|(Photo: Simon Meeds)|
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!