Friday 22 June 2007

Dancing on the Table

I have made a resolution that I must get out more. When we lived in London I was always out at some play or concert, exhibition or show. I was a wildly sociable soul. But country life sucks out the culture vulture. For starters there isn’t that much on – unless you like tribute bands of tribute bands or the local Am/Dram hamming (god help us) Lady Windermere’s Fan (again). Secondly what seemed like a good idea several weeks back when you booked the tickets, doesn’t look quite so appealing on a cold/wet/gloomy evening when faced with getting tarted up and heading off on a fuel-gulping trek across the moor. I have lost count of the number of tickets that have been left unused and, being a canny and careful Capricorn the waste is painful to the soul.
A few months back I purposefully went through the programme for the Brewhouse Theatre in Taunton; found a few possibles and tried to round up troops to accompany me. One such was a folk band called Waterson: Carthy .

So off I went, through the deluge, to meet my friend Carolyn. True to form, she wafted in, all colour-coordinated and oozing serenity and Miss Dior while I was sitting there with my hair like a haystack glugging a spritzer hoping it would take away the distinctly vinegary whiff of fish shop chips (that I’d nicked from James in lieu of supper)….

I was expecting a bunch of old hippies and young grungies but the audience was, to a man and woman, ancient and respectable. The place was packed and Carolyn said she’d read a good review.

Out they trooped onto the stage – mother, father, daughter and another bloke. All so at home with one another that they carried on nattering as if there were sitting at home in their kitchen.
As soon as they started playing I realised it was a mistake. This kind of back to its roots folk music is fabulous but really needs to be heard in a smaller space – in the crowded bar of a pub. I wanted to be sitting at a table with a bunch of mates, glugging back red wine or rough cider and tapping my foot or drumming my fingers on the wine glass. There is something about folk music (and jazz too) that doesn’t often translate that well onto a more formal setting. They were superb musicians and some of the arrangements were unusual and lovely, but I suppose I want more entertainment, more pizzazz if I’m sitting still with my knees up to my chin, penned in a neat row.

There was a lot of shuffling around the stage (from the mikes to a table with chairs where the ones who weren’t playing would sit and drink what I swear were cups of tea). They were so laid back with the whole performing malarkey that they actually came across as a bit bored. Oh gawd, here we go again: let’s bung out a few songs, have a few cuppas, sell a few CDs and bugger off out of here. For some reason they seemed to think it was hilarious that they were sucking throat lozenges, sticking out their tongues at each other. Yeeuch. I kept wanting to yell, oh get on with the music.

The woman next to me however absolutely loved all this shambolic nattering. She barked out the most peculiar laugh I’ve ever heard – this is where I wish I’d paid more attention to phonetics lectures and could reproduce it properly – and kept shouting ‘whoop whoop’ in my ear far more than was strictly necessary.

It made me think back to when I was at college in Manchester and we used to go to this tiny little Irish pub called The Ducie Arms. It was one of a terrace, though most of the street had been pulled own, and faced an area of bleak waste ground before the start of Moss Side. It was, at that time, one of the few places you could get good draught Guinness and we would go in, grab a few pints and sit down in the smoky fug. Inevitably someone would get out a fiddle and then a bodhran and maybe a guitar. A tune would rise up and weave in and out of the conversation. If you’d had a few too much of the dark stuff, it would be nigh-on impossible to stay seated and so up you’d get and jig around a bit (even, shame to tell, on the tables)…and someone would try to teach me Gaelic and be very impressed when I could repeat it nearly perfectly (I’ve got a good ear) not realising that I have an equally poor memory and would have forgotten it ten minutes (or a pint) later. So, IrishEyes, I’m a lost cause. Then someone else would try to get you to play the spoons and by heck that wasn’t ever going to happen.

Anyhow, that – to my mind – was how real folk music needs to be heard. So here comes another WWM (When We Move) resolution – to get out to see some of the small bands playing the pubs.

When I got back to Mum’s (we were staying overnight in Bampton as Adrian had been in London doing a tutored beer tasting for a bunch of loss adjusters) I found a lovely surprise. Adrian had bought me a copy of Loreena McKennitt’s new album, An Ancient Muse. I adore her music – a fusion of Celtic styles and Arabic music which is just totally delicious. I have played her other albums so much I can barely bear to hear them anymore so a new one was a total delight.

So now I’m sitting at my laptop (I’ve given up on the new desktop – the connection is hopeless) being soothed by the strains of Caravanserai. I wish I were clever like Cait (or her offspring) and could have it play at a click….but I’m not so you can’t. Jx


Unknown said...

I so loved reading this. A couple of months ago, I went to see a folk group called "Waking the Witch" (think spice girls with instruments, decent songs and personalities).

The gig was at a little pub in an unremarkable village near Colchester and it was (at the time) the weirdest venue I'd ever been to.

It took place upstairs in a smallish room set out like a village hall hosting a school play with rows and rows of plastic chairs.
Unfortunately, we arrived slightly late due to lack of nearby parking spaces and had to stand rather conspiciously at the side of the room.

The band were really good though, and if you haven't already heard of them, you should check them out! I can't wait to see them again - probably in another venue though!

I've heard of Loreena Mckennitt (sorry if that's spelt wrong) and am now going to rush out and see if I can find an album to buy. (I only need to hear a favourable comment about someone and I'll buy just about any CD)

Un Peu Loufoque said...

Now tell me, do folk singers still stick one hand over their right ear and tilt their head to the side with their eyes closed when they sing?

Sally Townsend said...

Oh why did I bang into the Bampton link ? the headline just set me off on one as my blog explains. I hate wimmin that go 'whoop whoop' like it's the best thing since sliced bread when its crap.

Suffolkmum said...

Chuckling at Sally's comment. It's weird that you should write this, R and I have been banging on lately about needing to go out more, try some of the 'folk' pubs near us etc. Totally agree with you that you need to be somewhere casual and intmate for something like that - it needs to feel like the music's sort of evolving out of the evening rather than the other way around I think. R's new job is as a theatre director so at least I will get to see lots of theatre now.
How weird is that - we both have boys with the same name, born 8 days apart!

countrymousie said...

What an interesting read. Only like folk/jazz in old basic pub setting or down in the shacks at Southwold.
I used to date a folk singer and he used to burst into song (well not burst more drift into one if you get my meaning) and it drove me up the wall in the end.
I thought it wildly romantic to begin with and then wildly embarrassing at the end!
Mum said it would end in tears and
it did.

Iota said...

Ah, I knew if I kept reading your blog, we'd get back to the subject of small pubs again before long. As I remember it, the Poltimore Arms was too small for a folk group - but maybe my memory is at fault. Do you know the Woody Bay? Is Martin still the landlord? Sorry, very poor comments etiquette - off the subject of the blog entry by quite a long way now.

Anonymous said...

I'm in Manchester this weekend. Have just posted a short piece on the CCW site with an aerial view.

You're right about the country though. Idyllic as it might be, particularly where I live the only night out consists of a visit to the hen house.

I sometimes get out to the Chinese takeaway in Seahouses but apart from that....

Crystal x

bodran... said...

I spotted a poster yesterday,Hog roast! yuk live band! and ale! at the Griffin in llandyrnog. at this moment i really want to go but at 8pm i'll be ready for sleep..xxoo

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

just catching up after a few non online days. I was at a super pushy girls school too - very familiar. I have resigned myself to accepting that if i am having a can't get it together day there is no point in beating myself up about it. I will wake up in a day or two and whizz around madly achieving all over the place.
Love your posh photo and the exmoor one too. We used to live in Manchester too so the places you mention are all familiar.
now going to go and look for more walker.

Cait O'Connor said...

I so agree with your every word (except the clever Cait bit!). Spontaneous music in a pub with good draught Guinness, sounds like heaven to me and what I enjoy in Ireland, especially good in Tralee as Irish Eyes I am sure will testify.
I'll see if I can get some Loreena McKennitt tunes on the playlist, I have heard of her and read some of her lyrics.
I agree with you about 'going out', I hardly ever do, it's such an effort when you live in the wilds and you can't drink and drive either. There's not enough live music round here sadly, plenty in the house though when my son is playing.

Pondside said...

Your blog was right on, Jane. Every year I buy a subscription to the theatre in Victoria - otherwise we'd never go out. It just seems like so much trouble on a dark and rainy night when we like our own company so well! re the folk music - I couldn't agree more. We have a wonderful theatre here that is an old church - cozy, intimate and a good venue for folk music. Put it in an auditorium and it's all wrong.

bradan said...

We have 'real' music here, the fiddle, the box, the pipes, the spoons, good craic and even dancing on the tables!
Many people like the bands Skipinnish, Deoch 'n Dorus and the Vatersay Boys - have you heard of any of them? Sorry, not clever enough to do links !! Lots of local talent as well.
Tha mi toilichte gu do ionnsaich thu rud bheag Gaidhlig, ach tha mi duilich gu do caillte thu i a-rithist!! Le durachdan agus slainte mhath! xx

Westerwitch/Headmistress said...

Have many bands in pubs here - especially in the summer - brillaint - very late night/early mornings and now it is nigh on Highland Game Season. But we too get the 'we must get out more bug' . . . . answer who says so . . . .as long as you are happy . . . after all Lixtroll was watching paint dry on friday - I mean does it get any better than that!

CAMILLA said...

Hello Dear Jane,
As ever, a truly wonderful blog. Guinness, drank gallons of the stuff when I was in London and pregnant with first child, it was what I craved for. It had to be Draught Guinness though, straight out of the Barrell. There is a wonderful pub in Crawford Street, London W.1. called The Scotch House, where I used to go with my husband, they served it there, it was not far from my townhouse in York Street, which was just round the corner from the church there. I drank so much of it then, that when my waters broke, it was like a long gush of it.I agree with what you say about certain atmosphere for music, and I love Folk music, especially Fairport Convention. Thank you for your kind comments Jane, sadly my son does not go out with EDITOR,he has told me her name, but that is not what it is. Hopefully I will learn more about this very secret woman he has! Best of luck with the book Jane at Hodder, any more news on this yet?

Grouse said...

had to laugh at SC and CM.....I think we have all had our folk moments..........there is a pub in Bakewell where people turn up with various instruments and play and sing together.....nothing rehearsed, just spontaeous. Lovely!

. said...

Know exactly what you mean! I miss the theatres and exhibitions of London. My village has two pubs and one of them has regular live music but it is always tribute style bands which all sound alike. My favourite pub in the next village used to have spontaneous music when I first moved here, but the pub is very small and it has got too busy so there is no room for people to play any more.

snailbeachshepherdess said...

A pub near here has proper folk nights when old men dance over brooms, play spoons and sing lurid tales about 'Babby's Yed' must be quite frightening for an incomer! Me? I'm used to it ...and I know the words to 'Babby's Yed'

DevonLife said...

Oh you folkie you. I'm more a rock and roll sticky floor kind of door. Which you definitely don't get in Devon, I tag along to gigs with friends when imposing on them in London. I am the eternal plus one.

I had a dream last night I was going out with the Arctic Monkeys. he was only 19 and I told him I was worried about the age difference. Well I am old enough to be his, ahem, older sister.

I think it's a line from their new song "you used to do it in your fishnets, now you only do it in your nightdress"