Turning Over A New Year
Well here it is: New Years Day.
Ruth said to me, ‘Will you be saying two-thousand-and-ten or ‘twenty-ten’?’
‘Oh, two-thousand-and-ten. It’s a number, after all,’ I said
‘Yes, and ‘twenty-ten’ sounds so American,’ she said. I agreed. Then she said, ‘Ah, but we do say, the Battle of Hastings was in ‘ten-sixty-six’ don’t we?’ Call it what you will, this day milestones a new year for us islanders. Let make it a good one.
Under its new banner (Literally. I sewed and painted it myself), StringFing will be doing On A New Years Day at the Coachmakers, in Hanley, this Wednesday evening. It is 68 years since the explosion at Sneyd Colliery that took 57 lives. It was deemed unlucky to cut coal on a New Years Day. The miners broke their rule cuz in 1942, most of the world was involved in war for which coal was essential.
We will also be doing Please Don’t Drop Your Bombs on Me – a personal plea to the owner of any finger hovering over a big red button primed to trigger a nuclear bomb. Of course, I use it as a plea of restraint that includes anybody who has any bad intentions towards anybody else.
Seen from my window, Mow Hill is coated with a heavy frost right now. It is a misty morning. The sun has lit up all the east-facing windows. I can just pick out the castle in the deep greyness of what looks like a range of distant and brooding mountains.
Now I ain’t the Cheshire Poet Laureate any more I’ll have a bit more time to get on with organising the completion and delivery of my Village Verse collection. I have set my sights on the middle of the year. We’ll see. I’ve been trying to get it off the ground for yonks. If it ain’t one thing holding it up it’s another. Usually me not being able to raise the printing costs.
The night before last, just as me and Lynda were about to unscrew the top off a bottle, we had a call from Sheila to say Jim Eldon was over for a few days and asking about us and would we come over to the Swan, in Acton, for a session. It was great to see Jim and Lynette again. He was in his usual engaging form: his warm and gravelly voice over a scraped fiddle; quirky, individual, and right on target in. A proper ‘now’ version of the tradition.
Jim’s music is part of a homely, home-spun, make-and-do tradition that I pay into. Nothing to do with academies and museums and dusty archives and intense and privileged education and training. It’s the result of a people after a long day’s work, taking their fiddles down from the hooks on the wall and grabbing a melody from the air and raising their voices to life. Wonderful. A lot of playing and singing was done, years ago, during the long, dark agricultural winters when the work was less. I was pressganged by a captain of industry when I was a kid and, consequently, spent most of my working life in factories. But it was an urban version of the same thing. As I think I have posted earlier, my first job was weeding kale fields (a line of kids working their way through an endless crop) but, the farm was doomed for redevelopment and the job was concreted over and factories grown where the pastures and crop fields were.
A wake of controversy always follows Jim. A lot of people can’t get a handle on his range of material: He’ll do a sea shanty followed by a song he wrote last week followed by Rockin’ All Over the World. Wake up you people! that’s exactly what the tradition is, does, and always will. EG, those Morris tunes that are often held up to be the epitome of the tradition – Jockey to the Fair, Constant Billy, etc – were all popular songs. Wake up, wake up! Or at least pipe down and listen.
Me and Croz recorded an album with Jim in . . . Croz, I google, thinks it was around 1979, but I am pretty sure it was a few years later. Yeah it was. I remember Amy, then a little girl, running out to give me a hello cuddle when I got back from one of the recording sessions. It must have been at least the middle of the 1980s. Jim and me were on fiddles and Croz was on the cello. I remember when we were trying to decide which version of Soldiers Joy we’d play. There was the more widely-known version, a cool, very different take on it that Jim had discovered and a version I had invented. We decided in the end to string them all together. Check it out if it’s still around. The album is Jim Eldon and the Sharpshooters.
At the Swan the session was in full swing by the time we arrived. Some of the musos I knew, some I didn’t: Jim fiddle and voice; Croz fiddle and melodeon; Sheila English concertina; Bryn (?), guitar and great songs; a guy from the Boat band on melodeon (sorry, dood, don’t know your name. Ace player, though); an older guy with a good voice; a younger singer and box player with a good voice; Lynette, tambourine and dancing feet.
Me and Lynda made our contribution on tambourine and guitar. Ee, it were gradely. Yeah, and we did the lot: trad tunes and songs, some not-so-old songs, and some with the ink still wet on their pages.
‘Trad’ singers have always done the songs of their forbears along with the songs they have written themselves and the new songs of others. Some of the early folksong collectors used to complain that the singers whose repertoires they were archiving kept wasting their precious recording time on non-traditional material. The tradition ain’t one solidified, frozen thing. It’s ever-changing and circling around. What’s new today is traditional tomorrow. The tradition is what Jim does and what StringFing does.
I’m off the have my first breakfast of the decade. Look out for yourselves and for everybody else you can give a helping hand to.