The Mellstock Band
(left to right, Phil, PC, Charles & Dave)
at the Sixpenny Brewery,
(photo: the landlord)
Happy New Year.
I enjoyed a Dorset village halls tour in December with The Mellstock Band, presenting 'Hardy Perennials' - basically, the best bits of the band's Dorset-based and Thomas Hardy-themed shows rolled into one. I've come to realise that band leader Dave Townsend, serpent-master (and Dorset man) Phil Humphries, oboist and actor Charles Spicer and indeed Tim Hill (whom on this occasion, in my role as '5th Mellstock', I was replacing) are great connoisseurs of proper ale. So, as well as gigs in Chetnole, Cerne Abbas (famous for its hillside giant), Thorncombe and Milborne St Andrew, we visited several deep-Dorset hostelries, including a brewery in Sixpenny Handley where you get fined a pound if you mention the word 'lager'. The 14th century Shave Cross Inn was also impressive, with a huge open-hearth log fire and a big enough stone floor for the pub to host a traditional ash-faggot burning on Twelfth Night. Don't ask. It involves flames, smoke, bursting withies, betting, drinking and Morris men.
On the whole, maybe 2011 wasn't the best of years, but it did have some personal plus points. One was my visit to Edinburgh in November.
PC in Edinburgh on his 60th birthday
(photo: Sue Lee)
The usual venue for the annual Scots Fiddle Festival, the scruffily palatial George Street Assembly Rooms, where fiddler and composer Nathaniel Gow played in the late 1700s, is being done up at the moment - or done in, we don't yet know. At any rate, Fiddle 2011 took place in Queen's Hall, King's Hall and South Hall, just south of the city centre. Alasdair Fraser, long an inspirational figure in the Scottish fiddle world, and American cellist Natalie Haas, a joy to hear, were both on brilliant form. Catriona Macdonald's new trio Vamm, with fiddler Patsy Reid and mandola virtuoso Marit Falt, was another highlight for me.
Happy in its Scottish identity, the festival has a regular policy of featuring an 'outside' tradition. As part of the Talking Fiddles strand, I spoke about 'John Clare, Thomas Hardy and English Fiddle', and taught some hornpipes. I also celebrated my sixtieth birthday in an excellent South Indian restaurant on Clerk Street in the company of Sue Lee and some dear fiddle-playing friends.
At the final big session, the Stramash, I finally caught up with fiddler Clare MacLaughlin (who came and taught at Wigmore Hall Fiddle Days some years ago) and box-player Paddy Callaghan from Glasgow and fiddlers Anna-Wendy Stevenson and Simon Bradley. Simon's tune The Salvation Reel got a good airing at a session I went to on Friday night, evidently a hit with the young, and his tune-book, Buncrana to Baleshare, with poems by Pearse Bradley, lightened my Sunday night train-ride back to London.
Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas
At the Stramash!
(photo: Sue Lee)
My recent trip to Co. Antrim was also good for several reasons. There were the fiddle classes themselves at Blackthorn Cottage, the Ballymena Guardian's amusing and original headline: 'Pete's on the fiddle in Broughshane!' - ho ho - and a mighty session in the (converted) cow-shed across the yard, with young fiddler Rowan Leslie, currently studying folk and traditional music at Newcastle University, and, among other great local players, white-bearded farmer James MacBride on banjo. But I also had a happy reunion with Brendan Donnelly, who attended my classes at the Working Men's College in London twenty years ago, and who first suggested in 1990, after I'd released All Around The World on cassette, that I should also put out a booklet of the tunes. This I duly did, falling prey to a tune-publishing addiction I've never quite managed to shake off.
Blackthorn Cottage, Co. Antrim, September 2011.
Left to right:
Brendan, Karen, Mairead, Stephen and Rosanne
But enough of this idle reminiscence, to which we sixty-year-olds are so irritatingly prone. Back in New Year London, this term's London Fiddle School course, American Old Time Fiddle Tunes, has already got off to a fine start. Even as I write, the strains of Angeline the Baker are relieving the winter gloom of dozens of fiddlers around town and their astonished and delighted neighbours. The course runs until Easter, and you can still join.
Strings at Witney, my annual jaunt to Prime Minister David Cameron's Oxfordshire constituency, is coming up 4-5 February, with a strong tutor line-up including Ilana Cravitz, Chris Haigh and Karen Ryan. Then from 13-16 February, as the snowdrops and crocuses burst forth, I'll be teaching Folk Fiddling by Ear in the tranquil and beautiful setting of Benslow Music in Hitchin, Hertfordshire - see Workshops for details. From there it's straight into that prime calendar event for the discerning London fiddle player, the London Fiddle Convention, now amazingly in its 20th year and taking place at Cecil Sharp House on Sunday 19 February, with workshops from 1.00pm, and a concert from 8.00pm.
See you later,
Benslow Music course, October 2011.
Left to right:
Paul, Trevor, PC, Susan,
Marion, Dawn and Veronica
(Which of the fiddlers is NOT seated?)
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