The Old Chestnuts Song Circle Newsletter

December 1997 / January 1998

November Song Circle Jack Cole

In my books, part of what defines a successful song circle is the quality and quantity of songs that are handed out for people to learn. I'm sure we set a record number of songs per capita in November. There were 18 people (including 7 newbies) and the following 14 songs were shared: The Marco Polo, Dear Abby, Pancho & Lefty, The Navaho Rug, Bold Wolfe, Jolly Old St. Nicholas, Lord Franklin, Island of Sorrows, Frankie and Johnnie, Tolpuddle Man, Birth Of Robin Hood, So Long Charlie, South Australia, and Hard Times of Old England. The theme, in case you missed it, was famous people and we covered a good deal of territory. It was a great night with many strong voices. Welcome back Stewart, and a special welcome to those making their first visit.

Following the circle, Lori's Mom took leftover handouts from all of the months home, and sorted them into alphabetical order! Many thanks, Kay. My plan is to make up 2 or 3 complete sets for use during the circles. If you are collecting sets of your own, check with me next time for those you are missing.

Which brings us to the next OCSC, on January 24, 1998. It's a new year, but today I'm stuck looking backwards. I'd like people to bring some of the oldest songs they like to sing. The meaning of 'oldest' is open to several interpretations, and the songs should still be suitable for singing as a group. Maybe the first song you remember singing in school, or the first one you learned to play, or simply the oldest song. Should be interesting! As always, songs don't need to be on theme - it's just a way to help the creative juices flow.

Celtic College (Part 2) Jack Cole

Last month I wrote about the daytime activities at Goderich's Celtic College. As I said, I commuted from Kitchener and so missed out on much of the evening fun. But I can give accounts of two (early) evenings, and a second hand telling of the rest.

The College classes wind down around 5 PM; in fact, the school must be vacated shortly thereafter, so there is little lingering and mingling after class. There are several restaurants within a short drive so buying a meal isn't a problem, although it helps to know a local to show you the ropes (thanks Debbie & Jenna). One night I opted for sandwiches on the beach, and (after a short search - "go west!") ended up parked under a tree, watching the sun over Lake Huron and practicing tin whistle. It was very idyllic, although less so for the poor sods within whistle range! Several other students had the same idea; I think there's a nice opportunity there for some organized socializing and campfire singing, if the College is interested.

After supper the clans gather back at The Livery near downtown for the formal evening activities. These consist of two parts: a lecture on Celtic traditions / crafts / language, and a brief concert.

I managed parts of two lectures. The first was on the art of blacksmithing. The smith set up his anvil and portable furnace in the parking lot and gave a demonstration of the craft. The second was a kind of competition between three artisans. All had been shown the same Celtic artifact and were asked to use it as inspiration for a piece. They spoke about the history of the original, showed slides and prototypes, and described how they had evolved into the final works. It was all very interesting, but I was anxious for the music.

The concert is typically a half hour (?) set by one of the staff members. However, on the night I stayed the College had drafted a guest performer. Seems this guy was working on restoring one of the store churches in town, and happens also to be a bit of a musician. Name of Bobby Watt. Bobby was also anxious for the music - he started heckling the artisans once they were 15 minutes into his time! Eventually they got the (good natured?) message and cleared his space, people pulled their chairs closer and he began. This being a College event, Bobby did some teaching of his own. The subject was one that I always associate with his music - passion. He talked about how songs must come from the heart, and gave us stories and songs to illustrate. By the end of an hour he had wrung the emotions out of every person there. For me, this was the hilight of the week.

So ends the formal part of the evening. But I've been told that some of the best times happen at the pub next door, The Duke. There transpire the 'sessions'. Any Celtic players will understand what a session is, but for us stay-at-homes a word of explanation. A 'session' is a Celtic music jam, with lots of bystanders (and other things that you might associate with a pub). Players take turns launching a song and everyone joins in; the emphasis is on familiar tunes and lots of playing . In this case, the staff and students from the college have an opportunity to go nuts together, and the music spins into the wee hours of the morning. With musicians like Pierre Schryer, Loretto Reid and Brian Taheny the sessions must be a treat!!

Next month: Celtic College and The Woods. How to choose? And do you have to?

Memories of…

A few months ago I had the pleasure of reading a preliminary draft of Merrick Jarrett's memories of 55 years as a folksinger. Last week I had the even greater pleasure of holding the final version, 145 pages of stories, reminiscences and photographs from his first days as a cowboy singer, through the folk boom of the sixties, teaching folk music to university students (including yours truly) in the seventies and eighties, and to the present. The Old Chestnuts even gets a mention!

Merrick put all of this down as a legacy to his family at their urging. He didn't sit down to write a book for the general public. Nonetheless, I'm sure that anyone who knows Merrick, who has benefited from his love of traditional folk songs, or who is interested in the history of folk music in Canada will find his account fascinating. Merrick has made a few extra copies and is asking less than $20 for them - not a lot more than they cost to print. Let me know if you would like one reserved.

Two Thousand Years of Christmas Jack Cole

I look back on last month's plea for people to jump on the bandwagon and grimace. About 3 days after I wrote that, The Record printed an article praising Trilogy to the rafters. The phone began ringing and fence sitters began committing, and by the end of the week we had gone from 25% sales to a waiting list. On the day of the concert we were squeezing a few more chairs into the church, and we actually managed to clear the waiting list by show time.

I can't begin to thank everyone who took part, helped with the show and with ticket sales, told their family and friends about the program, contributed door prizes and made it all seem worth the stress yet again! Thanks especially to Lori, who went through the agony with me on a daily (hourly?) basis, as we switched from desperately trying to sell tickets, to trying to reclaim unsold ones for people waiting! Will we do it again? What do you think?? Suffice it to say that I already have several ticket orders!

As for the show itself, Trilogy was maybe even better than last year. All previous songs were included and two new ones added of which one, Star of Wonder, is spectacular. They were all healthy this year, which helped! I know for sure that they had a great time (especially the mistletoe Yuk!) and are looking forward to #3 in Kitchener. And, due to the even tighter organization this year, we were all out of the church and safely home a full hour earlier than last time. Thanks again to everyone - another magical Christmas night.

Modabo: Like a Boomerang! Jack Cole

There's a problem with "discovering" people as talented and likable as Modabo, Trilogy and Harmony Road. When they call up and ask about playing for you again it's really hard to say no. And when they ask if you would consider promoting them into a larger venue it's equally difficult to decline despite a desire not to be a promoter!

And so we are proud to present Modabo for the third April in a row! We have them booked for Saturday April 18 (this is tentative - it may end up being the 19th). And we have decided, to be fair to the band and their many, many fans in the area, to take them out of the house. The most likely location is Zion United Church, but this is not confirmed yet. Tickets will go on sale at February's song circle. This is not a regular house concert, and to differentiate it we will likely be dropping some of the 'fuzzy' things, like door prizes and munchies. Be warned!

By the way, Modabo has just been nominated for another East Coast Music Award for Group of the Year, up against Great Big Sea (et al). They have also been invited to perform at the awards ceremony, which will be broadcast on the full CBC network. Best of luck to the lads - they certainly deserve wide recognition and a bit of a break!

Other Folk Club Activities

I don't often say much about concerts that other people are organizing. But in this case, I wanted to get Eric Bogle to play for OCSC, and was disappointed to find that (shall we say) his requirements could not be met by our relatively small group. But Eric is playing in Brantford on Saturday, May 15. Tickets can be obtained ($14, while they last) from The Brantford Folk Club, c/o 22 Spartan Dr., Brantford, N3R 6C7. 519-579-7676.

For those of you on the eMail side of this newsletter, there is still time to plan a visit to the Mill Race Festival's New Years Eve music night. They are hosting an "informal Pot Luck" and a sing-around. Details are in the events section, below. (Should be much more traditional than Great Big Sea from Niagara Falls!! Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

Finally, a quick personal note. The Black Walnut invites someone to host each meeting, and I'm the lucky one for February! That means I get to sing for a full half hour, and the more familiar faces I see the happier I'll be! So I hope you can come February 20. See last month's newsletter for more info about the BWFC.

Some Events in The Area

Dec 31 Mill Race Folk Club New Year's Eve, upstairs @ Cambridge Arts Theatre, 8:30 PM, 622-1481, 621-7135.

Jan 16 Black Walnut Folk Club, University of Waterloo. $3. Also February 20.

Jan 24 Old Chestnuts Song Circle, Chestnut St, Kitchener. Call 578-6298 for info. Also February 28. 7:30 to get ready, 8:00 start.

Jan 10 Mill Race Folk Club, Open singaround at Ernie's Tavern, Cambridge, 8-12 PM.

About this newsletter..... It's emailed if I have your address. It's available at OCSC and BWFC get togethers. Also available by regular mail, but for that I request a few stamped envelopes or a contribution to postage. I still have a few Bill Gallaher, Modabo (both albums!) and Eileen McGann CDs. Did you catch the CKWR radio program on Dec. 3? They might do a mini Song Circle on air! And please come to the BWFC in February - I need lots of singers! Here's Margaret Jackson's added verse for Ian Robb's "They're Taking It Away": Education's in a crisis - too much fat the Tories say / So we'll cut another billion and we'll add another day. / No more prep time, bigger classes, untrained teachers; that's the way / If you want an education, well, you're going to have to pay! .

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