Stories from Paul Anderson’s friends

27 Jun

This is designed to be a place where Paul’s friends can add memories and anecdotes about him, with a little more permanence than social media. It’s going to be a bit sketchy to start, but I can make it pretty as I go along.

The first entry is going to be unedited notes that Paul gave to Paul Ferris for an Irish studies project about sessions, and musical pilgrimages. They are precious as they have Paul’s voice and humour in them.After that, everyone please add your own stories in Comments. If that gets too clunky I will reformat but let’s see how it goes.

Hey Paul,

I’m taking time away from my vacuuming to answer your queries so it’s a welcome break.

#1, 2 & 3:        I heard about this session from Rich Brautigam, the host (musical host, that is). Rich originally had some business dealings with the owner, Barry, and planted a bee in Barry’s bonnet that an authentic Irish pub should have some equally authentic music. I attended the inaugural session and all of the subsequent ones until a burst appendix sidelined me in June. I then moved to Bucks Co., Pa. and have been an infrequent contributor since.

#4:       The first session in Cranford had a festive air about it. The usual suspects showed up (more on this later) and, despite Rich’s misgivings (he’s a glass half-empty person), the evening was a resounding success.

#5:       My reference to “the usual suspects” was a tacit acknowledgement of the core group of instrumentalists that seem to show up at the sessions where the musical standard is relatively high. This group includes, but isn’t limited to, Tom Dunne, Tony Horswill, Peggy O’Mahoney, Doug Barr, Rich, Avi Ziv and myself.

#6: The Kilkenny House’s central NJ location and proximity to a train station is a factor.

#7:       Among the reasons for the session’s success is the inescapable fact that the “Irish Pub” concept has been successfully exported to the four corners of the world (I have a friend in Seoul, Korea, who tells me that two Irish pubs opened there recently). The phenomenal success of Riverdance has also brought Irish music a lot of exposure (sometimes too much, hence the dreaded “celtic music” tag)and, to be considered an “authentic” Irish pub, one must provide what the punters consider to be Irish music. Having said this, the sweetest music to a pub owner is the jingle of the cash register so, if the musicians weren’t well received by the crowd, we’d be busking across the street at the train station for nickels and dimes. The musicians themselves also bring paying customers into the pub.

#8:       A good session should have plenty of “crack” and a paucity of egotism. Although there is an established hierarchy, a good session is usually inclusive and allows almost everyone in the group to perform at least one of his or her “party pieces”. As opposed to a band gig, a session is usually unamplified (the Kilkenny’s poor acoustics require amplification) and is played mostly for the musician’s enjoyment. Requests from the punters are entertained, but quite often ignored. If some misguided soul wants to hear Danny Boy, I have no problem ignoring this Philistine and singing some obscure ballad. Besides, it’s entirely possible that I’d do myself a mischief trying to belt out the high notes on that one.

#9:       Because Rich is the host and is both an instrumentalist and a singer, singing is given more importance at the Kilkenny than at other session venues. This is because Rich wants to let the crowd hear something familiar. At other music sessions, most of the participants are primarily instrumentalists and, when someone starts a well-known reel or jig, everyone joins in, whereas, when a singer sings a song, it’s usually a solo performance where the rest of the bunch twiddles their thumbs or takes a pee break. There is a lot of negative feelings towards song performance in most American sessions these days. It’s pure selfishness, nothing else (I can play on the jigs and reels but I don’t know your song).

#10:     I got my repertoire from several sources. As a child and teen, I lived in a house with no telly so the radio was always on. That was one source. Family gatherings was another. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a city that gave us the likes of Frank Harte and Dominic Behan, prolific songwriters and collectors. Finding old songbooks in second-hand shops was another source. From the time I was a pup, I’ve had a great interest in the labour struggle, especially the miners. That was another treasure trove. And of course the Internet, and Youtube in particular, has more songs than I could learn in two lifetimes.

#11:     The sessions that have fallen by the wayside have succumbed for a number of reasons. Among these are abrasive personalities in the group, poor musicianship and the lack of a good leader. Almost all sessions have one or two participants who enjoy some form of financial remuneration but there have been sessions (such as Hennessy’s in Morristown) where it resembled an anarchist’s convention because noone would step up and run it. Anytime two or more people get together in a common pursuit (no matter how altruistic the motive) there’s always conflict. Sometimes. a session fails because the “leader” thinks he or she is Kim Jong Il and drives everyone away. This happened in Stroudsburg, Pa.

After residing in Warren Co., NJ, for the past twenty years, I just recently moved to Newtown, Pa, in Bucks County. I was born and reared in Dublin, Ireland and emigrated to the US in 1971 at the age of nineteen.

I couldn’t escape trad music as a young man. It was ubiquitous. I’ve always had a great love for “roots” music, gypsy jazz, Cajun, West African music.

I’ve been a passive or active participant in Irish music all my life. At any family gathering, there was (mostly) songs and recitations (no musicians in my family).

I had a somewhat circuitous route to this style of music that I now play exclusively. The first time I willingly played Irish music was busking in the Paris Metro (just to be different than the rest). At the time I was into American country blues and played fingerstyle guitar. After emigrating to the US, music took a back seat while I married and raised a family. In my thirties, I joined a pipe band and played the pipes for seventeen years until I tired of playing Scottish marches and strathspeys and decided to return to my musical roots. I relentlessly played my guitar until constant and painful bouts of tendonitis ( a legacy of my career as a professional firefighter) forced me to switch back to whistle for a while. I bought my first bouzouki in 1994. I was correct in assuming that, because of the particular tuning I use, the bouzouki would be less stressful on my fretting hand. It has enabled me to continue playing as much as I want. But even the bouzouki playing requires periodic trips to the acupuncturist to ease the inflammation.

Every year I attend the week-long Irish Arts Week in the Catskill mountains in upstate NY. It’s a week devoted to music instruction, getting together with friends, sleep deprivation and mild liver abuse. I have attended other such events both here and in Ireland but I never miss the Catskills. And the expression “musical pilgrimage” describes these events to a T.

Hope this helps.

Slan,

 

Overcoming the Competition

12 Jan

Gorgeous CDs from Seamus Walshe, Patsy Moloney and John Regan

Irish music competitions sound like a nightmare to me, what with all the stories of young wannabe champions passing out and vomiting with the stress, and the bitter disputes over the scoring.  Yet there are good things that come from it. One of these is the camaraderie and friendship between old sparring partners. Tom Dunne, my friend and session co-leader in New Jersey, is full of stories of exploits with his fellow contestants and subsequent buddies from competitions back in the day, in particular Seamus Walshe and Patsy Moloney. They  have recently both albums which are well worth your attention.

seamus-trad-coverSeamus Walshe plays the box in a very personal style. In the liner notes of one of Seamus’s previous CDs Traditional Irish Music on the Button Accordion  Joe Burke likened his approach to that of an architect (Seamus’ chosen profession).  At the time, I considered that notion fanciful, preferring to just savor the luxurious experience of having that CD on repeat for a leisurely drive across the Canadian Rockies. Now I get the architect thing. There is definite evidence of a stately, elegant and logical form, yet lyrical and emotional touches abound.

seamus-turas

There are many examples of this on the new CD Turas: on the “Long Drop” Seamus shapes the first tune with phrasing and dynamic subtleties; as Eimear Reilly’s fiddle comes in for “Fred Finn’s Reel”, the stricter tempo and the “sit up and beg” figures enhance both the swing and the sadness in the tune; “The Torn Jacket” works as the release with a more straight-ahead approach (albeit with outstanding unison triplets).

The strong windswept melody of “Margaret’s Waltz” is stated with bold accordion and fiddle lines, leading into “Louis’ Waltz”, a staple of New York sessions (also known as “Dermot Grogan’s Favourite”). Here it is given a totally different treatment with the harp, fiddle and accordion creating a dense texture with the fiddle adding harmonic variations. The Poppy Leaf is another commonly recorded tune (twice by Tony DeMarco , and a stunning interpretation by Brian Rooney) which still gets a fresh treatment by Seamus and Grainne Hambly on harp. They take a relaxed pace, resisting the temptation to stuff the high part with notes, and smoothly transition into Charlie Lennon’s Rossinver Braes with its exquisite interplay of box and harp.

Turas means trip or pilgrimage and this album echoes that reflective note.  While it doesn’t have some of the exuberance of Seamus’ previous recordings it is an album of great sensitivity and maturity. It is also noteworthy that he has brought along some famous musical friends for this particular journey, including Alec Finn, Charlie Lennon, Noel Hill and Steve Cooney.

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Who Put the T in Texas?

11 Dec

Fabulously friendly people, great fiddle music, respect for tradition, sessions into the night, deep community spirit, slower life style, scorching heat. West of Ireland, right? No (maybe the weather comment was a giveaway). It was Llano, Texas, population 3,232. Yay! Musical road trip to deep in the heart of Texas!

I’ve always had a bit of a furtive Texas fiddle fetish, starting with the Bob Wills references of the hippest band of my Birmingham youth, Ricky Cool and the Icebergs, and a couple of decades later a fun time at Johnny Gimble’s Texas fiddle camp, but recently the gentle musical explorations of the Jersey fiddle group Four Fiddles Count ‘Em and the burgeoning Americana scene in Jersey City led me to a Benny Thomasson record. The first lesson was such an epiphany moment that in a film would deserve a close up of a needle dropping onto a spinning disk (I made do with a click on a plastic mouse).

bennythomasson-150x150

Benny Thomasson

First up, “Dry and Dusty” and a twist at every turn: “hey, this is relaxed and swinging … hmm, sounds like he added some kind of low-tuned drone (how does a drone sound so emotional and yearning?) … now we are bouncing along a comfortable groove … top of the tune again … holy cow, he has taken me to a happy sunny place populated with high double stops … a lonesome vibrato across two strings (how the hell is he even doing that?) … too gorgeous to try and analyze any more … let’s just float on this stream.”

And every track was like that, a new experience. The greatest thing though is that for all the technique and nuance of expression, you got the sense that this was man having fun with his music; you could have just wandered into his back room listening him play for himself.

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Kids of all Ages Welcome

12 Jul

10425116_254393288079788_753302429790402446_nPat Molloy understood kids. He knew how to get them engaged but also ,when they were under too much pressure, to just let them be kids. Some knew the tunes they wanted straight off the bat; others needed a little prompting so he used “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” as an introduction. Of course the idea grew into a jig version, a reel version and a hornpipe version (I’m sure he had barn dance and mazurka versions up his sleeve as well). For those who needed a bit of theatre he also had a party piece of a 4-part manoeuvre before putting the fiddle to the neck (think of a fun version of the military “present arms”). At the other end of the scale he used to also relish the senior student – if I recall correctly his oldest first-time student was 80 years old and full of self-doubt, but still walked out of Hendon Road with a tune.

This spirit is at the core of the Anne and Pat Molloy Summer School, about to run for its 5th year on the weekend of 23rd and 24th, 2016,  a welcoming place for all interested in traditional Irish music, whatever your current level or age.

We have noticed at previous summer schools that those attending or teaching could be split up into different categories: the Little Kids, the Big Kids and the Adults.

Surprisingly enough, I was able to come up with an extract from an academic paper about this very subject. I refer to Distinguished Wandering Professor Emeritus Dan Washington of the DETRITUS (DEritend TRaditional Irish Thinktank for Unverifiable Slander) Institute. Dr. Washington introduces the issue:


I have categorized the broad groups in Irish Music as follows:

  • LIMKS (“Little Irish Music Kids”)
  • BIMKS (“Big Irish Music Kids”, sometimes perhaps understandably mis-transliterated as “Birmingham Irish Music Kids”)
  • ADULTS

The BIMKS have traditionally formed the largest group, but in recent years are in danger of being overrun by the LIMKS (this is generally viewed as a good thing).


Cute LIMKs in action at past year at the school (photo courtesy of Ronan Molloy)

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The good doctor Washington then goes on to discuss some of the understandable concern the public at large has with BIMKS, and suggest ways to “parent” them.


The issues with BIMKS aren’t fundamentally different to those with LIMKS. These examples should be familiar to all who have raised LIMKS:

    • playing dress up
    • Putting things into their mouths (for example bus tickets of other BIMKS to stop them leaving the play area / session)
    • Pouring drinks over themselves
    • Running around naked way past the socially acceptable age
    • “tummy problems” (generally associated with a bottle held to the mouth with a tight grip for hours on end)
    • Visits to the A&E
    • Inserting items into the belly-button and running around showing off to everyone like a big silly boy (be aware that coins are a gateway navel choice; nip this in the bud or it will be flutes and all sorts)

 

According to trusted sources there was an instance of all of the above occurring one night at the Big Bull’s Head, Digbeth on April 1st 1990.

Dress-up

Playing Dress-up

Sometimes symptoms are harder to categorize. A good example of this was as recently in 1995 when a well-known BIMK managed to end up in A&E after making a trip from the back door of an after-hours club to her vehicle parked nearby in the car park. What made this example interesting is that the vehicle in question was a motor home, the classic travelling choice of a more senior category of Irish musician than even the ADULTS, euphemistically referred to as “Venerable Keepers of the Tradition” or VKOTs.

Some academics have also pointed out the TRABFAB syndrome where a barely-in-control BIMK can raise a very sensible LIMK, causing many hilarious comic moments in the household.

Mischievous Litlle Scamp

Mischievous Litlle Scamp

Mischievous Big Scamp

Mischievous Big Scamp (on right)

Sensible Lad (on right)

Sensible Lad (on right)

 

There are times of course when BIMK behaviour does get out of hand. We have all heard about the ill-advised impersonation of a police officer or playing on a pub roof in the middle of the night until the arrival of the constabulary, but a lesser known example was when a BIMK attempted to play a humourous prank on a Handsworth drug dealer, without the ensuing hilarity you might expect. In such cases I blame the parents – someone should have taken that BIMK aside and explained that you can’t rely on criminals having the same sense of humour as the typical Brummie.

It is worth remembering though that, for all the lunatic behavior the night before, the next day all the BIMKS would gather together and play the most gorgeous music, with the innocent, beatific expressions of the most angelic LIMK.


I recently met with Kevin Crawford in a swanky coffee house and “gelateria” in the Lower East Side on Manhattan (a far cry from some of the hangouts I knew him from back in the day!). He talked about his musical journey. It started when the famous Clare fiddler Junior Crehan noticed this little fat boy over on family holidays, always hanging around indoors listening to music when he should have been running around in the fresh air. Taking pity on the lad he gave his Mum a banged up old fiddle. Kevin and Mum got it stringed up at Thomas Smith Violins on Broad Street in Birmingham city centre, “did a little bit of homework” and were soon off on a nightmare Monday night bus marathon from Cape Hill  well north of the city to Sparkhill on the south side. The destination was English Martyrs School where Pat was teaching fiddle under the auspices of the South Birmingham Comhaltas (chatting about this, we both remembered The Silver Spear” as one of the first tunes Pat gave us). While he ended up giving up the fiddle for the whistle after a few months, this moment was still an epiphany. The encouragement from Anne and Pat Molloy was the spur he needed (Kevin was most insistent that he “wouldn’t be playing now if it wasn’t got for the Molloys. I kind of got taken in by them”).

It was also where he got to meet and befriend kids closer to his age (Joe and Enda Molloy, Mick Green and the rest of the Comhaltas crew). This camaraderie grew as Irish south Birmingham (centering around the Molloy residence at 7 Hendon Road) became his adopted home. Kevin’s style endeared him to all the lads. His reputation was cemented when at 12 or 13 he had a gig with a junior ceili band gig at the Town Hall, turned up late with the wrong coloured uniform and a late excuse that he was having a couple of pints. As Kevin put it, “they were well impressed with this little f***er”

It wasn’t only barmen that were taken in by Kevin’s worldly manner – he swanned into the position of secretary of the South Birmingham branch Comhaltas at 15. At the time no one (myself included) believed his age. As Kevin put it,“I was hanging where I shouldn’t have been hanging. It speaks volumes about Paddy and Anne (that) they never questioned it. They should have called Child Services or something”.

Later Kevin, Ivan Miletitch and others set up camp in Handsworth (above a Jamaican blues party venue) where they could carry on all day and night. While the craic was always there, “it was always about music, no matter what. There were so many sessions at that time. I used to love those sessions. None of us had mobile phones, or the internet or anything but you could organize a session within an hour. It could be the Spotted Dog or the Angel or all those pubs around Dibgeth  … obviously the Bull or the Little Bull. And then when Paddy started doing that one at the Antelope, that was a nice one.”

Back at the flat at 6 in the morning after a full night of sessions they would still listen to records and tapes. This included all the releases coming out of Ireland such as the Bothy Band (as well as of local music such as the Steve Gibbons Band and the calypso jazz of Andy Hamilton at the Accafess club) but the style of their own music was always distinctively Birmingham – “a lovely flow to the music, a slow and lyrical style”- with a fiercely independent streak. As Kevin summarized the scene – “it was some university to go to. It was great”.

For a taster of the university course, come to the Anne and Pat Molloy Summer School this year. Check out the website and Facebook page for details, and reach out with any questions – there is always someone glad to help. In case you were wondering why the long name, Kevin was able to answer that question as well – “I can’t think of Pat without Anne, and Anne with Pat”.

So take heart – you might be a LIMK now but you too can become a VKOT. And tell your parents that it’s OK to hang out with a few questionable characters along the way (though perhaps don’t mention the underage drinking bit).

 

Tony Horswill, 2016

“The Moment is Now. The Time is Now.” – Shuggie Otis at Music Hall, Williamsburg April 19th 2013

2 Feb

Have you heard the one about the lost prince of musical royalty, a poet dreaming of strawberry-scented love letters, who slept for 40 years only to wake when the world needed him again, returning with the “information to inspire us to be happy”?

Okay he didn’t sleep, but Shuggie Otis was a long time off the radar, not recording since 1974 and only gigging sporadically. That hasn’t stopped his psychedelic soul classics being part of the soundtrack of many hip lives – most notably Quentin Tarantino weaved “Strawberry Letter 23” throughout his 1997 blaxploitation masterpiece “Jackie Brown”.

Shuggie Psychedlic - 5999

Shuggie’s pedigree is impeccable – his father Johnny was a multi-faceted R & B and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, and their family musical history describes the complete arc of black American music of the last 100 years (although their heritage was in in fact Greek).

Since his father’s death in January 2012 Shuggie has been enticed to share his virtuoso guitar, sophisticated songwriting and genre-defying musical vision with the world again, and he came to New York for a one-nighter at BB King’s Club on April 18th 2013. To quote one of his Billboard album reviews, it promises to be “Unbelievably Wonderful”

RightSideOfDrums - Early in gig - 5834You could sense the expectation when Shuggie Otis came onstage at the Music Hall, on the surface a slightly fragile figure in a rock star take on a pilgrim frock coat.

On this night in Brooklyn, he took off his coat both literally and figuratively.

 

The early audience excitement found its release when he sang the first line of the opener ”Inspiration Information” after a tension-building introduction of punchy horn lines, swirling organ and Shuggie’s whimsical vocal extemporizing. As he put it after the gig, “The crowd was really with me”. Indeed they were.

 While in the majority the audience were a younger, more hipsterish crowd than the previous night there was living testament to Shuggie’s claim “I’m blessed to have  fans from teens to the 80s and 90s” when the trumpeter and musical director Larry Douglas recognized a beautiful old lady having the time of her life in the  audience, he beamed and got down off the stage to have picture taken with her. This was an all-inclusive party. Shuggie was relaxed in this setting, and if he didn’t already have the crowd on his side he cemented it with his declaration “The Moment is Now The Time is Now” and the introduction to Aht Up My Head of “when I wrote this I must have been…”

It takes a special kind of band to be able to handle all the genres that Shuggie travels through,  and the “Shuggie Otis Rite” is a powerful and flexible outfit able to seamlessly transcend genres, eating up blues, funk and jazz grooves, and is all the better for consisting of family and long-time musical friends. There are noticeable axes within the group:  “cousin” Russell “Swang” Stewart (keyboards) and James Manning (bass) delivery ferocious funk; the horn section of Albert King (tenor sax), Michael Turre (baritone sax and flute) and Larry Douglas (on trumpet) swing happily astride blues and jazz idioms.

Albert head-on 5943

Shuggie and son Eric fill the blues guitar heroes spot.
Shuggie Leaning Back - Early in gig - 5923Eric reading in Spotlight - Early in gig - 5855

 

Nicky Otis drives the lot of them from behind the kit.

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As well as the obvious family members, the band features other “old boys” of the Johnny Otis R&B touring revue groups and in many ways the band is a reincarnation of those famous caravans.

The band name of “The Shuggie Otis Rite” makes perfect sense with their togetherness, musical and otherwise.

Whole Band - 6017

Highlights included the blues rock of “Me and My Woman” (think of a sound in the zone of 1970s Allman Brothers and The Kinsey Report), the old-school blues of “Sweet Thang” with its classic horn and organ arrangements (bringing to mind B.B. King’s line-ups of the ‘50s and ‘60s), the jazz-tinged Steely Dan-ish soul of “Trying to Get Close to You”, and plenty of other moments which were just – well – “Shuggie.” These included an impressive re-imagination of “Inspiration Information” with a loose funkier horn-driven feel and effective use of call and response vocals, and a rich orchestration of “Aht Up My Head” with guitar and flute atmospherics, a delicate underplayed riff in the original becoming a punchy horn line, and a delicious funk tenor tax solo taking us home.

The exuberance of the encore “Ice Cold Daydream” captured the spirit of the evening. This was no longer the wacky funk ditty of 1971 but a wild funk party where the band could stretch out and share the carnival atmosphere with the Brooklyn faithful. Behold the Shuggie Otis experience  – a powerhouse band, a miraculous guitarist,  and an indomitable spirit.

Words by Tony Horswill                                                            Photos by Arlene A. Wallace

Irish Trad Music Comes Full Circle in Birmingham

10 Jul

Something beautiful has sprung to life in Birmingham these last two summers, and it’s happening again the last weekend in July.

It is first of all music, yet is also traditional and it is Irish” to paraphrase the carefully inclusive words of Pat Molloy, the man who has inspired this happening. It is no secret that it is also fun and a chance to let it all hang out. What I am talking about is Irish Traditional Music (ITM or “Trad” for short) and the Anne and Pat Molloy Summer School is where you can get your first lesson, a refresher course or just a plain old session fix – whatever you like. All are welcome.

“Long Acre” by Catharine Kingcome.  Ivan Milititch, Bernadette Davis, Kevin Crawford, Mick Conneely, Brendan Boyle and Joe Molloy in the Big Bull’s Head, Digbeth, Birmingham in 1998

“Long Acre” by Catharine Kingcome. Ivan Milititch, Bernadette Davis, Kevin Crawford, Mick Conneely, Brendan Boyle and Joe Molloy in the Big Bull’s Head, Digbeth, Birmingham in 1998

The story for me, like many, starts much earlier – in the 1980s in fact. It is no exaggeration to say that Birmingham was then THE place for the music. I’m talking THE place, worldwide. The full history of that time is waiting to be written but let me give you some insights. The scene was very different then. I called it the Irish music “underworld”. To give some context Birmingham was an altogether grimmer place then (Jonathan Coe’s “The Rotter’s Club” captures it well) and the political climate of the time helped drive the music underground. If mentioning anything Irish to the Englishman in the street didn’t bring forth hostility or distrust it would likely elicit a lame joke involving bombs.

That didn’t concern the musicians: this was an artistic underworld where creative anarchy ruled with a flagrant disregard for the licensing laws (with the sessions typically starting at “closing time”). There was also an urge to pack as many people into as small and as smoky space as possible, as if in some perverse Guinness Records attempt. Going home before complete physical exhaustion was forbidden under almost any circumstances (Karen Tweed recalls her bus ticket being eaten when she tried to make a break for it after an entire weekend of playing). If in this underworld Joe Molloy was the captain of the young exuberant “crew”, his father Pat was the benign Don in the corner, playing sweet fiddle and smiling at the craic.

“Meets” seemed to require a code I could never quite crack – I remember phoning Pat at 9:30 one evening hoping for some information and him saying “well I’d say there’d be a session tonight but I wouldn’t like to say where. It’s a bit early for the boys. Can you call back in half an hour?” He might throw in a whistle (also part of the ritual?)

The sessions were one thing, but there was a whole other world which was the teaching. Anne and Pat’s house in Hendon Road, Sparkhill, was the academy, spiritual center and sometime flop-house where fiddle lessons, words of encouragement, soda-bread and eccentric curries were served in equal measure.

7 Hendon Road

7 Hendon Road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These two complimentary activities of lessons and sessions have provided the winning formula for the first two years of the summer school. There are expert teachers on pretty much every instrument (tin whistle / flute/ button accordion/ melodeon/ piano accordion/ banjo/ mandolin/ bodhran/ bones/ anglo-concertina/ guitar&piano accompaniment/ ballad singing/ sean-nos dancing and of course the fiddle), and classes are designed so that no one is left out – from complete beginners who have never touched an instrument through to advanced.

Master Class - Noreen Cullen and Tom Dunne

Master Class – Noreen Cullen and Tom Dunne

 

A lot of summer schools may of course have a similar format but there is something unique about the Anne and Pat Molloy Summer School which is hard to put your finger on. Part of it is the very definite Birmingham flavor, but to me it is really the love and affection that all the musicians had for Anne and Pat that you can feel. One manifestation of this is the Sunday group performance afternoon where we gather to cheer on the class arrangements from the simple to the (intentionally) humorous to the extravagant -check out Noreen Cullen’s grand opus last year on Facebook.

 

 

 

London Lasses with Chris O'MalleyMusicians who travelled to Birmingham for those famous sessions of the 80’s and 90’s are becoming enthusiastically involved in this year’s development, the Saturday night concert. This is to be headlined by the world-acclaimed London Lasses & Chris O’Malley, supported by DisKan (who happen to include Ivan Miletitch, the consumer of the afore-mentioned bus ticket), who are reforming for the event

 

 

 

 

It all happens on 26th & 27th July 2014 at South & City College, Digbeth, starting at 10am Saturday. It costs next to nothing – of £15 for the weekend of workshops and a small charge for the concert. For more info and to sign up check out http://www.patmolloysummerschool.co.uk/ or search for “Pat Molloy Summer School 2014” on Facebook.

I feel a bit uncomfortable giving away so much information (it could be bad luck) so let me tease you with not too much about the sessions. They will be in some of those great old Victorian pubs in the Irish district. One of them will have a small, no longer smoky, back room. They will definitely happen Friday night through Sunday night but I would lay money on Thursday and Monday as well. If all else fails, look for Facebook events with a Start Time: of “now it would be hard to say” and an End Time: of “while you still have your ticket home”.

A new summer school is born in Birmingham’s Irish Quarter

17 Apr

Birmingham in England has a sense of the scrappy underdog – it has a way of drawing you with its dry sense of humor and old-school camaraderie. It also loves its local heroes, and the city lost one of its treasures last year in the passing of Pat Molloy.

Pat was the master of Irish music teaching in the city and one of life’s teachers in the widest sense of the word. My lessons with him were not what you would call conventional – there would be deep explorations lasting well into the night – not just of fiddle music and style but also philosophical discussions which left my mind in the dust, math questions, card tricks, checking into firebrand George Galloway’s show on the radio or cricket test matches broadcast from Australia at 1 a.m. (small bets on cricket and smelling tobacco burning were Pat’s token vices). At regular points in the proceedings his beloved wife Anne would come in with a pot of tea and some wonderful soda bread with a jaunty “I’m not hearing much music” as we were gassing away. Magical stuff, and through it all there would always be Pat’s smile and that swing he could put into the fiddle.

It was at Pat’s funeral that a plan was hatched by local musicians and friends to keep alive the celebration of the music that Pat and Anne had devoted themselves. This vision came to life the last weekend in July with the Pat and Anne Molloy summer school

Check out http://www.patmolloysummerschool.co.uk.

The unofficial start to the event was a wild impromptu session at the famous Spotted Dog pub lasting into the wee hours. At some point I could sense Pat’s sons Joe, Enda and Ronan in a huddle at the bar with banjo, box and bodhran at their feet. Not all that unusual – they come onto the field of play late – like an audacious match-winning triple substitution tactic once used by one of the more eccentric local soccer club managers. On heaving myself up to the bar to investigate I could sense some pre-festival nerves when questions like “what is a workshop anyway?” arose from the Molloys and other seasoned and talented players who were to tutor in the morning. I attempted to regale them with stories of shambolic workshops that I had attended States-side to lighten the mood, but what would the sober light of day bring?

It brought a huge crowd of 95 students to the Irish Centre Saturday morning with a great buzz from young and old, beginner and advanced all milling around, eager to get started. I had the enormous privilege of being in a workshop with the irrepressible Noreen Cullen. In no time she was whipping our small group into shape with a twisting and turning Brendan McGlinchey hornpipe in B-flat with theatrics and dance moves thrown in for good measure, all delivered in a paint-peeling Brummie accent peppered with infectious and uncontrolled laughter. This lady is no respecter of a hangover! But her credentials are serious – she was the Hayley Richardson of her day, performing on tour with Sean McGuire at 11 years old.

The Saturday night concert brought more treasures, highlights being Joe Molloy and Patsy Moloney’s   gorgeous set, a slideshow of Pat and Anne having fun with friends and musicians over the years, the Molloy family playing Pat’s compositions, and the traditional dinner of samosas, chicken curry, rice and naan bread with a side order of a large bin of boiled potatoes (some of this Irish in England stuff is hard to explain).

Sunday mixed group workshop had a certain off-the-cuff quality, but someone had the inspired idea of “let’s get all the groups to make a tune arrangement and play it in the afternoon”. For me this was the highlight of the weekend with even complete beginners joining in the fun, and some of the arrangements were priceless.

So how can you join in the fun? Come next year! My credibility as the token New Yorker is wearing thin (particularly as M.C. Mick Green leaked the fact that “his Mum lives down the road”), so we need the real article – you will enjoy the Brummie Irish hospitality. Next year the organizers are planning to invite some big names from Ireland who fell under Pat’s spell over the years.