Tag Archive | Sessions

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!

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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:

 

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

Irish Music Weekend, Lancaster – Recap

I managed to get out to play on Saturday night at the Irish Music Weekend in Lancaster. We started off in The Moorlands, then moved on to the Robert Gillow which had arranged a late licence so we could play into the early hours. It was my first time playing at a full-on Irish session since September 2012, when I broke my wrist. My wrist is a bit sore today, but not too much the worse for wear, which is a huge relief. My hangover is another matter!

Some pictures below, plus a video of the late night session at the Gillow, filmed by Barrie Marshall.

Up Sligo!

It’s Paddy’s Day today, and due to a recent bout of ill-health I’m not heading out anywhere to play, but instead am happily browsing Irish music videos that friends are posting on Facebook and Twitter. I am having fits of nostalgia all over the place.

I’m also adding to the pot and sharing a few videos myself. Here is one that deserves its own post here: Peter Horan and Fred Finn, playing together in 1982. This is incomparable flute and fiddle music in the Sligo style.

I never met Fred, as he died before I started visiting Sligo regularly, but I got to know Peter well and played with him on many an occasion. As well as being a flute virtuoso, Peter was an excellent fiddle player. He told me he didn’t play fiddle much when Fred was alive, preferring to stick to flute back then (they were well known for their flute/fiddle duets), but he certainly did play it a lot afterwards, even more than the flute in the sessions I went to.

Peter had an amazing amount of stamina. I remember once staying up all night with him, playing tunes and drinking Guinness in Cawley’s in Tubbercurry. He had to go and teach the flute class the next morning at the South Sligo Summer School so, when 8.30 am am rolled around, he went off to the loo for a bit of a wash, combed his hair, had a swift cup of tea, and went off to teach his class. That night, he was back playing in the session again. He was in his seventies at the time.

Peter died in 2010, but in clips like the one above and in our memories, his music and that of his good friend Fred live on. I love that choppy South Sligo style of fiddle and flute playing, such a great emphasis on rhythm and phrasing, never allowing you to forget for one second that it is dance music. Peter and Fred epitomise, to me, the very best of traditional Irish music. It seems, to me, most fitting to listen to it on St Patrick’s Day.

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig!

Some Forthcoming Music Events

I am happy to report that The Fluter Who Cannot Flute has now become The Fluter Who Can Flute a Bit! It took many months for my broken wrist to heal but, at last, I am all out of plaster and splints, and am starting to work up to playing at full session capacity. I’m not yet The Fluter Who Can Flute a Lot, as I still have some pain and mobility issues, but at least there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This is just as well, as there are a couple of music events coming up soon that I would be gutted to miss.

First of all, there is our Spring bi-annual Irish music weekend in Lancaster, organised by my friend David Lyth. This will take place 22nd – 24th March 2013. Full details of times and venues can be found on The Session website. This is usually a great weekend of pure traditional sessions, and has become so popular that in addition to the big main session there is frequently overspill into smaller, peripheral sessions, which I like quite a lot. We get musicians travelling to this from all over the UK, as well as Ireland and the Isle of Man.

Here’s a video made at an Irish music weekend four years ago by my son Rowan (with a little bit of help from mum). I am posting part 2 (part 1 can be found here) as this second video, filmed on the Sunday afternoon/evening after a lot of musicians had left, perfectly illustrates the immense patience and self-sufficiency a child with a traditional musician for a mother has to develop!

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Me in my element

Me in my element. The most beautiful place in the world, the Langdale valley.

The next big event after the Irish music weekend will be another bi-annual shindig, the Langdale Charity Folk Festival. The May Festival will be on 10th – 12th May 2013 at the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel in Great Langdale, Cumbria. This is such a great event which, over the past few years, has raised over £17,000 for SARDA, The Great North Air Ambulance and Fix the Fells. A very worthwhile set of causes, and a great opportunity to spend time in a beautiful location listening to – and playing! – great music with a friendly bunch of old and peculiar people. And there is excellent Old Peculiar ale to be had, too. What could be more perfect?