography

For Chris Caswell
Holy Wood Chris Caswell, Celtic Harp, Gargoyle, 2001
Celtic Tidings Chris Caswell & Friends, North Star, 1999
A Kate Wolf Retrospective Various, with Caswell Carnahan, Gargoyle, 1996
Borderlands Caswell Carnahan, Kicking Mule, 1982,
Gargoyle reissue 1995
New Leaves on an Old Tree Caswell Carnahan, Kicking Mule, 1981
Gargoyle reissue 1995
A Glint at the Kindling Robin Williamson & His Merry Band
Flying Fish Records, 1979
American Stonehenge Robin Williamson & His Merry Band
Flying Fish Records, 1978
Journey’s Edge Robin Williamson & His Merry Band
Flying Fish Records, 1977
Sea Sutras Beverly Frederick, Veladanza, 2003
Yoga Therapy Beverly Frederick, Veladanza, 2002
Cello Barry Phillips, Gourd Music, 2000
Deep Still various, Here to Him Music, 2000
In the Arms of the Wild Beverly Frederick, Veladanza, 2000
Rime of the Ancient Matriarch Holly Tannen, 2000
Assaru u Stekhvar Omar Ait Vimoun, Gargoyle, 1999
Caper Diem Bruno, Gargoyle, 1999
Give Me Elbow Room Bonnie Rideout, Maggie’s Music, 1998
Echoes in the Weave Bonnie Barnum, Dancing Deer, 1998
The Wee Hours Various, Scottish Fiddling, Gargoyle, 1998
Celtic Sessions William Coulter, Gourd Music, 1997
Beyond the Shore Deby Benton Grosjean, Aniar Records, 1997
Kindred Spirits Bonnie Rideout, Maggie’s Music, 1996
A Drop of the Pure Steve Baughman, Tall Tree, 1996
Fandango at Sonoma Los Californios, Gargoyle, 1996
Fait en Califorie French Creek, Gargoyle, 1995
Djerdan Slavko Silic, Gargoyle, 1995
Blackwaterside Susan Winsberg, 1995
Songs of the Homeland, Vol. 1 & 2 Donnie Macdonald, 1994

Set List

For Chris Caswell Music
Typically 2 sets, 50 minutes each featuring a mix of predominantly Celtic/European medleys, some Middle Eastern, improvisational, original and seasonal songs, tinwhistle solos, and sometimes bagpipes. Here's a typical evening (default instrument is harp):

1st Set

1. Coilsfield House / 6/8 March / El Parrandero (Scottish)
2. Bells of Aberdovey / Courting Gwen (Welsh)
3. Jungfru Visan / Little Breezes of the River Miño (Swedish/Galician)
4. Castle Terrace (whistle - Irish)
5. Joropo (Venezuelan)
6. Late Summer Air (Scottish)
7. Perfect Stranger (Original Song)
8. Bir Demet Jesmin (Turkish)

2nd Set

1. When Yellow’s On the Broom (Scottish song)
2. Hector the Hero / Calliope House (Scottish)
3. Boenek (Bulgarian)
4. Dark Lady of the Glen / Jigs (whistle - Irish)
5. The Little Spree (Scottish)
6. Pacheco (R. Williamson song)
7. The Wild Geese (Irish)
8. Farewell to the House (original song)