‘When you get to Derry airport,’ Liz Doherty had said, ‘there’ll be a car waiting for you.’
Twenty years ago, I reflected, as we sped into unknown country on a dark night in March, that might have been a bit of a worry; but army road-blocks, common when Holly Tannen and I toured Northern Ireland in 1980, were now of course long gone, and not a sniper’s balaklava was to be seen. So it was over the border to Buncrana, Co. Donegal in the taxi, for a relaxed weekend working with some of Liz’s students from the traditional music course at the University of Ulster, along with Amy Geddes, a wonderful Scottish fiddler and (as Saturday night at the Drift Inn proved) seriously hardcore Irish session-player; and keyboards and accordion wizard Ciarán Tackney. The highly likeable bunch of students were working on a CD of tunes composed by local Inishowen whistle-player Paddy O’Mianain, which I look forward to hearing when it surfaces. Thanks, everybody, for a great weekend.
Pete Cooper and students in Buncrana, Co Donegal
A few weeks later, deep in rural Dorset, on the last night of Folk South West’s four-day Easter School, I was lying awake at five in the morning, unable to sleep. Don’t get me wrong. The school was excellent - it wasn’t that. I’d been teaching tunes to a small (but perfectly formed) fiddle group, and there’d been singing and music every evening, with singarounds and sessions, and a bit of dancing, as well as ‘An Hour or so...’ concerts with the tutors. Chris Coe and John Kirkpatrick performed one night; I had the pleasure of singer and box-player Ed Rennie’s company on another, which was good fun as neither of us had heard each other before. Tim van Eyken, Carolyn Robson and Sarah Morgan were all in great voice on the last night, while Eddie Upton and his fellow south-west Folk persons were convivial throughout. No, what was keeping me awake was the fact that next day, Sunday, I was driving to London to perform with Rattle on the Stovepipe at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, before flying on Monday, also for the first time, to Japan. Blasé as I may appear on occasion, this was not exactly an average weekend in the life of yours truly. (I should have gone to Sarah Morgan’s workshop: ‘No Fear - Conquer your Stagefright’.) I lifted the latch of the bedroom door as quietly as possible, tip-toed down the landing past John Kirkpatrick’s room - he was in the QEH concert the next night as well - and went downstairs for yet another cup of tea...
Even though I never did get any sleep that night, I did make it to the gig and, as Woody Allen said, ‘85 per cent of success is showing up.’ So Dave Arthur, Dan Stewart and I played our set in the ‘Close of Play’ concert - the culmination of Shirley Collins’s week as curator of a ‘Folk Roots, New Routes’ at the South Bank - and it went down well. Along with Linda Thompson, Lisa Knapp, Hot Vultures Three, Martyn Wyndham-Read and Brighton Morris Men etc., we also joined John Kirkpatrick for his final number of the evening; and that night, at least, I slept well.
Osaka Fiddle Club
Next day I set off for Japan for some concerts and fiddle workshops, first in Osaka, where the plane landed twelve hours later, then in Tokyo. The fiddlers at my Osaka Fiddle Club workshop on the Wednesday had fantastic concentration and stamina - we learned three Irish tunes, Lucy Farr’s Polka, Tom Billy’s Favourite and Eamonn McGivney’s Hornpipe, in two hours! For my gig the following night I was joined by Tamiko, my former fiddle student who now runs the Tokyo Fiddle Club and who organised the trip; and Hidenori Omori, an Osaka guitarist, composer and fiddle player fluent in Irish, Swedish and other styles. It was the mild spring weather of cherry blossom (‘sakura’) time, and we took a train to Kyoto to rehearse under the cherry trees of a tea garden at Yasaka Shrine in Maruyama Park (Shijo Higashioji), joined by kokyu - player Daisuke Kiba - see photos.
Pete with Omori-san and Tamiko
Hidenori Omori, by the way, has released a stylish and beautiful CD, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Fantasy - Polska from the Far East’ (Seventh Heaven, SHCD-0001), and no less a Swedish fiddle master than Björn Ståbi commends him in the sleeve notes as ‘a very fine representative of traditional Swedish music,’ which he is. Ståbi also says something I’ve never heard so clearly expressed before, his view that folk music ‘belongs to the people of the entire planet and is free to be used by anyone.’ (For my thoughts on ‘Non-geographic Fiddle Communities’, see MUSINGS.) The concert was a lot of fun, and I was delighted to see folk singer and musician Felicity Greenland, who now lives in Japan, in the audience.
Next day I was off on the superexpress, the famous Shinkansen, or bullet train, for a concert at Myo Nichi Kan, a charming Tokyo hall designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, originally as a school. Guitarist Ken-ichi Fukae met me off the train and took me for lunch and saké before our rehearsal, joining Tamiko and me on fiddles, with Mihoko Sasaki playing concertina on the English tunes. It was a bit of a wing-and-a-prayer job, and at seven o’clock when we were due on stage I was still scribbling down the final set list. I must have been pre-occupied, because it was only later I heard about the earthquake. A minor tremor evidently occurred on the stroke of seven, and the wood panelling in the hall was creaking for a while. Anyway, ignorance in my case was bliss. I loved playing and singing with the band, and the audience, as in Osaka, were incredibly warm and responsive, so a good time was had by all. Among the well-wishers after the gig was a very serious folk fan who got me to sign his mint-condition copies of my first two LPs, with Holly Tannen and Peta Webb, from 1979 and 1986 respectively - definitely a first. I got in some sightseeing over the weekend, including a Kabuki theatre comedy, gave my two last workshops, and that was it - time to come home. What a trip.
So here I am, back in London, ready for this new ‘Scottish Fiddle Tunes’ course at the Fiddle School - see Workshops - which continues until July. Rattle on the Stovepipe are in Devon on 26 April. We hope to finish recording our new CD for WildGoose in the early summer, and we’ll be at Whitby Folk Week in August. There are some Cooper and Bolton gigs coming up, including the Royal Oak, Lewes on 3 July, and I’m also looking forward to two concerts, and a bit of filming, with the Mellstock Band. I’ll put dates up when I’ve got more details.
See you later,
PS - I just came across Felicity Greenland’s blog entry:
Pete Cooper, Osaka Concert
Just got back from Pete's concert in Yotsubashi, Osaka. It was brilliant and the audience were very appreciative (all Japanese except for me and an American man who had heard about the concert from internet radio). I guess maybe 30-40 or so people came - many of them from among the 18 participants of the previous day's workshop.
Pete is a well known London fiddler and teacher. He plays in a wide variety of styles and travels widely too. He has already played in China and it was great to see Pete in Japan for the first time. He started off each set with solo fiddle and fiddle-singing (incl. the Lake of Ponchartrain, and some American bluegrass songs) and then was joined by Tamiko-san of Tokyo Fiddle Club (the concert organiser) and Omori-san on guitar or fiddle (who played Irish, Swedish and Russian tunes fantastically).
Pete had a noticeably thoughtful approach to his non-English speaking audience: He had found out some Japanese phrases - Good evening (konbanwa), thankyou (domo arigatou/maido), the numbers to count the players in, and cheers (kampai), which went down well, and in his English chat he slowed down just a tiny bit, sometime repeating things in different words so that everyone could get his succinct explanations and jokes. Lots of people had their photos taken with him afterwards, I think because they had appreciated him so much as a person as well as as a musician.
Good luck in Tokyo tomorrow Pete. I hope you will come back every year - I think you might have made a few new friends here.
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