Building Ships

One song that struck a chord* with me during one of the concerts that took place during the Celtic Connections festival was Building Ships, performed by Glasgow based singer Findlay Napier. While mourning the passing of a once great industry. It pays tribute to the workers who built the mighty ships for which Glasgow was renowned.

On his Bandcamp site, the singer tells us that

From a conversation about reopening Scotland’s shipyards with my Dad. He was a marine engineer and occasional builder of ships. It became clear to me that without a long plan, agreed on by all political parties, we’ll never see industry like that in Glasgow again.

Glasgow Shipyard- Shipbuilding in Wartime, 1944 Imperial War Museum (IWM Non Commercial Licence) via Wikipedia

Given my line of work, these lines particularly resonate with me

There’s ten guys in the hospital, four men in the ground
And everyone worked there breathed that dust into their lungs
And everyone worked there breathed that dust into their lungs

“That dust” would have been asbestos, which was used for insulation and fire protection throughout ships built before July 2002. Consequently many shipbuilders contracted serious, usually fatal, lung diseases – asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma (a particularly nasty cancer of the outer lining of the lung).

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Asbestos insulation photographed during a visit to HMS Belfast in London

There were other health hazards too – noise, damaging hand-arm vibration and exposure to welding fume (another lung carcinogen)

Asbestos hasn’t been used in ships since the end of 2010 – but there’s plenty of vessels out there on the sea that contain lots of it. And there’s a particular risk of high exposure at the end of their life when they’re broken up.

Oh aye, as Findlay sings

Everyone among them should get fair and equal pay

Celtic Connections

I’ve been absent from WordPress for a few weeks – neither writing or keeping up with reading blogs I follow as I’ve been busy with work ever since Christmas. And after being glued to Zoom all day for meetings and delivering training, I’ve been less keen on spending more time in front of a computer screen during my free time. But work pressures are easing off a little so it’s time for a catch up 😉

It’s getting on to close to a year now since life has been disrupted by the pandemic. We’ve been in and out of lockdown and although I’ve been restricted to local walks for substantial periods I was able to get out to the Lakes and Anglesey during the summer. We haven’t been able to get out to concerts, the theatre, galleries and exhibitions since last March, though and I’ve certainly missed all that. I have sustained a semblance of cultural activity though, as some organisations have managed to run events on-line. So I’ve been able “attend” three virtual folk festivals, Kate Ruby’s Christmas concert and watch a few National Theatre productions . I’ve also been able to “visit” the Hay Festival, the Wigtown Book Festival, the Orkney Science Festival and the Kendal Mountain Festival all of which were run online – events I’d always wanted to visit but have never had the opportunity. Watching on screen isn’t the same as being there, of course. It’s too easy to be distracted when you’re in front of the TV and you miss the excitement of being somewhere different and mixing with other people. But, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to attend most, if not all, of these events if they hadn’t been run on-line.

Another annual event I’ve always fancied attending is the Celtic Connections Festival that’s run every January up in Glasgow. The festival focuses on traditional Scottish music international folk, roots and world music artists with concerts, ceilidhs, talks, free events, late night sessions and workshops too. It always seems like a good way of cheering up the rather dark and dismal days that follow on from Christmas.

Last December I got a tip off from Anabel , the Glasgow Gallivanter that the festival was going on-line and that early bird tickets were available for a very reasonable price of £30 that allowed access to all the concerts. So I snapped one up and was able to keep myself entertained during the dark January evenings.

There were plenty of traditional Scottish and Gaelic bands, playing jaunty music with fiddles, pipes and the like. I was able to watch concerts featuring some familiar musicians like Karine Polwart, Rachel Newton and Julie Fowlis.

The Transatlantic sessions is a project that brings traditional musicians together from, as the name suggests, both sides of the Atlantic – from Scotland, Ireland, Canada and the USA in particular. I’ve watched some programmes on the BBC over a number of years, so it was good to see them performing “live” – with a number of performers on stage in Glasgow with video links to musicians over the other side of the water.

The concert of Quebecois music – Quebecfest – featuring Vent du Nord, De Temps Antan and Grosse Ille was another highlight

But there were new discoveries too – from other traditions and musical genres

Xabier Diaz from the Gallicia region of Spain, backed by a group of female singers playing what must be a rectangular Gallician version of the bodhrán 

Fergus McCreadie, a talented young Scottish jazz pianist who plays “an innovative blend of jazz and Scottish traditional music”. Many of his compositions are inspired by the Scottish landscapes, with titles such as Cairn, North, Across Flatlands, Mull and The Stones of Brodgar

Dreamer’s Circus, a Danish / Swedish trio with a contemporary take on traditional Nordic music

I didn’t watch every concert – there were too many, and there workshops too (not included in the festival ticket, though) – but certainly enjoyed the experience. It would have been better to have been there and savour the atmosphere, but that wasn’t possible. But I probably wouldn’t have been able to go up to Glasgow this January anyway so watching on my TV at home allowed me to get a taster. And it’s made me determined to get up there next year when (hopefully!) it will return to being a live event. And an opportunity to meet up with a bloggy friend too, perhaps 😉.

Drive the Cold Winter Away

I heard this song on Sunday’s Radcliffe and Maconie show on BBC 6 Music.

A duo comprising Nicola Kearey & Ian Carter, Stick in the Wheel, are a “Folk” band from East London who

….. bring a contemporary approach to folk music with raw minimalism, setting vocals to simple accompaniments and handclaps

Wikipedia

For this old Christmas song, of Elizabethan origin, they’re singing to a modern arrangement using synths rather than traditional instruments and with the singer’s voice electronically distorted. I rather like it.

The song is about putting aside differences, forgetting old wrongs, and singing, dancing, eating , drinking and playing together. Although this arrangement is much less jolly. More like a lament for activities that aren’t allowed at the moment. Very apt for our times, I think.

Here’s the lyrics if you want to sing along.

Stay safe and try to enjoy our Covid Christmas

Happy Hollyday

Way back in 2012 we went to see Kate Rusby’s concert at Warrington’s Parr hall during her annual Christmas tour around the UK. Since then we’ve been to see her perform several times, usually at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall when we would combine the concert with an afternoon looking round the Christmas market and a bite to eat. None of that was possible this year due to you know what. It’s been a difficult time for musicians with no venues open but there have been some imaginative initiatives where artists have ben able to perform over the Internet.

We’ve always enjoyed Kate’s concert’s immensely. For someone who isn’t so tall (!) she has a big stage presence and twinkling eyes and a smile almost as wide as the stage. She chats away between the songs and really does seem to be enjoy the Christmas celebrations. And combined with the Christmas market her concert has felt like the start of Christmas for us, so I was delighted to find out that she was arranging to stream a concert from Doncaster with a limited live audience (of family and close friends, I guess) so we signed up to watch the performance which was broadcast last Saturday.

Her Christmas concert is based around old traditional versions of carols as performed around the pubs in South Yorkshire . Some of the songs were well known carols but sung to a different tune with other traditional songs sung to more familiar tunes. She was accompanied by her band of folk musicians and also by a brass quintet, which makes the performance particularly Christmassy for me.

Of course, watching a concert from your own living room isn’t the same as being in the midst of a crowd in a concert hall, but we made the best of it, streaming onto our main TV. We’d put the tree up during the afternoon and we even arranged to have our own version of Christmas market food with German sausage hot dogs with mustard and (well we like it!) a helping of saurkraut (or choucroute if you want to be French). The concert though was pure Northern English entertainment and accents (listen her pronounce “come” and “choir”) – I’ll always forgive Kate for being from the wrong side of the Pennines!

It was the first time my daughter, who has moved back in with us for the time being, has seen Kate perform but, just like us, enjoyed the performance.

So there we are – our Covid Christmas has started. And next year, hopefully all this mess will be in the past and we’ll be able to see her perform live to kickstart the Christmas celebrations.

So I hope everyone reading this has a great Christmas break – but make sure you take care so that all your loved ones have a good chance to be around to celebrate properly in 2021.

The Man Machine?

Last week Florian Schneider, one of the founders of Kraftwerk died of cancer aged 73. I was never a massive fan of the band. Although I could admire the cleverness of their work, I always found purely electronic music didn’t stir me emotionally. Neverless I liked some of their songs. Perhaps my favourite was Autobahn, although due to my ignorance of the German language, until J, who studied German to A level, put me right, I was convinced they were singing of having Fun, Fun, Fun on the Autobahn.

Anyway reading of Florian’s passing I was reminded of a favourite tribute to Kraftwerk by Bill Bailey.

A Front Room Festival

So, on Easter Monday, during the lockdown, I went to a music festival. The people behind the podcast Folk on Foot, which I subscribe to, had organised a “Front room festival” . I hadn’t been to a festival since the Reading festival in 1975, but on Monday, on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday, I settled down on the couch in front of our TV, to watch 15 top folk artists, most of whom had featured in an episode of the podcast, playing in their front rooms who all played sets of around 30 minutes.

The whole festival, over 7 hours long, can be viewed on Youtube

And there’s a podcast available of some ofthe highlights here.

There was a twitter hashtag for the event #frontroomfestival and it was fun to read the comments and look at the photos being posted there. Some people were really getting into the spirit of the thing, setting up their living rooms as if they were out in the middle of a field somewhere! (Absolute Radio were also running something similar, but with a different type of music! and were using the same hashtag)

And like any other music event, they even had a “merch tent” with t shirts and hoodies for sale.

No beer or food tents, mind. You had to sort that out for yourselves!

Folk on Foot was launched by the broadcaster and former BBC executive Matthew Bannister in August 2018. In each episode Matthew walks with a leading folk artist in the landscape that has inspired their music and they sing and play on location.

Haarlem Jazz

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Our visit to Haarlem coincided with the annual Jazz Festival which started on the Wednesday and ran through until Sunday. We’d hoped to catch some of the music on the Wednesday and Thursday before we headed for home on Friday. On Wednesday evening, however, it poured down more or less continuously so after spending some time watching one of the acts on the opening night, we decided to call it quits and retreated to Tierney’s bar! The next night was much better. It didn’t rain and we were able to sample some of the music and atmosphere.

On the Wednesday there was only one stage, set up in the Grote Markt, but the next night three more stages opened up. 2 other stages around the Grote Kerk – on Oude Groenmarkt and Klokhuisplein – and another venue at the Pletterij , on the outskirts of the town centre.

From what we saw there wasn’t much jazz being played at the Jazz festival, which is why it’s actually billed as Haarlem Jazz and more. On Thursday the main stage was occupied by a couple of performers playing / performing electronic dance music, which is very big in the Netherlands. Not my scene at all, but clearly loved by the audience of mainly young adults.

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The other two stages around the Grote Kerk seemed to be devoted to soul music. Looking at the programme the “real” jazz seemed to be playing at the Pletterij .

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Soul Six on the Klokhuisplein stage
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We spent most of our time listening to a band on the smaller stage in the on Oude Groenmarkt . Uncle Sue are a local band and with a female singer and a horn section who were performing Stax style soul music. They were a good live act and much more up my street!

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Lunasa in Keswick

Quite a few years ago now, during one of my first trips to Ireland with work, I picked up a CD of music by, Lunasa, an Irish band I’d heard being played in a shop selling traditional Irish music. I’ve played it many many times since and they’ve become my favourite Irish band. A few weeks ago I found out that they had a short tour over in England and the first date was in Keswick at the Theatre by the Lake, so I booked a couple of tickets, planning to combine the concert with an afternoon in the Lakes.

Lunasa are named after “Lughnasadh”, an ancient Irish harvest festival. They’re very accomplished musicians who play a modern take on Irish traditional music on traditional instruments such as Uilleann pipes, fiddle and flute combined with guitar, and double bass.

There’s no singing, they are purely an instrumental band. Well, usually as on their most recent album they feature a number of guest singers. But in Keswick there was no singing just extremely well played music – plus some banter from the Brummie born (!) flautist from County Clare (I spotted his accent) Kevin Crawford .

The other current members of the band are  Trevor Hutchinson (double bass), Ed Boyd (guitar), Seán Smyth (fiddle and low whistle) and Cillian Vallely (uilleann pipes and low whistles). Although the line up has varied in the past.

Seán is a practising GP in Mayo and doesn’t appear on all their Youtube clips, presumably due to not always being able to Ed Boyd is from Bath and has worked with other musicians, including Kate Rusby. We’re sure we saw him playing in her band during one of her Christmas shows.

Their set included traditional tunes from Ireland, Scotland and Brittany, as well as some of their own compositions.

We also managed to combine the concert with a short walk along the east coast of Derwent Water followed by a vey delicious meal in the Fellpack restaurant in Keswick. It was a bit of a grey day, but it’s always good to be up in the Lakes

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“Do you have some Blues in you?”

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I came across this gentlemen at his stall on Hebden Bridge market when I was there a few weeks ago. He made up cigar box guitars and after spotting them I had to have a closer look.

He greeted me by asking me “have you got some blues in you?” Well I have – a little anyway! He spotted my Lancashire accent but despite this (!) I got chatting with him about how he made his hand built guitars and I had a go at playing one – they’re meant for playing slide or “bottleneck” style and it’s not something I’d really attempted before.

He told me that he had Parkinson’s disease (he had the characteristic hand tremor) but still persevered in building the instruments. I thought they were quite reasonably priced (probably worth more) and would have been tempted to buy one if I wasn’t just about to set out for a walk on the moors.

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