|Monday February 26 2007|
The 800 and 8 mile road to bliss...
I'll spare you the details as to our 800 mile journey through Holland, Belgium, France, England, Wales and the Irish Sea to remind ourselves why we play this strange and wonderful thing called Irish Music. Let's just say that on Wednesday we arrived in Wexford town, tired, thirsty and slightly disorientated.
Having found a B&B, we were in severe need of a pint and strolled (with a slight detour due to afore mentioned disorientation) to a pub in town called The Sky and Ground where it was said there would be a session on Wednesday. Coming to grips with the fact we were actually in Ireland was made somewhat difficult by a small group of tourists from France who proceeded to confuse the only two musicians present, by flashing so many cameras from every possible angle so's that stars danced before our already weary eyes. When the two poor maestros finally understood that no amount of eyebrow-raising was going to deter these enthusiasts, they played a few French favorites and called it a day. We decided it would be best to finish our pints, have some fish and chips and go to sleep and find a session in Kilrush the next day.
Evertjan remembered a grand old session in a pub he forgot the name of and maybe another one in a place called Crotty's. Having checked into Buggles B&B, the owner subsequently told us that the nameless pub was closed for the year and that there probably wasn't any music to be had at all, it not being summer and all…Somewhat forlorn we stood on the small square of the spookily empty town wondering if the musical Ireland of our memory was folded up and packed away neatly for the entire winter.We decided not to give up and went into Crotty's to investigate as to the whereabouts of all the musicians and whether they had all gone into hibernation on the Costa Brava.
It seemed so…until we managed to dig up some information from some people sitting at the bar in a pub called the Dugout, just up the road. The man we talked to turned out to be the owner of our B&B and told us there might be a session to be had in Creegh in a pub called Walshe's on the road to Miltown Malbay, 8 miles from Kilrush.
Walsh's, CreeghBack at the B&B the man who let us in seemed to have turned in to a rather nice lady who confirmed that indeed there was a lovely session in Creegh and told us we would have a great time should one Tom Carey be there, the areas legendary concertina player. By this time it was pitch dark outside and the smoke of many turf fires swirled through the night air. The road to Creegh could only barely be called thus because it would be only slightly more difficult having to drive our car over 8 miles of steel spikes. Sheer determination and the overwhelming need for a session finally got us to the middle of nowhere which was in fact in the middle of Creegh.
At this point you would expect me to write something along the lines of…we entered the small smoky pub, sat down and had a pint…but since smoking is banned on pain of an incredible fine of 3000 euros…we entered the very small terribly clear-aired pub, sat down and had a pint anyway. There seemed to be no musicians and we were starting to worry because time was edging closer to 11 and pubs in Ireland close at 11…or do they...? Through a little hatch in the wall between the two tiny rooms of the pub I suddenly spotted the neck of a banjo and I decided to stick my face through and see what was going on. Turns out that most of the customers were in fact musicians and had already smuggled in their fiddles, pipes, banjos and whatnot. There would be a session…
Getting in to a session in Ireland is tricky business if you don't want to come across as a total plonker. The best thing is to get invited by some one who for some reason or other is able to translate the eager look in your eye to an understanding that you are a musician and would like to play. We stood and listened for a while until I was given the winks from a very fun-filled old man who played tin-whistle. He asked me to come and talk to him and when I went over he whispered a question in my ear I won't forget for the rest of my life…"do you have a concertina"? When I had got over the initial wonderment thinking of whether I looked like a concertina player and then asking myself just exactly what a concertina player looked like, I told him we merely played flute and pipes. At hearing my somewhat muddled response his smile broadened and he ordered us to get our things from the car. Room was made in the circle of musicians near the turf fire. I thought I would just listen in first and wait for some familiar tunes to come along. No such modesty was required…silence was ordered and I looked up to find quite a lot of people smiling and staring at me expectantly. I was to play a tune immediately and totally alone….ah…I see…right…err…yes…ahem…at which point my brain decided to leave me and have a drink at the bar.
A tune was played anyway…played quite well…having nothing whatsoever to do with my abilities as a player. The flute Evertjan made in Frysland apparently instantaneously developed a personality of it's own and recognized that we were in the right country now and decided it didn't need me anymore and was going to have a tune all by itself…oh good, I'll just go and have a pint then….
Evertjan couldn't get his pipes into the small room and thus extended the session into the back by playing one of his own airs, stunning all into applause and breaking the remains of the ice.
Tom Carey, 2nd from rightA little later a smallish man with a concertina, we hadn't noticed at first, got up, turned out to be Tom Carey and quite huge. He welcomed us again with enormous warmth and kept us going on the songs and tunes. We seemed to be alone in the room with him and found ourselves playing for him alone. When he proclaimed he'd never heard such talent there was a cry of protest from the bar where woman with white-blonde hair was sitting in a corner. After some coaxing she was given a tin-whistle and proceeded to play up a magnificent storm of tunes. When she threatened to stop, since, as she scowled, no one was going to dance anyway, the old man, also called Tom, who had invited us into the session got up and coincidentally happened to have his dancing shoes on. They positioned themselves opposite each other and the white haired woman played again. Sparks flew off the heels of probably-78-year-old-Tom's shoes as he tapped and turned with the grace and speed of a young stag in springtime, all the while keeping eye contact with the whistle lady. The tune finished, they threw their arms about each other and everyone burst into applause and laughter...magic…
We had almost forgotten the fact we were both heavy smokers and when the nicotine-addiction did get the best of us we went outside for the obligatory puff. It was cold, but since the smoking ban, little shelter constructions, often provided with heaters, seats and sometimes even a TV-set, have grown out of the sides of pubs everywhere. While we were trying to rid ourselves of our unhealthy urges the following conversation occurred alongside us between a local woman and her date for the night:
She: Have you got a problem with my behaviour or som'in'?
He: That's my business….(mumble)
She: Oh, so you think I'm behaving like an idiot, do ye?
He: …err…That's your business…(mumble)
She: I'm not scared of you ye know, I'll take ye outside!!
He: …we are outside…(smirk)
She: I'll bloody take ye further outside!!!
We would have burst into laughter were it not that I chanced to look at her face and saw she was dead serious!! Which didn't help much...
The night came to a quiet and lovely end as we all played some sweet stuff to see everyone home. Everything worked so well and seemed to sound a million times better than at home…Tom Carey wouldn't stop shaking our hands for all the fun he'd had. He made us swear we would ring him if we were to go to the Friday session in Kilrush, for he said he wouldn't go if we wouldn't. We promised…When we left he bar some one came up behind us and told us Tom Carey is battling cancer and we hope he is keeping well and hope to see him again next time round to play him some more tunes…
This would be a good point to end the story…but I wouldn't keep from you that we'd forgotten to go to the bathroom for all the excitement and I decided I'd had enough to drink for a pee in the bushes along the road in the freezing cold. I stepped out of the car laughing manically about something I can't remember and walked straight into the slush filled ditch under the shrubbery and got wet up to my knees. Not because of the height of the waterline but more so because I was now doubled over in a fit laughing at myself. I would have asked Evertjan for help, but he was in no condition to help anyone as he was hanging out one side of the car, helplessly shaking with laughter at my ridiculous attempts at getting out of the ditch again. How we got home I don't remember…I'm just glad I wasn't driving…