Tag Archives: folk music

About that Hardanger Fiddle Thing….

joe coolA friend recently said to me, “Wendy, how can you be so cool and not cool at the same time?” Being of an analytical persuasion of mind, I had to figure it out. Here are my best guesses as to why it’s true: I’m not really cool.

1) Cotton trousers with elasticized waistbands and big floppy sweaters – I like and wear them. Especially when I’m writing, because they are so comfortable to sit in. And let’s face it, writing is a whooooooole lotta sitting. But then I get up to say hi to customers, or do housekeeping stuff, or make a quick run to the grocery, and people look at me like “Oh honey, where’s your carer?”

2) All you need to take me down is a Hardanger fiddle. Back in my youth,  friends who knew me well were astonished to discover I was dating the guitar player instead of the guy doing Hardanger. (But then they met Jack, and understood.) Still, to this day when I hear a good prairie fiddle going, forget the wine and flowers; you won’t need jewelry. Play Hardanger and you will have to beat me off with a bodhran stick. Which you will want to do, given that I’m in a baggy sweater and elastic waistband trousers.

3) I rescue cats. Yeah, say crazy cat lady. Say it again, a little closer…

4) Four days in seven, my hair winds up in a bun. (Go ahead: laugh. I’ll wait.) I like having long hair, but it’s not practical in a bookstore. If you’ve ever caught your long, swinging loose hair between two books just as you’re stacking them in a large group on a shelf – well, you know what a life-changing experience that can be. Not to mention neck-snapping. So, I wear my hair in a bun. Although I have learned never, ever to wear a blue jeans skirt and trainers. It doesn’t matter how swoopy your earrings are, how big and bold your watch; people will glance over, assume “Church of God,” and you will never get out of that labeled bottle again.

5) My favorite number to hear men sing along to is The Proclaimers’ 500 Miles. Lightly inebriated guys trying to bellow “DA-DA-DAT-DAHHHHH” in sync and with some resemblance to an established key–ah me, is there anything cuter? Especially if they’re singing to some girl sitting with them. Ah, sweetness. (BTW I have never been to a karaoke bar. These displays were at festivals.)

6) And the kiss of death: I use the word “cool” in casual conversation. :]

Not cool, but still havin’ fun –  I think I’ll get that put on a t-shirt.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Wendy Welch, writing

Play it Again, Mike

heritageJack’s weekly guest blog
For more than fifteen years I was the lead singer and back-up guitarist in a Celtic band called ‘Heritage’. Although we were never more than middle-weights in the traditional music scene, we had a lot of fun traveling Europe’s musical gig trail.
The glory days are over and we’ve gone our separate ways, yet some band members keep in touch. Our piper/whistler/keyboard player Mike Ward, who still lives in Scotland, came for a month’s visit to the bookshop two years ago.
Mike has always had a special affinity for Brittany (in NW France, one of the seven recognized Celtic Nations) so has kept up with friends there since the tour days. He recently sent a news report about the sad fate of Pontivy Castle, one of the places where we had played. A lengthy downpour undermined a section, and it collapsed.
This sad event led to much reminiscing between us about the various times we’d been to Brittany – including playing the biggest Pan-Celtic festival in the world, at Lorien. Ah, the magnificent sound of Bagad Kemper, with its combination of highland bagpipes, bombardes, binious and drums; hurdy-gurdy bands of women in regional costumes; wonderful food and drink; and the warm hospitality of Bretons toward their Celtic cousins.
Of course Mike, who studied for the priesthood, never lets me forget the time I stumbled in my faulty French through requesting that two young women pose for a photograph ‘au naturel’ (in other words, nude). We recalled the late great piper Gordon Duncan sitting backwards astride a motorcycle, playing the pipes like a child of Pan as the bike roared through the Lorien’s main streets. Perhaps our favorite was the gig at the Palais de Congress, where the sound desk smoked and sparked all the way through. (Or maybe that’s just the gig we’re most grateful to have survived–no, that would be the one where we kept throwing our cigarettes behind us as we played on a German naval boat, only to find afterward that munitions were stored in that space.)
As you can tell from these memories, we were never equal to the Beatles, but we had some fine musicians on board and even merited an article in the US folk music magazine ‘Dirty Linen,’ by Steve Winick. It was Steve that I met for the first time in person, at my birthday dinner last week in DC.
Which is really the reason behind this blog. Who knew that a castle in 1980 would lead to two friends connecting in the US in 2014? Yet there sat Steve with his lady Jennifer, chatting away with Wendy and me as though we’d know each other since birth. I love these connections through my music, and that so many of them continue. Like books, music keeps the world at large turning, and my personal circle of connections turning in very happy ways. I am a blessed man.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized

Wayfaring Strangers

 Jack’s weekly guest post –

Regulars will probably know that I have a certain interest in traditional music, which for me anyway, means music of particular cultures that has stood the test of time even while it is evolving and developing. It can be purely instrumental or ballads and songs and can be from anywhere, although my personal specialty is Scottish songs.

When I used to sing with my old band ‘Heritage’ we traveled ’round Europe over fifteen years playing festivals and doing regional tours and we heard wonderful music from all sorts of interesting cultural corners.

While I’ve been presenting my weekly music program ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ on WETS.fm from Johnson City in TN for the last five years, I’ve also been developing an understanding of the links between Appalachian music and its Celtic forebears. For six years I was a staff member on the Swannanoa Gathering Celtic Week at Warren-Wilson College near Asheville NC and that was a wonderful opportunity to engage with others, all of whom had an equal enthusiasm for those links.

More recently I’ve been fortunate to be part of the team organizing ‘Big Stone Celtic’ – our annual celebration of all the Celtic nations modeled on small town traditional festivals back in the ‘auld countries’.

So, what do I think this has to say to us in the age of electronics and fifty years after the last ‘folk-boom’? Maybe that there is still an appreciation for  music and songs that aren’t designed carefully to pick your pocket, or that do chime with a basic human need, or maybe that resonate with a distant memory buried deep within us.

Perhaps you can see from the above that I’m quite passionate about this. So I’m planning a weekend retreat down here from Friday April 25th through Sunday April 27th at the beautiful farmhouse of friends who live just outside Big Stone Gap. The focus will be Scottish ballads and songs and we’ll be working on repertoire, program balance, accompaniments, sources, sound systems and lots more. There’ll be comfortable accommodation, great food and a ceilidh at the bookstore. Although it’s aimed at singers we’ll make sure that non-singers will have plenty to interest them as well.

If you would like to know more – jbeck69087@aol.com or 276-523-5097


Filed under Uncategorized

Celtic Christmas VI

Last night was one of our personal favorite events here at the bookstore: the annual Celtic Christmas celebration. This year was a bit more low-key than usual; planning often starts around Halloween, but with the book coming out in October we crowdsourced. Instead of making and freezing foods from Galicia, Brittany, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, we put out a “Come all ye” to regulars, who brought various foods. Our friends are great cooks, but their offerings required some spin once they landed on the table. On the one hand, Heather Richards’ beautiful mince pies easily represented Cornwall, but on the other we had oatmeal raisin cookies from the grocery.mincemeat pie

Galicia… they grow grapes there, right? And what could be more Scottish than oatmeal? So.

Organized chaos or not, it was a fun night with some regulars and some newbies; the mix it attracts is part of the fun of Celtic Christmas in the first place. The first-timers quickly settled in to the idea that they would be singing along in phonetically reproduced Irish Gaelic and Welsh, and a good time was had by all. Enjoy the photos; there are more on our FB page, taken by the talented Elissa Powers (who has her own FB photo page as elp6n. Her dachshund portraits are lovely.)

bud in harp


scots christmas story






dulcimer and guitar

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Filed under Uncategorized

Back to the Future in Greenwich Village

In a far off galaxy many years ago – – –

I (Jack) was part of the emerging Scottish folk-music scene at around the same time that like-minded young Americans were heading for Greenwich Village to discover much the same buzz and counter-culture. In the early 1960s, subversiveness had a musical soundtrack. My Edinburgh-centered version had little direct musical connection with its American cousin, other than very occasional imported albums and songs heard 2nd or 3rd hand from the likes of Archie Fisher or Josh McCrae, but the undercurrent of questioning authority and plotting the green revolution was similar. In my case there was also a Pete Seeger concert in Edinburgh and a stage shared with Carolyn Hester in Aberdeen.

But I had never been to Greenwich Village – until last Saturday, that is!

Finding ourselves in New York and asked what we’d like to see, Wendy gave me a grin and said, “Greenwich Village.” And so I got my picture taken standing in Bleeker Street, then McDougal Street and finally in Washington Square Park. An old ghost had been laid to rest; a place that had assumed near-mythic proportions in my mind was beneath my feet and in my view. Although the area has no doubt changed a lot—we saw boutique shops and chain stores where some of the old folkie corners had once questioned how we lived our lives—the buildings are mostly unaltered, the cellars still there though fulfilling a different function.

It was a lovely day out for this child of the sixties, to see where the great ‘Folk Scare’ was rooted and the park where the ‘revolution’ was plotted as young musicians who would later become household names gathered to jam.

Finally, the following morning we shared breakfast with our hosts, including Nichole’s father-in-law, Harvey. (Nichole is Wendy’s editor at St. Martin’s Press.) It turned out that he had been to the NYC parties back in those days when Bob Dylan had also attended. Conversation at the table took us both back to respective youth and shared cultural signposts. I was able to reminisce about attending Dylan’s 1966 Edinburgh concert, just 2 days before the famous ‘Judas’ accusation in Manchester.

A very happy and poignant experience for Harvey and Jack, a couple of old folkies tripping down the musical lane of memories!

(The photo on the right is of me at the corner of Bleeker and McDougal Streets, with Wendy’s agent Pamela at left, thoughtfully keeping Wendy from being killed as she steps into the street to photograph me!)


Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized