The Old Chestnuts Song Circle Newsletter
November 1999


v Last Month and Next Month at OCSC! - Jack Cole

Amazing. Another near-record turnout, as around 44 people spent the evening singing about "things in the sky", ending with an impromptu version of Over The Rainbow. Welcome to about 15 new members - come again!

The enthusiastic support for the Circle presents a small problem - we are overflowing the house! So I am proposing the following. We will set up for about 35 people in the living room. If you know you are coming, please contact us before 6 PM and tell us how many. We will reserved your seats until 7:50, after which it's open seating. Once we have filled all the chairs in the living room, we welcome a few more (5-10) to sit in the pottery room, but these folks won't get a chance to lead or request songs.

We've been close to overflowing before, and every time I come up with a strategy, the numbers immediately go down! So I don't want to discourage you from coming. I just want to be fair! If you arrive at the Circle some night, and we're full, please don't think of it as "Go Away!". Think of it as "Please come back next time!"

While I'm inventing strategies, I would like to tackle another. Some people work hard finding songs and getting them ready for Song Circle. Others come to enjoy the singing, but are new or don't get a chance to prepare a song ahead. In fairness to those who do prepare, I would like to make sure they get a chance to share the fruits of their labour. So I am asking that requests of the room ("Does anybody know such and such?") be limited to one per person, and take place in later rounds if possible. Thanks.

Now, on to November 27 and a theme! How could I resist. It's the last Song Circle of the millennium (at least the one that began with January 1, 1000), so I want everyone to come prepared with at least 3 songs that they would nominate as the Best Folk Song of the Last 1000 Years. Since I am not providing definitions of "best" or "folk song", there is latitude here. But I would like everyone to give it some serious thought. Bring songs that you believe will still be being sung a 100 years from now. One approach is to pick a songwriter, pick their best song, and then compare it to, say, Blowin' In The Wind or She Moves Thru' The Fair. If it holds up, bring it on out!

It's okay to nominate songs that you aren't actually prepared to lead - I'm interested in your picks and will publish a list in the next newsletter. And songs without a participation part are okay for this one (only!). As always, songs off-theme are just fine too, but I really would like everyone to walk in the door with 3 or more nominees.

By the way - November 27 is also Lori's pottery sale, and I know there are a few Song Circle mugs come early if you want to `shop'. See you then!

v The Winter Songfest 2000

Each winter some folks from the Toronto Song Circle organize a weekend of singing, playing, dancing and socializing. Here is some information on next year's event.

When? Friday, Feb. 11 6:30 PM - Sunday lunch, Feb.13.
Where? Five Oaks Centre, Paris, Ontario
Staff: Just Us and Friends! Bring your voices, instruments, songs, and sharing spirit.
How Much? $140.00 per person, includes bedding and linens, towels, meals and snacks.
Accommodations: Most rooms have bunk beds, (2 or 4 beds per room). We try to limit to max. 2 people per room. We're happy to provide single accommodations, if available. Common washrooms are located in the halls near the bedrooms.

The site features 100 acres of wooded, hilly terrain. There are X- country ski trails, and nice places to walk, a few large assembly rooms, and numerous small meeting rooms, a few pianos scattered in various rooms. No smoking in any of the buildings.

For more information contact Matthew Shuster at (416) 446-6080, or

v Saying Farewell to a Great Band - Cathy Byberg

It seems like just yesterday when Jack, Lori, Dave and I attended that wonderful Eaglewood Festival in Pefferlaw five years ago. Jack and I were still feeling the high of attending our first Woods Camp a week earlier, and anyone who has read this newsletter will know how much of an effect The Woods had on my then- musically-insecure friend Jack. On the Saturday afternoon of Eaglewood we were well settled in front of the main stage, soaking up the music, playing with the kids, and passing along tidbits of conversations that friends do when they don't get to see each other as often as they would like.

Modabo was introduced. We had never heard of them, the August sun was baking the festival, and we debated whether to go for a swimin nearby Lake Simcoe. It didn't take but their opening song (Sargasso) to rivet us to our blanket and wish we had duct tape to secure the children out of the decibel levels. By the end of the performance, I managed to close my gaping mouth, shake the shivers out of my spine, and I did something I had never done before (no I didn't run up to the band and propose marriage, though after that **WOW*** performance, it was certainly on my mind...). I did the only thing I could, and walked directly over to the CD tent and bought their album. Not quite as dramatic as proposing marriage to three strangers, but MAN did I want more of THEM!!!!

Requiring sustenance after my emotionally draining experience, I proceeded to the festival's latte supplier for a fix. Who is in line right behind me, but Jon Weaver? I decided it would not be cool to melt in front of him, so I steeled up my little courage and said hi. During the long wait in line (the lattes were very popular) we talked of the band and Jon's desire to perform in Ontario more. Finally, with my B-52 latte in hand, I returned to my family & friends and talked of asking Modabo to perform for Old Chestnuts.

Did I mention that Jack was musically insecure back then? He felt that the thought of his asking such a talented band to play for us was beyond ludicrous, and went straight to downright insulting! I'd like to think it was my plying him with B-52 latte combined with his still prevalent joie-de-vive from The Woods that convinced him to ask Modabo if they would be willing to come play for us. Unbelievably, and much to our shock, they agreed.

Now, five years later, after hosting their four Kitchener concerts (two were a back-to-back), I found myself reminiscing over the weekend of their fifth, and last, concert with us. Though the concert itself was full of their usual fun, laughs and hijinks, that amazing music continued to be the pinnacle of the evening. I thought how it could still blow me away as it first had at Eaglewood. Sargasso has never lost its ability to play my back like a Steinway. Where so many bands had found success with formula music, Modabo managed to create every song into an individual, thereby rendering their albums and their concerts 'boredom-proof'.

And the guys - well! Over the course of watching them for five years, we have seen each evolve within his own talent. My neck was much more sore with the whiplash effect of trying to watch Darrell's left hand moving at the speed of light on his guitar. WHEW!!! Where Jon had originally sported a Jethro Tull sound on his flute (in my humble opinon...), the Last Concert showed a tighter, more embellished skill that can now only be claimed as Jon's own. Jon, I now think it is completely unnecessary for you to be compared to Jethro Tull - Jethro Tull can now be compared to YOU. And Mike's voice - oh so clear and stronger (especially now that he's given up smoking - YAY MIKE!!!) was even more of a joy to listen to. Will I miss them playing together - you betcha.

Though Modabo will soon be no more, the legacy they have left in Kitchener has changed all of us. They were OCSC's first hired band. They gave Jack the confidence to invite others to play for us. They were gracious enough to continue endorsing us over the years, though we all felt it was only a matter of time before we would be too small for them. Though that possibility no longer exists, we will continue to watch how Darrell, Mike and Jon each walks his new path. How can any of them top the Magic of Modabo...?? I'm crossing my fingers and eagerly waiting to see. With talent like that, it's got to go somewhere!!!

v Old Chestnuts Hit CKRW Again!

On Wednesday, November 24, The Old Chestnuts Song Circle has been invited back to the CKWR studio in Waterloo to spend 90 minutes swapping songs, live on the radio. We've done this a couple of times before and it's a lot of fun! It would be great to have a few new members join us, so if you feel confident enough to lead a song or two, or would just like to be part of "The Chorus" please give me a call! Space is limited. I thought we would adopt the same theme as the November circle - The Best Songs.

v OctoberFolk 1999 - Robin Jones

[ Early in the month the OctoberFolk festival was held in Brantford. Robin kindly agreed to share his experiences with everyone. ]

My first workshop was the "Guitar Styles" with Darrell Grant, Mitch Lewis, and Jeff Simard. As most of you know Darrell is with Modabo, but Mitch plays with Ron Nigrini, and Jeff with David Francey. This turned out to be the best set I saw all day. It was a true workshop and not a mini concert, all played along with each other. Mitch had a steel guitar as well as his normal guitar, and he could really play it. Later he and Jeff took off on a tangent, playing big band and swing music. The difference from the norm made this set a highlight for me. Hindsight makes me wish that Garnet had been in this set as well.

The next workshop I took in was "Humor Me," with Robin Liang, Scott Smith, and Modabo. Robin was much better here than when he did his concert set in the evening. Scott Smith was really funny, especially when he did some tasteful East Indian accents in one of his songs. Modabo were at their silliest, and this prompted Robin to ask Mike if he was high on something. I think Robin was bemused by Mike. Not what I would call a true workshop, but they at least tried to join in with each other, where the songs permitted.

The next workshop was "The U.K. Connection" David Francey joined Robin Laing, and a group from Vancouver called Fear of Drinking. David is a fine singer songwriter, from Scotland, and now living in Quebec. A nice mini concert. The group FoD was not very impressive, despite having a really good earthy voiced female singer, and a fantastic bassist. There were two five string basses at this festival. The leader of the group is a cocky little Geordie, who has the least talent in the group, and was apt to grate on my nerves.

The last workshop I took in was, "Love Songs & Romantic Tunes," with Cindy Thompson, Garnet Rogers, and Modabo. What a great set. Cindy was her usual self, and her romantic tunes tended to be more danceable than the love songs sung by the rest. Garnet did all new material here, he hadn't even learnt the words, and he accompanied himself on two really old, that is 60- 70 year old Gibson acoustics. He also did some pretty nice back up when Modabo played. I knew Garnet was good, but was it ever nice to see him improvise.

Fear of Drinking started of the evening concerts, and they were no better than in the afternoon, and even repeated one song. I wouldn't pay to see them again. Robin Liang was next, and he was really good, but had been so much better in the humour workshop that it tended to make his show a bit anti-climatic.

Cindy Thompson is one of those people that make you wonder why she isn't more famous. She presented a very tight exuberant show. David Francey was a pleasant surprise, and I liked what he did. I know I'm going to have people disagree with me, but Lynne Miles left me cold. Not that her performance was bad, but I thought she was just saying the lines, and had very little feeling. A cardboard performance.

Another one who left me cold, and I just plain did not like, was Ron Nigrini. Told a nice story of his son riding the rails, but musically a very slick nothing. Garnet Rogers was as good as I have ever seen him. He presented a good balance of acoustic and electric music. This man was worth the cost of the day.

Modabo closed the night. They were right on. What else can you say; perfect is good enough.

I like this little festival.

v Trilogy Update

Mark Saturday December 11 on your 1999 calendar. That should be easy - exactly 2 weeks before Christmas and 3 weeks before January 1, 2000. And mark it with a big "2000 Years of Christmas", because that's when Cathy Miller, David K., and Eileen McGann return to Kitchener to present the best Christmas show you will ever see! It's been 2 years since this cross-Canada music and story celebration has come to town, and KW is one of only 4 stops in Ontario this year.

The program features stories and songs about Christmas and the season, culled from the last several centuries. The first set brings us from medieval times to the recent past, while the second set features some original and more modern material. Each song is introduced with a story about Christmas traditions and legends.

Tickets ($14/$10) are available from me, or from Words Worth Books in Waterloo. Call 578-6298 to reserve.

v "You'll Never Do Better Than a Drum" Part II - Jack Cole

[ Continuing the drum building course at Celtic College ]
Day 1 I can't speak for Dave and Michael, but I sure wasn't prepared to bend quarter inch ash into (something resembling) a circle. I expected Nathan to hand out perfectly prepared, perfectly round drum heads, bought at Drums-Are-We-Ach-Aye-Laddie-O, and we would spend the week finishing them, installing the skin, adding trim and decoration and maybe learning how to make them go boom.

I never would have believed it possible. But there we were with a tea kettle and a home-made steam box, softening 4 and a half foot long strips of one of the world's hardest of hardwoods. Ash is a preferred wood to bend, because it is open to the idea. The grain is right, the wood wants to hang together, and (so Nathan told us) it is much easier to bend than, say, maple.

Yeah, right. That's why we started out with 15 boards to get 9 drums! The technique is to get the wood really, really hot and wet, and then in about 273 milli-seconds, using nothing but your knees (shorts seemed like an appropriate fashion choice until that moment), your gloved hands, your two partners, and two little blocks of wood precut in an arc (and matched to be inside and outside), gradually bend the bloody plank of ash into a perfect circle! Once that little feat is accomplished, you clamp the wheel between the two little arcs, and leave it to become accustomed to its new shape.

The thing is, every knot wants very badly to stay exactly where it is. It's like a fixed point in the space-time continuum. The knot has spent it's entire life giving strength, and though the wood may be open to bending all around the knot, something has to give and then there is a cracking sound ("Oh No!!") and the knot returns to its previous position. When all was said and done the score was Knots: 6 Builders: 9 .

I was fortunate. The timber I was handed from the steam box was virtually knot free, and the grain was oh so straight in the preferred direction. It bent quickly and smoothly into the shape of a nice toilet seat. ("Well", I thought, "if it doesn't work as a drum, there's a fall back position".) I got a chance to bend another beam at the end, but this one refused to go, splitting not once but three times!

Most of us were quite content to sit and admire our work, but Nathan had other things in mind. Two more bits of wood needed to be coaxed into circles. Inside the main body of the drum are two small rings of ash, about an inch wide and a quarter inch thick, which add support and help hold the shape. These were next into the steamer, and proved to be nearly as difficult to bend as the main trunk! Many were broken, but this, as it turns out, is also useful. We'll come to that.

Once we each had a pair of inner rings that fitted nicely in our drum, we marked them for length and then cut lap joints so that they spliced into a nice, seamless hoop. Nathan had brought along a couple of very fine toothed handsaws, but cutting each end to an appropriate taper was tough.

The last step for day 1 was to work on the shape. The drum should lie flat, so we planed a bit. And the drum should be a circle. Why a circle, when there are so many more interesting shapes? Tradition, I suppose. Certainly not because it's easy! This would become our obsession for the next two days. Remember the broken ring bits? Well, most of them had a nice curve to them, and by cutting them a little longer then necessary and flexing them, they could be inserted inside the drum as springs, pushing out. This takes a surprisingly long time - I'll tell you more next issue.

Nathan had warned us that day 1 was the hardest, and the most crucial - we had to get all of the frames bent and glued, and he was pretty worried that we wouldn't make it. But we did! The news that the rest was "easy" was inspiration for Day 2!
[ To be continued.... ]

v Some Events in The Area (as space permits!)

Nov 19 Black Walnut Folk Club, Laurel Room, UW. $3. Also December 17 with Margaret Jackson hosting.
Nov 19 Waterson/Carthy, Brantford Folk Club
Nov 27 Old Chestnuts Song Circle Best Songs of the Millennium!!. Arrive between 7:30 and 8 PM. See above for info.
Dec 2 Grand River Dulcimer Club. Folkway Music in Guelph.
Dec 4 Mill Race Open Sing at Ernies in Cambridge. $3. NOTE: Late start at 9 PM!!
Dec 4 Hill Top Cafe, 91 Madison Ave. Kitchener. $2.
Dec 11 Trilogy, 2000 Years of Christmas. Zion United Church. $14/$10. See above for info.

v 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. Call 578-6298 for more information. Late note about the Grand River Dulcimer Club: the first meeting was small but a definite success with folks coming from Kitchener, Cambridge, Tavistock, Burlington, Toronto!! The group agreed to meet again on the first Thursday of December, same location. Anyone interested in padded, salmon shaped dulcimer bags, imported from the Far East? Farewell to Modabo, out on the coast / May your days not dark and dreary be / For we are far away from the band we love the most / Will we never hear a song or a lick from thee?

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