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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!

Pipe Dreams

All my recent focus on harps and harpists reminded me of this video of myself and harp player Celia Briar, which was filmed at the Priory Church of St. Mary in Lancaster in December 2010:


Known locally simply as The Priory, the ancient church sits on top of Castle Hill beside Lancaster Castle. It’s a very beautiful building, on a site that was once a Roman fort, old enough that archaeological investigations have revealed elements of a fifth century Saxon church incorporated into it.

Lucy, the Project Officer, filming at the back of the church, surrounded by ghostly orbs.

Lucy, the Project Officer, filming at the back of the church, surrounded by ghostly orbs.

The concert we did there, Pipe Dreams, was in support of the Pipe Organ Project, which aimed to secure lottery funding to replace the electronic organ in the church with a magnificent pipe organ, a Willis III dated from 1913, as well as a smaller pipe organ in the north chancel (both of which are now in place). It was one of many music events that took place there during the course of the project, which also strove to raise the profile of the Priory as a cultural space for the use of the entire local community, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof.

The alternative Women's Institute take over the high church of Lancaster!

The alternative Women’s Institute take over the high church of Lancaster!

Pipe Dreams was organised by Project Officer (and good friend) Lucy Reynolds, and was a real community effort, with lighting provided by Izzi Wilkinson and fellow performing arts students from Preston College as part of a BTEC assignment, whilst some decidedly un-churchy friends of both Lucy and myself served tea and buns like an alternative, irreverent Women’s Institute.

It snowed heavily during the evening, which somehow added to the magic, and the children who were there (including my two) gleefully ran amok in a big pack outside, playing in the otherwise undisturbed snow on Castle Hill.

Pipe DreamsThe music was very eclectic, with the jazz improvisation of Stephen Grew’s World Line Ensemble, songs and tunes on a variety of different bagpipes from Bill Lloyd, the singer-songwriting and piano playing virtuosity of Chas Ambler, and an abridged version of popular local band The Manfredis, featuring the amazingly talented Chele Stevenson (when she wasn’t serving tea!) on vocals.

Celia and myself finished off the night playing music by O’Carolan, some music composed by ourselves,  and a variety of traditional tunes.

The Pipe Dreams concert, in the beautiful Priory with the snow falling outside, was a very special experience. The acoustics were amazing, with our flute and harp effortlessly filling the interior right up to the rafters.

It was such a privilege to be given the opportunity to play in such a beautiful, iconic local building.

Travellers in Town – Tom McCarthy and the Doyle Family Band in Lancaster

Tom McCarthy singing at The Gregson Centre, Lancaster in 2011.
Photo: by Peter Kennerley

When I first met Tom McCarthy last year, he’d come to Lancaster straight from an equality conference, where he’d been speaking about Irish travellers. It was a clear reflection of Tom’s commitment to reach out and promote greater understanding of his community, all too often depicted in the wider world by stereotypes and shallow interpretations based on overwhelmingly negative assumptions. With his quiet, unassuming manner and proactive desire to share the best of his culture, I can’t imagine a better ambassador for Irish travellers than Tom McCarthy.

Ever since Tom exploded onto the folk scene in 2008, he has shared such a priceless store of songs and stories with those of us who have previously only had the barest glimpses into Tom’s world. It certainly felt like a special privilege to me, listening to him sing in the Gregson Centre in Lancaster last year. His performances are understated and intimate, like a chat with a friend. It feels like being invited to a fireside, like going back in time. It doesn’t matter how big the audience is, it’s as if, for a short, magical time, there’s just Tom, and you, and the timeless stories woven by his music.

Tom talks of the way he learned his songs; from his mother, from his grandfather, from others of his family who have passed them down through generation to generation, singing them at family gatherings and especially at his grandfather’s house in Co. Offaly, which he remembers as being a hub of his family’s music. His vocal style is very traditional sounding, to my ears, the phrasing similar to sean nos or ‘old style’ singing in Irish. Tom stressed however, when I met him, that his vocal style is a distinct tradition in its own right, and that travellers generally do not speak Irish. There may be some influence from other traditional styles of Irish music, but the distinct repertoire and delivery makes the traveller singing tradition stand alone.

It’s no wonder that there has been a mad scrabble to collect and document Tom’s repertoire in the past couple of years, by such luminary organizations as Cecil Sharp House. These are unique songs, not previously heard outside the traveller culture, and certainly never recorded (until now). Tom embodies the oral tradition in its truest sense, and that is a precious and rare thing in this digital day and age.

Tom will be back in Lancaster on Friday 6th July, performing at The Gregson Centre once more. This time he will be sharing a stage with The Doyle Family Band, a traveller family who play traditional Irish tunes. Another rich and distinctive traveller tradition, that of uilleann piping, will be well represented by Simon Doyle, as well as younger members of the Doyle family. It’s a night not to be missed – I highly recommend, if you are in reach of Lancaster, that you come along, because you will experience something very special indeed.


Tom McCarthy & The Doyle Family Band

The Gregson Centre

Moor Lane, Lancaster, LA1 3PY

Friday 6th July, 8.30 pm

Tickets: £8.00 (£6.00 concessions)

available from the Gregson bar or on the door