Village Halls and Heroes, By Steve

Around a dozen years ago, while touring with Charlie Landsborough, I was introduced to the music of Davy Spillane, the amazing uilleann pipe and low whistle player. His beautiful playing and sound made a huge impression on me, and became one of the influences that lead to the formation of Whalebone, as well as inspiring several tunes that we still play - Devil’s Chair in particular was an attempt to emulate the haunting sound of his pipes. A little while later I discovered a CD he’d recorded with a Bouzouki player called Andy Irvine called East Wind which mixed Celtic and Balkan music. Another ingredient was added to the Whalebone mix as I tried with varying success to add some of these sounds to the repertoire - Annie’s Reel and Mouse were my Balkans-via-Shropshire compositions!

A few years later on holiday in Doolin, Co. Clare we spotted a poster for a concert at the local hall, and halfway down the bill there was ‘Davy Spillane’. We asked at the local cafe that was selling the tickets, and yes, it was the Davy Spillane, Sony Music Corp. recording artiste, performing in the local village hall. Two tickets please...!

The concert was brilliant, with a huge array of outstanding performers, but one of the highlights for me was seeing one of my heroes in such an intimate setting. No huge concert hall, security, or tiny figures on a distant stage, this was music making at a human level, with the stage 20 feet away. It was pure magic.

Last night in Lydbury North Village Hall I was able to ‘complete the set’ and see a brilliant performance by Andy Irvine. Once again I’m a few rows from the stage, watching an absolute bona-fide legend of Irish music as he wove his magic, with the bonus of meeting the great man and having a chat after the gig. You don’t get that at the O2 Arena...

Andy Irvine Ticket

So I’d like to give a heartfelt ‘Thanks’ and raise a glass to Village Halls everywhere, and those who run them, organise concerts, book artists, and give us all the chance to see and hear fantastic, world-class music and musicians in such a great setting - Cheers!


Andy Irvine Concert

Evolving Hares and a Letter, by Char

As promised / threatened by Sarah in the previous blog entry, the new dance to 'Wenlock Hare' has stepped up and evolved into a 'stand up and make bunny ears whilst hoping' dance. Personally, I wasn't convinced that it would happen, but the people attending the concert on Saturday night at Cheslyn Hay Village Hall proved me wrong - spectacularly. I glanced up during the chorus to survey a room full of 'pretending to be drunken hares' humans which was a wonderful and highly amusing spectacle. On a personal note this cheered up my evening after having a testing first half of the concert where I had two strings break in the first three tunes. We rarely play over the West Midlands / Wolverhampton area, but whenever we do, we always encounter really lovely, friendly people and judging by the high quality 'hare dancing' game for a laugh and a good time. Special thanks to the wonderful Margaret from Cheslyn Hay Village Hall, who from the moment we arrived plied us with tea, chocolate and caramel covered digestives (excellent invention) and two huge platters of sandwiches. All this whilst cleaning the place to within an inch of it's life!

Changing the subject, there was a nice letter published in the latest edition of R2 Magazine mentioning  amongst others our track 'Hooty Mullock', which was included on a covermount CD in the previous issue:

Star Letter R2 Whalebone

It's even nicer when I think back to recording 'Hooty' last summer because it gave us a load of problems trying to get the right sound for the track, so much so, it nearly didn't make the album. Ironically it's now the tune we use to open the sets on this year's Three Fires Tour, so we're really pleased we persevered with it! Turning our attention to this coming Sunday we are playing at The Kinver Country Fayre, we are hoping for some nicer weather than last Sunday! Come and say 'hello' if you're going, I think we may be playing near the beer tent...

Mad March Hares (in June), by Sarah

We had the enormous pleasure, last Friday, of playing at a fundraising concert for the Brewood Music Festival. Now, we’ve played at the Brewood Festival before, opening the festival on the Sunday morning to a small crowd of slightly hungover revellers and curious passers-by, but Friday night was something else. By the end of the night, when we stepped on stage, there were well over a hundred souls crammed into the Brewood Jubilee Hall. And about ten minutes into our set Steve had a stroke of genius and instead of enforced buttock-clenching exercises to the strains of ‘Wenlock Hare’ (if you’ve been to any of our gigs recently you’ll know what I mean; if not, please don’t be put off attending any in the future…) he had the whole place jiggling about doing bunny impressions. I realise that also sounds suspicious, so here’s a photo (admittedly blurry, taken from the stage with my Blackberry and wobbly from all the giggling, but you get the idea):-

Brewood Bunny Ears

This is DEFINITELY staying in the set. Ha! And if I get my way (and if there’s room) people will be required to hop at the same time… Anyway. Dancing like lunatics had in fact been something of a theme of the evening, as anyone who witnessed Will Morgan’s antics during Bedlam’s set can testify. Again, the photo is not the Annie Leibowitz quality you’ve come to expect from me (ahem), so for those who didn’t see the original in the flesh, those are flashing neon glasses he’s wearing, and some of the blur in the photo comes from the whirling freneticism of the dancing:-

Will Morgan from Bedlam

But all that aside, the whole evening was a purely joyful experience, surrounded by enthusiastic and committed people both onstage and off, made up of wonderful old friends and some lovely new ones, and again underlined for us how lucky we are to have such great people in the extended Whalebone ‘family’. We would have hugged more of you on the night, but we were far too sweaty!…

Friends and Family, by Steve

Last weekend we played a gig at The Pottery in Much Wenlock. These days this feels like our ‘home gig’, as we haven’t played in Bridgnorth for a while, and we were pleased to see lots of familiar faces in the audience. Chatting after the show to Keith and Val, two long-term friends of the band, Keith remarked ‘we know more people here than we do back home!’

That got me thinking about all of the folks we’ve met since Whalebone started six years ago. In those days we had a monthly residency at Cinnamon in Bridgnorth, which was then owned by Sarah, and many of the regulars at those evenings are still good friends today (in some cases going on to heckle us at venues all over the Midlands). Since then we’ve played several hundred gigs, and many of the people we’ve met along the way have become good mates - some nights feel more like family gatherings than a show, though we do sometimes admire the resilience of people who can sit through the same rubbish jokes more than once...

Maybe an advantage of being an independent band is that we’re always in direct contact with our audience - if you email or phone us you’ll reach one or other of the band members, which probably wouldn’t happen if we had management, agents, distributors and promoters getting in the way (and charging us for the privilege!). As far as we’re concerned, long may this continue, so next time you see us at a gig please come and say hello - we’re always glad to see you!

Miners' Cottages, a Castle and a Faery, by Char

One of the many things we're very lucky with, doing what we do, is to have the opportunity to work in a variety of unusual places.  This has been an exceptional week in this respect as we've visited a couple of stunning locations. Wednesday night saw us play inside some beautifully restored miners' cottages at Blakemoregate, situated in one of our favourite places - the Stiperstones Nature Reserve in the South Shropshire hills. Natural England were hosting an open day and evening to celebrate the completion of the project. The journey up won the best approach to a gig we've ever had - it was either by foot or via a Land Rover if you have lots of stuff to carry. Because we ALWAYS have lots to carry... the very helpful people from Natural England who look after the area shuttled us up a very rugged route. 

Land Rover on the way to Blakemoregate

It's hard to believe that such a tranquil place was once one of the most important lead mining communities in Europe during the 1800s. Many of the miners' houses were abandoned and slowly disintegrated when the mines closed so Natural England have overseen the restoration of some of the buildings to demonstrate the harsh conditions people lived in and faced. The dwellings were known as Squatters' cottages - if a person could build a house on common land overnight and have smoke coming out of the chimney, they could live in it and as far they could throw an axe from the door was their boundary. So it was very atmospheric to sit and play music in a dark lit room and to wonder when the last time that that had happened. We also got to play 'Devil's Chair' very near the Stiperstones, which was very pleasing, as was the view from the composting toilet according to Steve!

Squatters Cottage at Blakemoregate

Last night we travelling just over the border into Wales to meet up with our favourite faery Beck Sian and play some music in the grounds of Powis Castle. Luckily, the weather held and the resident peacock who is apparently called 'Alan' didn't mind us making more noise than he did.

Powis Castle

It was lovely to see Beck again, catch up and hear her beautiful voice, we're going to be performing with her in a few weeks at St. Aelahaiarn's Church in Guilsfield, Powys at the start of July.  In the meantime, we're off to Box in Gloucestershire this afternoon, to play at a village hall which is nestled in the cliffs of the Cotswolds and surrounded by lots of beautiful mills - one of which has been converted into an arts and educational centre based on the teachings of Rudolph Steiner (who I seem to be reading and hearing about a a lot recently). It's a wonderful place called Ruskin Mill and it has a fantastic cafe. It has inspired us to start planning a tour of groovy arty cafes where we can simultaneously satisfy our love of cake, tea and making music :) oopps, just remembered that's how we started, very circular. You can take the band out of the cafe, but  you can't take the cafe out the band. Tee Hee.

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