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News July 2020

Pete at the 2020 (pre-Lockdown)
London Fiddle Convention
(photo: Michael Samson)

London Fiddle School's Zoom fiddle classes kicked off about a month into the Covid-19 Lockdown - or Lock-In, as it has been alternatively (and more benignly) described by an Irish friend - see below. The fiddle school has always been cosmopolitan, but it has been a great joy to welcome players from Edinburgh, Yorkshire, Germany, Vancouver, Japan - all over, in fact - on broadband. Cajun and Creole tunes in particular seem to have hit the spot for a lot of people this spring, the groove and bluesy feel of the music somehow right for the time. During the weekly Clap for the NHS event one Thursday night I stood with fiddle on my balcony and joined the local chorus of pots & pans, raucous cheering and general applause with a trancey One-Step from Dennis McGee and Sady Courville.

Enthusiastic participants in Pete's Cajun & Creole Fiddle class
Enthusiastic participants in Pete's Cajun
& Creole Fiddle class


Creole blues fiddler Canray Fontenot (1922-1995) is one of my all-time favourite fiddle players, so teaching and playing tunes like his Slow Drag à Nonc Adam and Two-Step de Grand Mallet - in that mellow, tone-down Cajun fiddle tuning — has also been good for morale. I saw Canray at The Weavers, Newington Green in 1993, really extraordinary, and was already a fan when I reviewed his Louisiana Hot Sauce for fRoots magazine:

'For a man who once said "I just play 'cause I can play'" his music is never anything but totally engaging. Whether it's his raunchy breaks and fiddle-echoed vocals on the bluesy Joe Pitre A Deux Femmes or the unaccompanied Cajun-style fiddling of the Two-Step De Grand Mallet with its extra beats and irregular bar lengths - but solid rhythm - you can always sense the player behind the fiddle, his pain, humour and compassion. Entirely recommended.'

Canray Fontenot - an all-time favourite fiddle player
Canray Fontenot
an all-time favourite fiddle player


Zoom offers a different learning (and teaching) experience from face-to-face, of course, but for me it's an overwhelmingly positive one, give or take the odd technical hitch. Call me shallow, but I love seeing everybody on the screen in multiple coloured boxes! There's also the feel-good factor of knowing you're lowering your carbon footprint, compared with physical travel. At the time of writing we are into a series of online Fiddle Reunion workshops. Then, open to all with a broadband connection and starting 23/ 24 July, two new 10-week courses - Virtual English Fiddle Band and Fiddle Music of Lucy Farr - which will run until late September - see WORKSHOPS for details.

I first heard Co. Galway fiddler Lucy Farr (1911-2003) on the classic 1968 Topic Records album of Irish traditional music from a north London pub, Paddy in the Smoke, but I was fortunate to get to know her personally in the 1980s. When, thanks to an Enterprise Allowance grant, I set up Fiddling from Scratch in 1986, I invited her to lead the first of what proved to be a successful series of 'guest workshops'. Folk documentarist Doc Rowe was there to film it and, technical skills permitting, I'll try and share some of the footage.

Lucy Farr, another of Pete's all-time favourite players  (images from 1987 film by Doc Rowe)

Lucy Farr, another of Pete's all-time favourite players  (images from 1987 film by Doc Rowe)
Lucy Farr, another of Pete's all-time favourite players
(images from 1987 film by Doc Rowe)


I am delighted that on 24 July Domino Records are releasing the new Shirley Collins album, Heart's Ease. The singer is back in great voice, her confidence fully restored after the success of Lodestar (2016) and her subsequent performances and tours, backed by the Lodestar Band, including at the Barbican and last year at The Roundhouse. Heart's Ease is also an exciting follow-up to Rob Curry and Tim Plester's 2017 film The Ballad of Shirley Collins, and Shirley's second volume of autobiography All In The Downs, which won the 2019 Penderyn Music Book prize.

Two tracks have already been 'pre-released': Wondrous Love, which Shirley first heard at a Sacred Harp Convention in Alabama during her collecting trip with Alan Lomax in 1959

- and a song by her first husband, Austin John Marshall, the strangely lockdown-prescient Sweet Greens and Blues

The new Shirley Collins album
The new Shirley Collins album


Meanwhile, Rattle on the Stovepipe's Through the Woods (WGS432), released by WildGoose Records just before the lockdown, has been garnering praise from the critics. 'The talented, popular trio bring out their sixth album… in fact this is probably the best of the bunch,' writes Vic Smith in Around Kent Folk. 'There are a few changes… More is heard of Pete Cooper taking the lead vocal role; a good move because he is a fine singer.' (If we were videoconferencing, you could see me blush.) 'The singing is shared with Dave Arthur, who contributes the first song composed by him to reach their repertoire, Hungry Cotton Mill Blues…The banjo-playing of Dan Stewart continues to be a delight whether he is accompanying the singing or playing the tunes and as ever Pete covers a range of moods and emotions in his fine fiddling.'
John Waltham, writing in The Living Tradition, likewise commends the 'tightness and proficiency of the musicianship,' and notes 'Dave's capacity for knitting different versions of songs together… to great effect'. He suggests that, 'what makes this CD so listenable (even to a bigoted British Isles traditionalist like me), is the fact that no-one's attempting to steal the limelight; there's just three first rate artists working towards a common goal - and achieving their target.'

Read the full reviews and more on the WildGoose website:

WildGoose have put a selection of the tracks (with band photos) on YouTube

The new Rattle on the Stovepipe album
The new Rattle on the Stovepipe album


My last three face-to-face gigs were on consecutive Sundays - the annual London Fiddle Convention on 23 February, Dulwich Folk with Richard Bolton on 1 March and (last gig before lockdown) Rattle on the Stovepipe in Crewkerne (locally pronounced 'Crook-ern'), Somerset, on 8 March, with a great local audience crowding into the back room of the King William, definitely not social distancing. A bygone era! Personally I've not been averse to a quiet spell at home, and haven't as yet felt hungry to pursue the online performance route, though I've enjoyed other people's, not least the appearance of The Rigmarollers (featuring Fiddle School alumnus Julian Marshall) at Joe Buirski's Fire in the Mountain festival, and Fiddle School member Mairtin O'Riada's series on YouTube, London Lock-In Tunes. I did play Coleman's March the other night at the end of Peta Webb and Ken Hall's Musical Traditions Club Zoom session, so there's a start. As to when I will be physically out and about gigging again, it all rather depends on the pandemic - and, as we say these days, the science.

See you later


Pete and Richard Bolton at Dulwich Folk  February 2020 (photo: Bill Mudge)
Pete and Richard Bolton at Dulwich Folk
February 2020 (photo: Bill Mudge)


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