Here I am, finally back in the Southwest, which is the setting for Santo del Vado Viejo in The Mystery of Grace, and I find myself thinking of Newford, that other city I made up all those years ago. Maybe it’s because I’ve just met a lot of my readers here at the Tucson Festival of Books and I’ve been reminded of the special affinity many of them have for these characters and closeness to Newford itself.
When they ask about the origins of the city, I tell them how I took bits and pieces taken from all sorts of different places I’ve been—just the things that intrigued me—and like a musical mash-up, brought them all together in one place. I think they’d like Newford to be based, however loosely, on a real city so that they could go there and track down the traces of what I borrowed. I know they do it when they visit the part of Ottawa where Moonheart’s Tamson House would be located if it existed.
But while I can’t point to any one city—or even major parts of a city—as a definitive source for Newford, I do sometimes come across things that remind me so strongly of this place, which I know is only made up, that I have to stop for a moment to remind myself of that fact.
One of those is the video for “The Call to Dance” by a local (to me) group called Leahy. In Ottawa we’d say that they’re from “up the valley,” home to all sorts of fiddlers and stepdancers, probably because this area was settled by Irish and Scots, way back when.
Getting back to the video, it helps that in my mind the music itself is definitely a soundtrack to parts of Newford. But there’s something about the ghostly black and white images of the woman in her cloak, wandering streets and railways, juxtaposed with the loft, the musicians and the dancing, that always makes me think I’m getting a peek into something that’s only supposed to exist in my head.
I just wish it were a clearer version. I keep hoping the band will make it available as an extra on some concert DVD, or maybe combine a version with some reissue of that first album, but so far it hasn’t happened.
An amusing aside: I can remember many years ago, MaryAnn and I would go to our local exhibition/autumn fair and see “The Leahy Family” play in one of the exhibit buildings (surrounded by booths displaying prize pies and giant vegetables). They were so young—I don’t think Donal (the main fiddler) was much older than twelve or thirteen—and they were all dressed the same, as some family bands used to do. But even back then the music was wonderful—I still have the vinyl versions of a couple of those early albums—and I’m happy for the success that’s come their way.
Though I like cuts on all their albums, the first CD, with “The Call to Dance” on it, is still my favourite.