Welcome to the Dragon Folk Club

Welcome to the official blog of the Dragon Folk Club, which meets for a singers night every Friday at The Bridge Inn, Shortwood, Bristol. Everyone is welcome whether you sing, play or just listen.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Zoom zoom

A graphic swirl effect
(Photo: Simon Meeds)
Despite having had no Dragon Folk Club meetings since March I thought it was about time I wrote something. So what has been happening?

The folk world has gone virtual, at least temporarily. Many folkies have been posting videos of themselves singing on various platforms, many folk artists have been putting on virtual gigs and real gigs, usually with a streaming option, are just starting. Maybe the biggest change though is that vast numbers of people have been joining virtual sing-arounds and sessions. The most popular mechanism for these quickly emerged as Zoom.

Before the pandemic Zoom was a little known platform. You could join a meeting (for that was its intent) without an account, you could create a free account which would allow you to host a meeting of up to 40 minutes or you could pay a subscription which would allow you to host practically unlimited meetings (I think the limit is actually 24 hours).

People quickly found that Zoom has a hidden option for "original sound" which disables processing used in speech calls for suppressing background noise but which considers instruments to be such an annoyance. While some folkies may agree with that sentiment, without "original sound" selected the effect of even voice with guitar accompaniment can be somewhat disturbing.

In my limited experience, some sessions discourage talking but encourage the use of text "chat" if participants want to discuss a song, others encourage talk between songs but discourage "chat" while someone is singing, and still others use the "chat" channel copiously not just for personal chat but for showing all sorts of information, including the lyrics of a song while it is sung, a bit like a real-time version of this blog.

It's notable that with the exception of your scribe and for various reasons the core community of the Dragon Folk Club has avoided these Zoom sessions but that doesn't mean that some of our extended family haven't got involved.

The first Zoom sessions I attended were in place of Terry H's Monday lunchtime sessions at The Beaufort Hunt, Chipping Sodbury. They are still going on in their virtual mode but now every week instead of alternate Mondays and slightly extended to 12:00 to 15:30. Regulars include not only Terry H himself but Rose, Kath, Tom, Gary and Helen. Terry C also attended a few but has stopped recently.

I have met new friends at these sessions too including Rosie Upton, who I think I have seen before. In recent weeks Terry H has been visiting family in Switzerland, now returned, and Rosie very ably filled in as MC. Here

I think it was here also that I first met Steve "Anidsaw" who now seems to pop up at any on-line session you can find. At first I suspected he was crazy but in fact he's just a nice bloke whose eccentrically brilliant musical act with added tadpole - and a rabbit called Custard - is very entertaining. If you haven't seen him perhaps you ought to.

Terry H's session is by invitation only but I am sure any DFC regular can get one quite easily by contacting Terry.

The next session I joined was A Sunday Song, a virtual placeholder for the monthly session at The Star in Bath, again turned weekly. This is run by Rob Winder and Chris Timson. I had met Rob previously at the Bath Acoustic Club which is how I got invited. No invitation is now required as you can find details for joining on the club's Facebook page though it's best to make yourself known before the session as Chris acts as gatekeeper. These sessions are predictably on Sundays, starting quirkily at 8:40 they can end anywhere between midnight and 2:30am but don't worry, people duck in and out as their whim and degree of tiredness dictate.

I've never (yet) been to The Star but I was welcomed with open arms at this mainly singers session with some accompaniment and occasional instrumentals.

Partly because of me I suppose these two sessions have seen many of the same people turn up as well as some different ones. Another couple who are seen at both are Jeff and Elaine Gillett from Stroud, turning up "in Bath" often after a session "in Cheltenham".

The third session I have started joining is that run for Mudcat Café by Joe Offer from California, USA and Noreen Keene from Worcestershire, UK. Already you can see this is a very international affair. It joined by people from all over the USA (including Alaska), Canada, the UK, Denmark and more. It starts with pre-session chat 7:30pm UK time and goes on... well it goes on until everyone left standing has sung two songs and Joe has sung his two songs plus a "lullaby" to finish.

The finish time is generally around 1:30am or 2am UK time. Again dropping in and out is quite normal. There are often over 50 singers drop in at some time during the session and having Googled a few of them there are plenty of interesting characters of the folk and other worlds! The link for the session is put on Mudcat Café and on its Facebook page just a couple of hours before the start of proceedings, and Joe operates an email list for earlier warning if you want it - ask him to add you to the list. This session really is eclectic and there are some very knowledgeable people on it, not to say there aren't some on the other sessions already mentioned.

At this point I should probably mention a gentleman going under the pseudonym of Storm. He is a stalwart of the Mudcat session but, like Steve A, he can turn up anywhere at any time, whatever his local clock might say. He writes poetry and songs and it turns out knew Pete Seeger quite well.

It was Storm, who lives in Massachusetts, who told me about a list of more on-line sessions based in Boston, MA. I haven't attended any of these but it might be worth a look. Another resource if you are looking for something is Folklife West. But once you are on a couple of sessions you will find people mention invitations quite regularly.

To finish this over-long blog report I will say that virtual sessions aren't the same as real sessions. You provide the beer or other refreshment but you drink it in the comfort of your own home. You don't get to see a new venue but then you save on transport costs. Because of the delays introduced among other things by the round-trip to Zoom's servers in the USA you can't sing together (there are ways but not on Zoom) but if you do decide to sing while on mute it doesn't matter if your harmonies or your banjo accompaniment sound out of place because only you will hear them. Most of all, you get to "meet" and hear singers who you would probably never find in real life. There are suggestions that people will continue with these virtual sessions at some level even when real sessions restart and I for one will welcome that though maybe I won't go for quite so many late nights, and certainly not as many as Steve A and Storm are doing!

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Strange times

Coventry Cathedral's Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane seen through
a crown of thorns made from iron (Photo:Simon Meeds)
There will be no Dragon Folk Club Session this Friday or until further notice because of government advice relating to the CORVID-19 pandemic. We will use all the usual channels to keep people informed when we reopen.

Last Friday's session involved just the core members and there was no theme. Colin kicked things off with Steve Knightley's Galway Farmer, partly because it was the last day of Cheltenham Festival and partly because Mike likes it.

Simon had been carrying Harry Robertson's Wee Dark Engine Room (the words that is, not the room nor the stove) around with him since St David's day since "whales", "coal" and "gold" all provided very tenuous links. He didn't sing it then, so he brought it out now.

Geoff's first song of the evening was the The Lakes Of Ponchartrain (Roud 1836, Laws H9) and Mike gave us Keith Marsden's Bring Us A Barrel.

Derek said he had looked down the listings of Radio 4's Sunday programmes and noted that the theme of the Sunday Worship programme was "The Woman at the Well of Living Water", which he interpreted as "The widow at the well". He hoped therefore to find something of interest, maybe a performance by a traditional singer? He was disappointed to find that the hymns would be "I heard the voice of Jesus say" and "Tell out my soul". He made up for this omission by singing The Well Below The Valley (Roud 2553, Child 21).

Colin pointed out that it was the sixteenth anniversary of the death of Sydney Carter, and therefore sang three songs written by him: My Last Cigarette, Crow On The Cradle, and The Ballad Of George Fox.

Geoff added some brightness to proceedings with UK one hit wonder, Jerry Keller's Here Comes Summer.

Derek was meanwhile going for a body count. He claimed a million from a song which seems to be related to the Whiffenpoof Song and Kipling's Gentlemen Rankers, but is neither of those - similar in some ways to though Gunboat Sailors which is also derived from them.

Anyway, back on the body count, his research suggested adding about 300,000 from The Bonny Bunch Of Roses (Roud 664, Laws J5).

Mike also claimed a large body count, though at the time of singing he wasn't aware of the game, from The Battle Of Sowerby Bridge. He claimed indeed that it was the anniversary of the battle but the song claims it was on the 44th March! The historical event however seems to have occurred on 4th January 1644.

Simon's poor effort added only two bodies (not really a laughing matter) with Bob Geldof's I Don't Like Mondays. Recently retired teacher, Derek pointed out that this song didn't resonate with him in quite the way it had done when it was sung previously.

Mike continued to unwrap the body bags with his own song, Away To The Western Front. He claimed all the deaths at the front in the First World War. It was then suggested that he might add all those who died subsequently in the Spanish Flu pandemic, started as it was among the soldiers - and incidentally had nothing to do with Spain or the Spanish.

Geoff's voice took us for a tour of his boots, much to Mike's delight since his voice is always happiest in the depths, singing Wandr'in' Star (Alan J Lerner, Frederick Loewe). Finally, it was Mike who finished the evening off with Roll Alabama Roll (Roud 4710).

Keep safe in these strange times. Look after yourself and keep singing, even if it's only to yourself.

Now listen to a selection of songs sung during this session.

(Number of people present - 5, of whom 5 performed)

Important announcement

(Photo: Simon Meeds)
Like many similar events, Dragon Folk Club is cancelled until further notice. I will get a report of last week's meeting out shortly.

Keep looking here and on our Facebook page for developments.

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Not all talk

Simon & Garfunkel at Schiphol Airport,
the Netherlands in 1966
Despite being reduced to four this week, we had a good session. Apart from being reduced in numbers of people we were also reduced in numbers of songs because we gravitated to chat as much as to music. That's the way it goes sometimes.

Colin started with a joke about flies, which led to Simon and Derek also telling jokes on an entomological theme. Derek's joke reminded Mike of another, about a mouse, which he told despite it having almost exactly the same punchline.

Finally, Colin got down to singing, not about insects but about a shark, in fact The Chivalrous Shark (Wallace Irwin). Perhaps Simon met that creature in the middle of the Atlantic while Sailing To Philadelphia with Mark Knopfler?

Mike marked the recent 50th anniversary of the release by Simon & Garfunkel of the album Bridge over troubled water, singing the longer, traditional version of Scarborough Fair (Roud 12, Child 2). Scarborough Fair/Canticle wasn't on that album but on Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme from 1966. Based on a version Simon heard sung by Martin Carthy while living in the UK. Carthy in turn had picked it up from a songbook by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. The only significant contribution from Simon to the writing was the words to the Canticle counterpoint, originally an anti-war song called The Side Of A Hill which he wrote in 1963. Famously the Scarborough Fair track is alleged to have led to a feud between Carthy and Simon which, if it ever existed, is now apparently over.

Derek said he had a Welsh song left over from the previous week's St David's Day session, so he sang Swansea Town (Roud 165).

Colin introduced a song which I hadn't heard before, a sort of temperance parody of Hey John Barleycorn (Roud 2141) called Non Barleycorn.

Derek returned to another old theme, one he set for himself two weeks before of Ned Kelly or more generally Australian bushrangers. On this theme he had two fresh songs: Moreton Bay (Roud 2537) and Jim Jones At Botany Bay (Roud 5478).

Sorry, there doesn't appear to be a YouTube video of Mike's Bristol Jack Of All Trades, so we'll have to make do with the Dublin version (Roud 3017).

Colin couldn't find the tune of Take Your Time (Pete Mundey) so he changed to The Owl And The Pussycat (Edward Lear) - I have no idea whether the linked video has the same tune as Colin sang. It turned out that Take Your Time was a song that mike had been used to singing many years ago and that having forgotten all but the first verse, he had failed to find any more words. Borrowing Colin's sheet of words, that became his next song.

Derek told of how he had heard a lady sing Queen Eleanor's Confession (Roud 74) with increasingly over-the-top reactions from the King in each verse. That is therefore how he performed it, much to the dismay of our canine member, Indie who probably thought there was someone else in the room with a loud bark. I struggled to find a video of anyone singing with even half the vigour which Derek displayed; so many sing it as though the King was barely even slightly perturbed . The best I could do was this version from go-to folky vlogger, Raymond Crooke (Raymond's website).

It was Derek who finished off the first half with a rendition of The Hoily Rig, from the repertoire and possibly the pen of Bob Roberts).

Usually at this point, if not before, Mike and canine companion Indie pack up and go home to Maggie, "The Missus", but on this occasion conversation flowed.

I think it started with discussion of Mike's last song, The Rochester Recruiting Sergeant, written by Pete Coe and based on found fragments of The Bold Fusilier (there goes Raymond Crooke for the third time this week!). It moved on to the role of officers of the Glosters going off to various conflicts around the world (including the American Civil War and the Mexican War) to see fair play.

We heard that one such Gloster officer joined up in the USA and formed that country's only ever wholly black regiment. This slightly bizarrely led to talk of the founding of a bar in Massachusetts in the early 20th century by a gay couple and on to various other subjects which I can't say I remember. By the time Mike made it out of the door all this interesting chat had left us with barely five minutes before the end of the session.

We were about to close up for the night when Simon offered a reading of a letter sent by his great-great-great-uncle, Tunnard Dickinson, who had emigrated from Lincolnshire to Ohio. The letter was written on 28 January 1849 and among other things mentions the Mexican war of which Mike had spoken. With that the session ended.

There will be no theme at this Friday's session but be prepared for our St Patrick's Day theme the following week, on 20 March. Performances with more or less of a link to Ireland or St Patrick will be very welcome but don't worry, our themes are always voluntary and pretty much anything goes as long as it's acoustic.

Now listen to a selection of songs sung during this session.

(Number of people present - 4, of whom 4 performed)

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

St David's Day 2020

Senedd building, Cardiff (Photo: Simon Meeds)
Just two days early, we convened for a St David's Day session. Mel, on his third, and we hope now regular, visit to the club was our token Welshman. He was joined by occasional visitors Chris S, Steve C and Jane, all most welcome.

Colin was absent, still looking after his wife, to whom we naturally send our best wishes, so Simon filled in as MC and asked Derek, who had narrowly beaten him to the pub, to start off the session.

Derek offered up a version of Lord Randall (Roud 10, Child 12), which he performed partly in Welsh.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Unexpected but welcome visitors

Ned Kelly on 10 November 1880,
the day before his execution
Well, last week's Dragon Folk Club session was different, in mostly good ways. Colin's wife has been ill and while she is happily recovering it was not unexpected that he was a little late arriving, so Simon took over as MC for the evening.

Mike was the first of the regulars to arrive and found five, yes five, people already present. They were a group of four ladies, Sheila, Carol, Angela and Kay, who were accompanied by non-singer Tony, who I believe to be Sheila's husband. They weren't totally unknown because Mike knew Tony and Sheila and I understand that Angela had visited the Dragon Folk Club at least once before. They were however entirely unexpected and would be very welcome to come again as many times as they wish, just remember that our official starting time is 8:15pm - the music usually starts at around 8:30pm.

Since our visitors had already been singing, Simon asked them to perform two of their songs to start off the first circuit of the room. It turned out that as a group they had only practised twice and only officially had two songs which were The Fields Of Athenry (Pete St John) and Act Naturally (Johnny Russell, Voni Morrison).

Monday, 17 February 2020

Valentine's Day 2020

(Photo: Simon Meeds)
At our Valentine's Day session it was great to see Mel return for his second visit and even better that he indicated it is likely to become a regular occurrence. There were many songs of love and/or lust and a few which were simply calendar-relevant.

Colin, our MC, started things off with Jan Knuckey.

Let's get out of the way the songs which referred to the calendar rather than to love and lust. The ones I spotted were Mike's Last Valentine's Day (Roud 6475) and Derek's Bold Princess Royal (Roud 528, Laws K29).

Simon's slightly sideways glance at Valentine started with reminiscences of a love lost with Harvey Andrews' Margarita. Mike's more conventional approach, if with some playing hard-to-get was Come Write Me Down (Roud 381).