Page updated on 4th October 2020
Here’s some occasional short blog posts, followed by some other news items at the end. Click here to see my gig list.
They say no news is good news, but 2020 doesn’t really feel like that.
Like many others, in this extended period of isolation, I’ve had time to go through some old photos: here’s an old one of socially-distanced playing on Sherkin Island, Co. Cork in 1995. We’d hoped to revisit this summer, but still looking forward to getting back there one day.
Good news is that two major workshop bookings for this year are confirmed (pending you-know-what, of course) for 2021: Melodeons in Wensleydale on 23rd-25th April and Witney Supersqueeze on 19th-21st November. Looking for the silver linings: I’ve been able to meet up with a handful of musical friends over the summer, and we’ve been enjoying the opportunity to explore the dustier corners of our repertoires, something you can’t often do in bigger gatherings.
The third Traditional Tunes and Popular Airs Conference is being hosted virtually by the EFDSS over the weekend of 10th and 11th October and has some interesting papers about various aspects of traditional music which are available to read (for ticket-holders) from 1st October.
One way or another, July and August are usually full of festivals, and so they have been this year, but virtually of course. As well as my own band bookings, running the Veteran CD stall and attending as a ‘punter,’ this summer’s festival activities should also have included two appearances by Irish legends Jackie Daly and Matt Cranitch, for whom I had recently become UK agent. Hopefully these appearances will be rescheduled for 2021 when we all trust that more live music will be possible. In the meantime, if you would like to buy any CDs (mine, or Jackie & Matt’s, or any number of other wonderful traditional singers and musicians!) do head over to the Veteran CD website which has a new browsing section designed to replicate a real festival stall. The photo below is us at the Dartmoor Folk Festival, and you can see how long our involvement is there from the ticket here! Click on the image below to browse the CD stall – orders within the UK are post free until the end of September.
As with most of us now, music revolves around recordings and virtual performances at the moment. As well as playing for a couple of Zoom “clubs”, I am doing a short presentation for the Traditional Song Forum ( a research group of which I have been a member for many years).
My contribution is called “Will the real Paddy O’Rafferty please stand up!” and is about my investigations into the music and songs on a barrel-organ taken by Sir William Edward Parry on his polar expeditions in 1819-1825.
This will go out live on Sunday 14th June at 4pm. Here’s a link to find out more about the Traditional Song Forum and how to join their Zoom meetings.
Like everyone else involved in music, life has just got unexpectedly un-busy in terms of gigs, sessions and festivals. A time to get on further with research projects instead.
I have taken the opportunity to upload the photographic exhibition I created for last year’s ‘I Looked East and I Looked West’ festival celebrating the life and music of Irish fiddler Julia Clifford: please visit The Julia Clifford Project section of this website. If you have any comments, information or further photos, please do get in touch.
Coincidentally, at the same time, the RTÉ radio programme ‘The Rolling Wave’ is broadcasting two programmes dedicated to Julia Clifford. The first of the two programmes, about ‘The Star Above the Garter’ album is archived here and the second, focussing on Julia herself, is scheduled to be broadcast at 9pm on Sunday 3rd May and will be available on ‘The Rolling Wave’ archive after that. The second programme includes an interview with me, carried out at the 2019 Willie Clancy Summer School – here’s the link to that programme.
The writing and research continue. I’ve been following the adventures of a well-known tune, Paddy Carey which will eventually be posted here, and I’ve revised two other tune histories I wrote some years ago – about The Perfect Cure and Starry Night for a Ramble – these two are now available on my new Tune Histories page. I’ve also added some brief descriptions of my current research projects – you see, they are real, not just something I mention on here every now and again! Have a browse through the Projects / Research drop down menu at the top of any page to read about Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe, barrel organs on Polar explorations and stepdancing competitions in Somerset.
I’ve also been digitising some superb quality photos we were given. Some of these and others from our personal archive have been making there way into the public domain through the new Facebook page for Veteran Records – I have recently written a piece about fiddle-player Lucy Farr for the page.
Here’s one of my personal favourites from the collection, of The Rakes (minus Lucy Farr on this occasion) – Paul Gross, Michael Plunkett and Reg Hall with Derek Schofield, far left. This was taken at the National Folk Festival at Sutton Bonington in the 1990s.
And I do get out from behind the computer and sit behind a melodeon sometimes too! …
PolkaWorks are playing in London this month! We’re at the Knees Up Cecil Sharp ceilidh at Cecil Sharp House, Camden on Friday 21st February with Mary Panton calling.
A quiet month ahead with writing and preparations for later events, and recuperating from a New Year holiday in Co. Clare with music till the early hours every night for a week!
Several gigs with PolkaWorks coming up in the Spring – details listed here.
Looking further ahead , I am tutoring and performing at Melodeons on Sea in Harwich, 18th-19th April. A new event, wishing them lots of luck, the location, programme and venues all look great.
I’ve left some 2019 news here, as there’s not much in 2020 of course. Older news is archived here: News Archive.
You may have read earlier posts about my involvement in this superb film about the life of composer and folksong collector George Butterworth. It has been shown at a number of public screenings and it’s now available to buy on DVD or Blu-Ray. All My Life’s Buried Here includes an informative booklet with a series of specially-commissioned essays as well as extra filmic material.
Bring on the great choons and frocks: PolkaWorks bring some seasonal cheer to a gloomy season at the Meltdown Ceilidhs in Hayward’s Heath, west Sussex on Saturday 7th December. We promise there will be no cheesy carols, but there may possibly be mince pies or baubles and there will certainly be red frocks, shoes and great uplifting dance music.
After our wonderful “I Looked East and I Looked West” event in April, I gaily said to Matt Cranitch, “If I can do anything to bring you over to the UK more often, just let me know …” So, I am pleased to tell you, that as of 1st November I am acting as UK agent for Jackie Daly & Matt Cranitch! I look forward to bringing them to more British audiences.
A really interesting event coming up on November 16th-17th.
“Britain and Ireland have a rich history of step dancing in many forms and contexts, linking with traditions across the world. This conference aims to further knowledge and understanding in these traditions and to stimulate debate. Two days of presentations, discussion, insight and exploration into step dancing.”
Subjects include “Street” clog dancing; stepping in Irish set and English ceilidh; Devon, Cape Breton, Australian and Welsh traditions; modes of transmission and the influence of competitions, and a panel discussion on Revival and Continuity, to which I am contributing my experiences in East Anglia.
Good news and sad news.
I’m absolutely thrilled that the book I co-wrote with Pat Pickles was short-listed by The Folklore Society for the Katharine Briggs Award 2019.
I am very sad to say that Pat Pickles died earlier this month, in fact I had just heard about the award and was in the middle of writing to her about it when I received this news. Pat had suffered from dementia for the past couple of years, but will be fondly remembered by all whose paths she crossed over the previous decades, particularly through her many interests in folklore.
Buy the book here: East Anglian Traditional Music Trust’s shop.
We’ve got two lovely Valiant Dance Band public dances coming up:
Godalming Borough Ceilidhs in Surrey, with Gareth Kiddier calling on Saturday 5th October
Unicorn Ceilidhs in Baldock, Herts, with Sheena Masson calling, on Friday 11th October.
There’s some events I wouldn’t miss each year, even when I’m not officially booked at them, here’s some recommendations:
Dartmoor Folk Festival, South Zeal, Devon. Went to the first one in 1978 and although I’ve missed a few, it’s a fixture in the diary, especially for the stepdancing and the Orchard family’s sessions.
Willie Clancy Summer School, Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare. Been going to Miltown for donkey’s years, but only to the ‘Willie Week’ in more recent years, when I have been honoured to take part in the harmonica recital on several occasions.