It was a late decision to journey to the Addingham Swan Acoustic Session, and I spent the journey wishing I'd checked before I set off that this was indeed either the first or third Tuesday in the month. The initial auguries were not good: in contrast to my last visit, the Swan car park was deserted. Does anyone else have difficulty deciding where to park when faced with a deserted car park? You find yourself weaving about aimlessly, and then parking directly over one of those white lines that you are supposed to park between. I wound up cuddling up to the only other car on view, on the far side of the park to where I wanted to be.
The pub looked a bit quiet too: doors open that are usually shut, tables where there is usually space, and a small collection of unfamiliar faces in the corner where I usually sit. Was it the wrong week? Had I forgotten to change my watch back to GMT? A single fiddle (or violin) on a table gave me a ray of hope ... and in due course some more familiar faces burst in, closed the open doors, shifted the tables to where they were supposed to be, placed music stands and performance stools as best they could in what is effectively a figure-of-eight auditorium, and bade a cheery knowing welcome to the supposedly unfamiliar faces. Eventually even the elusive Steve, who seemed to be the missing link in everyone's set, made an appearance; and once responsibility for the blog was allocated, the evening ground to a start at five to nine.
We began, as we always do when they are not gigging elsewhere, with Craig and Wylie. Fine purveyors of fine tunes on guitar and mandolin respectively, and as always getting the evening going with bounce. The tunes this time were The Blackthorn Stick and The Kesh, followed by The Irish Washerwoman and Rattling Bog. I am often puzzled at the reverence given to tune titles; but no doubt other tunesters will be able to recognise which is which. Mike and Brian play well together as a duo, and set a high standard for others to follow.
The first such follower was John Waller, an irregular visitor usually based at the Topic in Bradford. John provided us with two self-penned songs based on, or inspired by, his various visits to foreign parts. Parallel Lives reflected on immutable social stratification in India, while Xiao Shan spoke of the unchanging powerlessness of the average Chinese peasant, whatever the nature of the dynasty or government.
There followed a collection of tunes and songs from various combinations of Steve and Pat Fenton, Ian .... , and later John Hirst. After some commentary on the inverse relationship between practice and enjoyment, and the impossibility of playing any chord called B Minor, they rattled through two tunes on two fiddles and guitar: The Lovers' Waltz, and Midas Fancy. All good stuff; though the pedant in me really wanted to know where the apostrophe was in the title. Was it lover's: a lone lover, pining, engaging in a sorrowful solo waltz with an imaginary or lost partner; or was it lovers': two people really getting it together in vertical bliss? An apostrophe in the title can really make a difference to how you view a tune. I have gone for the optimistic view by placing the apostrophe after the "s". I also found myself musing: what is the difference between a violin and a fiddle? Perhaps I ought to know .... and was this two fiddles, or two violins, or one of each?
Steve remained on stage, though now donning a more straightforward guitar. John Hirst joined him to provide us with two Jake Thackray songs. Now, you don't often hear Jake Thackray covered: his lyrics and delivery are so distinctive, the line endings and mid-sentence rhymes so unexpected (you even get rhymes mid-word), that such covering is usually best left to the genuine Fake. John H managed with aplomb, excellent timing and a plausible vocal imitation, giving us two songs which attempted to plumb the mysteries of the female form and psyche: On Again On Again (short title Bum) and Sophie. There may be political correctionistas out there who object to the slant of some of Jake's stuff; but it is written with such affectionate wry humour; and no-one at the Swan this particular night did, anyway. Well done.
And so to our resident harpist, Frances White. This time she played her relatively new electric Celtic harp: on only its third visit to the Swan. Big enough to stand on the floor with an extended (if sometimes slippery) foot, yet not one of those huge ones you have to stand up to play. It was also distinguished by having levers to change the strings between sharp and flat to suit the key, rather than the pedals you'd get on the larger type of harp. (This makes me sound like some kind of expert: which I am not!) But Frances played her way with real and growing assurance through two tunes: Garry Owen, and Moon Dance. It is a pity that Frances usually leaves at half-time, as it is a real pleasure to have a change from the ubiquitous MAMWiGs. Having said which, there is a lesser preponderance of MAMWiGs at the Swan than elsewhere. (If you don't know what a MAMWiG is, you'll have to wait until (or scroll down to) the end of the blog.)
And finally, Graeme Morrell - new to me, but not to the Swan. His first offering was an Alan Jackson song Where Were You, which looked at what any number of middle Americans might have been doing or thinking as the momentous events of 9/11 took place. He followed that with Hard-Headed Woman; a Cat Stevens song (presumably from before he changed his religion and name), with a chord sequence so ingeniously oblique and disjointed that the guitarist in me failed to follow the course of the lyrics. I don't even know if the hyphen should be there in the title - it does make a difference to the meaning, honest! But Graeme mastered the chord sequence admirably - more than most of us could do, I can assure you.
So here we are at the beer break, barely an hour after we had started. No Leon, no James ... several regulars missing.
Seconds out; round two: and a Tom Waites song from Mike Craig acc. Brian Wylie: Come on Up to the House, the lyrics of which seemed to consist mostly of that line. This was followed by a tune Song for Lost Harmonium by an tunesmith whose name I didn't catch, but who apparently used to dine in a Penguin Cafe. It ended somewhat abruptly as Brian appeared to get carried away with the possibilities ... or by the penguins.
John Waller retreated from the globality of India and China with Bethesda to Rowen, a sociological treatise (and song) about the decline of Welsh-speaking Bethesda compared with the Anglicised village of Rowen, just a fell-walk away. He followed this with (When I first Came to) Bradford; an unaccompanied song full of memories of the characters and characteristics of early 1970s Bradford. Some discussion ensued about the identity of the "fast-walking monk"; who he was, when he was last seen. He is believed to be Geoffrey Brindley; a school caretaker before he jacked it in and took up walking the streets with his trademark wave, habit, sandals and front-worn canvas bag. He is still out there, though now even accepting lifts in cars when it is raining. He only gets half a line's mention in John's song, but he looms large in everyone's memories and images of Bradford.
Ian and Steve returned: just the two fiddles (or violins) this time. Csardas was a Hungarian Folk tune; and they really captured the rhythms and harmonies of Hungary - you might as well have been in a Magyar restaurant on the shores of Lake Balaton as some hopeful Roma fiddlist (or violiner) leant over your table in search of a Forint or two. Hesleyside Reel was just what it said it was. A reel from Hesleyside - Northumberland.
Once again, Steve stayed upright, Ian sat down, Pat remained seated, and John H joined Steve to give us two more Jake Thackray songs: Nurse and Sister Josephine. If you don't know them, then no explanation from me in the space available will help. Both could be termed "comic songs" (as could most of Jake's stuff); but both are written with a lightness of humorous touch and a deftness of structure that make them endlessly repeatable. Though they are not easy to do ... well done both for doing them.
Frances having disappeared with her harp, suitcase and band of roadies, it was back to Graeme to close the evening. He started with a Mike Absalom song; The Saga of Peaches Melba and the Hash Officer, which gave a searing indictment of the drug culture and police corruption in the bed-sit land of late 60s London. He followed that with an Al Stewart song: Post World War II Blues, being an autobiographical gallop through Al's early life from late forties to late sixties; miraculously leaving out all the sex his other songs of the time celebrate. Al Stewart is your blogger's favourite songwriter of all time; and this was one of his wordier ones. A fine rendition, sung with appreciation of the historical, political and cultural importance of Indian independence, Christine Keeler, Jimmy Hendrix et al.
So that was it: not yet eleven, but everyone seemed to want to bugger off home. Well, not quite. Ian, John H, Steve and Pat gave us an impromptu and indignant rendition (actually, two renditions) of Dry Stone Walls in protest at the lack of suitable songs to be sung by the Steeton Male Voice Choir. Additional Steeton-specific verses had apparently been written by Pat; though since said Pat was clearly of the -ricia persuasion rather than the -rick, it is not clear if she is even a member. But who knows what they get up to in Steeton? Such questions are beyond the remit of this blog.
When I was prevailed into writing this, I worried about how on earth I would find enough to say? But already I find my word count is twice that of the previous one. And I still have to say, in conclusion, what a great night it was. Plenty of variety, unexpectedness, stuff I'd not heard before, cheerful exchange of opinion and memory; and a great deal of quality in musicianship, lyricism and performance. And you can't say better than that. So there. If you weren't, you should have been. Oh, and a MAMWiG is a Middle Aged Man With Guitar.