Willow’s Song – Magnet

This is our grand finale for B- Movie Week. I see The Wicker Man as one of the very most perfect examples of a ‘B’ Feature that built itself a reputation. When the Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee starring Pagan ritual horror beat Midsommar to the punch by 40 odd years it was paired up in many screens with the incredible Nick Roeg film Don’t Look Now starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. It went on as a support act. The B Feature to some existential dread & flashes of red in the corners of the frame that redefined what a horror movie could be. I was too young to see this glorious late night double feature picture show. Yet they are two of my all time favourite films. Imagine paying your ticket and seeing those two smashers on the same night!!!

Often credited to Paul Giamatti as the writer of the song when you see it on the interwebs. The performance on the record is attributed to Magnet. A bunch of musos from the middle of the 20th century who recorded perhaps the most affecting soundtrack album to a horror film of all time. I know this because my heavy vinyl repressing of The Wicker Man soundtrack is one of my favourite soundtrack albums (hang that, its one of my favourite albums) tells me it is so. What the record doesn’t reveal is that Magnet were only formed for the recording of the album and to feature in the credits of the film as Corn Rigs plays over Sgt Howie’s arrival on Summer Isle. In truth, there is no folkie back catalog of hey nonny nonny stuff by beardy men in heavy knit sweaters and a chesty lass with plats in her hair who drinks tankards of ale. It’s a fiction, just like the film. Giamatti improvised the song for the scene on a whim. There’s even an internet controversy as to who the female vocalist is. Could be Rachel Verny according to the guy who wrote the song, or Scottish Jazz singer Annie Ross if you believe the director. If you get the 2002 recut it’s actress Leslie Mackie (who played a different role in the film) doing a different take. Ohhh spooky.

Willow is played by Britt Ekland in the film. There’s a scene where she casts a spell by singing this song in the nude and tapping on the wall from her bedroom. She’s trying to lure the movies hero, to tempt him to her chamber. I was 12 when I saw The Wicker Man. I’ve been putty in the hands of girls with Scottish accents ever since. Little does he know at this stage if he wasn’t such a Churchy McFlanders he might survive the visit. But he’s a good boy and he keeps his appointment the next day.

Willow’s Song did get a single release as a double A side with another sing along song from the movie Gently Johnny. I’m not sure it was a smash hit, but boy was it influential. There are scores of cover versions committed to tape by fans of the film, the folk scene, the song, Britt Ekland’s butt (apparently that’s not hers in the film) but ultimately whether it meant to or not Willow’s Song continued a tradition. A folk song is supposed to be passed from performer to performer. To morph, to evolve. Sneaker Pimps did a trip hop version in the 90’s. They changed the title to How Do but it’s clearly Willow’s Song with blips and humms. The Mock Turtles have had a go. Doves did it as a bonus track on their best of album The Places Between. Lush, Sing-Sing, Faith And The Muse all covered it. Daniel Licht recorded it for the soundtrack to Silent Hill: Downpour. There was a French version by a band called Autour de Lucie on their album L’Echappée Belle.

Back to the song. It’s lyrics are a very soft and earthy booty call that take in lyrics from old Elizabethan drinking songs (the English have a Loooooong tradition of drinking songs) and a bit of George Peele’s The Old Wives’ Tale and turn them into something wispy. Willow’s Song sounds to me like summer air. It sounds like sunburn at sunset. It’ sounds like cold cider going warm on a wooden bench because you’re smelling it not drinking it while you watch the bugs light up on the horizon. I’ve said very similar things about Catatonia’s Don’t Need The Sunshine in the past. I can listen to those two songs in a little loop if ever I need a boost of vitamin D. It’s February. We’re locked down. My feet are frozen. I’m permanently caked in freezing mud or washing freezing mud off of something or another or trying to keep this big old house warm enough to see things in real time rather than for the few hours of the day my retina aren’t frozen. I feel like I haven’t seen the sun in months. How do?

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