There was frost my windscreen when I set out but it was a cosy evening for those performers who came along to the traditional folk or whatever evening. We were all there on time for a prompt start which didn’t happen. Ooops. The number of performers was not overwhelming and there was a relaxed atmosphere. The extremes of temperature had upset several guitars. This was an evening of more than usual tuning time. With a list of ten performers/duos, we also had time for a second go around.
I began the evening playing a medley of traditional Irish tunes on a whistle having mentioned that, whilst a lot of traditional songs are about tragedy, death and loss of maidenhead, or just good stories, there is a vast amount of instrumental music for marching, celebrating, partying and dancing. I started with Dennis Enright’s slide, followed by Apples in Winter (a jig) then The Templehouse (a reel). I am no expert with a whistle and was doubtless not up to speed, but it was an interesting start. I played bouzouki to the song 10,000 Miles/Fare Thee Well/The Turtle Dove. The song has acquired slight variations and different names over time.
Simon took on second position and gave us his version of ‘The Sussex Drinking Song’ which he had found in a book and created his own accompaniment. Ale was mentioned frequently, specifically ‘drinking strong ale with gentlemen’ as were the Downs and various places in Sussex. There was a line that said something about turning his face against the snow in November, so this is certainly an old song. November has become late summer now hasn’t it? Nicely done, thank you Simon.
His second song was a sea shanty kind of thing about walking the plank with a jolly refrain ‘Yo ho ho, yo ho ho, here’s to a dead man’s throttle and a dead man’s teeth in a bottle’. The later third song was ‘See what you lost’ when you leave this world, in his familiar country style.
I don’t remember seeing a piano accordion at the Six Bells before, but tonight Frank was playing one and started with ‘Wee Marie from Uist’ which Greg joined him on playing flute. The flute hovered and floated over the instrumental version on accordion of Edith Piaf’s ‘L’hymne à l’amour’ which followed. Their later songs were a version of ‘Greensleeves’ which at 500 years, Frank reminded us, was definitely an old song. Their last tune was a jig by Finnish composer Lars Hokpers.
As another first in my experience of the Folk and Blues club, there was a Coldplay song. John sang and he and Mark played guitar to ‘Fix You’. These were the first guitars to react to the variations in temperature. (I like enjoy listening to Coldplay) John continued with a solo version of ‘Let me Down Easy’ followed by Mark playing ‘Angie’. This instrumental was made popular by Bert Jansch in 1965, but was composed by Davy Graham and released as ‘Anji’ in 1962. There is a version of it by Simon and Garfunkel released in 1966 as ‘Anji’. On Youtube Paul Simon plays it with his brother Ed. It became a very popular piece. Last time Mark attempted to play this, there were various assorted gremlins in the sound system but this time it went very well.
Terry Lees sang us a song called ‘Canadie Isle’ about a girl being taken on board a ship dressed as a man and risked being thrown into the sea by the crew. In spite of the fury of the sailors at finding her on board, she eventually came to marry the sea captain and be dressed in silks and satins, like ‘the finest of ladies on Canadie Isle’. His very traditional folk music continued with a reel called ‘Princess Royal’ which is apparently a favourite with Morris Dancers. This was an intricate instrumental that might suggest needing more than the usual quota of fingers to play it. He played another instrumental later on: Miss McLeod’s Reel.
Chris Martin came to the stage next and mentioned Chris Martin (the other one) and how the fame of the other one lead him to change his name to CJ Martin and admitted that he liked the other one’s work. His guitar, apparently very unusually, had also reacted to the variation in temperature. His traditional intro was ‘Journey’ a CJ Martin song which lamented how ‘we find ourselves running out of time’. Time featured in his next song: ‘Tree’. He rescued a tree from outside Jayne Ingles’ door, so the story goes, took it home, planted it and watched it grow and reflected on the experience through this song. Later on he sang ‘Another Journey’, a song about the koi carp next door.
Jason and Lisa followed, having also to tune guitars. His first song ‘Simple Smiling Face’ presented under the name of Seamus O’Luterane was apparently in 13/27 time. Lisa added some percussion using a shaker and some lovely harmonies. Their second song which Jason learnt from his father was more in the blues tradition. This was ‘Glory of Love’, the one that goes ‘that’s the story of, that’s the glory of….’ by Big Bill Broonzy. ‘Black is the Colour’ (of my true love’s hair) is very well known Irish traditional song which was beautifully delivered as their third song of the evening.
Heather enjoys doing her research for folk evenings and tonight she started with a traditional song recorded by The Incredible String Band: ‘Black Jack Davey’, known by many other titles including ‘The Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ and hails from the Scottish borders, with it first being published possibly in 1720, in the Roxburghe Ballads. Like many old traditional songs it has many variations. Very nice. Her second song ‘The Water is Wide’, also known as ‘O Waly, Waly’ which she remembered being sung by James Taylor, but whose provenance is drawn from as far back as the 1600s and may reflect a true story of love that fades and goes cold. I love the sense of history around these very old songs too. Thank you Heather. Adding some humour to the evening, she later sang ‘Paddy McGinty’s Goat’ … ‘the angel with the whiskers on is Paddy McGinty’s Goat’.
Whilst we are in the realms of traditional folk, The Incredible String Band is worth a closer look. They became a strong influence of counter-culture in the 1960s, integrating a wide variety of traditional music forms and instruments. They were important in the development of ‘world music’. They were a hippy reaction to pop music and pop culture and the accepted norms of the time. One of the band’s founders, Robin Williamson, was a very accomplished multi-instrumentalist musician, songwriter and storyteller from Scotland. In1965 he recorded fiddle-banjo arrangements of traditional Scottish and Irish songs with Clive Palmer, a folk musician and banjoist and another founding member of The Incredible String Band (although he left very early on). In 1968 he recorded the live album ‘Wheel of Fortune’ with John Renbourn, well known for his guitar collaborations with Bert Jansch and his role in the band Pentangle. The Incredible String Band was established in 1966. The other founding member was Mike Heron, also a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. He played sitar, amongst other things, which was very unusual. There were other members of the band including Licorice McKechnie and Rose Simpson. The band folded in 1974 but was reformed in 1999 and continued to perform with various line-ups until 2006. I remember listening over and over to the double album Wee Tam and the Big Huge released in 1968, as was their other very successful album The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter.
Helga brought us sharply back from the realms of history and heartbreak of the past to a more current drama which happened within the past two weeks. She had travelled with her six year old granddaughter to meet family in Germany and all went very well until they arrived at the airport for the return journey when Sophia collapsed. Helga was at her bedside in hospital for two days. Fortunately Sophia has recovered and the emergency has passed. Helga usually plays flute or guitar, but at this point she sang ‘Lili Marleen’ a cappella, in German. Sophia had asked Helga for her ‘lullaby’ and she sang this for us this evening. This song was one of the greatest hits of the World War II period and having become the most popular song for the German troops, it crossed the boundaries of war to become popular on all sides. It was originally recorded in 1939 by Lale Anderson.
Supported by Keith on electric guitar, in one of their improvisations, Helga delivered a very jazzy/bluesy version of St James’s Infirmary. It was first made famous by Louis Armstrong in 1928. Keith played some very cool guitar and we were temporarily transported into a smokey jazz dive atmosphere.
In absolute contrast to the previous emotional intensity, Keith went on to sing that well known ditty from the nether regions out there somewhere: ‘There’s a Hole in my Skoda’. ‘Use Isopon dear Henry….. too wet dear Lisa … use hardener …. Try Halfords … ‘ the song went on in the usual ‘hole-in-my-bucket’ style and raised some laughs along the way. It is very funny given the reputation that Skoda had when its cars first came to the UK. When I was doing my degree in Brighton, a fellow student regularly got ribbed and teased about his Skoda, which did look like a tin box on wheels. Of course the Czech Skoda became a variation of VW in 1991 and the reputation changed. The song’s relevance is possibly pre-1991.
Keith followed this outbreak of humour with a pastiche of tunes/songs that rolled themselves together when Keith was looking out on the Chiswick flyover at some point in 1970 at 3 in the morning. His final song with Helga joining him on flute, was ‘The Slow One’ about meeting up again by chance after years of separation: ‘Dance the slow one and make the slow one last’.
And so we arrived at the end of an evening rich in content and interpretation with differing styles and different instruments.
With thanks to Simon for setting up, to Chris and Mark on the sound system and everyone who turned up, especially to those who played and sang something from the immense and wonderful catalogue of folk music. I concluded with a simple version accompanied by bouzouki, of ‘The Parting Glass’… ‘Good luck and joy be with you all……….’
See you next time, Ella
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