Monday, May 22, 2006

Irish trip

On Wednesday I got back from a week-and-a-half in southwest Ireland. Quite a lot of musical goings-on to report:

Friday 5th - I had a couple of hours waiting in Bristol for my coach to Cork City, so I'd arranged to meet up with Alé, my Chilean multi-instrumentalist friend who I met through Melski's Bristol-based "Improvised Crime" collective. His guitar was locked inside the Cube Cinema in St. Pauls, which we initially couldn't gain access to, so we went for a drink in a nearby pub and then tried again a bit later, with success. This left us about half an hour to record some jamming, so we sat in the churchyard of St. James Priory, right behind the bus station and got into it. I've extracted a few excerpts from that...

Saturday 6th - After getting a bus from Cork to Bantry, I got myself to Future Forests in time to help set up that evening's gig there - it was Christy and friends' band Sumu. I ended up being recruited to do the visual projections, working with Christy's laptop, a data projector and a huge collection of digital photos and videoclips he's taken in his several visits to Lalibela in Ethiopia. I ended up interspersing this with other imagery found on his hard-drive: wildflower closeups, deep space images, fractals, Irish landscapes, etc. They played a mighty 2.5 hour set - I could have listened to them all night. Despite having spent some time with them as a group of people last time I was over, I'd never seen them play live before. Niwell, the Congolese guitarist is like an African Garcia, but with elements of Ernest Ranglin, Django Reinhardt, Robert Fripp and pretty much all of my favourite electric guitarists thrown in - staggeringly good. Chris, the other guitarist, is a laser scientist and former heavy metal enthusiast (can play all that Steve Vai/Joe Satriani ultra-intricate stuff), and although not everyone I spoke to agrees, I find their two styles interweave incredibly effectively. Feargal the drummer had just returned from a few months in New Zealand, so it's been a while since the last gig. Rick (bassist) has been finalising the mixes for their debut CD which is now being held up for financial reasons. If I'd had to go back to England the next day it would have been worth the journey for that gig alone. After they finished a fairly open jam unfolded, with Kerry-based singer/songwriter Mick Duffy getting things started. We had a bit of a blues jam, with him singing a Rory Gallagher song which went down very well with the small crowd who stuck around. Chris got involved on bass and Niwell on drums, and some interesting stuff went down for a while, but it all got a bit vague with too many people involved, and it was time to get some sleep...

Sumu - Christy, Rick, Ciara, Feargal, Niwell, Chris

Tuesday 9th - after a couple of days of working on the Future Forests website, I made it up to Maughanasilly for a late night jam with Andy Ra - he's got a dilruba now, the only other person I've heard play a dilruba other than Simon Drone, and he plays it really beautifully. We recorded some saz and 12-string/didg/dilruba. Mike turned up a bit later from down the road with his flute and we recorded a bit more.

Wed-Thurs 10th-11th - up in Sneem on the Kerry coast with Kris, Birgit and family. Kris and I didn't get it together to play any music, but he'd just acquired an old cassette deck after some time without one, so we had a lot of fun going through his old tapes, listening to The Ramones, The Sonics, The Stooges, etc. - the soundtrack of his teenage years in Temse. He also dug out the first existing recording of him and his then band The Pinheads - pretty impressive covers of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and "Twist and Shout". Meanwhile Birgit (who's been with him since that time) dug out her photo albums and scrapbooks which included old gig flyers, setlists and a picture of Kris with a Ramones haircut!

Fri 12th - I spent a good part of the day travelling down to Baltimore (the original one!) in West Cork to meet up with Inge and friends at the 15th annual Baltimore Fiddle Fair. It was pretty cold and damp by the time I arrived so I ended up in one of the pubs listening in on a folk session and reading Robert Pirsig's Lila. I eventually tracked down Inge and we met up over at the Harbour Hotel for the main evening event. This started with Haugaard and Hoirup, a Danish duo featuring a hypertalented young fiddler (unfortunately I've rather overdosed on Scandinavian fiddle music as a result of regular listening to BBC Radio 3's Late Junction). Next up was Tim O'Brien (fiddle, mandolin, vocals) from West Virginia, backed up by John Doyle (Sligo guitarist) and a Glaswegian fiddler. A lot of his set was in the country/bluegrass/old-time vein. The highlight for me was when they came back for a second encore and sang a ragged but heartfelt version of Dylan's "Lay Down Your Weary Tune". Finally there was Buille, a band from Armagh, based around a virtuosic concertina player called Niall Vallely. They only played a few of their own things before it turned into a major jam featuring Tim O'Brien and friends, plus Chicago's finest, Liz Carroll.

Sat 13th - Inge had a couple of fiddle masterclasses in Baltimore, so I had a good walk around to check out that incredibly beautiful, enchanted part of the southwest coast. Waiting on the plaza outside the pubs, the effective centre of the village, someone correctly identified my encased saz (it's amazing how often people come up and tell me it's a sitar or a banjo!). This was Sarah Franklyn, a local singer/songwriter, and her partner Colin, who turned out to be from Barnstaple and in search of his own saz. They'd seen it the evening before when I'd left it outside the pub, hoping Inge might spot it. I'd never normally leave my saz unattended, but Baltimore felt like one of the safest places on earth. And it turns out they'd passed the pub several times, spotted it, wondered who it belonged to, and even joked about stealing it! She went and got her guitar, and we had an excellent little session, with me jamming on a couple of her songs, Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" and ballads including "The Lowlands of Holland". Unfortunately an accordion-based session struck up a few metres away while we were in the middle of this, so we broke off and decided to stay in touch...

jamming with Sarah Franklyn, Baltimore harbour - photo by Michael Morris
jamming with Sarah Franklyn, Baltimore harbour - photo by Michael Morris

Earlier I'd had an hour or more of saz workout behind one of the harbour walls, right down by the sea. Once Inge turned up I suggested to her and Henri (who'd travelled over from France with her) that we go down there and play a bit. I managed to record a couple of lovely saz and fiddle jams. It was a bit like playing a "secret gig" (to the fish!) as part of the festival. Inge's fiddle playing has become very impressive indeed. Nice to be diversifying from the usual saz-and-mandolin sound.

Kevin Burke and Ged Foley
Kevin Burke and Ged Foley

That evening's entertainment in the Hotel included the wonderful Sligo fiddler Kevin Burke and the Shetland monster-fiddle group Fiddlers'Bid (somewhere between Motorhead, a boyband and a traditional Shetland danceband). It was full moon, and the latter were quite appropriate, driving the crowd into a real frenzy. It was a bit over-the-top for my taste - I preferred the elegant simplicity of what Kevin Burke was doing, backed by guitarist Ged Foley.

Old Head of Kinsale
Old Head of Kinsale

Sunday 14th - This was our friend American Liz's 50th birthday. We ended up back at her place on the Old Head of Kinsale, and her daughter Lea (we'd known this for some time) had organised a surprise party. We all ended up down at a pub called The Speckled Door. Kris, Birgit and kids came down from Sneem, so Inge, Kris and I were the musical entertainment. We bashed out all our old favourites (from when we used to play together a lot, circa 1996-97) in the pub, and then, when the party moved back up to Liz's house...we discovered we were locked out - here's a picture of Kris lowering me headfirst through a tiny bathroom window. With a bit of contortionism, I managed to make it safely to the floor, and let everyone in.

Kris, me and Inge, outside The Speckled Door
Kris, Inge, me, outside the pub, trying to remember how you play "Happy Birthday"

We carried on late into the night (some of this, although not the best parts, inevitably, got recorded). Right at the point the jam reached its most cosmic, Mike Collard arrived, unexpectedly but totally appropriately, positively glowing. He joined in on flute for a while. With him was Kevin, who we originally know from Dublin, but who has spent recent years living in Glastonbury. He happened to have with him a CD of some MiniDisc recordings made a few years ago in the Lady Chapel of the Abbey ruins - featuring some magnificent playing by Stef. I've been trying to track some of these discs down for a while now, so it was a very pleasant surprise when he just handed the CD over for me to process and upload to the When I got back to Exeter there was another MiniDisc Jim from Red Dog Green Dog had sent of more 'Crypt' sessions from the same period - so lots to get on with processing...Kevin also mentioned that in his several years of pursuing of the true mystical heart of Albion/Avalon, our music was among the few things he found which he felt were part of the true current - that was very encouraging to hear.

Monday 15th - Inge and I recorded a few more minutes of relaxed modal jamming that evening in Liz's front room, which Liz seemed to really enjoy.

Having gone through all the MiniDiscs I've extracted about 70 minutes of the best stuff:

Listen Here


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