8 November 2022
It was dark. It was very blustery. There were torrential downpours. There was a full moon somewhere behind the clouds.
The room had very kindly been set up by Simon earlier, but it was quiet and empty. A little spooky, even though Halloween was last week. I was expecting that maybe a few of us would be sitting in a circle singing to each other for the evening.
Then people started to come through the door with their smiles and instruments, exchanging their greetings and settling themselves into their favoured places around the room. It took a while to get a sound person in place at the desk, as Jason was unwell and unable to be with us. Simon and Keith took the position.
I wrote performers’ names on my playlist as they arrived, so at least that was in place, apart from a couple of later arrivals. How very satisfying things were already looking. We had new people among us too. So I opened the evening on bouzouki singing Joni Mitchell’s ‘Urge for Going’ which suited the season very well. I followed this with the traditional ‘She moved through the Fair’. The evening was up and running.
Brenda had come by taxi to join us and read some poetry. The poem was written by an elderly gentleman of eighty eight called Tom Riley and was given to Brenda forty five years ago. He was taken into an orphanage at the age of eight in the late 1800s. ‘The times they are changing’ spoke of ragged infants down by the dockside, looking for coins or sweets…… ‘I don’t recall getting old… Love is commercial, let’s have a fling,… but hold on just now ….’ The poem obviously meant a lot to Brenda, and she communicated it very clearly: ‘I’m fine thank you or …. I’m very well for the state I’m in’ and ‘Old age is grand I’m told, as I crawl into bed’. She read another short piece which I didn’t get the title of, but it was not from the pen of Tom Riley. I hope that Brenda will visit again with more poetry.
Manus came to the ‘stage’ and gave us a little bit of history about the song he went on to sing. ‘The First Time ever I Saw Your Face’ was written in 1957 by Ewan MacColl, a political singer/songwriter, for Peggy Seeger who he was having an affair with. At the time he was still married to his first wife Jean Newlove. Ewan and Peggy sang together in folk clubs around Britain. They were later married. The song has been covered by many artists, and perhaps most famously by Roberta Flack in 1972. She accompanies herself on piano in an absolutely beautiful, timeless way. Manus sang his version, accompanying himself with the rich tones of a baritone guitar and his usual complex and accomplished style. Using a different guitar Manus went into John Martyn’s ‘Solid Air’, bypassing the apparent difficulties with sound reproduction.
Given Jason’s absence, Lisa went on to sing one of her own songs ‘Just for a While’, solo. She had recently replaced her guitar strings with Tommy Emmanuel ones, and was finding them more hard work than expected, but the sound they produced was very rich. Given the apparent instability of the new strings, she sadly gave up on re-tuning for her second song (not that anyone in the audience minded the wait). This was unfortunate, because we had all enjoyed the first, given with her usual intricate finger-style and confident delivery.
Helga had brought her keyboard-playing friend Ally with her and together they launched into a jazzy ‘Fly Me to the Moon’. They have been playing together at Ringmer Jammers for a couple of months. It sounded very accomplished to me. Continuing their jazz style, the next number was ‘Black Orpheus’ by Louis Bonfa, a Brazilian composer. It was the theme for the 1959 Portuguese film ‘Orfeu Negro’ (Black Orpheus). Laura joined Helga and Ally here playing tambourine. I always enjoy the sound of that piano, and Ally had it singing.
Our newcomer Terry, started his performance with that captivating ‘Detectorists’ theme song by Johnny Flynn, a British actor and singer-songwriter. This is a lovely song and was very nicely delivered. Thank you Terry. His second song was Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’ referring to the Paul Weller version (without the three sirens). Some other voices and instruments volunteered as backing singer substitutes, from around the room.
Laura’s tambourine skills were in evidence as she joined Simon for his version of Dire Straits’ ‘Six Blade Knife’. The song is from their first album ‘Dire Straits’ of 1978. My how the years pass. (Brenda added to the nostalgia by dancing along to this). Simon’s second song was a weird 1960’s song by John Betmead which he usually plays at Halloween. I missed the name of this very 1960s weird song with its very weird and disconcerting words, and it was weird and disconcerting:’ She stained my sheets blood red, now they are her shroud’ and ‘I burned her in her dirty sheets for being so unkind’. Simon offered no explanation for the content of the song beyond it being 1960s weird stuff. I can see how it could suit Halloween.
Keith completely changed the vibe here with his own song ‘Telescope’ which took us across the starry heavens, as well as through the experience of astronomy in the back garden: ‘Planets, stars, constellations and the landscape of the moon’. What an appropriate subject for the full moon, in a very different way though, from Simon’s earlier ‘weird’ song. (That was definitely loony moon stuff.) Keith then went into foot-tapping style with the earthy song from the heart: ‘Like a Real Kiss’.
Roy decided to play piano for us tonight and gave us a very gentle version of ‘Smoke gets in Your Eyes’, from the American songbook. We got to hear the piano again. How delightful. There were several people in the room quietly singing along.
Frank played next, accompanied by Helga on flute and with Laura producing some very demonstrative tambourine playing. His was a ‘meandering theme of consciousness …:’I bought some good rope, you tied it to the sky….’. Then moving on from the ‘walls shiny like the rats’ he sang a jolly song about viruses and infections.
Emma coming to the mic next was a total change of style. She sang/spoke along to her baritone ukulele in poetry which made us all laugh. She hovered on the punch lines like a pro, casting her eyes around the room. Her first piece was about weight awareness: ‘When I see food I have to try it … My bathroom scales are quite obviously wrong’ and ‘I’m just out-of-proportion … it’s a feminist issue .. I’m not fat, I’m too short for my weight’. The audience found her hilarious. The laughter and humour kept coming with her next piece ‘Bexhill Pollution Calypso’. She was indeed playing a calypso and referring, in no uncertain terms, to the recent disgusting sewerage spills into the sea at Bexhill beach. With various to references to effluent, in many lurid ways, she again had us falling about in the aisles. This was Emma’s first visit. We loved her and certainly hope she will join us again. We had two very different poetic styles going on this evening.
Chris played for us next. I haven’t been joining these evenings regularly recently, so am unsure of his last visit, but he does sometimes turn up. We were very pleased that he did. Chris has a very distinctive and accomplished guitar style as well as a strong singing voice. His first song was ‘Run Maggie, Run’, - this Maggie being a dog. His second song was a strong performance of another Dylan song ‘Don’t think Twice, it’s Alright’.
The end of the evening coming into sight, I had considered how to use this last section, everyone having sung the ‘allotted’ two songs. (It’s a system that appears to work well here). Still seated at the mic, I asked Chris to play one more and this was ‘Joy of my Life’. We like to see newcomers, so Emma and Terry were obvious choices. Ally was the last of our newcomers and I invited her to play us out.
Terry sang us the Irish song ‘The Parting Glass’ acapella. (He had just torn his ‘picking finger’). Lovely stuff. Emma had another gem in her ‘Take on Brexit’: ‘Can you tell me how to get an Irish passport?’ for forty years she’s been a European and now Britain’s gone ‘walkies’. Her words expressed her ‘nightmare’ but her humour was not reflecting quite what sounded like some kind of quiet despair
As if out of nowhere, a young man called David, volunteered a song. He had been sitting in the shadows throughout the evening. We were all very pleased that he did. Without taking the mic, he stood to the side and sang, unaccompanied, ‘I’m a Rover, seldom Sober’. Very nice indeed, thank you David. I wonder if David will return. It seemed that his friend may have joined him in a song, but I am not sure, and sadly, this was not the time to find out. The evening was closing and Ally did indeed play us out, together with Helga on flute, with another old favourite: ‘All of Me’.
What a good evening that turned into. How wonderful that these good folk, including newcomers, should venture out on a rather tempestuous night like this, and fill the room with their good nature, their songs and musicianship.
Good fortune was mine in being the one hosting this evening. See you soon, Ella
The person that runs the evening writes the blog
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