BRIAN PETERS: News What’s Afoot, September 2012 So here’s what’s been happening, and what’s about to happen, in the Year of Our Lord Twenty Hundred and Twelve…
First gig of the year was at the Glasgow Ballad Workshop, an afternoon I’d been really looking forward to but, if I’m honest, dreading a little as well. The thing is, in my not-so-very-humble opinion, no-one can sing ballads with the power and drama that the great Scots singers can, and several of them were in the room on the day, co-organisers Anne Neilson and Gordeanna McCulloch (pictured) amongst them. My bit started off with a short interview by the deceptively avuncular but rapier-witted Adam McNaughton (the chap who wrote that hilarious ‘Hamlet’ song), who began with what our American friends call a ‘curveball’ question: what was my justification for furnishing so many of my ballads with instrumental accompaniments? Talk about being put on your toes. I babbled something unconvincing and only thought of a proper answer on later reflection: although unaccompanied vocal delivery can be the most effective way of putting across certain ballads, they remain pieces of music as well as stories, and there’s no intrinsic reason why musical embellishment – whether clever vocal decoration or a thumping great melodeon arrangement – shouldn’t have a part to play. The Demon Lover is one I used to sing with an accompaniment, and it works much better now that I do it without, but I think the arrangements I use for Henry Martin or Lay the Bent to the Bonny Broom are pretty vital to the way those songs work. That’s the case for the defence, m’lud. Anyway, the workshop went pretty well, I thought, and Clare Button (a good folk journalist I hope we’ll be hearing a lot more from in the future) wrote a review that you can read here.
Onstage at Upton-on-Severn Folk Festival, May 2012;
photo kindly sent to me by Brian Joyce
It was great to be back at The Black Diamond Folk Club in Birmingham in February, one of my (and several other musicians I know) favourite clubs, with a full house, a warm atmosphere and excellent resident singers as ever. The pub just up the road did really good unpretentious food, as well. No space to mention all of the many other folk club nights I’ve enjoyed very much, but a photo did emerge from the March gig at another place I’ve been playing for a good many years now, the Cross Keys at Uppermill - where my old pal Bonz joined me for the inevitable performance of Dallas Rag. Early Spring saw Jeff Davis over in the UK for a tour that gave us a good few chances to perform together, notably at Cheltenham Folk Festival where we gave our presentation Sharp’s Appalachian Harvest for the first time. A bit nerve-racking, what with getting the Powerpoint slide show up and running and remembering to cue the photos while singing at the same time. There was the odd glitch: my fiddle, a venerable and battered implement that once belonged to my Methodist preacher grandfather, is so unused to the spotlight (a fact not unconnected with my rudimentary skills on the instrument) that it suffered a seizure under the heat of the stage lights and comprehensively detuned itself. When I asked Jeff whether I could borrow his fiddle to play Sugar Babe, the reply came back: “I suppose you’re going to wreck that one too, now.” But, hiccups apart, the show was well-received, and we felt quite privileged to have in attendance Roy Palmer – a bit of a personal hero, whose books have supplied my repertoire with many good songs
I shared the stage with Jeff on several of his other bookings, with a particularly nice night at the Crabshell in Devon, and a great performance from Jeff at the Midway in Stockport – one of my local clubs and a good one, too.
The biggest trip of the year was to New Zealand and Australia at Easter, not least to visit my son Chris, who is living over there, but also to play at the Australian National Folk Festival in Canberra. The NZ leg of the trip was mainly holiday, but I did have time to play at the Bunker Folk Club in Devonport, Auckland, where Roger Giles is still running things in his inimitable fashion. Before heading down under to work on sheep farms, Roger was a good friend of our legendary and much-missed traditional singer Fred Jordan, whose boots he was presented with when he visited Fred during his final illness. Of course I had to get a photo – Colum Sands actually wrote a song about Fred’s boots after staying at the Giles household: Fred’s Jordan’s Boots
Canberra is an amazing festival just to go and hear interesting music of all kinds. On this occasion I had the bonus of both sons with me, to mind my CD stall and help me prop up the bar. We all enjoyed Azadoota, (right) an Iraqi-Australian band mixing Middle Eastern music with dance beats and, from the same part of the world, Adnaan Baraky’s spiritual compositions on the oud were very uplifting (left). One evening Richard and I wandered into the main venue where someone we’d never heard of called Jeff Lang was playing. Yikes! Some of the most jaw-dropping guitar playing I’ve ever heard. See what you think: And another Youtube link for you – I fell in love with Mongolian horse fiddle music and throat singing when I heard a street musician years ago in Amsterdam, so it was a treat to hear Bukhchuluun in Canberra. He was experimenting with a beatbox onstage and, although he wasn’t exactly in full control of events, some of the sounds emerging from the combination of very old music and technique, and very new technology, were rather exciting.
I can’t leave Canberra without a sample of the ‘street entertainment’ that’s one of the highlights of the festival site. This is someone’s take on Little Bo-Peep who, for some reason, was shepherding a psychedelic bear rather than the more conventional sheep, and just seemed to be randomly swanning around the place to the delight of all. Excellent!
A couple of other things stand out from the months following that trip, like the Swaledale Squeeze, where I was on staff to teach anglo concertina after an absence of a few years. Great to hear Michael Hebbert playing again. At one informal concert I got together with Paul Walker, of Rising Sun Band fame, and Dave Ball, another old friend, to attempt my three part arrangement of Marshal Saxe’s Minuet, from the Thomas Watts manuscript I’ve plundered many times before for repertoire. Thanks to Pauline de Snoo, who recorded the event, I can offer a clip of our performance here. A bit more rehearsal time wouldn’t have gone amiss, but you get the general idea. I’m giving a class on part-playing for Concertinas at Witney in late September, so Marshal Saxe will be riding into battle once more.
I had a really pleasant day at the Gower Folk Festival in June, a small but high-class event that boxes well above its weight in terms of its guest list. And not only was Carol Etherton and Andrew Mackay’s hospitality in Llangennith of the most hospitable kind, but they live almost across the road from the very pub where my traditional song hero Phil Tanner (my source for Henry Martin amongst others) used to hold court. Here it is: the King’s Head.
So that was the first half of the year gone. And what of the rest? Well, I’ve two recording projects lined up that I’m looking forward to. Jeff Davis will be coming over in February 2013, and we will be recording the songs from Sharp’s Appalachian Harvest for a CD, ready for some further outings for the show in the later part of the year, hopefully in both the UK and the USA. I’m also going to be involved pretty heavily with Fellside’s forthcoming recording of selections from The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, a new and weighty book which I was lucky enough to receive for review in the Folk Music Journal, and which I’ve spent a lot of time with over the last few weeks. Lots of good songs in it, of course, and some very impressive background research – there’s a lot to be learned from it about the history of folk song in England.
On the live front I’ll be playing Shrewsbury Folk Festival for the first time, Fylde for the umpteenth, teaching concertina at Witney, and heading for several of my favourite folk clubs (Chichester, Bodmin, many others) in the Autumn. Also another outing for Road to Mandalay with Dave and Anni at Haddenham Festival in December, and an invitation to teach once again at Augusta Heritage Center, West Virginia, in 2013. Rock on!
See you around.
Feel free to get in touch - send a message here