It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good instrument must be in want of a venue. It was with such sentiment in mind that the usual unexpected collection of instruments assembled at the Swan, accompanied by their owners. In deference to the ladies present, it also has to be said that not all the assembled men were single.
It seemed that just about everyone there apart from your blogger was about to set off upon a Great Journey, across the water to Hibernia, for a long bank holiday weekend of gigs, craic and music in and around the Irish town of Westport, Co Mayo. And very nice it looks too.
Brian and Kath Wylie were due to play eight gigs in four days, which sounds like hard work. So who better to start us off? Brian, accompanying himself on guitar playing a song from the Orkneys - allegedly once a candidate for an Orcadian entry into the Eurovision Song Contest: "If You Took Your Love Away" by Ivan Drever. Kath then joined him for a Stevie Nicks song, popularised by the Dixie Chicks, entitled Landslide". Kath seemed in particularly fine voice this evening.
To be followed by Frances White, with her harp. Actually, I am not sure Frances is joining the Westport party. But she started us off with a very plausible rendition of Beethoven's setting of the Schiller poem "Ode to Joy", normally heard in its full orchestral version in the final movement of the famous 9th Symphony. She followed this with the almost-equally famous (well, in our circles) Scarborough Fair tune; competently rendered despite her suddenly finding she'd left the sheet music at home. Pre-empting her usual mid-evening departure, she was prevailed upon to perform a third: and gave us "Under the Sea" by Alan Menlien. All excellent stuff. I know I say this very time I do the blog, but it is really great to have a harp, so competently played, among our regular instruments.
And so on to a large group of musicians who mixed and matched amongst themselves. Actually, only three of them, but they brought at least four audients, and filled half the room. At least some appeared to be making the Westport trip. First we had John Hirst and Steve Fenton, who (when together) specialise in Jake Thackray songs. This duo performed before when I was doing the blog, and I don't want to repeat now all that I said then; about John's excellent deep voice, plus his mastery of the irregular timing and rhyming and humour that Jake made his own. So I will concentrate this time on the excellence of Steve's guitar accompaniment - which not only involved obscure chords, but also has to follow the song's (and the singer's) irregular timing. The songs? "Grandad" and "To Do With You", both typical of Jake's eclectic and curmudgeonly view on life.
John retired, but Steve remained standing, to be joined by Ian MacDonald. Actually, those who were there will know that while performing Steve stood up and sat down at regular intervals, with the sitting down becoming the preferred option as the evening wore on) Ian and Steve both now played fiddles, and gave us the "Lovers' Waltz", by Jay Ungar, and a medley of "The Blarney Pilgrim" and "The Kesh". Brian joined in on some of the latter, this time on mandolin.
John Waller, recently returned from the West Indies, then gave us a medley of two Calypsos: both of which resonated with current conditions in Grenada, Barbados and Trinidad. "Island in the Sun" was written and performed by Harry Belafonte in the 1950s - it's good to learn that Belafonte is still active in the US Civil Rights movement. "Shame and Scandal (in the Family)" was written by Trinidadian Calypsonians Lord Melody and Sir Lancelot, and first performed in 1943. Most people of our vintage will remember the Lance Percival version of 1965, which rose to No 37 in the charts. It truly reflects the care young people must take in selecting potential partners, in countries with such small populations and (ahem) relaxed male sexual mores. John followed this with a very scratchy and unrehearsed version of Al Stewart's "Rocks in the Ocean".
Stalwart Graeme Morrell then gave us "Nothing Ever Happens", by Justin Currie of Del Amitri, a Scottish band I had not come across before. A song about the banality of everyday existence, routine, loneliness; oh, and maybe Martians will land and someone will burn down all the Synagogues; but we won't really notice. He followed this with a Michael Chapman song "Fool in the Night", being the musings of someone whose lover has been unfaithful. Solid, professional and polished as always from Graeme.
Cue an unexpected addition to the programme. Though not seated amongst us, the word was that in the next room was a promising young musician, multi-instrumentalist, who was due to play a proper gig at the Swan later in the week. Toby, originally from Stoke. He came amongst us, Ian borrowed him his fiddle, and he played us some tunes. Now, we have to make allowances for his youthfulness; and it must be said he lacked some of the characteristics many of us possess. Grey hair, memory lapses, uncertain gait and failing eyesight, for example. But he made up for these shortcomings by, er, being able to play the fiddle. Quite well. Oh alright, brilliantly. The sort of playing that you think, why do us mortals bother even trying? For the record, the tunes he played were "The Rose in the Heather", "Josh's Slip" and "Frank's Reel". Tumultuous applause occasioned an encore, and we had a rendition of "The Mason's Apron", full of dextral agility, leaps up and down the fingerboard, humour and sheer class. Hey, Toby; come again, if you are passing.
To finish the first half we had Nigel Hoyle, a songwriter much lauded in Bradford, but a rare visitor to Addingham. Nigel gave us two of his own songs (I don't think he does covers). The first was about a young lady leaving Bradford, with all its limitations, for a bright, educated, professional life in the south: all seen from the point of view of the somewhat dim young man she was leaving behind; and entitled "Luv is a Three-letter Word". The second was about someone who obviously believed it was his birthright to go to Heaven, but finds when he gets there that it is rather hotter and smokier and unpleasant than he was expecting. Actually, I think "Hot in Heaven" was Nigel's first song, but I can't be bothered to go back and change the syntax.
And so to the mid-session interval, and the usual clearout of those who, for whatever reason, have better things to do with the latter half of their evening. Then: same order, same pattern: Brian with another Orcadian song, this time by Frank Keenan, called "Blow You Away". And again to be joined by Kath for "Suffer So Well", by Eleanor McEvoy. Google doesn't provide too much background on either of these, sorry.
John and Steve followed this with more Jake Thackray: "The Little Black Foal", and "The Black Swan". Highlight of these renditions was John's (pre-announced) inability to remember all the words. What he didn't realise was that the light level, more suitable for a 1930s Berlin jazz bar than for a collection of elderly singers needing prompt-sheets, was insufficient for him to read, unless .... the only plausible light source was one of those high-mounted upwards-pointing wall-lights designed to illuminate the ceiling rather than throw light where it might be of some use. So John performed quite a bit of one song with his crib-sheet pressed to the wall above the light, singing straight at the wall about 12 inches in front of his nose. But as he reached the chorus, or some other bit he remembered, turning to face the rest of us with a look of sheer triumph, as if he had just discovered Atlantis. Pure Theatre! Fantastic stuff! Toby would have loved it.
Steve and Ian then gave us two more tunes: "Lochenside" - though one bit of sheet music they had was entitled "Loch Ruan" - so maybe it was that; and (I think) "The Five Roubles". It gets less and less easy for bloggers, however assiduous, to pick up on the titles of songs and especially tunes, as the night wears on. The latter sounded suitably Slavic in its rhythms and chords, anyway. See, either you can take the trouble to write the songs/tunes out beforehand for the benefit of the blogger, or you can put up with a whinging blogger asking for the names and composers after every performance, or you can put up with an incomplete, misheard and misspelled blog. Much disappointment that Ian's fiddle didn't seem to have learned "The Mason's Apron".
The other John again, and a reprise of "Kerguelen"; his newest composition, world-premiered at the Swan only a few weeks back. This takes as its premise that the pilot of the "disappearing" Beijing-bound flight MH370 had hijacked it himself (as we now know is possible), and was aiming for the wild, desolate and isolated Kerguelen Islands deep in the Indian Ocean. Well, does anyone have a better theory? He followed this with a rendition of a Becky Mills song, "Pretty Young Things", being an illustration of how easy it is for vulnerable young girls to drift, and be led, astray.
Time for Nigel to close the evening with some social commentary of his own. His first was a description of a relationship between a drunk and a drug addict, that ends badly; but who can say they did not, in their own way, love each other? And finally the story of the decline of the public house, told from the point of view of one particular doomed pub itself. All in Nigel's trademark, almost whispered delivery. Excellent, if bleak stuff; but typical of Nigel, who is, as far as your blogger is concerned, one of the best chroniclers of current urban conditions around. Certainly in this part of the world.
So did we all go home happy? The subject matter of the last few songs notwithstanding, we certainly should have done. Another varied, eclectic, amusing, occasionally hilarious Swan Acoustic evening of music and chat - enlivened by a moment of real musical class. Keep coming - it's those who come that make it what it is. And good luck gigging for those off to Westport! No doubt we won't hear the end of it when they get back.