Category Archives: folklore and ethnography

An Irish Observation

Jack hits the ground running and gets his blog post out on time – –

On St Patrick’s Day I’m taking the liberty of copying a quote from a message I received this morning from a friend.

Music is what language would be if it could. It returns us, in sometimes fleeting but sustaining moments to our true and highest selves. Ireland has a significant store of traditional music and there is a great diversity of style and nuance. Each region has a distinctive tradition. One can hear the contours of the landscape shape the tonality and spirit of the music. The memory of the people is echoed in the refrains. Traditional Irish music can be joyous and lively. The reels, jigs, hornpipes, polkas and slides have tremendous energy and passion. In the slow airs and ballads the wistfulness of loss and sorrow is piercing. When one considers the history of suffering the Irish have endured through colonization, famine and emigration, it is fascinating that our music has such heart. Indeed some of the greatest and most distinctive Irish music developed among Irish emigrants, especially in America, and must have been one of their few shelters in exile.  Arriving in a strange land and having to work hard, far away from their family, friends and home landscapes, their music must have opened secret doors in  memory and allowed the heart to come home again. There was a sense that music is a homecoming. When they felt lost and forsaken, they rejoiced in this universal language that crosses all frontiers and barriers.

 The music of the people offers a unique entry into their unconscious life. The tenor of what haunts and delights becomes audible there. The cry of the people is in their music. The mystery of the music is its uncanny ability to coax harmony out of contradiction and chaos. And always there is an abiding kind of vitality and sustaining integrity to the music. I know of friends of mine who when they play, they are unreachable. You cannot find them. They are serving the music. They are in another place.

 So music does not touch merely the mind and senses; it engages that ancient and primal presence we call soul. The soul is never fully at home in the social world we inhabit. It is too large for our contained, managed lives. It reminds us that we are children of the eternal and that our time on earth is meant to be a pilgrimage of growth, creativity and finding beauty. This is what music inspires. It evokes a world where that ancient beauty can resonate within us again. The eternal echoing of music reclaims us for a while for our true longing.

  • John O’Donohue, 1956 – 2008


Filed under between books, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

When the Saints go – – –

Jack gets in over the wire for a change with the Wednesday guest post –

There are often events that are described as marking the end of an era, and the death yesterday of Chris Barber certainly seems like that for me. The path that led me to a love of Scottish traditional songs and music started, as it did for many others of my generation, with the New Orleans style jazz popular all over Britain in the 1950s and 60s.

Popular bands including those led by Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball regularly topped the hit parade with numbers like ‘Stranger on the Shore’ and ‘Midnight in Moscow’. But the Chris Barber Band was by leaps and bounds ahead of all the others.

The original line-up was really just the Ken Colyer Band minus Colyer, with Barber becoming the leader and Pat Halcox replacing Colyer. The story is that the members of the band wanted to experiment with music from outside the strict confines of New Orleans and that led to the split. The first big hit for the Barber band was ‘Petite Fleur’ featuring clarinetist Monty Sunshine and that brought the band to a much wider audience. Then the guitar/banjo player with the band, Lonnie Donegan, began interspersing blues and old-time American songs between the band’s instrumentals. One of these – ‘Rock Island Line’ even topped the US charts!

However Barber himself was very much in charge and stamped his personality on the band from start to finish although that seems to have been necessary with personnel changes over the years. Despite these changes the sound remained recognizable. They had always had a broader repertoire than other bands of the period, including pieces by Count Basie and Duke Ellington and this became more evident as additional players were added. There was a period in the 60s when he ran a London club called The Marquee where modern jazz would often feature with folk like Tubby Hayes and Johnny Dankworth, and this, I’m sure was how the Barber band got the inspiration for their broader approach. At that same time he was bringing blues artists from the US and touring with them as well as putting them on in the Marquee. That was how he and Donegan became the ‘firelighters’ for the likes of the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and even the Beatles.

The last time I saw the band was around 2007 at the Burnley Mechanics Theater in Lancashire and by that time they had become ‘The Big Chris Barber Band’ but Pat Halcox was still there on trumpet and Chris Barber on trombone. They were both in their late seventies but you wouldn’t have known it! What I loved about that concert is that they had a section in the middle where everyone except the basic seven piece New Orleans outfit left the stage and we were transported back to the 1950s for half an hour.

I think my lasting impression of the man is the curious mixture of uninhibited playing and very English laid back humor, always delivered in an immaculate suit and tie!

RIP Chris and thanks for everything!

PS – here’s a track from an early album I still have that I bought when it came out in 1959 –

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Filed under between books, blue funks, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch