Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Red Dog Green Dog

Saturday night saw the third annual barn dance at Cannings Court Farm near Pulham in Dorset. My friends Heather and John put this on (between growing organic vegetables and raising a young child) as a fundraiser for a sustainable technology charity called Practical Action. This year it featured 'Primaeval' (Cliff Stapleton - formerly of Blowzabella - playing hurdy-gurdy-driven Breton music with his new band) and Red Dog Green Dog.

Barn Dance flyer
Barn Dance flyer

RDGD were originally Jo and Joel (with whom I used to travel in Cornwall playing a lot of French, Breton and other folk musics) together with Mike and Jim, a couple of Liverpudlians we met at the Saint-Chartier festival in 1999. They recorded one acclaimed album in 2002 and quickly got quite a following on the French folkdance circuit. Mike left after a while (he's a bagpipe maker living in Somerset these days), and Jim and Joel now live in France, so it's become something of an occasional entity. The full RDGD line-up was not to be this night, though, as Joel and Sarah were stuck in the Pyrenees, their baby Perran recovering from whooping cough. This was a terrible shame, both because everyone would have loved to have seen them all, but also because Joel's a sensational hurdy-gurdy player, which gives the sound a real kick. However, Nuala (of Headmix, and formerly the folkie-punky-squat-festie band Tofu Love Frogs) stepped in at the last minute and did a thoroughly excellent job playing fiddle and replacing the irreplaceable.

It occured to me during the set that I saw Nuala playing with the Tofus at Whitstable (old) Labour Club back in 1992, a year or so before I met any of my many friends dancing in the barn that night. She and Jo did a few tunes on their own to supplement the set, and that was a real revelation. Jo's a truly dedicated, disciplined musician who has been steadily improving her melodeon playing over the years since we travelled in Cornwall, and Nuala's fiddle-style is the perfect complement to her playing. They've been gigging in Brighton lately as "Four Legs Good" (great name), so if you're down that way, do check them out - superb. Jo's also been busy setting up her own youth music therapy project called "100 Monkeys" (another great name.).

Jim (soprano sax), Mike (bagpipes), Jo (melodeon), Nuala (fiddle)

I got their whole two hour set (minus 10 seconds) on MiniDisc. It's really very good, especially considering they hadn't played together for months (and never in this configuration) apart from a casual bit of rehearsal in the campsite that afternoon:

Listen Here

Jim (concertina), Mike (bagpipes), Jo (melodeon), Nuala (fiddle)

I'd put my bike on a train to Sherborne and cycled in on the Thursday to help Heather and John set things up. It felt good to be there as everyone arrived. There was a very lively campsite scene, huge amounts of food, and our friend Ian was there circulating his legendary mead (I got a bottle of the 1999 elderberry - amazing stuff).

Last time I was visiting the farm, Joel and Sarah were living in a yurt there with their newborn baby. Joel and I recorded a little bit of saz and hurdy-gurdy jamming. This time I didn't get a chance to play much. On the Sunday morning I had a bit of badly-played-saz and percussion jam with Matt SpaceGoat sitting by a smoky fire in intense sunshine with a mild hangover - not recorded, thankfully. Made me want to practice more (and drink less). Matt's been busy setting up (with John Martineau, who published our little reference book) Pond Life, Ltd. - a sort of mobile studio project and online music portal - as well as playing sitar and bouzouki with Camel Nitrate and Transglobal Underground.

After RDGD had finished, Nuala had expressed an interest in a nearby bass and the possibility of getting a jam together. "Anyone got a guitar?" she wondered. I'd seen her playing bass on dub and ska tracks with Headmix at the Lizard Eclipse Festival in 1999, in the Burrow Hill Cider tent, so the idea of a spaced-out saz/dub jam seemed very appealing at the time. By the time I returned to the barn, though, Sam, Stevie P and Sunny were busy keeping the people dancing with more French tunes - probably a good thing, as I'd had a good part of that bottle of elderberry mead by that point.

Another very positive thing to have come out of this event was that Stevie P heroically turned up with the best existing copy of the "Rainy Night in the Bell Tent" session from Ventongimps, 1997. I've been trying to track this down for years. Fortunately, when I last saw her, Maya (from Dragonsfly, and who used to be in Heathens All with Stevie) mentioned that he'd made her a copy of this tape, which is how I came to know he had it. Some very badly-processed fourth or fifth generation copies of some of these tunes have been online for a while here, but I shall now be able to upload a much more worthy set of audio files to the IAA (coming soon). That session was originally recorded on Howie's top-quality portable cassette recorder, but the original (typically) got lost in the post between Cornwall and Belgium. It was undoubtedly the best recording made of the Cornwall period Dongas music.

Apparently I missed a good Drone session back in Exeter on Saturday. Henry's wife Lucy was exhibiting her ceramics at their home as part of the regional Nine Days of Art event, and he invited Droners 'round to provide background music. Phil and Matthew S made it (which doesn't happen so often). Henry reckons it was a particularly good one - "mythologised", though, as he said, since no one recorded it.


Blogger Tom Kerswill said...

All sounds very nice! I'm based in Manchester now... a fair fling from old Exeter, though I'm planning to get back there in the first two weeks of November to do lots of gigs... Hope your music is continuing to do well!

12:27 AM  

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