Sunday, 1 July 2018

Where do we go from here? - Dulcimers at Halsway and the Beardy Folk Festival


 Dulcimers at Halsway
©Tony Gillam
May and June turned out to be full of musical surprises. In May, I spent a week at Halsway Manor - the National Centre for Folk Arts - in Somerset for the annual Dulcimers at Halsway event. This was my second trip to Halsway (see Clementines in Dulcimerland ) and this year we mountain dulcimer players were privileged to have Aaron O'Rourke and Sarah Morgan to teach us some new tunes and techniques. I hadn't come across Sarah before but she's a charming musician with an irrepressible sense of fun who introduced us to the traditional repertoire of Kentucky fiddle tunes. I didn't imagine this would be my kind of music but Sarah's excellent teaching and musicianship brought these old time tunes to life for us.

I was already aware of Dan Landrum and Aaron O'Rourke as the familiar voices of the Dulcimer Geeks podcast. When I chatted to Dan over a hearty Halsway breakfast I told him how much I enjoyed the podcast and how it reminds me of the rambling, philosophical conversations groups of blokes have in pubs. He observed that, in the States, they don't really have pubs where you can have intelligent conversations; he conjured up a depressing image of rather impersonal bars where people drown their sorrows against a continuous backdrop of motor racing on the TV. Dan (who is also editor of Dulcimer Player News) is a hammered dulcimer player so I didn't experience his teaching but did enjoy, as part of the concert, his daring hammered dulcimer arrangement of the Beach Boys' California Girls. I was lucky enough, though, to participate in some of Aaron O'Rourke's mountain dulcimer workshops. Aaron is a seriously accomplished player and I felt I learnt a lot from his and Sarah's very different approaches.   
Fantastic Day!
©Tony Gillam
Sadly, no dulcimers were in evidence last Sunday when I attended Day Three of the first Beardy Folk Festival (although I believe Kim Lowings had been there the previous day.) What persuaded us to get tickets for the Beardy Festival was not so much any of the folk acts on offer but the unlikely headliner Nick Heyward (of Haircut 100 fame). Nick may have been a bit disappointed by the slightly thin-on-the-ground Sunday night audience by the time he took to the main stage, and he also seemed beset by sound problems (although the festival's sound production had been excellent all day.)  Still, it was fun to hear the likes of Whistle Down the Wind and Love Plus One - hits so evocative of the early 1980s with their poptastic post-New Romantic vibe.

Beardy Folk Festival describes itself as a "beautifully crafted midsummer festival in a secret walled garden" and it was all of these things. From the design of the stage to the bespoke reusable beer glasses this was a lovingly put-together festival in a beautiful setting - Shropshire's Hopton Court.

Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman (Seth's big brother) played an accomplished afternoon set before heading home ("because we've got to get the kids to school tomorrow"). Unexpected highlights of the day were Dan Webster (whose band featured blisteringly good mandolin and fiddle players) and Granny's Attic - a young trio who gave an assured performance that embodied all that is best about English traditional folk music.
The Dan Webster Band
©Tony Gillam
It takes time for festivals to establish themselves so I'm delighted that the Beardy Folk Festival will be happening again next June. What with Dulcimers at Halsway also becoming a regular fixture, I feel next summer is already shaping up to be another musical extravaganza.


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Tony Gillam is Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at the University of Wolverhampton, a freelance writer, trainer and musician. He is the author of 'Reflections on Community Psychiatric Nursing' (2002) and 'Creativity, Wellbeing and Mental Health Practice' (2018).