Thursday, September 2, 2010

Right round the UK the long way.

North Wales to South Wales via Shropshire.

We travelled back to Shropshire after our adventure in Liverpool and Mold, to return Trevor's borrowed fiddle. It gave us an opportunity to pop in to Shrewsbury prior to the festival to swap some of our cds for a different title with Graham from Roots Music.  On a long day of travel, we then drove to Hay-on-Wye for lunch. In the rain. But no matter, Hay is a town of bookshops and we enjoyed a browse in a big, satisfying one before driving on over the Welsh mountains in the mist to Llantrisant.

Pat was ever-welcoming and put a delicious dinner on for us before the gig. We drove over to the pub in the constant rain, dressed in our finest, and put on a show. The night included floor-singers, and a very entertaining raffle which involved a recitation by all the regulars about the qualities of the bottle of wine, and the prize was a choice of the wine, or a mystery box. The brave winner chose the mystery box and to everyone's joy won a huge zucchini. Courgette. Marrow. Big vegie.

South Wales to York via Sheffield.

Next morning we were away by 8, on a long run up to Sheffield, where we visited friends to borrow another fiddle, and had a short break. From Sheffield we went to Birdsedge, our first chance to see Jacey, our agent, who has been on tour herself, in Canada. And there was still a drive to go, up to York, for our show at the Black Swan.

When we arrived in York, we were soon joined by Emma Nixon, the director of the Brisbane Celtic Fiddle Club, who has been in Scotland and Northumberland, attending fiddle courses, presenting a paper at a conference, and teaching fiddle for a week at Sandpipers, a teaching venue near Alnmouth. We rehearsed a couple of tunes and Emma joined us during the gig for two songs with tunes. 


We headed up to Northumberland next day, where we had a fascinating couple of days with Malcolm and Susan, two Northumbrian pipers who are running a workshop venue and putting on concerts of traditional Northumbrian music, accompanied by a selection of Northumbrian cheeses, and rather sensibly, Australian wines. How many times can you fit the word Northumbrian into a sentence?

When we arrived, not only was Emma there, but also Caitlin from Melbourne. Cait and I went for a walk across the fields, eating blackberries off the hedgerows as we walked, and sheltering in the pine wood when a rainshower blew over, until we arrived at the beach. Druridge Bay has a long, sweeping and beautiful beach, along which we walked, enjoying the sea and the sunset.

Susan and Malcolm put on a session for us, inviting their friends who play pipes, whistles, concertinas and fiddle. We shared some of our Australian and Irish tunes, including Blacktown Jig and Colin Charlton's Reel, and learned several Northumbrian tunes on the fly. Can't remember them now, but we'd pick them up again quickly.

Scotland and the biggest festival in the world.

On Sunday we packed up and followed the guys in to Alnmouth for a look. Its a beautiful town on the beach where the river meets the sea, and the weather was very unfriendly. We had a quick look at the beach and the town, then took refuge from the freezing wind in a lovely cafe attached to a hotel, with a big conservatory-roofed room. After cakes and tea and promises to keep in touch, we hit the road for Scotland.

The drive up past Berwick is spectacular, with gorgeous sea views, and the Firth of Forth and Edinburgh coming into view at the top of the drive.

We made our way into the centre of the jumping festival town and actually found a park. 

And then we caught up with Bec and Donald. This is one of the most romantic stories of our touring, really. In 2008, Cloudstreet came on tour in the UK and brought Rebecca Wright, guitarist, songwriter, and cellist. She toured with us for 4 months, and in that time we came up to Scotland for a couple of gigs, and stayed in Glasgow with a friend from previous tours, Donald, a fine traditional singer and guitarist. After our Scottish gigs we went to visit relatives in Italy, and on our return, we found Bec and Donald were holding hands. And smiling a lot. And they have continued their adventure together through two Scottish winters, and a visit to Australia. They'll be back in Australia for Christmas this year. Its all Very Lovely.

Visiting Edinburgh on Sunday was really all about seeing Bec, and seeing a gig with her current band, The Wishing Well. Have a look at their crazy European touring schedule here:

Their gig started at midnight at Whistlebinkies. That gave us quite a lot of time to do other festivally things. We all decided to go to David Ferrard's show, "Scottish Folk Roots and Offshoots", an hour of songs exploring his links with Scotland and America. Lots of harmony choruses, people from many countries in attendance. ( We followed this enjoyable show with a scrumptious Indian tapas-style dinner at Mother India next door, where we met Jeff, David's bass-player friend from the US.

Our next diversion was to visit Sandy Bell's, a pub famous for music sessions, where we caught up with Camilla from the Perch Creek Family Jug Band. ( There are more Aussies in Edinburgh during the festival than you can poke a stick at. Camilla was playing banjo in a session, where a bloke from Melbourne with Proclaimers glasses was singing a laconic song about that old Jack Daniels number 7 (I think it was seven). He soon lent the guitar to John, and an extremely obliging flute and whistle player called Edmund lent me a flute, and we had some tunes and songs. Jeff took up the bass and showed us he was a virtuoso!

It was soon time to go to Bec's gig, at the noisy, dark, friendly live music venue, Whistlebinkies. The band was unloading gear onto the cobbles outside, the girls all rushed off and reappeared decked out with makeup and corsets, and soon the band was onstage, playing a thoughtful and musically interesting set of good Australian folk-pop, and struggling with a fair bit of feedback from the monitors. Donald and I sat down the front and acted like the fanclub for the first set, after which I was fading and knew I needed to get to my bed, 90 minutes drive away.

John had met some Americans and was happily talking politics at the bar. He decided to stay in Edinburgh and party on!

We've now been in Glasgow for 4 days in the most glorious sunny weather (mostly). I've seen the Glasgow Sculpture Studios (, I've driven across the country to visit my relations in Broughty Ferry, where I walked on the beach in the sunshine and saw Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument on the way back and practised singing for about 3 hours of the drive.

Nicole at Claypotts Castle, Broughty Ferry.

Tonight we play at The Star Folk Club at St Andrews in the Square, and tomorrow we drive to Birmingham!

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