Tuesday, August 24, 2010

First Hope, then Mold, then Liverpool.

We had a most gorgeous gig at the Hope Village Hall in Shropshire, the night after our week-long singing course finished. It's the third time we've played at Hope, and the community there never fails to have joyful enthusiasm and strong singing voices. 

The hall has lovely acoustics, and for the first time, it was set up sideways - the stage space was halfway down the long side of the room, and the chairs were lined up wider than they were deep. This created an intimate feel, and also gave us access to the curtained bay windows, which we spontaneously decided to use as a costume change space. I put on my circus tutu just before we sang Bill and the Bear, and John wore his gold lamé jacket for The Van Song.

There were some Australians in the audience, with whom we had mutterings about the incredibly indeterminate result so far in the Australian Federal election, held that day.

After such a big week and delightful gig, it was sadly time to leave our lodgings in the Byre at Gleanings, and we had to do it pretty quickly next morning. We were on the way to Tegeingl Festival, an hour-and-a-half's drive away in North Wales. We had a sound check at 10.30am and our first show at 11am.

The weather suddenly turned sunny, after rain almost all week, so the drive was spectacular, the green fields, hedgerows and long views across farmland all sparkling. We arrived in the strangely named town of Mold (its Welsh name is much nicer - Yr Wyddgrug) and with the aid of googlemaps found the Clwb Rugbi (the rugby club) and shortly after, a beaming Les Barker.

Just before the show, the other member of the line-up drove in. It was Pete Morton, and we were collaborating on a set of Border Ballads. Because it was us, with Pete, the concert was anything but earnest. We all take the ballads seriously, and we think the way to do that is to entertain people with their brilliant stories, so we've all got extremely varied arrangements of them. We started with Two Sisters, which Pete pronounced the chirpiest song about death he'd ever heard, and we went turn-about. The most academic moment of the show was when Pete did his version of Geordie, and we decided to follow it with our version of Geordie, which was so different in sound and even lyrics, only the salient points remained the same (pregnant woman tries to save her lover from the noose after he's caught poaching sixteen of the King's deer).

Immediately after that concert, we had a soundcheck at the Main Stage, which was being run by a very capable sound crew headed by Simon, and the sound was superb. After our soundcheck we had several hours before our concert, and went off to discover the festival. The first thing we discovered was the green room, in an army tent behind the stage, where Jill was making sandwiches, and there was fruit and hot cuppas, and biscuits and scotch eggs. What a supportive place for artists, its amazing how helpful it is to be able to get something to snack on quickly when you're concentrating on getting on stage.

The festival was set out around the rugby club field, with stalls and food, and a bar in a tent, and activities happening in the main building as well as the two marquees. We went to a woodwind workshop run by Jem Hammond, who was playing hornpipe, literally a pipe with a cow's horn on each end, one to direct the breath to the reed, and the other to act as a bell at the bottom for volume. We got there towards the end but still managed to learn a Welsh dance tune. And Jem turned out to be a total flute nut with a collection of instruments, and was totally up for a session later in the evening. Music to my ears.

Before us on the main stage was a stunning act, in which Jem was involved. Clerorfa...... is a Welsh traditional music orchestra, involving 37 players on this occasion but sometimes many more, and using harps (they had lots of harps), flutes, fiddles, and sundry other things you might see on the short video. They played Welsh tunes with big, orchestral arrangements with syncopated parts and they were magnificent. The sound was tight and reminded me of the big sound of the Melbourne Scottish Fiddle Club, but with a lot of harps. And in Welsh.

And then it was us. It was hot. My new flute likes hot, so it was very happy and sounded good, and we had a pretty good gig, except for the bit where we forgot a couple of words. I think it was the swimmy, sweaty heat that stole them from us, but a couple of gulps of water put us back together. It was a very enjoyable gig and we actually got an encore, at a festival! 

We performed Down in the Goldmine during the concert, and afterwards, Ioan the MC told me briefly of the famous local mining disaster, where three hundred men were trapped in the mine, and when it seemed they would be too hard to get out, the mine authorities sealed them in, to save the mine. A man's live was worth less than a bag of coal then, said Ioan.

Our Townsville/Chester friends Dave and Linda ran a cd stall for us while we played and it was great to see them and get to hang out at a festival with them, especially when we sat in Pete Morton's mainstage gig and sang loads of harmonies.

As we spoke to people after the gig, the tent demolishers came in, and by the time we'd come back to pack up our gear, the stage was pretty unrecognisable! But in spite of starting so promptly, the packer-uppers worked for many hours and finally joined us in the pub for a proper sing at about 10pm. And what a session! We moved through tunes, into harmonies, and eventually there were some mightly Welsh songs, with the Welsh lyrics being called out so we had a chance.

Jem suggested if we had a night free, Mondays in Liverpool there was a good irish session. John suggested the following night would be good. Our host, Ann, said we were welcome to stay another night if we wanted to go sessioning in Liverpool, so after spending Monday (our first day off for 7 days) looking round Mold, (lovely half-timbered buildings and eleven charity shops), we had an adventure to Liverpool.

And we got lost.

The lessons we learned from getting lost in the middle of Liverpool: always go by the big blue roads on the map if you can. They go longer distances, but they're quicker and easier to figure out; even googlemaps gets lost in Liverpool; Nic gets carsick if she has to look down at the map for a long time, she'd be better driving.

Eventually, we found The Edinburgh in Wavertree, and of course a cup of tea (50p) and three hours of tunes fixed everything. There were some lovely players including Chris on the whistle and Sean on the whistle and flute, and of course Jem was there, and Mike on flute, plus a couple of fiddles. Its obvious Liverpool has a strong tunes community, and it was a night of solid playing.

Feeling much better, we drove out under a full moon and took the big blue roads home.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Day two of the singing workshop week at Gleanings, in Shropshire, and we are working hard on harmonies, and technical singing issues, with our small but intent group. The venue is utterly gorgeous, and John and Yvonne who run it make wonderful food and are also running a smallholding. In practice what that means is that after singing yesterday, we both went down to the hayfield to give a hand, because yesterday's clear weather would not last, and John stayed down there for several hours to give a hand. I came back to the house to prepare for the next day's workshop, and saw him carting hay bales, riding on the back of the trailer, and at one stage backing a full trailerload of hay up to the barn.

We have sung a variety of songs in three languages in the last two days, including Allez Allelujah ( a three part processional we learned from Margret Roadknight), One More Day (a hopefully four part capstan shanty we first did at Music Under the Southern Cross), and Suo Gan (a Welsh lullaby in two parts so far, taught to us by Vicki and Trefor Williams, and both times we've taught it we've had a Welsh speaker in our group to guide us!).

Above is a rather delicious picture of the cottage in which we are staying and the car we have hired for the 10 weeks of the tour. And John, in the Gleanings, which is the teaching space, totally fabulous. More from the road soon.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Shropshire too far away

Seems like its taking us all day to get to Shropshire from Essex, but delightfully, we managed to fit in lunch at a pub called the Boot and Slipper, with singer-songwriter George Papavgeris and his wife Vanessa. Now we're driving through picturesque squalls of rain and beams of sun, and have stopped at Frankley Services. Frankley not as bad as Bolton services, but probably runner up.

Heading for the wilds of Shropshire, thought by some poets and painters to be the most beautiful countryside in England. Can't wait.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Before you can tour overseas, you have to get there.

We've packed up our house and stored our stuff. We've put upon our kind friends to help us cart things and clean things. I've finished a major painting and delivered it to its new owner. John has put on a beautiful concert, "An Intimate Evening with John Thompson" at Clovelly Cellars in Red Hill, with lots of guest musicians. We pared down our luggage to a minimum (but mine still contained two flutes, a drum, a stomp box, a pair of curly-toed boots, a tutu and a sleeping bag, just the essentials really).

And then that journey ended, and the new one began. As the plane pulled away from the airbridge into a dark, wet Brisbane night, we stepped into our 6th UK tour, and headed for Brunei.

Royal Brunei has upgraded their fleet, so the plane was new and comfortable. I slept most of the flight to Brunei's capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, and we arrived there at dawn. Very straightforward customs and immigration, followed by the short bus trip to Orchid Garden Hotel, where we spent our 14 hour stopover. Our voucher said we could have the hotel room for 6 hours, but in a wonderful development, we were checked in overnight, so we could stay there all day, sleep, shower, and eat yummy roti chanai with beef rendang and dahl. Hotel prices, always inflated, were $5 per curry. I'll be back for more!

On the plane again, John had booked me in for meals without onion, which I can't eat, and I got super-healthy food, and lots of fruit.

When we arrived in London, at dawn again, we jumped on the tube into town and organised to go to our friends' house in Essex. We could have planned this a bit better, and ended up walking from Piccadilly station to Charing Cross Station, right round the picturesque Trafalgar Square, before deciding we needed more information to get to Liverpool Street Station.

We also needed a cuppa. I perversely chose the Blue Onion cafe in a barrel-vaulted laneway near Charing Cross Station. I chose it largely because it had tables away from the traffic and we could sit there with all our luggage. We had an espresso each (£1.30) and two-toast baked beans (yes, with two bits of toast) (£2), and then a big cup of tea, and chatted to Hassan who runs it. He's from Cairo. He's been in London awhile though; he says things like "innit". His cafe was perfect.

Eventually we managed to navigate various tube stations and jump on a train at Liverpool Street, which took us to Witham in Essex. We got a cab to our friends' house, and at about 3 I thought I might have a lie down for an hour. Six hours later I woke up, feeling just about ready for a good night's sleep!

ps, you can see the painting I finished on my blog, nicolemurrayartblog.blogspot.com!