Flute fury not for faint of heart

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - Linda Gan­nell

THEY say you al­ways re­mem­ber the first time. It was at the Tay­bank Ho­tel in Dunkeld, in the heart of Scot­land’s Perthshire.

The leaves of the sur­round­ing oaks and birches were putting on a show, dis­play­ing their full au­tum­nal glory. And, inside the bar, so was I. With three ex­pe­ri­enced Scot­tish men, in­stru­ments in hand. We were mak­ing sweet mu­sic to­gether and I was in heaven.

Join­ing your first folk mu­sic ses­sion isn’t for the faint-hearted. I’d had my flute for quite a long time (a true wooden folk flute, as it’s just not done to show up with the classical sil­ver model) and a cou­ple of tunes un­der my belt. Still, it’s one thing to get into TheMuckin’o’Ge­ordie’sByre or Mer­ri­lyKis­s­theQuaker’sWife in the pri­vacy of your home. Tak­ing on the Scots on their turf is an­other thing al­to­gether. Ses­sion eti­quette al­ways de­mands a de­gree of hu­mil­ity, so my first notes were ten­ta­tive.

Graeme, a bald­ing bear of a man with glasses and a gui­tar, took me un­der his vo­lu­mi­nous wing and nod­ded en­cour­age­ment. The gnomish Dou­gal, al­though sport­ing a banjo rather than a fish­ing rod, still looked as if he’d just stepped away from his spot by the pond. He gave me a few clues on record­ings to look out for. But for Don­ald, who let his ac­cor­dion do the talk­ing, the mes­sage was clear: just shut up and play.

Who was I to ar­gue with an ac­cor­dion? Don­ald squeezed, Graeme and Dou­gal plucked, and I blew. It was a heady con­coc­tion, this min­gling of sounds in a pub fa­mous for its mu­sic. It was also renowned for its stovies, a con­coc­tion of ran­dom meats and potato cooked in a round dish un­til it no longer re­sem­bled any of its key in­gre­di­ents. A de­scrip­tion sim­i­lar to the mu­sic-mak­ing go­ing on that night, in fact.

As I blun­dered along, oc­ca­sion­ally shin­ing when my ear de­tected a vaguely familiar tune, I dis­cov­ered one of the un­ex­pected at­trac­tions of th­ese ses­sions: free beer for the mu­si­cians. Or Guin­ness, in this case. My whis­tle was wet quite a few times that night and all it cost me was my stage fright. And that dis­ap­peared along with the first pint.

I was an in­no­cent abroad, lov­ing the com­rade­ship of mu­si­cians, sud­denly able to com­mu­ni­cate in an in­ter­na­tional lan­guage. Then I felt a hand on my knee. Graeme seemed keen to speak an­other in­ter­na­tional lan­guage and wanted to know if I’d join him for a drink in Ed­in­burgh that week­end. Was it co­in­ci­dence that we were in the mid­dle of Trip­pin­gupthe Stairs at the time?

I switched tunes to TheHalt­ing March in a po­lite at­tempt to de­flect the ques­tion, but Graeme was ready for me, and launched into Haste­tothe Wed­ding, caus­ing my mid­dle C to shoot up two oc­taves. Mu­si­cal diplo­macy was fail­ing, so I sim­ply smiled, im­ply­ing I hadn’t heard.

The night was wind­ing up, with the Guin­ness and the pa­trons start­ing to make them­selves scarce. Fear­ing the out­break of a last-ditch horn­pipe from Graeme, I fin­ished with Drowsy Mag­gie and Of­fSheGoes, farewelling my mu­si­cal mates. I left com­pletely sated, a ses­sion vir­gin no more and ready to ex­plore the plea­sures of hun­dreds of other mu­si­cal pubs across the land.

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