Full Circle: the surprising tale of “Sleepyhead”

“Este es Francisco Yglesia” is mostly an album of traditional Paraguayan and Latin music, including some of Francisco’s own compositions.  “Sleepyhead”, however, is an arrangement of an anthemic 2008 single by the Massachusetts indie rock band Passion Pit:

So, what on earth is it doing on a Francisco Yglesia album?

I should know better, but I am still amazed when I watch Francisco hear a tune just once, any tune at all, then almost immediately reproduce it on the harp.  He makes this look very easy, but of course, he has been practising for the best part of six decades.

When we were planning the first “Este es” recording session, my brother (Dan) and I had  been listening to a lot of Passion Pit.  Dan was then a producer for Channel M Television in Manchester (UK), and had recently recorded Passion Pit for a TV show of his.  And, Dan’s Channel M colleague Rachel had a band called Run Toto Run, and their cover of Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead” was becoming a YouTube hit:

The night before the recording session, we played Francisco both versions of Sleepyhead, and asked “what do you think of this”? He smiled, particularly at the Run Toto Run version, and in front of Dan’s rolling camera, basically did the following:

Everyone loved it. “We’ve got to have that on the album”, I insisted, impatiently.  But, ever the perfectionist, Francisco said “No. I think I can do better. Give me some time”.  It hadn’t been the plan, but we booked a follow-up recording session for a few months time.

By the time session #2 came around, I’d almost forgotten about Sleepyhead.  But towards the end of the day, Francisco said through the intercom “OK, I think we should try Sleepyhead now”.  What we heard then is what you can hear now on the album. When he’d finished, the team in the control room just sat in stunned silence. One of us might have said out loud “That’s a take!”, but there was no need to state the obvious.

Francisco had been listening to both the Passion Pit and Run Toto Run versions very carefully. Despite being the same song, the two versions differed greatly, yet Francisco had created something both beautiful and unique again. But it wasn’t until some months later that the any of us (Francisco included) got the whole picture…

We eventually learned that the main riff from Passion Pit’s “Sleeepyhead” is actually based on a sample from the traditional Celtic song “Óró Mo Bháidín”, as recorded by Mary O’Hara. And on what instrument does Mary O’Hara play “Óró Mo Bháidín”? Well, it’s not a Paraguyan Harp, but it’s a harp nonetheless.  The Clàrsach and the Paraguyan Harp certainly share a common ancestor.

It will come as no surprise to anyone, that since Este es Francisco Ygleisa was released digitally in April 2010, the most popular download from the album has consistently been Pajaro Campana. No other song is more closely associated with Apra Paraguaya. But, what is the second-most popular download? Is it Milk Train? Colorado? No. Even Francisco was surprised when I told him it was actually “Sleepyhead”.

But why not?  From Mary O’Hara, to Passion Pit, to Run Toto Run to Francisco Yglesia. From Ireland, to Massachusetts, to Manchester.  From Harp to Harp.  The circle is complete.

Whatever next?

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About Joules

Owner of Analogue Rock Records, producer of "Este es Francisco Yglesia", administrator of FranciscoYglesia.co.uk. Likes Belgian beer.

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