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.




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