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.

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