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.


One Response to “A new summer school is born in Birmingham’s Irish Quarter”

  1. Ivan August 15, 2014 at 12:42 am #

    Great craic altogether, well done to Pauline Molloy for organising this !! Quite happy to do it all again next year !

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