Hello folks, welcome back and I shall start with a huge thank you to all the lovely people who sent me such touching messages, you really cannot believe what it means to me.
Without too much of a spoiler for a post I shall probably get round to writing in about six months time, I am composing this is the absolutely beautiful Station Promenade bar in Morecambe, Lancashire of which I have enclosed images above. It is very slightly marred by the modern KFC outlet they have stuck on the end of it but it is not a bad looking little office, is it?
I had left you with me having received the bombshell that my mate Paul, whose wingman I am for the daily playaround sessions in the wonderful George pub, could not make it this year due to virus reasons and the pub manager Dave had told me that he thought the committee might be sending someone but was not sure or, if so, who it might be. He seemed quite content that I could run the sessions myself.
I was up and out early and with the pub not nearly open yet I contented myself with a delicious coffee in the excellent Bessie’s Tea Parlour which I recommend. OK, coffee in a tea parlour, I know, I know.
Now Dave is a lovely man who knows quite a bit about music, not least because he has regular acts in his pub and consistently books good ones but, with the greatest respect and I do respect him greatly, his knowledge of the technicalities of folk sessions is perhaps not all it might be. I was hoping against hope that someone would come riding over the horizon to save the day, and as I waited I had a couple of pints to fortify myself should they not.I used to joke on stage that I had never knowingly played a gig sober but in truth it was really only half joking.
I admit that I was doing a bit of clock watching but, in good time the cavalry appeared. No, not a load of guys on horses brandishing sabres or even in light armoured vehicles wielding SA-80s but a lone female carrying a fiddle case, it was the remarkable Chan Reid and, man, was I one very relieved rhythmic guitar accompanist.
We greeted each other fondly although not perhaps as effusively as we may have done in times past. Even though all the virus restrictions, the efficacy of which are now being brought into serious question with the benefit of hindsight, had been lifted people were still a little wary of physical contact. I had already had the virus without even knowing it (I believe I have recounted the story here before) and I was double jabbed so I was pretty unconcerned about giving someone a hug or shaking hands but I was conscious that others, who would not previously have been, might have been uncomfortable so I was, and still am, reining myself in.
Chan is a seriously talented musician on various instruments, predominantly the fiddle, although she is probably best known for her sean-nos singing which is brilliant. OK, I realise that the term sean-nos might not be familiar to many of you so I shall explain. It is a capella (unaccompanied) singing, usually in Irish Gaelic, and the term sean-nos literally translates as “in the old way” which probably refers to the fact that it originated in the 13th century or possibly even earlier. If you want to see Chan giving a superb example of it, have a look here.
When Chan is not playing music she is teaching it, running a choir, organising an annual fleadh (Irish music festival) and various other musically related activities not to mention being a Mother to a teenage girl. I really do not know where she finds the time but I was certainly glad she found time for Broadstairs. I quickly established that she was indeed booked by the Festival and would be there all week so I knew everything was going to be all right.
Dave and his outstanding staff had the chairs all set out in the right places and I have to say that what Dave lacks in knowledge of the musical technicalities of sessions, he more than makes up for in the logistics. Not only does he set the place up for us, he also provides, at the bars expense, a daily selection of the most wonderful bar snacks and plenty of them, they just don’t stop coming. Amongst his many other talents he is a very fine cook albeit not formally trained. He was brought up in a pub and learned there and his spicy chicken drumsticks are the stuff of legend.
The next potential problem was that I still had no idea of numbers. I had not been to the campsite so I did not know how many visitors we had, how many of them were musicians and how many of them were prepared to be in a bar in close proximity to other people. There was no chance of social distancing in one of these sessions. In the end I need not have worried.
I had got there even before opening time as I knew they would let me in (I told you, dear readers, I am a member in good standing all over Broadstairs and get away with all sorts of naughtiness). Chan had turned up well in good time, true professional that she is, but the session doesn’t officially start until 1200. I was, however, reassured by the fact that Chan was camping and said there were good numbers on the campsite so I reckoned we should be OK. Again, there was no need to worry as the musicians and others who had just come to listen were streaming in by about half eleven. The image is of some of the guys setting up and tuning up prior to “kick-off”.
Those of us running the session (usually three or four) sit facing the rest of the players and most people like to get a seat near the front although some of the less proficient players tend to shy away at the back. All that is fine, it is not like a music class, the whole concept of the playaround is that everyone enjoys themselves playing to whatever level of ability they have and that is one of the things I love most about it. Nobody is going to say a word if someone hits a wrong note or whatever, it really is an inclusive thing.
The playaround went brilliantly, much better than I had feared it might and I got to meet a lot of old faces that I would ordinarily have seen annually but obviously had not for some time due to that virus. It is not unknown for these sessions to go on long after the official finish time but Chan had to be somewhere else so we packed up more or less on time so what to do next?
Fortunately at Folk Week there is never any shortage of things to do, especially if you have an instrument. Even if you don’t, your voice is a passport to some fine sessions (there are lunchtime singarounds as well as our playaround if that is your thing) and even if you are tone deaf you can still come along and listen, tap your feet or clap your hands. It really is so good in that respect, you just do as much or as little as your ability allows or you feel like. Nobody will say a word to you whatever you do or don’t do. It is a beautiful thing.
What to do next was a simple decision and less than one hundred yards away in the form of the Magnet pub which I mentioned in my last entry here. It is a brilliant micropub owned by my friends Will and Nikki which is a great champion of live music in these times where it is becoming harder and harder to find live venues to play in. It is also heavily involved in charity work and is very much a community pub with all sorts of activities. As well as all the usual quiz nights and so on they even have a Subbuteo League if you even remember what Subbuteo was, or apparently still is. I am of an age where I do!
The only problem with the Magnet is that, as the name implies, it is pretty small which is fine on a winters afternoon when half a dozen people feels like a crowd sitting round the real fire but during Festival Week it can get very crowded but the ever resourceful owners had come up with a brilliant solution.
The adjoining premises to the rear had been demolished and a new block of flats (apartments) was being built on the site. To be honest, they have being built for a very long time, eleven years at that time, I really don’t know what is going on there. Whatever the reason, the little cul-de-sac alley to the side of the premises and a slightly wider area beyond has been a builder’s yard for years. Nikki and Will approached the developer and the local licensing authorities and did no more than set up a decent sized marquee and an outside bar, designed for impromptu sessions when there were booked acts in the main bar.
Impromptu sessions are meat and drink to me, I love them, so that is where I went, got a pint of some odd cider I had not had before from Sam the utterly lovely barmaid (seen second from left above, Nikki is beside her in the red headgear), and headed out to the tent where there were some guys already in full swing. As protocol demands, I asked if it was OK to join and was bid welcome. One of the guys obviously recognised me and called me by my name which was slightly embarrassing as I had no idea who he was but I broke out the Beast (my soppy pet name for my guitar, my Takemine is the Baby!) and set to work.
By this point I was pretty loose, I had played a couple of hours so my fingers were working well enough and when they eventually called upon me for a song my throat was certainly well enough lubricated to give it my best shot. People came and people went and there was always a bit of an audience which is nice. It was just such a joy to be able to sit round a table with a bunch of total strangers and make what sounded to me like pretty decent music and I hope I do not sound boastful saying this because it is not intended that way.
This post has gone on a bit now so, to make an already story a bit shorter, the summer day dissolved slowly into dusk and then evening and, indeed, night and we were still playing as this image shows. I have no idea who the guy playing my guitar is but I do remember he was good. He must have been or I would have had my guitar back off him fairly rapidly! Someone I trust must have told me he was OK as I am a bit touchy about who I lend the Beast to. Don’t ask me where the sousaphone came from, Broadstairs is just like that!
Eventually we packed up although Will and Nikki had secured extended licences for the entire week so we would have been perfectly legal until about 0100 but those of us who are experienced in Folk Week knew it was only the first full day of what can be a fairly gruelling slog. It had been a great day and my slight anxieties about the playaround had proved to be totally unfounded. I had already been looking forward immensely to the Festival after being “confined to barracks” for so long and I was looking forward to it even more now.
If you want to see how the rest of the week pans out then stay tuned.