Announcing my new music teaching venture!

I am happy to announce that I have set up my own business teaching music! In addition to the usual workshops and one-to-one tuition, I will be using Skype to enable me to teach tin whistle and flute long-distance.

All details can be found on my new website:

bevwhelanmusic.com

I have lots of gigs coming up over the next few months, and also am very pleased to have been asked to teach for Folkus at a number of upcoming workshops throughout North West England. Details of all of the above can be found on my new website also.

Happy days!

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Music updates

It’s an awful long time since I updated this blog, so you might be forgiven for assuming I’d given it up altogether. However! I feel impelled to come back today and write an update about all the great musical stuff that’s been happening.

 

Bush Rush

Ever fancied dressing up as Kate Bush and doing the dance to Wuthering Heights out in the open for all to see? These people did:

One drunken night, my mate Lucy and myself had an idea. “Let’s do this in Lancaster!” We said. “Only… we’d better get a load of other people to do it as well so we don’t end up looking like a right couple of nobs.”

With all kudos to Lucy’s amazing event management talents as one of the organisers of Lancaster Music Festival, we made it happen. The Bush Rush was born. Our very own Kate Bush flashmob, is due to take place at 5.00pm on Friday 6th March in Lancaster Market Square.

I am going to be playing Kate Bush covers on the flute and – of course! – dressing like Kate and dancing to Wuthering Heights. I cannot wait. Wear red and join us in the Bush Rush!

 

Absolutely Legless

A big development since I last wrote in my blog is that I am now playing flute and whistle for the amazing Irish dance group, Absolutely Legless. Most of the members of AbLeg are based in Edinburgh, but there are a few, like myself, who are based further afield, and are only too happy to travel for the privilege of being part of this amazing group. I had the tremendous experience last year of playing at Festival RITE in the South of France with them, as well as doing theatre performances in Buckhaven and Berwick-on-Tweed. On Friday 13th March 2015 we will be performing at the Netherbow Theatre on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, and I am expecting to make my way to a few sessions in Edinburgh over the weekend also.

This summer Absolutely Legless are taking part in Rothbury Festival (17th – 19th July), then in August we are heading off to Switzerland for Celebrations Interculturelles de la Montagne in Evolene. It is all very exciting and lots of fun. In AbLeg I have found my kindred spirits, and collectively we knock back conventional spirits, wine and beer after each gig, for lo these people flippin’ well know how to party. I suppose the clue is in the name!

 

Bev Whelan Band

By dint of reasons it has come about that I have my own eponymous band. The name absolutely must change, but for now we are stuck with it, primarily because we are all crap at coming up with anything else we can live with!

The band consists some of my closest session mates in Lancaster, all of whom are members of the fabulous Balkanics: Joe Murphy (flute and whistle), Paul Ferguson (fiddle, guitar) and Roger Purves (mandolin, bouzouki and guitar), with myself on flute, whistle and low whistle. We have done a couple of gigs, one of which was a fundraiser for the New Fylde Folk and Roots festival . We will be playing at the Festival itself in September, where I will also be ensuring that Irish sessions happen, and will be giving classes on Irish Tin Whistle under the auspices of Folkus over the weekend.

 

Lancaster Irish Music Weekend

The next twice-yearly weekend of Irish sessions is coming up, scheduled for 27th to 29th March. Needless to say I will be out and about playing jigs and reels and quaffing a pint or two in exceedingly good company. The timetable is as follows (all venues are in Lancaster):

Friday
7.00pm – 1.00am Britannia
7.00pm – 4.00am Robert Gillow

Saturday
Noon – 1.00am Britannia
Noon – 4.00am Robert Gillow

Sunday
Noon – about 6.00pm Britannia

 

Langdale Festival

I’m not booked to play at my beloved Langdale Festival in May this year, but am planning to go nevertheless and help out however I can and probably play along with any band that’ll have me! I’m hugely looking forward to seeing all my lovely Langdale people again, and drinking fine ale whilst warbling folk songs into the early hours. The last time I was in Langdale was with a bunch of incredible musicians and friends to celebrate my mumble mumble significant birthday last August, and a fine old musical time was had by all.

 

So, in conclusion, you can see that I’ve been having (and continue to have) a busy musical time, engaged in actually playing more music than writing about it. My silence on this blog has therefore been for primarily positive reasons!

A Musical Autumn Ahead – some forthcoming events

Laid-back tunes outside the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel at Langdale Festival

Laid-back tunes outside the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel at Langdale Festival

It’s going to be an eventful Autumn, music-wise. Here are some forthcoming events that either myself or my friends will be involved in.

Next weekend – Friday 13th September onwards – is the twice-annual Langdale Charity Folk Festival. This, as I have noted before, is one of my favourite places and events to go to in the world. My own gig will be on Saturday afternoon in the main bar, but I will be doing lots of music outside of that slot too, much of it involving relentless Irish tunes with Mike Allen on fiddle and any other wandering traddies who might be passing through. Only six sleeps to go!

The same weekend is the twice-annual Irish Music Weekend in Lancaster, organised by my very good friend Dave Lyth. Unfortunately (as I will be in Langdale) I will not be able to attend this time. I’m very sad to miss it as the craic is likely to be mighty, with lots of great musicians from all over coming to this very popular event. If you love Irish sessions, Lancaster is the place to be (unless you come to Langdale to play tunes with Mike and me instead, that is!)

On Friday 20th September, we will have our next monthly traditional session at the Lord Ashton in Lancaster. Starting at around 8.00 pm, this has been consistently good so far, and is in a small, friendly pub with good beer. All trad musicians and lovers of trad music are welcome.

Wednesday 2nd October sees the return of the Irish Traveller singer, Thomas McCarthy, to Lancaster. Tom will be performing at The Gregson, along with support from local duo Nyewood. As I have said previously, Tom is an amazing exponent of a tradition not widely seen outside the Traveller culture, and it is truly a privilege to hear him sing. Highly recommended.

Finally, the Lancaster Music Festival will take place during the weekend beginning Friday 11th October. This is a community-run event during which live music will take place all over the city, in pubs and other venues. I will be playing a short spot with my friends Celia Briar (harp) and Ross Campbell (concertina and various stringed instruments) in Market Square next to the Information Stall on Saturday 12th October, probably around 1.00 pm. Come and say hello if you’re out and about!

It comes off the bow gravely, rephrases itself into the air

The Proleek Dolmen in Co. Louth, five minutes walk from where I used to live on the edge of the Ballymascanlon golf course.

The Proleek Dolmen in Co. Louth, just down the lane from where I used to live.

I once met a neighbour of Paddy Fahey (the famous Galway fiddle player and composer of a large number of unforgettable Irish tunes) when travelling on a train from Cork to Dublin. Paddy’s neighbour told me all about where he gets his tunes from. “He takes them out of the air; straight from the land,” he said. “They just come to him and he learns them.” This, so he said, was why Paddy doesn’t name any of his tunes, which are commonly distinguished from each other in sessions only by numbers (such as Paddy Fahey’s Number 1 and 2). “He denies that he wrote any of them”, my new friend told me. “He says they’re not his to name”.

It was the middle of winter, and I had the misfortune of having contracted the flu during the three days I’d spent in Cork. I had a high temperature, and had taken paracetamol and a hot toddy before getting on the train, which lent the entire journey a surreal quality. I remember that chat now with Paddy’s neighbour as a weirdly magical conversation, resonant of dolmens, ringforts and raths, the rain beating relentlessly down on the windows as we sped through the bleak, Irish countryside. You might say, given the state I was in, that I was a little bit away with the fairies.

There is a traditional slow air I like to play, a beautiful, eerie tune that (so the story goes) was also taken out of the air, just like the tunes that Paddy Fahey denies writing. It is Port na bPucai, which means ‘Tune of the Fairies’. The details differ slightly, depending on who is telling the story behind the tune, but one version of the tale is that a fiddle player was sitting alone in his hut on Inis Mhic Aoibhleáin (one of the Blasket Islands out in the Atlantic off the coast of Co. Kerry), where he heard a strange tune in the wind and learned to play it. He believed it was being played by the fairies, but it’s been suggested that the music he heard was actually the song of a humpback whale out at sea, so the tune is also sometimes known as ‘Song of the Whale’. It is certainly a very eerie tune, entirely unlike most traditional Irish slow airs in that it is an instrumental tune in its own right, rather than a melody derived from a sean nós song.

Here’s my own version of Port na bPucai:

Seamus Heaney, the great Irish poet who sadly died this week, was so moved by the story behind Port na bPucai that he wrote a poem inspired by it: The Given Note. It is a poem that has always resonated deeply with me, and that I always connect to that strange train journey I took, when I learned the story behind Paddy Fahey’s compositions, as well as the tale of the lonely fiddler sitting alone in his dry stone hut listening to whale song.  I love it so much I have a copy of it in a frame on my living room wall, and it is just about the only poem I can recite from memory.

Here is the great man himself reciting The Given Note in June this year:

Rest in peace, Seamus. A lovely man, whom I once had the pleasure to meet. You captured vivid, intense moments in time and set them free for all to see.

Trip to the Cottage

Trip to the Cottage

The cover of the Trip to the Cottage tape. Left to right: Dave Lyth, Michael Feely, Bev Whelan, Gordon Johnston.

Last night’s session at the Lord Ashton was a trip down memory lane; or, more accurately, a Trip to the Cottage.

That is rather a cryptic thing to say, so I shall elaborate. In 1991, I was one of a bunch of musicians with connections to Lancaster who made a recording called Trip to the Cottage. The musicians on the tape – no CDs in those days! – were Dave Lyth (fiddle), Michael Feely (flute), Gordon Johnston (banjo/guitar), and myself on flute and whistle.

The recording was made in Dave’s house, which has the enigmatic words ‘Vi Cottage’ etched in the stone over the door. A proper cottage industry, therefore, was Trip to the Cottage! Our sound engineer was my good friend Mike Allen (frequently mentioned in these pages for his excellent fiddle playing), and the cover was designed by local photographer and jazz musician Barrie Marshall.

We probably sold three or four dozen of them after it was released, and whilst it didn’t exactly rock the trad world, it was nice to discover that a radio station in the north of Ireland regularly played tracks from it on the air. Tapes became obsolete soon after that, of course, and sales dried up completely. Rumour has it that a forlorn box of unsold copies still lurks in the depths of Dave’s cellar, waiting to be discovered by future generations who will no doubt shake their heads in puzzlement at this bunch of strange objects, featuring people they have never heard of.

We were destined never to hit the big time, but of course the tape is a nice memento of those days for those of us who were involved. Here’s a sample of what it sounded like. This is me on flute, along with Gordon playing both banjo and guitar. Wow, we were cutting edge, with all that multi-tracking! This set of reels is the Old Copperplate followed by the New Copperplate:

Fast forward to the present. It was a quiet night at the Lord Ashton last night, with several of our regulars away, and by chance the four of us who turned up included three of the original musicians on Trip to the Cottage – myself, Gordon and Dave. We ended up playing set-after-set of nostalgic tunes from our past, including several that were on the tape, ably accompanied by Paul Beevers on bouzouki. It was all very laid back and pleasant, and brought back lovely memories of those days.

Dave Lyth (fiddle), Bev Whelan (flute), Gordon Johnston (banjo) and Paul Beevers (bouzouki).

Dave Lyth (fiddle), Bev Whelan (flute), Gordon Johnston (banjo) and Paul Beevers (bouzouki).

Memories of the Fleadh

Fleadh programmesI’ve been going through the cupboard at the top of my stairs again, which is full of all manner of treasures from my past. Here, therefore, is another little glimpse into my musical memories.

I went through a phase in my teens and early twenties when I entered loads of competitions. Mostly these were through Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann (CCE), and resulted in me never quite winning an All Ireland Champion title, although I was runner-up in the All Ireland twice and third once. Don’t get too excited, now, it was the Senior Flute Slow Airs competition!

I generally did pretty well in fleadhanna at local level, in both dance tunes and slow airs on whistle and flute, and usually got a fair showing in the All Britain. I no longer have my All Ireland medals, I think my mum still has them displayed on her wall, but here’s a handful of other medals I found in a box. This shows, really, how much of a masochist I was back then, putting myself through all that stress over and over again:

Medals

I also found a couple of adjudication sheets, with some fairly complimentary comments by the judges. However, I must admit I didn’t always agree with their comments, especially the one judge who told me she’d awarded me second place because the slow air I played was, quote, “A bit short.” I took quite a bit of umbrage at that, as I’d spent rather a long time painstakingly learning it from the singing of a Sean Nós singer, and thought I’d done a pretty good job! The slow air in question was Donal Óg.

Adjudication sheetsI went on to become very involved in Comhaltas throughout the 1980s and early 90s, and even eventually became an adjudicator myself. It was far less stressful than being on the other side of the table, I must admit, though could be a bit dull at times if there were 30 under-twelves all playing the same Kerry polka! Some of the kids were amazing, however, standing out from the pack like shining beacons of brilliance, and I’m sure those ones will have gone on to be tremendous musicians.

I have absolutely no desire these days to enter competitions. It was a phase in my youth, something I felt compelled to put myself through, possibly because I felt back then that I had something to prove. These days, I’m very laid back about it all, and I’ve always told myself, in the years since, that standing up and performing on stage is a doddle in comparison with setting yourself up for that kind of scrutiny. Remembering how scary it all was is a great cure for stage fright!

In the end, the music is what matters, and winning or not winning competitions is irrelevant in the great scheme of things. I like to think that, even back then, I still had some sort of perspective, despite my apparent urge to make life difficult for myself. Fleadhanna, for me, were always more about the sessions than the competitions, so I’ll end with a photo of the first All Ireland Fleadh in Listowel I attended, back in the early eighties, getting on with the real business of the day: playing in yet another all-night session.

Listowel

Last Night’s Fun

Last night was our second ever monthly session at The Lord Ashton. It was a really good night, enhanced by a visit from some fantastic Scottish musicians, a late licence, and an audience who actually listened to and appreciated the music for once!

There were three of us playing the flute last night; Joe Murphy from Lancaster, Craig Crawford from north of the border, and myself. The heat was a bit hard on the tuning (though of course I blame the fiddles), which brought to mind this question: what do you call three flute players playing an ‘A’? Answer: a chord!

The next session will be on Friday 16th August.

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Forthcoming Session in Lancaster

Computer problems have kept me from blogging of late, which means it is almost exactly a month since I was last here. Fortuitously, this means our next monthly session at the Lord Ashton in Lancaster is imminent, so this post can serve as both my triumphant return to blogging, and a reminder.

Our next session will be on Friday 19th July 2013, from 8.00 onwards. Further details (plus how to find the pub) can be found at thesession.org.

We also have a Facebook page, where regular updates about the session are posted.

Here are some photos of our last session in June:

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And also a wee bit of a video:

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I’ve heard we may have some visitors from Scotland on Friday, great musicians all, so it should be a good night. Musicians/listeners/people who just love to buy pints for musicians are all very welcome!

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Announcement: New Trad Session in Lancaster

Ian, Joe and PaulBeing horribly over-committed in a non-musical way most of the time, I rarely make it out to the regular Tuesday night Irish session in Lancaster at The Gregson. I find that a night of tunes and (probably) beer is really not conducive to getting up at 6.00 on Wednesday morning, which is the usual time I set my alarm for on weekdays. Inevitably this means I end up not playing in any sessions at all for long tracts of time, and people could be forgiven for assuming I do far more writing about music than actually playing it!

It turns out a few other people have similar weekday issues, particularly those (like me) who are bringing up young families and holding down full-time jobs. So what to do, what to do? The answer has presented itself in the form of a new, monthly session on a Friday. It being monthly rather than weekly facilitates advanced planning and arrangement of babysitters, and for those of us who just can’t hack late nights and early mornings during the week (oh, how the mighty have fallen), having the session on a Friday means that we get two whole days over the weekend to recover before having to go back to work. Voila, problem solved!

The first of our monthly sessions will take place next Friday, 21st June 2013 in The Lord Ashton, North Road, Lancaster, and will be held the third Friday of every month thereafter. Traditional tunes other than Irish will also be played, though it is likely that Irish tunes will dominate. All trad musicians are welcome, as are potential listeners – when we did a taster session to try out the pub, it was just us and the barman for most of the night!

In the meantime, for those hardy souls who can manage to get out during the week, the weekly Tuesday Irish session in the Gregson is still going strong, and if ever I find the stamina (or get a day off on a Wednesday) I hope to pop in to that as well. You can clearly never have too many sessions (though, in my case, I frequently get too few).

Here’s a little flavour of the type of music you will find at our session at the Lord Ashton, played by some of the people who are likely to be there. Paul Ferguson and Ian Francis on fiddle, backed by Roger Purves on bouzouki:

 

A Doxy’s Tale

After I posted about the sponsored walk I went on in aid of Luke Kelly’s charity (in my post Walking the Wyre), my friend Ross Campbell recalled how we got back to Fleetwood from Knott End at the end of the walk:

I remember that when we got to Knott End the ferry was temporarily unable to reach the slipway because of the low tide and the build-up of silt alongside, and Bev (terrified of water) had to get in a tiny inflatable dinghy that was taking passengers out to where the ferry sat in deeper water. Of course, as soon as they had safely transferred to the Fleetwood side, the incoming tide enabled the ferry to pick everybody else up as normal.

Yes, that was pretty horrible! But considering I’m not a fan of water, and never could bring myself to learn how to swim, there seems to have been a continuing seafaring theme in my life, nevertheless. I’ve long loved stories of the sea, having been drawn to films and books about the age of sail my entire life. Also, there is a strong tradition of seafaring in my family. My grandfather, Paddy Whelan, left Ireland and joined the merchant navy at a very young age, whilst my father John Whelan was also in the navy in his youth, and in later life worked as a trawlerman out of Fleetwood.

Here are my nautical forebears in their naval days, my grandfather Paddy Whelan on the left, and my dad John Whelan on the right in his HMS Impregnable cap:

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Me, however, I prefer to keep my feet on dry land, thank you very much, which is perhaps why the nickname ‘The Doxy’, given to me by some of my writing friends when I took a visiting group of writers to the Lancaster Maritime Festival and ruthlessly subjected them to sea shanties, is perhaps an appropriate one. Docks, yes! Open sea, no thanks!

A doxy, of course, is a name given to a woman who plies her feminine wares on the docks, as illustrated aptly by a song I love to sing with my friend Ross, the Banks of Newfoundland:

And round the docks, curled around in flocks,

Those pretty girls do stand.

Saying, “It’s snugger wi’ me, than it is at sea,

On the Banks of Newfoundland.”

I can certainly recall several notable occasions when I have lurked at the docks with a bunch of salty seadogs and balladeers of the sea. Over the years Fleetwood has attracted visits from the occasional tall ship, and shantymen (and women) have inexorably flocked to those ships like shoals of herring into a trawlerman’s net. Yours truly, The Doxy, has flocked along with them. After all, these particular ships were safely moored in the dock, not out on the ocean wave!

Here are a series of mementos from one such visit: a folk concert on board the Winston Churchill in 1984. I still have a ticket for this event. It was in aid of Fleetwood lifeboat, an extremely worthy cause. The £2.50 entrance fee seems outlandishly good value in this day and age, especially as it covered hotpot and red cabbage as well!

Here I am, all young and doxilicious, playing under a tarpaulin on deck with Fylde supergroup, Thistle. I was a founder member of this band, who have gone on (since I left!) to be hugely popular, with an enormously enthusiastic local following. The handsome young man in the cap is Mike Hayes, another founder member who is still with the band even after all these years:

Mike Hayes and Bev Whelan.

Mike Hayes and Bev Whelan.

The rest of Thistle can be seen below! Malcolm Shellard was the singer back then. A lovely man who I consider to be one of my best friends in the universe, even though we hardly ever see or hear from each other these days. My brother Kevin Whelan is playing the fiddle, and Bernie Brewin (the only one in this photo still with the band today) is on the bass.

Malcolm Shellard, Kevin Whelan and Bernie Brewin

Malcolm Shellard, Kevin Whelan and Bernie Brewin

I have already mentioned my good friend Ross Campbell, so here he is, no doubt entertaining the assembled with songs of decks being scrubbed and a good old lick of the cat:

Ross Campbell

Ross Campbell

This is Ian Woods, a well known and highly respected shanty singer from Suffolk:

Ian Woods

Ian Woods

This is the sort of sordid shenanigans that occurred as the night progressed and everyone got into the rum and ship’s biscuits. A bit of hornpipe action on deck!

Look at the state of his feet, that deck needs a good scrub!

Look at the state of his feet, that deck needs a good scrub with holy stone and sand!

And here is a photo of a different event. It is another folk concert on a tall ship moored in Fleetwood, this time on board the Malcolm Miller, circa 1986. The band was called Thingummyjig, and the members were (left to right) Andy Murphy on uilleann pipes, me on concertina, Penny Towers on vocals, Bob Singleton on bass, and my brother Rick Whelan on guitar. It was the first band I had ever been in where all the band members were roughly my age; up to that point I’d always been the baby:

Andy Murphy, Bev Whelan, Penny Towers, Bob Singleton and Rick Whelan, AKA Thingummyjig.

Andy Murphy, Bev Whelan, Penny Towers, Bob Singleton and Rick Whelan, AKA Thingummyjig.

I’m going to leave this post with some recent seafaring music, in a thoroughly modern style. One of my favourite bands of current times is The Sail Pattern, whose music I regard as joy personified. I can never fail to see them perform live and come away thoroughly uplifted, as well as hoarse from having given my shanty harmonies a good workout. And I have to add that not only are they fantastic musicians, but a nicer bunch of lads you could never hope to meet.

Here they are singing ‘Farewell and Adieu to you Spanish Ladies’ in their unique style: