Here at Core music we host gigs regularly. Here are some of the events we have coming up
Here at Core music we host gigs regularly. Here are some of the events we have coming up
Songs from the Outlands, the debut album by the Brothers Gillespie, James and Sam, was launched in Hexham Abbey in December 2015. Its mostly traditional songs are played on fiddle, flute, shruti box, mandolin and guitar, underpinning harmonies tinted with Borders accents. Listening to the album, few would imagine the rich musical heritage that inspires the Gillespies and on which they’ve drawn once more for their new collection of songs, The Fell.
Growing up in the village of Wall, Northumberland, they were aware of folk music through their parents’ record collection but they were listening to the likes of Led Zeppelin and the Doors as well as Simon and Garfunkel, and the teenage James played with local rock notables The Flicks. But his perspective was wider than twelve bars and three chords would allow and every Friday evening he and Sam would meet with friends in a Haydon Bridge garage to play traditional songs like She Moved Through the Fair alongside Green Day covers.
Bert Jansch, The Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention were among many in the 1960s folk revival that reminded a new generation of its cultural traditions, reinvigorating a musical form that spoke more directly and more intimately than rock and pop. Listening to that voice, the Gillespies felt a connection to folk music. Their influences are now so many and diverse that they struggle to come up with a representative list but the names include Dick Gaughan, Anne Briggs, Leonard Cohen, Kathryn Tickell and Martin Byrnes. As they prepare to launch their second album, The Fell, at Hexham’s Queen’s Hall on December 11th, James and Sam reflect on the melding of sound and place that defines their music.
They relish wildness. The Fell is rooted in their love of the land above Wall, a fell that rewards the steep climb with the magnificent panorama of the North and South Tynes. From here you can see the rivers, valleys and villages that form their stories and their music. “We felt, up there as children, more in touch with what we wanted life to be like,” says James. “Now it feels like an old friend.” That affection shines throughout The Fell, which is almost all original work.
Some songs are old friends. The opener, Golden One, is a tale of finding strength in natural things with a guitar riff Sam wrote as a teenager in Wall. The poem featured in the sleeve notes of Songs from the Outlands is set to music in Northumberland 1 and has long been a concert staple. It is complemented by Northumberland II, a musical setting of a poem by Hexham’s Wilfred Wilson Gibson.
It’s not only Northumberland that inspires: the Gillespies have close links with the mystical area around Dundon in Somerset, where Glastonbury Tor and Cadbury Castle, an ancient site linked with King Arthur’s Camelot, stand over the floodplains of the Levels. Two songs on The Fell come from the love shared between Dundon and Wall. Coventina’s Daughter was written in Somerset but draws on the story of the Celtic water goddess whose temple was at Carrawburgh on Hadrian’s Wall; Wilderness and Wild, which grew from both locations, describes the calling of a community to the soul of a departed child. The Gillespies have fond memories of Somerset: “One of the guys who came to the gig had an ancient cider press in his barn, a creaking old hulk,” says James. “He invited us to breakfast on two pints cider at ten the next morning and we stood round the barrel with a shrine to the Green Man on the wall. It was a distinctly good brew!”
Such experiences are the rich fruits of travelling to perform all over the country. (The less romantic aspects of driving between gigs include camping by the car and getting stuck in the fairground dodgems that constitute traffic in central Paris.) “You have adventures, you have hardships and you have wonderful times,” Sam says, and these emerge in their music. The optimism of Banks of the Liffey comes from Sam’s experience falling asleep by the Dublin river with a friend, beer in hand, and waking with renewed awareness; but it has a sadder side, telling of a community no longer able to pass on its ideals to its young people.
The Gillespies met Tina Louise Rothery, the leader of the Lancashire Nanas anti-fracking group of grandmothers who was threatened with imprisonment for refusing to pay Cuadrilla the £55,000 in legal fees it incurred by taking out an injunction against her. Tina’s Song celebrates her bravery: “It’s almost an historical political ballad song,” says Sam. “It’s also a praise song for their warrior spirit of resistance.” The Fell has strong political threads, James adds: ““There has maybe been a wholesale depoliticisation of music – I sense this is changing.”
The track list of nine is completed by the traditional Scottish ballad The Road to Dundee and Blackberry Blossom, a traditional tune with lyrics by US folk activist Michelle Shocked telling a tale of transformation and loss – another regular on the set list.
Performance is the life blood of musicians but it’s hard work arranging gigs. The Gillespies book their own events – a job ideally for an agent but one they currently squeeze into the spaces between writing and playing. “It’s about building relationships with venues, building networks and lots of emails,” Sam explains. “You really should be on the phone for hours a day.” Recognising that ticket prices may be out of reach, particularly for young people, they admire innovative ways to reach an audience, like crowdfunding and pop-up events.
The house concert is one example of how a community can act: people decide they want to enjoy some music and they simply get musicians to come round to their house and play. Sam recalls one recent house concert in someone’s front room in Hexham. There was no entry fee – a hat was passed round and the proceeds went to the musicians. “What keeps us going are people around the country who help us to organise a gig here and there,” James says. “Communities reaching out are hugely encouraging for the artists and it creates affordable gigs.” It also strengthens the community by creating a shared experience and shared joy in music, and this has the potential to tackle social ills such as loneliness and isolation. “This is a huge part of restoring the value of music, otherwise it’s an expensive way of sitting on a hard chair for a couple of hours.”
So the three years since Songs from the Outlands have been well spent, honing the music for The Fell through performances throughout the country. But these are challenging times for the arts generally and music education in particular. The Gillespies are strong advocates of public support. “We need to celebrate culture, we don’t do enough,” James points out. “Yes, it is important to fund science and engineering but there is a tacit undervaluing of things that engage the imagination. Music education shows young people that it offers a legitimate path, not just something to dabble in before finding a ‘proper job’.”
Music and the arts in general need local cultural activists. Rural Touring (www.ruraltouring.org) is one example of how the efforts of community volunteers can be coordinated to make touring economically viable and the Nest Collective (http://thenestcollective.co.uk) is showing how folk music thrives in non-traditional venues.
So the spirit of folk music is alive and well and positively thriving at the grass roots level – which is arguably the healthiest place for music to thrive. Anyone who has a yearning to join in should pick up an instrument and start now, the Gillespies say.
“Play for the joy of it,” Sam says. “Don’t get bogged down thing you should be at a certain level and don’t worry about comparing yourself with other people. Find people to play with and play on your own as well.”
“Share your music with the wild places,” says James. “River banks and hills enjoy hearing music, even if there’s no people there. It reanimates the landscape.”
After Mariae’s successful workshop at St Aidan’s church in October, here’s another chance to learn some songs from Eastern Europe! Mariae is a Polish-American singer and actor who is highly experienced in voice work and in running workshops. This workshop will look at traditional polyphonic songs, primarily from Ukraine, as well as Serbia.
The workshop will cover breathing, a small introduction to “white voice” singing, which creates the unique sound of Eastern European traditional song. There will be a focus on blending and harmonising one’s voice with other voices, and a chance to improvise vocally.
Whether you’ve been singing your whole life or you’ve never dared to sing outside your shower, come try something new and exciting!
To book your place, email Mariae at email@example.com – spaces are limited, so book ASAP
Ages 16 and up
Please bring water to drink
Mariae Smiarowska is a Polish-American actress and singer. She trained with Ecoles Jacques Lecoq in Paris and with Song of the Goat Theatre in Wroclaw, Poland, where she led vocal courses and workshops over the last few years. Mariae collaborates with various artistic collectives, such as the Jubilo Foundation and IP Group in Wroclaw, as well as Théâtre Sans Frontières in England as an actor and singer.
For the last couple of months, Steve Gray’s been running a twice-monthly session for beginners on the mountain dulcimer. Because it’s been so much fun (and because there were a few people who couldn’t make the current run of sessions), Steve’s going to be running another 6 sessions in the New Year.
The sessions will be 7.15–8.15 pm on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, starting on 9 January 2019.
If you’re not familiar with the mountain dulcimer, check out some videos on YouTube to experience the sweet sound and see how simple they are to play.
If you’d like to book a place on Steve’s New Year dulcimer sessions, drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s just £30 for the 6 sessions, payable in advance; there are only 5 places available, so book soon!