Archives

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!

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:

.

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:

My Heart is Full

The incredibly beautiful Langdale valley

The incredibly beautiful Langdale valley

I can be a bit fatalistic at times, especially when it feels like things are going just that bit too well. Therefore I have long suspected that one day I will go to Langdale Festival, and it won’t be as good. Each time the twice-yearly festival comes around I mentally prepare myself for this eventuality, dreading that this next festival will be the one where it all starts to go downhill. “It can’t be like this forever,” I tell myself. “All good things must come to an end.”

I’m always relieved to be proved wrong, and last weekend was no exception. The most recent Langdale Festival showed absolutely no signs of a slippery slope down into the doldrums. Instead, it’s like we rounded a corner to see yet another shining peak rise before us out of the mist, with the clear prospect of even more dizzy heights of fun to come. All of the usual suspects, it seems, just keep on keeping on, and the younger generation, who we old folkies must rely upon to carry the musical torch into the future, are very confidently and competently striding ahead on the path.

For the uninitiated Great Langdale, where the Langdale Festival is held, is a glacial valley north of Ambleside in the Lake District. Dramatic peaks rise almost vertically out of the flat valley floor, the mercurial weather and the stark, unspoilt scenery making it look and feel like a timeless oasis at the end of the world. At the head of the valley the only signs of habitation are the National Trust campsite, a farm, and the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, where the festival takes place.

The ODG Hikers Bar

The ODG Hikers Bar

The ODG or the ‘Old’ as many of its patrons call it (to distinguish it from the ‘New’ Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, further back down the valley), is a 300 year old coaching inn run, rather conveniently for we musical types, by fiddle player Neil Walmsley. It is famed the world over, particularly for its ‘Hikers Bar’ in the converted byre of the hotel, complete with preserved cow stalls transformed into seating. Such is its allure that the ODG has had its fair share of famous regular visitors over the years, including Chris Bonington, Jimmy Page, Roy Harper, Mike Harding, members of Fairport Convention and countless others, as well as the many thousands of less eminent walkers and climbers who have passed through its doors. One reason for its popularity is its unparalleled location; another is that the ODG has a decades-long reputation as a spontaneous venue for music of various kinds, often played by the very people who head off in the morning to walk and climb the fells roundabout.

Janice, still a bad influence after all these years!

Janice, still a bad influence after all these years!

I was introduced to Langdale at the tender age of 18, in the company of my (then) more worldly-wise friend Janice, a fellow folkie who was already an established Langdale-ite at that time. We travelled up in Janice’s campervan for the weekend, accompanied by her black labrador Bess, and proceeded to drink the valley dry of Youngers Number 3 ale, appropriately served up in pewter tankards. Tunes were played, songs were sung, lifelong friendships were forged, and my love affair with Langdale went careering through my life thereafter like a force ten gale down Mickleden Beck. I urged family and friends to come with me the next time, and almost immediately they were in love with it too. Thirty years later we’re all still going up there anytime we can, every bit as infatuated with Langdale now as we were all those years ago.

A very young me playing the flute with friends in the ODG in 1983

A very young me playing the flute with friends in the ODG in 1983

Twenty years ago, the Langdale Charity Folk Festival sprang out of the firmament of the like-minded souls who frequent the valley. Music was being played there anyway, so the reasoning went. Why not keep on playing, but make an effort to do some real, tangible good at the same time? And so charities were adopted, and the festival was born. Since its inception, the festival has raised thousands of pounds for the Search and Rescue Dogs Association, the Great North Air Ambulance and Fix the Fells, all causes close to the hearts of the walkers, climbers and (let’s not underestimate it) drinkers of Langdale.

The positive benefits of our fundraising were demonstrated in stark relief last weekend when, as we played and sang all cozy and warm in the ODG, a real-life rescue was taking place at that very moment on the cold, wet mountain behind the hotel. On this occasion, there was a happy ending as the stranded walker – afflicted with hyperthermia – was brought safely down off the fells.

An extremely heroic dog with collection buckets. If you're ever passing through the Lakes, please put a few coins in the mountain rescue collection tins

An extremely heroic dog with collection buckets. If you’re ever passing through the Lakes, please put a few coins in the mountain rescue collection tins

Afterwards the mountain rescue team (all of whom are unpaid volunteers), accompanied by their rescue dogs, came to drink a well-earned pint in the ODG and listen to the music. The rescued walker, still in shock but very much alive thanks to their intervention, came to join us as well. The whole episode was a poignant reminder of the very real motivation behind our festival: a celebration of life at its most joyful, along with selfless compassion for it at its most vulnerable. I don’t think, in the current climate of austerity and blame, that you can get a more salient reminder of the innate goodness of humanity than that.

A consequence of so many years of association with Langdale Festival has been the bittersweet juxtaposition of a large group of friends all growing old together, so that we’ve long-since got to a point where no one is ever shocked by anyone’s behaviour, and we all accept each other without judgment, exactly as we are. There’s something very comforting about having one place in the world where you can be unashamedly yourself, safe in the knowledge that your friends still like you, warts and all.

A photo of Ethan Thomas, inserted into this part of the post where I talk about drinking for no particular reason whatsoever

A photo of Ethan Thomas, inserted into this part of the post where I talk about drinking for no particular reason whatsoever

The very first time I visited Langdale with Janice, was the very first time I fell asleep with my head down the Hikers Bar toilet. It’s a rite of passage in Langdale to get steaming drunk, and be looked after (and have the piss taken out of you) by your friends. Some of us might even (ahem) have done it more than once. It was encouraging to see this fine tradition being passed down to one of the younger performers at the most recent festival, and to see people being just as caring (and gently sarcastic) in the aftermath. For the young person in question, who shall remain nameless, don’t worry. One day that sense of crippling embarrassment will fade, and you will be just as blasé about earning your Langdale hangovers as the rest of us!

It’s not only the fine tradition of drinking and craic that is being passed down through the generations, but the music too, and this is very evident within my own family. Throughout the weekend my son Eoin wowed everyone with his harp and guitar playing, whilst my younger son Rowan, newly obsessed with his own burgeoning musical development, could be found at various times playing mandolin, Irish tenor banjo and guitar. Cue me being a very proud mother indeed, as these are children who have found their own way to music through love of it, and ultra-talented they are too. Meanwhile, my niece Katy and nephew Simon, who have been coming to Langdale since babyhood, were on the bill as a trio with Katy’s fiancé Chris Ainsworth. Katy has the most incredible voice, a true show-stopper, and I am not ashamed to say my heart was full listening to her sing in the Saturday afternoon concert in the ODG lounge.

My sons rocking out in the ODG residents bar: Rowan on the banjo, and Eoin on the mandolin

My sons rocking out in the ODG residents bar: Rowan on the banjo, and Eoin on the mandolin

My heart was full for so many other reasons too. Singing ‘Pleasant and Delightful’ with my sister Christine. Playing endless Irish tunes with one of my favourite fiddlers, Mike Allen. Throwing together a band made up of ‘Bev and Friends’, and upsetting the soundman because I invited so many friends that there were not enough inputs in the P.A. system. Performing my usual reunion gig with Jim and Mike, who I played in a band with in the 1980s. Eclectic music sessions with Mike, Mik, Den, Dougie, Celia, Ross, Jim, Rod and so many more, and watching concerts by such excellent performers as Stanley Accrington, Bill Lloyd, Phil Simpson and Ethan Thomas, all of them giving their time and talent for free.

It’s a bit special, is Langdale Festival. One day it might not be as good, but today is not that day. ODG Lounge by Resh

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.

The Fluter Who Cannot Flute (and other stories)

Simon, Jo and the girls arrive at Wedstock


It’s been a while since I last posted here, as work commitments over the past few months have kept me too busy for blogging. Now things have calmed down a bit, I intend to carry on with my musical reminiscences and ramblings. I’ll start with a recap of recent events.

Since I last wrote here we’ve had a family wedding, at which all of the entertainment was provided by family and friends. My lovely and talented nephew Simon married the love of his life Jo, in the company of their two beautiful daughters, and the happy musical event was aptly entitled ‘Wedstock’.

It could perhaps best be described as a retrospective wedding; Simon and Jo had actually married in private several days before, so their vows at the public ceremony (conducted by another member of our extended family – the ‘Reverend’ Dutch Ainsworth, especially internet-ordained for the occasion) – were in the past tense:

“Did you, Simon, take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife?”

“Yes, I did!”

“Did you promise to love her and care for her?”

“Yes I did, and I will continue to do so!”

And my personal favourite:

“If anyone knows of any just cause or impediment why these two should not be wed… you’re too late!”

Simon plays with the big boys. Fleetwood Carnival, 1984

Simon is an immensely talented rock drummer, who started out his musical career playing traditional and folk music as a child along with family and friends. Like so many of us in my family, he cut his teeth on folk festivals and sessions.

He’s progressed on a bit now from being the cute wee lad on the bodhrán to the cool dude on the drums. Here he is in action with his popular Foo Fighters tribute band, the Tofu Fighters:

I was delighted at the wedding to play a short traditional set along with Simon on bodhrán, and also my brother Rick on guitar and family friend Heath on fiddle. It wouldn’t be a proper family wedding without a few reels! After our set Simon played drums for the rest of the night with various combinations of high-energy, high-quality rock musicians. It was a really great musical event, all the better for being so full of home-grown talent.

A large part of the rest of the summer was taken over by my older son, Eoin, rehearsing for a big production as part of the Preston Guild celebrations. The show, Metropolis, (written and produced by the Dukes Theatre in Lancaster), was staged on 7th September. Eoin played both harp and guitar as part of the band, and it was a fantastic experience for him and for all the other young people taking part. The show received some great reviews, including one in the British Theatre Guide.

And of course the Autumn Langdale Charity Folk Festival took place in early September. As usual it was amazing, with great music from all concerned. Some of the highlights included Jo Byrne and Mike Rolland of the Blue Pig Orchestra joining forces with my old mates Mike Allen and Jim Smith to deliver a fantastic performance in the Dining Room concert, before rocking away in a bar session into the early hours. Then there was my favourite band, The Sail Pattern, whose energy and music are just like a huge burst of joy on stage. They are genuinely nice people too, making a point to be really encouraging to my young lad when he was playing harp in the bar. I think their shared love of both metal and trad was something Eoin could really identify with!

I did my usual regular ‘Bev and Friends’ spot in the Saturday afternoon concert at Langdale. This time I played with Mike Allen on fiddle and Dougie Downie on guitar, and also invited my sister Christine Allen up for us to sing together. Later on we were joined by Jim Smith for the big finale. It was a fun set to play, hardly at all marred by the fact that the fire alarm went off in the middle of it. The rumour was that someone had set it off by using deodorant in one of the bedrooms. I’m not sure what that says about the honest sweat of hikers and folkies versus those new fangled aerosols, but I doubt I will dismiss the latter in favour of the former anytime soon!

Here’s Mike, Dougie and myself doing our thing uninterrupted, before later on making like the band on the Titanic and resolutely playing on throughout the alarm:

Fluting prohibited

.

So, work has become slightly less all-encompassing at last, and you’d think that would mean a resurgence of sessions (which I’ve not had time to play at) now the busy summer is o’er, but unfortunately I broke my wrist recently and am therefore in a cast and out of action for several weeks. Is a fluter who cannot flute still a fluter? This is the big philosophical question of the age.

Hm, I think I may have been overdoing the painkillers again…