Celia Briar and I are just home from playing at the Loanhead Music Festival. Loanhead is just south of Edinburgh, and is a former mining town, so somewhat appropriately the main events took place in the Loanhead Miner’s Club, with sessions taking place in pubs around the town.
Celia and I opened the concert on Friday night, and we were extremely lucky to have the use of a superb P.A. along with expert soundman Derek from the Gallus Crows, who was able to facilitate what have become our very particular needs!
Lately we’ve been playing lots of our own original material, as we work on recording our C.D., so we brought a number of our own compositions into our concert in Loanhead. We were delighted to be joined for one set of reels by Fiona, one of the Absolutely Legless group of Irish dancers, who took to the floor to dance a step or two! Mostly, however, we concentrated on doing what we love to play together most – slow, melodic and haunting melodies from a number of traditions. We had a lovely audience who gave us a great reception, and we enjoyed every minute of it!
After we finished Kathy Stewart and Her Frequent Flyers took the stage. We really, really enjoyed Kathy and her band, she is so charismatic and such a good performer, and is backed by some amazing musicians who spent half the night showing what amazing multi-instrumentalists they all are by swapping instruments! Kathy and her band played what I suppose I would describe as ‘Americana’, with lots of great blues harmonica from Kathy’s partner Ken and some really strong vocal harmonies. They are a fantastic band, I would love to see them again.
Local celebrities the Gallus Crows ended the night with a bang, showing off their amazing cumulative songwriting talents and instrumental and vocal skills. I particularly loved the song Gordon Andrew sang – and composed – about the Stone of Mannan, the story of which was drawn from local mythology based in the dark ages.
The Crows were joined for the last few numbers by festival organisers Bruce Hogg on slide guitar and Gill Hogg on percussion, which was a fitting end to the evening as it looks likely that this was the last ever Loanhead Festival. Bruce is stepping down as festival organiser after sixteen years at the helm, and no one has so far stepped forward to take over the job.
After the concert was over we retired to a bar called Paddy’s, where we had a few beers and songs and tunes and copious amounts of craic. After that it was back to Bruce and Gill’s for a late night chat and a few cheeky drams before finally going to bed. Needless to say, the sun was up by then!
Celia and I were busy separately on Saturday, with me teaching a tin whistle workshop, and Celia judging the Recycled Instrument and Songwriting competitions. The workshop went well, with five whistlers who worked very hard to learn a tune in the space of an hour. We also talked about ornamentation as applied to the Irish tin whistle. They were a great bunch, and I hope they found it useful!
I ended up somehow involved in the Recycled Instrument competition, by virtue of playing Peter’s plumbing pipe
tin whistle for him! Peter had attended my workshop, and managed to learn a tune on his homemade whistle, so we cooked up the plot afterwards that I would play it for him in the competition. I was rooting for him to win all the way!
Peter had some stiff competition, however, with a ‘boximer’ (A sort of cross between a dulcimer and a… I don’t know what else! – made out of an old box), and Bruce’s banjo made out of all sorts of bits and bobs. In the end it was a three way tie (with some discussion about whether or not getting me to play Peter’s whistle was actually cheating). No one was entirely sure if everyone came joint first, or joint last!
As for the songwriting competition, I only got to hear the winning song as, in true Eurovision style it was performed again after the results were announced. The song, ‘Emily’s Song’, was very haunting, all about telling a child she will be safe, and using imagery from fairy tales. The singer was Lorna Jane Gracie, and she was an incredibly worthy winner. Very, very poignant and beautifully performed, and brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye. Well done to Lorna Jane, amazing stuff. I hope I get to hear your song again.
On that note we bade farewell to Loanhead and our lovely hosts Gill and Bruce. We had a lovely time, thank you to everyone for making us so welcome!