Monday, April 14, 2014

Traditional ceilidh dance, barn dance and folk dance band music at the Loose Knit Band Sidmouth Folk Festival winter reunion

Loose Knit Band Big Session Winter Reunion

Traditional ceilidh dances, barn dances and folk dances are a great way for people of all ages to get together and have fun.

Whether it's for a wedding, fund raising event, family birthday party or any of the many other occasions when people of all ages like to get together, the jaunty jiggy tunes of traditional folk dance music always seems to set every generation's feet tapping and quickly put a smile on everyone's face.

With the summer coming and the weather getting warmer, the season of fetes and weddings is rapidly approaching so it's an ideal time for ceilidh, barn dance and folk dance musicians to get together over a weekend to celebrate their music and for those musicians in bands to rehearse tunes together at the beginning of their busy season. There is probably no bigger gathering of traditional English folk tune musicians at this time of the year than the Loose Knit Band Sidmouth Folk Festival reunion when musicians that have played together during the Sidmouth Folk Festival in the Loose Knit Band Big Session get together again to play the tunes they love throughout the whole weekend!

Since prominent member of the Loose Kit Band, organiser of the weekend and talented piano accordion player Martin Hughes is also the band leader of BarnBuskers Ceilidh and Folk Dance Band, in which I feature as soprano saxophone player, and with at least two other members of BarnBuskers Ceilidh and Folk Dance Band also being present, it was an ideal opportunity for us to join in and share some tunes while having lots of fun with around fifty other traditional dance musicians.

Saturday pre-session carvery at the Balfour Inn, Sidmouth
What a great weekend it was! The Balfour Inn, Sidmouth did us proud, not only providing lots of room for our traditional barn dance, ceilidh and folk dance music big session but also serving us a really tasty carvery on the Saturday evening to set us up for our evening's music playing.

All too soon it was over but I'm sure we are all now looking forward to meeting again for the Sidmouth Folk Festival week in August 2014 when we will again be playing traditional English ceilidh, folk dance and barn dance music at the Balfour Inn in a big session.

So if you are a musician that enjoys playing mainly traditional English music and are looking for a friendly big session during the Sidmouth Folk Week this August 2014, why not check us out. Whilst many of us play in professional ceilidh, barn dance and folk dance bands, the Loose Knit Band Big Session particularly welcomes newcomers and less experienced musicians too. Just buy a drink at the bar and join in. You are sure to be made welcome. (See my Facebook account for more photos of the 2014 Loose Knit Band Winter Reunion). See previous articles on this blog about Loose Knit Band Big Sessions).

If you are looking for a barn dance, ceilidh dance or folk dance band for your wedding, fund raiser, birthday party, fete or other social gathering, I'm sure Martin will be delighted to help in his capacity of band leader of the BarnBuskers Ceilidh, Barn Dance and Folk Dance band by checking our diary and discussing arrangements. (See contact information on the website).

If you just love listening to the jiggy, jaunty sounds of traditional English folk dance, barn dance and ceilidh tunes, we always love to have an audience at the big session at the Balfour Inn. Perhaps we'll see you there next time we get together for the Loose Knit Band Big Session during the Sidmouth Folk Week in August 2014 or at the 2015 Loose Knit Band reunion at the Balfour Inn, Sidmouth.

If all that seems too long to wait, Martin Hughes (link to personal website) usually runs a very friendly traditional tunes session at the Bell Inn, Ash, Martock, Somerset twice a month (check with Martin or pub before attending to avoid disappointment as circumstances can change). Acoustic musicians are all welcome, just buy a drink at the bar and join in or listen as we play. (They tell me meals are good there too). Perhaps I'll see you there   :-)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Acoustic folk music session entertainment at Hunters Inn, Heddon Valley, Exmoor with AngleTwitch Morris and musician friends

David Orton, proprietor of Hunters Inn, Exmoor & friends
Ian Hudson - acoustic music session Hunters Inn Exmoor
Exmoor acoustic music session at Hunters Inn
Music entertainment at Hunters Inn near Lynmouth

With the Upton Folk Music Festival rapidly approaching where I will be playing my soprano saxophone with AngleTwitch Morris, the regular acoustic folk and country music session at the beautiful Hunters Inn in Exmoor's secluded Heddon Valley provided a fantastic opportunity to get in some pre-performance rehearsal playing time and a great excuse to be reunited with some wonderful musicians and friends. It also gave me a chance to meet up again with David Orton, ever welcoming proprietor of this unique hotel, restaurant and rural bar whose warm personality, for me, gives Hunters Inn Exmoor such a wonderful character and ambiance (see photo at top)

We had a great time. Session host Ian Hudson (2nd photo) is not only a fine portrait and landscape artist and teacher but is also a talented guitar player and singer who leads the acoustic music session At Hunters Inn Exmoor with a gentle touch thoughout the evening, responding sensitively to the singing and playing talent of all present and filling in with his own music and song when needed.

Hunters Inn (see Facebook page) nestles in the secluded Heddon Valley between Exmoor and the Bristol Channel and is always a favourite place for me to visit. Unfortunately, to get from Minehead in West Somerset to Hunters Inn, my ancient campervan would normally have to negotiate a series of picturesque but extremely steep and long hills. Porlock Hill leads out of West Somerset and onto Exmoor. Countisbury Hill, usually covered with sleeping sheep on the return journey, with its picturesque views of Lynmouth and Lynton on the way down, is long and very steep followed by a no less steep hill out of Lynmouth past Lynton towards Barnstaple.

Then, after a few miles, there is more  hilly driving to do as a narrow and twisting lane leads down into the marvellous Heddon Valley where Hunters Inn nestles like a jewel (and then of course back up at the end of the evening). All of which, sadly, is the reason why I rarely take the risk of my old campervan having a terminal driving experience brought on by me making my way to this acoustic folk and country music session. Fortunately, on this occasion, I had the opportunity of cadging a lift from another local musician who has a much better vehicle so I was able to enjoy the journey and party thoughout the evening.

Cosy bar at Hunters Inn, Heddon Valley, Exmoor
However, if you are looking for a unique Exmoor hotel restaurant and bar located in superb scenery and approached by spectacular countryside, in my experience, Hunters Inn is well worth checking out. If you approach it from the Barnstaple direction, you still have beautiful countryside and fewer hills.

If you are an acoustic musician or enjoy listening to a bit of folk or country music, home-brewed in a charming rural ambiance, Ian Hudson's music session on 2nd and 4th Sundays is worth checking out too. As always, phone ahead to make sure it is happening because changes to schedules are always possible. I'm sure that friendly proprietor David Orton will be delighted to hear from you. Perhaps I'll see you there  :-)

Folk and country songs & music at Hunters Inn Exmoor

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Spiritual Cornish light, shanty choir singers, a secretive Cornish songstress and wonderful traditional Cornish community folk music sessions in Perranporth and Luxulyan

As I drove into Cornwall last Tuesday on my way to some traditional folk music sessions in Luxulyan and Perranporth, to my surprise, suddenly, the light seemed to brighten all around me as if I was entering a very special place. Now, I'm by no means a religious person but, even to me, a hard nosed sceptic, the light seemed to have almost a spiritual quality. It had a radiance that made me want to smile as I streaked along in my rusty old campervan ... at about 50 miles per hour.

Fancifully, I wondered if the beautiful light was a sign of wonderful things to come over the next few days. As it turned out, I wasn't to be disappointed. The traditional Cornish music, singing and dance sessions rocked and my Cornish trip was given a perfect ending with the voice of a young Cornish songstress whose singing had a spiritual quality perfectly reflecting the light I had experienced as I entered Cornwall.

My first port of call was the Seiners Arms in Perranporth where on Tuesday evenings for many years some excellent Cornish musicians have been meeting up to play traditional Cornish folk tunes. Armed with my soprano saxophone and several weeks of practising Cornish tunes from the Seiners session page on and a certain amount of trepidation, I joined in.

Tuesday evening Cornish music session Seiners Bar Perranporth

To say that the music rocked would be an understatement. It practically rocked the foundations of this Cornish town beachside bar. I've seen some Irish sessions that were fast and furious but I must admit the speed and virtuosity of the musicians in that bar on that night equalled anything I've ever seen before. Yet it wasn't all fast and furious. The Estren waltz was played gently with an immense lyrical quality and the Newlyn Reel was started more slowly than I've ever seen it played before. It had feeling and grace, only gradually increasing in tempo through many repetitions until finally it devolved into a frenzy of sound and rhythm that could only have uplifted the spirits of even the most hardened of diners.

Local shanty choir singers at Seiners Bar Perranporth
Later, a local choir that had been rehearsing in another part of the pub joined us and they were still singing their repertoire of traditional shanty songs when I left at the end of the evening to find my camping place for the night.

The next day, after saying hello to friendly publicans Sharon and Steve who have been running the Kings Arms in Luxulyan since September 2013 (link is to their Facebook page), I enjoyed some of their tasty lunchtime food and a chat with one of their regular customers who it turned out had played piano accordion for many years locally and now even had a son who was teaching music locally in Cornwall. Later, as I walked through the beautiful Luxulyan valley during the afternoon, I wondered if there was any end to the talent in this county that seemed to want to be a country judging by the many Cornish flags that were dotted around.

2nd Wednesday Kings Arms, Luxulyan Cornish music session

The second Wednesday of the month Cornish music session (Facebook Group Prys Ton) had only started the previous month in February and, in my experience, sometimes people turn up for the first session to give their support but then numbers can fall off with subsequent evenings. However, this was not to be the case with the traditional Cornish music and dance session at the Kings Arms, Bridges, Luxulyan. Indeed, there were even more musicians than last time (see my February 2014 article on Kings Arms Luxulyan) - somebody said they counted 22 - and even more dancers too. Where joining in the Seiners session was rather challenging for my limited Cornish music repertoire, the Luxulyan session at the Kings Arms I found very accessible. Yet the music flowed well throughout the evening and the dancers were on the floor most of the time. The pub was packed with a real party atmosphere. In short it was a great evening. 

Later, tired but content from all the music playing (and I even got up to dance myself at one point), there were just a few of us left in the bar relaxing with friendly Steve the proprietor and playing the occasional tune to illustrate various musical points. I said how impressed I was with all the music and dance talent I had found in Cornwall; the traditional sessions, the shanty songs sung by the folk choir at Seiners Arms, the amazing traditional Cornish dancers and musicians at the Luxulyan session.

Cornish songstress - amazing yet modest talent
Then somebody suggested a lady who had quietly been playing guitar with us all night should give us a song. She wasn't keen but was eventually persuaded. What followed then was the perfect counterpoint to the beautiful light that I had experienced as I entered Cornwall. Whimsical, mystical and melodically fascinating, her voice rose and fell like the waves on a Cornish beach. I'm not a great fan of singing. I prefer a good tune but, like the amazing qualities of the Cornish light I'd seen the day before, the qualities of her voice shone through and bathed me in a sea of sound and feeling that made a perfect ending to my day and my visit to Cornwall. I discovered her name is Kim Guy (see link to her music below) and she has lots of music online. If you are looking for a present for somebody who has everything, consider giving them one of her CDs then they really will have everything.

In my view, based on my all too short experiences, Cornwall has what lovers of folk culture and community are looking for ... wonderful traditional Cornish music and musicians, Cornish community dancing, fabulous countryside to explore with a glorious heritage ... and even a secret songstress to delight your senses called Kim Guy. (Link is to her music on Soundcloud - well worth checking out)! As session schedules do change regularly, however, before travelling or incurring expense, it's always worth phoning ahead to confirm it is taking place with the session venue. Perhaps I'll see you in Cornwall sometime :-)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

4th Wednesday Appledore Devon session singaround folk music entertainment at Coach and Horses kicks off to fine start

Coach and Horses Appledore Devon folk session singaround
Appledore community pub music was at its best last night when I joined in with a brilliant mainly traditional English folk music session singaround entertainment at the Coach and Horses, Appledore, Devon organised by friendly local retired fisherman and well known musician singer Glenn Bower.

It has been some years since I have been down to visit Appledore and I certainly realised it has been too long as one excellent local performer followed another throughout the evening.

Of course, it depends on who turns up on the night but Glenn said to me he would like there to be an even share of singing and traditional tunes.


The Coach and Horses was looking good too with a very nice open fire burning at the end of the bar and an appreciative audience just there to listen. Glenn's traditional session is on the 4th Wednesday of each month but the other Wednesdays in the month are reserved for different styles of music with different hosts. More information is available from local Appledore Rocks website. Without doubt, a treasure trove of music to enjoy!

So, if you enjoy a nice evening joining in with singing or playing mainly traditional English folk music and can get to Appledore in Devon on the 4th Wednesday evening of the month, Glenn's session / singaround is well worth checking out. It's completely free, just buy a drink at the bar and join in or just listen. As always, schedules do sometimes change so it is worth telephoning ahead to the Coach and Horses to confirm the session / singaround is taking place, especially if you are travelling far. Based on my experience, I'm sure you'll get a warm Appledore welcome. Perhaps you will see me there :-)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Cornish traditional folk music session and dance rocks at the Kings Arms, Bridges, Luxulyan, Cornwall

After a couple of weeks preparation and practise, I finally got a chance to try out my newly learned traditional Cornish tunes at a folk music session of traditional Cornish tunes and dance at the Kings Arms, Bridges, Luxulyan, Cornwall Wednesday (19th Feb 2014) ... and I'm hooked!

Traditional Cornish folk music session at Luxulyian
What a great session it was! the proprietors Sharon and Steve are local people and have only just taken over the pub but have already made it a wonderfully friendly place to hang out and have fun. On the evening of the music session, we musicians were treated to extremely tasty Cornish pasties and I returned the day after to enjoy a wonderful lunchtime meal of local duck which went down a treat.

The traditional folk music session rocked (as you can see in the video above) with some of the foremost exponents of traditional Cornish music leading the selection of tunes and it was a huge bonus having the dancers with a great and appreciative audience from Luxulyan and surrounding areas.

Traditional Cornish dancing at the Luxulyan folk music session
Friendly proprietor Steve (2nd from right at bar) and Sharon
The brilliant news is that the proprietors and organisers of this Luxulyan session would like to make it a regular event. If they do, I could see it becoming a major traditional music venue of Cornwall on Wednesday evenings. Luxulyan is quite close to the sea and benefits from the Luxulyan Valley which is a beautiful place to explore with intriguing old disused water wheels and a stunning aqueduct. I'm a bit of a wuss when it comes to high places but the aqueduct is wide enough to walk across in the middle and not feel too intimidated with quite high walls providing protection from the vertiginous drop.

So, if you are a traditional folk musician and would like to try something a bit different from the usual traditional English or Irish repertoire and you enjoy a good session, the Kings Arms session in Luxulyan is well worth checking out. Before you do, it is very worthwhile getting some Cornish tunes added to your repertoire as the organisers seem to prefer it to be authentically Cornish.

One of the leading exponents of Cornish traditional music and member of Cornish band Dalla Kyt Le Nen Davey (accordian, mandola, vocals), has set up a website of Cornish tunes specifically for the Luxulyan folk music session to help musicians not familiar with local Cornish tunes to come along to the session prepared which I found was absolutely invaluable to my enjoyment of the evening as a soprano sax and flute folk musician.

So, if you are visiting Cornwall in the UK and would like to take part in a traditional folk music session with tunes from Cornwall, or if you would like to just come along and listen, based on my experiences Wednesday (19th Feb 2014), the Kings Arms traditional Cornish music session in Luxulyan, Cornwall is well worth checking out. (More photos of the traditional Cornish folk music session at Luxulyan on my Facebook account). 

Update (5th March 2014):

I now hear that future sessions are to be on the 2nd Wednesday of the month which is brilliant news!

As always, venues and schedules can change with time so telephone ahead to ensure the traditional session of Cornish music and dance is happening. I'm sure the proprietors Sharon and Steve will love to hear from you. Perhaps I'll see you there :-)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

En route to playing traditional folk music in Brittany, France - my return visit to the pub folk music session at The Bell Inn, Chittlehampton, North Devon

Bell Inn Chittlehampton traditional pub music folk session
My new years resolution for 2014 was to escape my home area of West Somerset, England and spend more time in Brittany, France where my researches indicate there are lots of traditional folk music sessions.

Since practicalities, including my limited means as an old age pensioner have so far this year prevented me living my musical dream in France, my plan B in the mean time is to return to my old habits of travelling extensively around the UK to pub sessions wherever I can find them.

One of the top pub sessions on my list was The Bell Inn at Chittlehampton, Devon where I have always found a good traditional folk music session with friendly and very able musicians playing mainly a mixture of traditional English and some Irish tunes to an appreciative audience.

It's been a while since I travelled across Exmoor to Chittlehampton which is near South Molton in Devon and I had forgotten the mists and low cloud that can make driving my aged campervan a bit of a gamble in the areas above Exmoor's Simonsbath at night but the journey was definitely worth it with my welcome being as friendly as ever by the Bloatertown Country Dance Band that forms the core of the music session there and their friends. The audience too was on form, dancing energetically in front of  bar to some of the jigs that we played.

Fortunately, as I have frequently found crossing Exmoor, the mists or low cloud had disappeared when I returned after the music session to West Somerset in the early hours of the morning and I was able to collapse into bed with a smile on my face to regenerate my energies for tonight's (14th January 2014) pub music session at another Bell Inn but this time at Ash near Martock in Somerset. It will be another long drive, which in the UK these days is horribly expensive (roll on electric driven vehicles) but the traditional tunes session run by Martin Hughes piano accordion player par excellence at Ash is always in my experience a good one.

By the way, at the Chittlehampton session, I was chatting to Rob, a very friendly member of the Bloatertown Country Dance Band and telling him about a website I had found that listed lots of traditional sessions in Brittany and France. I've not yet been to any, of course, and have no idea even if the sessions are current so, as always it's best to check first before visiting but it's the most comprehensive list I've yet found. In my browser, on the home page of this web site, you have to click on the third button from the left at the bottom to get to the session information.

It may only be my plan B but in the absence of being able to get over to Brittany, France, traditional pub music sessions in the UK can be a lot of fun. Perhaps I'll see you at one soon :-)

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Bye bye busking and hello Sidmouth folk music sessions for a musician's meetup

Busking on Minehead sea front
After much thought and prevarication, I've decided to give busking down on Minehead sea front in West Somerset a break and instead spend some time at the various festivals that are taking place at this time of the year starting with the Sidmouth Folk Week.

It will be wonderful to see all my musician friends and join them in playing music at the many sessions and in particular the gathering at The Balfour pub in Sidmouth. This is the information I received recently from Martin Hughes about the Balfour folk music sessions:

'The evening sessions will be running in the big room from Friday 2nd August through to Thursday 8th August inclusive, starting at 8pm. Stevie's music licence runs until midnight on Friday and 1am on all other days (not sure about Sunday though). Richard, the resident chef, will be cooking food in the evening but the menu will be reduced from six pages of choices to three pages.

There are other acts performing in the pub during the afternoon (fliers will be available) but the covered garden area may be free for those who want to arrange other activities at the pub.

As in line with previous years the Loose Knit Band and friends will also be busking outside The Life Boat Station on Tuesday 6th August 2013 at 12.00 noon.'

If you would like some more information about this excellent folk musician's meetup, follow the link to my post about the winter reunion of the Loose Knit Band big session. Perhaps I'll see you there :-)

Monday, April 08, 2013

Awesome carvery, traditional English tunes with Irish step and Morris dancing on the side as the Loose Knit Band winter reunion big music session goes from strength to strength at The Balfour, Sidmouth

Terry Pearson remembered with Myrtle the double bass
The winter reunion of the Loose Knit Band big session last weekend (5th-6th April 2013) was amazing and clearly going from strength to strength at its new venue in The Balfour pub, 26 Woolbrook Road, Sidmouth with its friendly and supportive landlord Steve and brilliant carvery. (See more photos of the Loose Knit Band Winter Reunion here). (Checkout The Balfour on Facebook here),

Like many years before in winter, the many folk musicians, who enjoy this mainly traditional English tune session during Sidmouth Folk Week in August hosted by the Loose Knit Band, like to meet up for a winter reunion. Recently moved to its new home at The Balfour, Sidmouth, this big traditional music session has now started to take advantage of the excellent food facilities the Balfour has to offer to make the weekend reunion go from strength to strength.

Awesome Saturday evening carvery before the music
So, after a great evening playing tunes on the Friday evening then a pleasant music session at lunchtime in the skittle alley, lots of musicians took advantage of the very reasonably priced carvery menu to meet up and share a meal before the main session of the weekend took place on the Saturday evening. Everybody I spoke to said that getting together for a social meal before the main Saturday session was a very welcome addition to the weekend because it gave everybody a good chance to chat without the temptation to 'join in with the next tune'.

It was a wonderful weekend meeting, greeting and playing traditional tunes with friends old and also some new. Of course Terry Pearson, longstanding member of the Loose Knit Band and this big session, was missed but 'Myrtle' his double bass stood in pride of place in the centre of the session so he seemed present in spirit and several sessioners made sure Myrtle's deep sounds kept this large session playing together just as its much loved owner Terry has done for so many years.

Irish step dancing at Loose Knit Band winter reunion
In the course of the evening, everybody was treated to some very athletic Irish Step Dancing and English Morris Dancing proving that the Balfour dance floor was as good as its acoustics and great food.

All to soon it was time to say goodbye but everybody agreed it had been a fabulous weekend and everybody was looking forward to meeting up again in August at The Balfour during Sidmouth Folk Week to play some more tunes. So, if you are a traditional folk musician, whatever your level of playing, you may like to join us when we meet again. It's completely free to join in. Just buy a drink at the bar or grab a meal if you are hungry. The Loose Knit Band prides itself on hosting a friendly session and Steve the landlord has been more than welcoming so you should feel quickly at home. Personally, I'm going to fewer sessions these days because I'm spending  a lot of time performing street music busking as Wandering Windstrel but the pull of seeing my many friends at this very friendly gathering may well draw me back so perhaps I'll see you there :-)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Why traditional folk music pub sessions rock but busking might be more satisfying eventually for a musician entertainer, especially with a good busk buddy accompanist

Busking under dark skies on Minehead sea front West Somerset
Amateur musicians often ask me these days why I would want to be a busker / entertainer when I can enjoy, as I have done for many years, amateur traditional music sessions in pubs locally or at festivals further afield in the West Country or UK.

What could be better, my musician friends say, than playing in pub sessions and sharing our love for the traditional music we enjoy in a warm environment where there's lots of companionable chat and camaraderie.

Why would anybody want, they argue, to be playing on a street corner or a cold sea front in winter in the knowledge that anybody passing could take offence to the music and complain about the noise to the Local Authorities or directly confront the busker in a threatening manner, especially if the busker (as I don't) hasn't really got an urgent need the money.

In answer, I would say that the reasons were illustrated by the events of the previous weekend (9th February 2013),  when I decided to go down to Minehead sea front in West Somerset to busk and play some tunes.

It was all the things a musician wouldn't want. It was wet, windy and there were hardly any people about. But there were a few people and a lot of them were kids. One little girl, over by the bus stop, was soon dancing with her mum to my music. I wondered if any of them had read my blog entries and had been looking forward to seeing the 'crazy' busker at Minehead sea front. If so, then I wasn't letting them down because I'd braved the cold and was making the effort.

As I played my ragtime, Klezmer, train tunes and traditional English and Irish folk dance tunes, people started coming up to me saying how much I was brightening up Minehead sea front on this cold day. Some even popped a few coins into my soprano saxophone bag. Others asked about my instrument. Most people don't know about straight saxophones and it's always a point of interest. Some told me a little about their lives, how they were down for the weekend from London or the Midlands. Nobody seemed to object to my impromptu performance. One lady said she was a bit of a musician but could never be brave enough to do what I was doing. I agreed that it was a bit like walking out on a stage and made the adrenaline flow to start with but it was worth it because of the people one met.

It was then that I realised the point of it all. Suddenly it became clear why I enjoy doing this difficult, cold and potentially confrontational thing called busking. The answer is quite simple. It is because people appreciate me doing it. What I do, apparently, makes the world a better place for people passing by or listening. Maybe it leaves them with dreams and memories and recognising that made me feel good.

Of course, the more musicians in the band, the better the sound which is why a busk buddy to come busking with me in West Somerset or elsewhere would be such a good thing.

So, perhaps you are an amateur folk musician or singer and you too have been enjoying traditional folk music pub sessions for many years but feel you would like to expand your musical activities to share your music or sing your songs more directly to the general public. Or perhaps you have already made the transition to professional musician or singer but would like to work with a soprano saxophone player to share your musical ideas. Whatever your motivation, I'd love to hear from you if we are in the same area. Simply contact me by direct message through Twitter (@Windstrel). I look forward to us making music together. Er, and, as people often wonder, I made just under 4 pounds in the hour, less than usual :-)

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Porlock Wassail 2013 in West Somerset, UK bringing the community together was a great success plus some thoughts on buskers busking for the community

Porlock Wassail 2013 began at Dovery Museum
Porlock Wassail in West Somerset, UK was a great success last night (5th January 2013) with numerous visits to orchards, wassailing songs, evil spirits scared off by a combination of shotguns and horrible noises made by the many people attending and then a brilliant community singing and music playing session with mummers at the Ship Inn at the bottom of Porlock Hill.

Right from the beginning when everybody met up at the Dovery Manor Museum at 6pm, it was clear it was going to be a well organised and popular night with free spiced apple cider juice and nibbles plentifully available at the museum and later at the many orchards we attended to wassail the apple trees.

Martyn Babb at Porlock Wassail 2013

Martyn Babb was doing his usual great job of leading the celebrations and, with George Ody and Gerry Mogg providing strong musical and singing support, I knew it was going to be an excellent wassail. Many other musicians and singers were there too, even from as far as Appledore in Devon in the form of members of Tarka Morris.

George Ody and friends Porlock Wassail 2013
Gerry Mogg, family and friends
Porlock Wassail 2013 with traditional cider toast

To me, wassailing is all about bringing a community together and the procession from orchard to orchard is an all important part of the evening. Processing around Porlock playing wasssail tunes in great numbers was a wonderful way of telling the local community that something was happening even if they (this year) weren't all part of it. It is this sort of expansion of public knowledge that makes an event and tradition grow.

Which gives me an opportunity to mention a bit of a hobby horse of mine. Recently, I've been wondering if too much folk music, which is meant to be a community event, takes place hidden away from the public eye.

The practice of folkies meeting in a pub to play tunes and sing songs is actually not a well known activity. I've met many in the general public who are astounded that this sort of thing still carries on. Yet, when they know about it, the general public seem enthusiastic.
Which is why, I think, wassail processions are such a good thing, as would be any method that could be found of bringing joining in music and song, the essence of folk music, out on the streets of our towns and villages.

As far as I know, all the organisers, musicians, singers and other helpers at the Porlock Wassail were providing all their efforts freely, as I was, which all contributed to a wonderfully friendly event.

However, in a small slightly different way, I have actually started trying to do my bit to take community music out more to the general public by doing a bit of busking recently - well, last Summer, when it was warmer. The proof of the pudding was in the eating and I reckoned that loads more people saw me perform and heard my music when I was busking on Minehead Sea front last Summer in West Somerset than have seen me in the pubs and clubs I have been playing at over the many years I have been performing as a folk musician.

In 2013, I hope to do much more busking traditional folk music tunes wherever I can find lots of people who are happy to gather around me and listen to my music.

Not only do complete strangers talk to me in between my tunes when I busk but I have seen apparently complete strangers talking to each other too. The humble public event created by myself playing a saxophone busking by the Minehead sea wall was enough of an event to bring a few people together which is surely a healthy thing for a community.

Of course, I cannot compare my humble busking to the excellent community event that was the Porlock Wassail 2013 which involved so many hard working people to make it happen. As we walked in our procession down the main street, there were organisers in hi-viz vests making sure cars slowed down and understood what we were doing. The food provided at each orchard venue had to be organised and the fires lit. The electric lighting fixed up in the orchards so we didn't fall over too much. The list of people who must have put in enormous amounts of work hidden away in the background seems almost endless.

So thanks to all the good people in Porlock who were involved in the Porlock Wassail last night and I look forward to joining you next year for, hopefully, an even larger event involving many more in the community, which is what it is all about.

And, if there is anybody out there who agrees with me that music should be more available in the community to bring the community together and is interested in joining me as a busk buddy, I would like to hear from you. Perhaps you play a guitar or possibly a piano accordion or similar instrument. You need a laid back relaxed attitude and to be flexible about locations yet to be decided in the West Country, UK, as it is all a work in progress. I play traditional English, Irish, French and Eastern tunes (Klezmer) and am expanding my repertoire into ragtime and other popular stuff (because the public like it, which is what it is all about). So your instrument needs to be able to cope with musical keys a little bit more extensive than G and D normally available on the basic melodeon. Busking money is generally lousy and it's often cold but at least the public donations cover travelling expenses, insurance etc. to some extent and you can get that warm feeling from knowing you are bringing a community together! Find  me, Rob Hopcott Watson, on Facebook or Twitter, if you are interested.

Similarly, if you have an event local to me in West Somerset with a reasonable footfall, where you would like a bit of traditional music from a community minded busker, I'd also like to hear from you :-)

So I look forward to seeing you all next year at Porlock Wassail 2014 in West Somerset, UK for a great evening of community entertainment and a few glasses of apple juice and, before you go, why not check out professional photographer George Ody's great photos of the 2013 Porlock Wassail :-)