Flute fury not for faint of heart
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.