Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Wessex Folk Festival, Weymouth - Irish Set dancing and guitar, bodhran, fiddle and banjo workshops encourage all to join in

Encouraging new dancers or musicians and singers to play and perform is part of the fundamental ethos of most folk musicians and singers.

At pub sessions, the host will often ask if there is anyone who has a song in them or would like to play a tune and, regularly, I have seen some really talented performers emerge from the public end of the bar and entertain the gathered folkies with a fine performance. The hint of the unknown and the unexpected make these performances all the more delicious.

At festivals, talented musicians and singers share their skills in workshops for beginners as well as the more advanced in all sorts of subjects, ranging from squeeze boxes to singing or song writing.

Recently, I attended the Wessex Folk Festival 2008, where there were a fine range of workshops and I have included some of the pictures below.

If you have always wanted to play an instrument or sing in front of others, the folk music scene is one of the best ways to get started. It's not only about the playing or the singing either. It's all about being part of a really great community where, if you want to, you will quickly make lots of friends and get lots of encouragement :-)

One of the easiest instruments to play, arguably, is the bodhran. It is also quite cheap to buy and acts as the heart beat for any folk music session. However, anybody who has heard a bodhran played properly will immediately understand that it is a full instrument in its own right that follows the rhythm of the melody and benefits greatly from expertise and virtuosity.

One of the finest bodhran players I know is Alan Evans who put on a bodhran improver's workshop at the Sea Cadet Centre as part of the Wessex Folk Festival (top right).

Whilst I was there, I also managed to get a quick snap of Paul Openshaw (below) who was running a workshop entitled DADGAD Guitar. This had me completely flummoxed until I dropped in on the workshop and discovered it was all about starter chords and chord progressions. Dagnabbit, the secrets of DADGAD Guitar revealed - and I was only there for a few minutes. Imagine what the others learned who were there for the full session.

Anybody who has heard Nigel Canter play his fiddle in a pub session or elsewhere, if they are fiddle players, will say 'I want some of that'. Unfortunately, musical talent and fiddling expertise can't be bottled and bought off the shelf, but it can be learned at festival workshops. I didn't get around to visiting Nigel at his Wessex Folk Festival 'Bluegrassing your fiddle workshop' but managed to catch him at one of the festival sessions he hosted (below, playing the fiddle under the Sailors Return sign).

On the subject of workshops held elsewhere, on my travels around the Old Harbour, Weymouth, I bumped into John Moore who tells me he is known as the Dorset Button Man. He makes buttons, sells them and does workshops on them at folk festivals (see below).

Finally, one of the acts on the main stage that really brought the crowds to their feet was Stompin' Dave Allen who dances, sings and plays all at the same time. It's completely exhausting even to watch Dave in action - but a truly wonderful experience - and, still firing on all cylinders, he was also kind enough to pass on some of his banjo playing expertise at a workshop at the Sea Cadet Centre. He is shown, below, playing, singing and stompin' on his special stompin' board on the main stage in Hope Square.

Dancing always brings a smile to people's faces and the Irish Set Dancing on Friday evening set the weekend off to a great start (below)

This article has been about encouraging dancers, musicians and singers to join in and dance, play or sing which is part of the fundamental philosophy of the folk music scene.

If you have always thought you would like to dance or play an instrument or sing in front of a friendly audience, visiting a workshop at your local folk festival is a good place to start and, if you get a chance to visit the Wessex Folk Festival, in my experience, you'll find it is the friendliest.

And when you have gathered enough confidence (or even before), pop along to your local folk music session, enjoy those who are playing and singing and then join in yourself!

Happy playing or singing :-)

Bye for now

(Rob Hopcott - online author who believes passionately music is for sharing and bringing communities together)


Anonymous said...

I loved your brief mention about John Moore who does the Dorset Buttons. Is there a way to get more info about him or some way to reach him? Thanks!

My email address is: scvbuttons@sbcglobal.net

Rob Hopcott said...

This link might help to find John Moore:


Good luck :-)