It's been a busy week with two pub sessions, two gigs, one Wod rehearsal, a late night jam in a hotel bar and a tune sesh with a cream tea. The cream tea was in honour of Colin's birthday (bassist with Telling the Bees), and we duly ate cake and scones in his honour, on a warm and sunny afternoon by the canal at Pigeon's Lock (it's a tough life). Josie (cello, TtB) made it out too, and we got to coo at her beautiful new baby, Rueben, born on tuesday.
Friday saw me down in London, playing with Raagnagrok at the ICA, another intensely enjoyable improvised set (during which I discovered a new fingering for a tricky note on the pipes, and that you can achieve a slight chorus effect by waving the chanter rhythmically around the mike). Also playing were Alexander Tucker's Decomposed Orchestra - deep drone textures on cello, violin, sax and drums - and the frankly extraordinary Amal Gamal Ensemble who blasted on stage with their thrilling and uncompromising electronic weirdness. Here's a video clip of a recent gig of theirs to give you a flavour.
My other gig was with Telling the Bees, at Loughborough University, as part of an academic conference on English and Welsh diasporas. Our first with Mr Barney Morse-Brown on cello, we played a tight set, with enough primary material to keep our intellectual audience in papers for a year.
Afterwards we attempted the impossible, trying to inject some soul into the featureless ghetto of the hotel (where even the staff were made of MDF) by playing tunes in the bar, together with Ceri Rhys Matthews and Christine Cooper. Both fabulous musicians, I met them a few years ago at the English Acoustic Collective summer school. I particularly like Ceri's take on tradition, which is that it is a resource to be used, not something to be preserved in aspic. Here they are, playing fiddle and Welsh pibgorn pipes. I'm always awed by their ability to extemporise around the tune with such grace and fluidity.
At about 1 o'clock in the morning, one of the academics still in the bar leant across and asked the dreaded question: so what is folk music, exactly? Needless to say this led to a spirited discussion. Colin's take is that 'folk' is a category of economic, not stylistic, necessity. In other words, as soon as you're paid for it, it is no longer folk. Ceri, who danced around the argument with the nimble dexterity of a flyweight pugilist, refused to be pinned down, saying that each of us would define folk differently.
Me? I think of myself as an artist who works within the forms of traditional music. I still call myself a folk musician, but given the week I've had, and the gigs and music that I'm involved with, this may be inaccurate. At the very least, I'm probably an atypical folk musician, but then as a liminal vagabond, that's just how I like it.