The week flies by – BFW2021 #7

Hello again folks and thanks for all the comments on my last entry, it seems you have not all forgotten me during my self-imposed hiatus. It is great to catch up with old friends again.

First things first, I am still in Morecambe, Lancashire which is proving to be an incredibly friendly and sociable place even if it has been howling a gale since I arrived. I nearly got blown over walking along the promenade today. I was up and about quite early today after a relatively early night by my standards and went walking. I was surprised at the number of people in running gear that were on the promenade and thought that the good folk of the area must be very health conscious.

I passed the lovely Station Promenade which I mentioned in an earlier post which was sort of half open but not for what I needed. It was being used as race HQ for a 5 / 10km. Fun Run which explained all the shorts and lycra on display. Good luck to them all. I hobbled on down the prom and the first open bar I came to was the rather pleasant King’s Arms where I had been the previous evening so this is where the current entry is being composed.

Right, that is the background filled in so back to the narrative. I had left you after having negotiated the first playaround despite the loss of the usual leader Paul due to Chinese virus issues but whose shoes had been ably filled by the wonderful Chan Reid. There had been a good turnout indicating that people were not just staying away and everything was looking set fair for a great Folk Week albeit limited as it was with only four months planning.

The rest of the week passed off beautifully and I seemed to be playing all day every day. Apart from the daily lunchtime sessions with Chan which had a daily booked guest from the roster of those appearing at the Festival we had good attendances every day but we were not always in the George, which is unusual so let me explain.

The Saturday and Sunday were fine in the George but, because of the uncertainty around the whole Festival, Dave had booked his own non-folk bands in for lunchtime sessions. I stress that this is nobody’s fault, the whole Festival was thrown together in a fraction of the time it normally takes and the fact that it took place at all is a credit to everyone involved.

On the Monday Dave suggested that we could go into the lovely conservatory at the rear of the premises and play whilst the booked band were playing in our normal space. I was uncertain about this even if the conservatory is at the far end of the bar and at right angles to it. Having played amped up gigs in that venue myself I know how far the sound travels but we decided to give it a shot.

I went and spoke to the band as they were setting up and explained the situation. I cannot remember now who they were but they were lovely blokes and said that they didn’t “crank it up” to any great degree and would perform only as loud as was required. Great, but I still knew it was not going to work. Sure enough, I was to be proved right. We were doing our thing in the rather confined space of the conservatory and the band started to soundcheck. It was going to be an obvious disaster, it just was not going to work, so I went to speak to Dave, who I count as a friend and this is where you learn all you need to know about Dave Goulding, Broadstairs generally and the Folk Week in particular.

Dave was quick to see the problem and told me to give him a few minutes. He got on to the manager of The Pavilion, just a few yards down Harbour Street and which is owned by his parent company Thorley Taverns whose founder Frank Thorley and his son Phil, now the current CEO, I both know. The Pav, as we call it, had bands booked for the outside space that would have suited us so that was a no-go.

What Dave did next amazed me and only helped to ramp up the huge respect I already had for the man. I think I may have spoken before here about what I call the Broadstairs triangle. It is basically a T-junction of two extremely narrow old streets (Albion and Harbour) and there are three pubs situated right on the junction. I do not know how true it is but I was once told that these three, the George, the Dolphin and the Neptune’s Hall aka the Neps, are the three closest non-adjacent pubs in Europe. I don’t know about that but I know I have stood outside the George having a smoke and had a conversation with people standing outside the Dolphin across the road without shouting.

Enough of the topography of Broadstairs and back to the story. Bearing in mind that all the three pubs named are in direct competition, Dave ‘phoned up the new manageress of the Dolphin (who I knew from when she worked in the Tartar Frigate where I also play gigs) and asked could she accommodate us. Bear in mind, he is deliberately turning away custom from his pub and putting it into the hands of a direct competitor. That is the mark of the man, he wanted to make it work for us. The answer was a yes and so we packed up the instruments and trooped across the road (honestly if it is 50 feet I shall be surprised, look for the junction mentioned above on Google maps and you’ll see what I mean).

Having made the arduous trek all the way across Albion Street we went into the Dolphin to find the manageress busily setting out chairs and stools for us. Having not seen her for a while it was big hugs all round (she initiated it!) and she told us to come in, make ourselves comfortable and start whenever we wanted. We did!

Our merry band (in the loosest sense of the word) in the Dolphin.

I will not bore you with the rest of the week as it formed a fairly repetitive pattern of getting up, helping Chan to run the playaround and then wherever. I normally drifted over to the Magnet but I do also remember playing the 39 Steps (which had been so good to Paul and I in previous years) and I did fulfil my promise to Chrissie to organise a couple of sessions in the Crown which she seemed very appreciative of. I even managed one afternoon session in the Wrotham, which was my home for the week as it was for so many times before and subsequently. Incidentally, if you want to know why the 39 Steps is so-called, obviously after the 1915 John Buchan novel, have a look here, it is interesting stuff.

Chan and Sam

The simple fact is that I was working that hard I barely had time to see any other acts or even take any images, which is unusual for a shutter-happy man like me. I have interspersed this piece with some of the few I did take just to break up the tedium of my verbal ramblings here. The image above shows Chan (on the left) and my dear friend Sam Sloan, an all-Ireland champion having a natter before one of our sessions. Sam is a brilliant player and a lovely lady who I have known for years and we have played together many times. If you want to see what we get up to musically together then you can do so here.

Folk Week ended as it inevitably must and there were the usual fond farewells although the Friday night final ceilidh did not happen at the Pav (mentioned above) which is always a complete blast but there had been no late night events this year. I do not know if that was due to any remaining restrictions, and who even knew by then what the restrictions may have been as they seemed to change by the day if not the hour or it was just not possible for the Committee to organise it in the very limited time available.

It had been a brilliant Festival and arguably the best of the 30+ I have played there, not for the quality of the acts (good as they were) or the amount of activities but purely for what it represented. A Festival that normally takes 11 months to organise had been cobbled together in four months under circumstances when national regulations were changing so rapidly, it really was an organisational triumph and everyone I spoke to loved it. Yes, in the interests of fair reporting, several of the Committee are close friends of mine but this is an objective view and one that seems to be shared in the opinion of all those there.

Folk Week was over and I was so glad I had made it, given my state of health, and it had been great. The way people adapted to unusual circumstances and made it work was a thing of wonder. It is why the Festival has been going for well over 50 years now and I see no reason it cannot go on for another 50. Sure, all the old hands like myself will be long gone but the younger generation seem as invested in it as we were at their age and still are.

People who think that folk music is just a bunch of old farts in home-knitted sweaters and Moses sandals with their fingers in their ears singing mournful dirges (difficult to stick your finger in your ear whilst playing the guitar!) have much to learn. It is not like that any more. To any of my readers (158, I cannot believe it) I would say that if you don’t know anything about folk music, give it a try, you might even like it!

Needless to say, I was not going to be one of the exodus from the town on the Saturday morning, I love Broadstairs and I was going to stick around a while. If you want to see what happens next then you know the drill.

Stay tuned.

The day of reckoning – BFW2021 #6.

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.

Dave drops a bombshell – BFW 2021 #5

Well, hello again and welcome back to my newly regenerated world, such as it is.

I should start this entry by saying a huge thank you to all the people who visited my pages, logged back in and commented upon them during my absence, it really meant a lot when I logged back in and found all the notifications. It rather makes it worthwhile putting all the time into writing and I do appreciate it.

I am still dithering somewhat as to which way I should take the blog after such a long absence. Should I return to where I was and carry on or should I just skip to my latest trip? Either option has advantages and disadvantages and dithering is something I am complete Master of. As the old saying goes, “I used to be indecisive but now I’m not so sure”.

I think, on balance and having stared at this page for long enough, that I shall return to where I was as there are some unusual tales between then and now, some of which will help explain my current state of health.

I left you in Broadstairs on the Friday before Folk Week started properly on the Saturday. OK, I know there are official gigs on the Friday now but it does not really start properly until the Saturday.

Before I leave Chrissie in the Crown, I have included an image of the lovely beer garden at the rear of the premises. I remember many years ago when this was little more than a rubbish dump which was a terrible waste but it is a complete suntrap now and very popular on the odd occasions the sun does decide to make an appearance during the British alleged summer.

I hobbled along Albion Street passing the Royal Albion Hotel where Dickens used to stay and wrote part of Nicholas Nickleby. He also stayed with friends at am imposing clifftop dwelling called Fort House which still stands and is renamed Bleak House although it is unlikely to be where the author intended the action as he sets it in Hertfordshire which is over 100 miles away. There is still a strong Dickensian influence in the Broadstairs and pre-virus there was an annual Dickens Festival which, like everything else, was put on hold but I am glad to report that it is back next weekend. Good show.

Whilst there are plenty of official and semi-official “Charles Dickens stayed here” etc. plaques I have included a rather whimsical one which is on the wall of an extremely old-fashioned and quaint garage near where I stay.

I dropped into The Magnet to see who was about and had a couple of pints of the excellent range of ciders they keep which had been augmented for the festival. There will be much more of this excellent micropub in the days to come.

After the Magnet, it is merely a few yards to the George Inn, another great favourite of mine and the venue for the daily lunchtime playarounds which I help my mate Paul to run. Regular readers may remember our exploits in and around Newcastle just before the virus which I wrote about here.

I was greeted like the prodigal son by staff and customers alike, I really do have a lot of friends in that pub and in the town generally. It was whilst I was in conversation with Dave, the excellent manager, that he dropped the bombshell by casually dropping into the conversation, “It’s a shame Paul isn’t coming this year, Covid”. WHAT? This was complete news to me and in the space of that one short sentence he threw me into confusion and not a little panic when he followed it up with, “It’s OK, you can manage on your own”. He didn’t exactly put my mind at rest by saying, “ think the committee are trying to get someone in but they haven’t told me anything yet”.

If you are not au fait with playarounds or folk music in general, here is a quick overview. A playaround is basically an open session where anyone can turn up and play although they vary in their style. Some really only like pretty competent players but the ones we run are literally for all-comers. We get a range of ability from absolute beginners (children and adults) right up to artists booked at the festival who drop in for a few tunes between gigs. OK, technically it is not always perfect but it is great fun.

A playaround needs a leader or it can degenerate into chaos and this is where Paul is so good. Not only is he brilliant at picking people to lead a tune and not miss anyone out, he has such a vast repertoire that he can play just about anything and I just follow him, it really is quite simple. If I was going to get fitted up with leading I could do the choosing people part but I could not instigate tunes and I would be completely dependent on there being some decent players there. Pre-virus it was almost guaranteed but I had no idea how many people were coming to the Festival as I had not been up to the campsite and of those who did come I didn’t know how many would be willing to sit in a crowded bar as so many people were literally terrified of close contact with others.

I stayed on for the music in the evening (not folk, a decent local band) and took myself off relatively early to bed to lie and ponder what the morrow and the rest of the week might bring.

If you want to find out, stay tuned.

I made it – BFW 2021 #2.

OK, OK, I know, I know and no, I have not developed some sort of typographical speech impediment, it is just the way I talk. I know I was all full of good intentions of keeping up a decent work-rate on the blog but events have overtaken me again. I won’t bore you with them here as the post which follows is quite long enough already and was almost ready for posting a few days ago.

So where were we? Oh yes, I was on a train heading to Broadstairs (BSR in railway parlance) heading for a location and a festival that are both very high on my list of favourite places / events. I am sure that most doctors would have cautioned me against such a trip in my physical state which, frankly, wasn’t great. Well, I had got as far as Stratford International railway station, so what was going to happen next? If you wish to find out and have come to this post via my homepage, then please click the “more” button below. If you have hit on it otherwise I apologise and please read on.

Continue reading “I made it – BFW 2021 #2.”
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