Pub Sessions – rethinking

By moving to another city/country to live, one has to get used to a new musical environment. It can be a upheaval and it may take weeks, months, years until you find an environment that suits you, or perhaps you never find it….it happens.
Recently we moved from Spain to Scotland, from Acala de Henares to Glasgow.

Moving house is a big deal, I never thought it would be as I have always lived out of a rucksack and moved from one country to another without much trouble. But we accumulate “stuff” and I had accumulated a lot of musical “Stuff”… various musical instruments, wood/metal work lathes, wood, computers, and pipe making equipment, tools, notation/manuscripts… the list goes on.

30 boxes later and in a new country we are slowly unpacking and sorting, finding our way around a new city and a different culture. For me it is not such a big change, but “visiting” a place is still different to moving and living there permanently.

Musically, I have to start again. I did not know where to go in Glasgow to hear traditional music, I knew no musicians to meet and play music with. I did know the Piping Live Festival but not the people who organize it or the musicians who play in it. I knew there were sessions but not sure if it was what I wanted or where they were.

When I was doing my M.A. in Ethnomusicology in Ireland, (Irish World Music Centre, Limerick Ireland), we shared the Centre with Irish traditional musicians, we shared some lectures also. One of the lectures was about the “session” how it started and how it evolved. I had never thought of it before, I always thought it was in pubs, jolly drinkers enjoying a pint and singing a few songs and having a tune on the fiddle (happy days).

But the session started in people’s homes, and it was not only songs and music, but anyone could do a turn…tell a story, recite poetry, dance, etc. Food, beers, wines, spirits, all included. It was like the house parties we had when I was a teenager. I can’t remember how the shift came about, how the session went from the house to the pub, but there was a shift in society, things changed and people moved, people changed and communities moved on.

If you are reading this outside of the UK you might not get what I mean, when I say “I don’t like pubs”, because I like bars! In Spain I finally got comfortable in bars, but each time I enter a UK pub I become very nervous. I have attended pubs since I was 14 years old (illegal drinking is a part of growing up in the UK) but also I have been to traditional music festivals where the sessions were in pubs. But if I look at European bars and compare them to UK pubs there is a big difference to attitudes and etiquette. In the past it was impossible to get a coffee in a pub, if you asked for something other than alcohol you could feel the pub “stiffen”, when I went to Europe I could ask for anything and it felt ok.

Things are not so strict now in the UK, in most pubs you can ask for an alcoholic alternative and not get looked at strangely (if you were a man) things have mellowed, but for me (and I know a lot of my friends) still feel uneasy about it.

The sessions I attended in Spain were relaxed, friendly and open. I sat down, got relaxed, chatted and maybe after 20-30 minutes ordered a drink, if I felt like it. I played a few tunes, got given a complimentary drink (free) bought my coffee/soft drink, and ate my tapas. My first experience on going to a session in Glasgow was different, after sitting down for a few minutes we were asked for our order…”coke please”!!! Reply “is that it?” “eeeerrrrrrr yes”. Some things don’t change (if you are a man).

I am not sure if sessions are my thing anymore. I like the house sessions, and I like the festival atmosphere, but pub sessions is not my thing. I have attended a lot of them over the years, I enjoy listening and occasionally playing, but my repertoire is not a typical session repertoire. I play bagpipes and pipe music and a lot of pubs do not allow pipes (they do not differentiate between the small pipes and the GHB) so I play concertina, but it does not endear me to the anti-pipe attitude. I like to be relaxed and I do not feel relaxed in pubs.

Another reason I dislike pub sessions is the high prices for a drink (often I do not need to drink) in a pub, it can be quite an expensive night when you consider transport in getting to the inner city, drinks and a bite to eat. There has been a lot written and said about “alcohol and musicians” I have seen quite a few good musicians ruined by alcohol, punters buying musicians drinks can lead to a ruined talent, alcohol problems and ruined careers.

Often too, you cannot hear the music in a pub due to the amount of chatter, festivals are becoming a big problem with a lot of people not listening to the music but shouting and talking loudly. I know musicians are not going to festivals due to this, musicians are staying away and only the talkers are going until they realize that there is no music and they stop going too, so the festival dies.

In the UK you cannot disassociate drink and violence, local youths are all too quick to find fault with an outsider, it livens up their weekend, again, this might be a purely UK experience, I have not experienced it outside of the UK. Sometimes I like to hope things have changed but every so often I find evidence that it is not so.

I think you can go out every week to a session in Glasgow or in the surrounding areas, Glasgow is alive with all sorts of music, it is a vibrant city, lots to do and they are very friendly, but I think and hope my musical future will not be in a session, I want to put my energy into making music in a different way and I hope explore these avenues while I live here.

Scottish Small Piper’s Barbecue

Scottish Small Piper’s Barbecue is held on the Sunday after Piping Live. This was the 2nd time it has been run and it seems to be getting stronger. The Glasgow small pipers meet every Tuesday at the Piping College and work on tunes. Once or twice a year they have a big meeting where they all come together to play tunes and to have a barbecue in the Park not too far from Central Glasgow.

It was a relaxed atmosphere, with a mixed group of small pipers from a Highland/Lowland bagpipe backgrounds to total beginners. It was a mixed group of musicians also, with guitars, flutes, whistles, saxophone, and a Cajon. I was the only Border piper there but it gave the music a ‘top edge’ to the overall sound.

The LBPS book repertoire was on show, which was a good idea; I ended up buying Mat Seattle’s new manuscript of the possible repertoire of Geordie Symes, which looks a good read and some excellent tunes.

We had been sent several tunes to learn and we all played them together on the day. It went quite well considering we were all from different musical backgrounds. There were lowland tunes as well as Highland and even Spanish tunes.

A choir came along and sang a few popular melodies, and also individuals led a session, then it was back to the small piper’s to run through the set once more.
We are pleased we went and we will go next year, and I will try to go along to the Tuesday nights session also.

I came away feeling that small pipers and Border pipers should meet more often in localized sessions, and then to have a bigger meeting throughout the year. we meet too seldom and we rely too much on the internet to communicate our music.

Cummersdale Folk Session

It was the Cummersdale Folk Session last night, a slow start due to the lack of instrumentalists, but it livened up later on with nice sets played on the whistle. I played more concertina this week, some tunes with the other players: Jimmy Allan, Salmon Tails, Saddle the Pony, Miss Thompsons Hornpipe, Bollavogue, Boys of the Blue Hill, the tune to Captain Pugwash! But I mainly played the bodhran which I am enjoying a lot.

Instruments present were: guitar, whistles, wooden flute, banjo, metal flute, 2 English concertinas, and bodhran.

I am practicing other tunes: the Hawk, Minstrels Fancy, Random, Sheffield Hornpipe, Humours of Tulleycrine, Redesdale Hornpipe, Whinsheilds Hornpipe, and Whinham’s Reel.

Cummersdale Folk Session and Folk Monkhill Session

Last week I visited the Cummersdale Session just outside of Carlisle. It used to be my local session, mainly an Irish session, instrumentals dominating. I had not been for a few years and an email from one of the musicians prompted me to go again. I took the concertina and bodhran which I played most of the time. I am no longer able to keep up with the tempo of Irish music; my style has developed into a slower style with more phrasing, so I play bodhran with an occassional melody on the concertina. The instruments which are there generally consist of: flute, whistles, English Concertina, fiddle, Angle Concertina, banjo, bodhran… other musicians sometimes drop in but it is generally an instrumental Irish session and singers are not so often there.

Last night it was the Monkhill Session, just outside of Carlisle. This session is a mixed session with singers and instrumentals taking equal billing. Last night some of the Cummersdale musicians came along and it was a nice mixture of song, instrumentals and a few Irish melodies thrown in too! Generally the instrumentals at Monkhill are a mixture of southern English, Northumbrian, European, and the songs are Border ballads, Scots songs, modern and older, and a few local songs about the Haaf netting fishing which is on the Solway Estuary. It is a relaxed session with no one or no music dominating. The same people go to the Bowness Session on the 2nd Sunday of the month and in both sessions new singers/instrumentalists are welcomed. I play my Northumbrian small pipes as well English concertina and it is nice to have people play along. The instruments which are there are: whistles, guitars, English Concertina, octave mandolin, occasionally a fiddle, bodhran, and Northumbrian small pipes.

Cummersdale and Monkhill (also Bowness on Solway) are small villages with only 1 pub so you can not miss them if you decide to go!
Bowness takes places on the 2nd Sunday of the month
Cummersdale is on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month
Monkhill is not always regular but generally it is the 3rd Sunday of the month…