Archive for the Music Category

An Open Letter to the BBC Trust in response to the Delivering Quality First proposals.

Posted in everyday life, Music, shrewsbury on October 9, 2011 by suetortoise

Dear BBC Trust,

In most countries, the indigenous music, songs and dances of an area are seen as a part of regional and national identity. They are well-promoted, encouraged and supported as a vital part of the culture. In England, it seems that folk music is dismissed a something of interest only to a small group of enthusiasts, ‘hippies from the hills,’ ‘the knit your own museli brigade.’ But it flourishes – perhaps flourishes all the better from being out of the eye of major commercial interests. There is plenty of commercial music broadcast on the radio, there is very little folk music in comparison. Very little. And we need to keep what we still have left.

With the planned changes to BBC Local Radio, we are told we will lose those local evening radio programmes which do such a great job of letting the listeners hear local music as well as music by performers coming to our area, often live performances in the radio station’s studio; along with a thoughtfully chosen selection of other folk music on record, news and interviews. One such is Radio Shropshire’s Sunday Folk, which is presented by Genevieve Tudor and syndicated to Radio Hereford and Worcester and Radio Stoke. A great many folk music radio shows have already gone from other stations, I know that a number of listeners now enjoy Gen’s show via the Internet, having lost their own local shows.

I hope there is some point in my writing to you, asking you to reconsider the ending of all genre-music programmes on BBC Local Radio, even if this means moving the best of these programmes to daytime positions to allow the evening switch-off you are planning. Far from being mere fillers, vital, grass-roots programmes like Sunday Folk allow people in these four counties – and, increasingly, a nationwide and world-wide audience through the Internet – to stay in touch with what is going on. It is good for the area, good for small local businesses and charity events in this largely rural area, it is good for morale and for social-contact. It’s also very pleasant and enjoyable listening, of course, providing a fine introduction for those new to the genre, the folk music lovers of the future. Above all, Sunday Folk, its presenters and its audience feel like family and friends. Please don’t take it away from us.


Strange Folk

Posted in Family and Friends, Music, out and about, shrewsbury with tags , on September 11, 2011 by suetortoise

I am pleased to welcome Tortoise Loft‘s first ever Guest Blogger, Mr Kevon Kenna of Australia.

Kevon came over here on holiday in August. We started with a day at the Shrewsbury Flower Show. Where Kevon’s pleasure in the musical fireworks of the Band of the Coldstream Guards was equalled only by his pleasure in the musical fireworks of the, er, musical fireworks – Kimbolton’s pyrotechnic finale being the best I’ve seen yet. We spent a couple of very pleasant days in York – with time to see the National Railway Museum and the Castle Museum as well as stroll around the walls and along the riverside. The holiday ended with the Shrewsbury Folk Festival. I asked Kevon if I could post his comments on the Festival here on Tortoise Loft. I’ve added a couple of pictures that I took at the event; the words, the links – and the opinions – are Kevon’s own.

Lucy Ward


The third day of the festival found us in the Sabrina Marquee. The Shrewsbury Folk Festival is neither small nor cheap. It has about 6 venues in fairly continuous use from Friday afternoon to Monday afternoon of England’s famed August Bank-Holiday Weekend. The venues range from a circus tent with computerised coloured spotlights and smoke machines, down to more intimate spaces that only hold a couple of hundred. The opening performance in the circus tent was all amplification and coloured lights, which is not my idea of Folk Music. I want to hear the words; not be pummelled by the bass. Perhaps the smaller Sabrina Marquee will be an improvement?
The first act was three old men with fiddle, melodeon, and I forget what else. They sang traditional songs and I could hear the words. This was good. After them came four young poms, one of whom works for NASA in the USA. They began with a quiet song; restful, contemplative; full of long silences and instrumental solos; perfect for a warm Sunday afternoon. As near as I can recall it went:

(Start with refrain)
This is the sound-check; this is the sound check, baby.
This is the sound-check; this is the sound check, baby.

This is the sound-check, we’re just checking;
That our instruments are all plugged in.
(repeat refrain)

This is the sound-check, it’s not a song.
We make it up as we go along.
(repeat refrain)

They also did the story of Rhys and Meinir; the traditional Welsh love story that ends when Rhys finds his beloved’s skeleton in an oak tree, still in her wedding dress. He dies too; and all live happily ever after.

When they had finished a girl wandered onto the stage and told us that she had a sticky mouth from the lunch she had just eaten. She had a guitar. She also had green hair and the strap of a thong showing above the waist of her leggings. I considered leaving. I checked the programme notes : “Her …strong, pitch-perfect, delivery and the maturity of her songs can reduce an audience to tears, …” It can. She favours songs about women’s hardships. She was the best act of the day. Her hair wasn’t green either; it was blue. It looked green in the light that filtered through the yellow canvas of the tent. Appearances can deceive. —

The last act, the one that I had come to see, was a group of five mature men singing sea chanteys. They were good too, but Lucy was better.


At least once every day there was a ceilidh in the dance tent. In deepest England; as far as can be from crofts, skerries, bogs and uisge beatha; we are having traditional celtic night gatherings in daylight? Wikipedia explains :

What is now called English ceilidh [ … ] has many things in common with the Scottish/Irish social dance traditions and can be considered part of English Country Dance [ … ] English ceilidhs always use a caller who calls the dance figures the dancers need to make. [ … ] Most of the dances involve couples staying together for the whole dance, though people often change partners after every one or two dances.

The one I went to was lively, crowded, and great fun. The caller invited couples to form fours, or parallel lines, or concentric circles. Some of the couples were boy and girl, many girl and girl, some were parent and waist-high child, and one “couple” was a wheelchair with pusher, occupant, and occupant’s partner. The caller described the steps of the dance and talked the dancers through a few sequences, then the music and mayhem began. There was Strip-the Willow, The-Dashing-White-Sergeant, and I know not what else. Couples galloped between lines of their fellows, ducked under arches of outstretched arms, separated to swing around strangers and meet again 4 bars later. Groups of six or eight formed mini-centrifuges. There was a lot of flailing about, looking for the correct hand to grab next but, remarkably, things mostly kept skipping, galloping, spinning, and swinging, more-or-less in time to the strong beat of the band. Perhaps some of them had done it before.

Morris and Clog

It’s hard to describe Morris Dancing without making it sound ridiculous. A half dozen or so grown men, with solemn mien, tie bells to their legs and caper in unison. You can get a bit of an idea of the leg-work by watching John Cleese from the Ministry of Silly Walks. There are many styles, but to the uninitiated the main difference is that sometimes they wave white handkerchiefs,
Hankies Aloft
and sometimes they bang sticks together.

The dancing is accompanied by a Melodeon, a kind of squeeze-box, but where normal dancing follows the music, a Morris Melodeon player follows the dancers. It they need more time for a step, the player will extend the beat as required. This can sound awkward, and it requires the musician to walk backwards when leading a parade. The antiquity and origin of Morris is uncertain, but it may have originated as a celebration of casting the Moors out of Spain. Morris = Moorish, perhaps? In any case it is old.

Along with the Morris dancers we had cloggers. Clogging is not old. In the Industrial Revolution lots of mills were built in Northern England, and lots of lasses worked at t’mill. The traditional mill-girl’s shoe was a wooden-soled Clog, and a Clog makes a satisfying bang when stamped on a wooden floor. Clogging is girls having fun; and it is fun to watch.

We also had Rapping. Weavers must periodically push the weft threads together to close them up. At t’mill this was, apparently, done with a rapper. From a distance a rapper looks like a sword with a handle at both ends. Some teams danced with these, and wove them together as they swung around each other with the rappers held aloft. This must require great skill and fitness,  but the clogging looked like more fun. I could have watched Morris and
Clogging all day.

Thank you, Kevon. ‘I could have watched Morris and Clogging all day?’ You are a braver man that I thought. (I had not realised the Folk Festival would be your first real exposure to it – we take chaps wearing bells for granted in these parts.) I prefer to have Morris in much small doses. But you were right about Lucy Ward’s fine singing – definitely a name to watch.

A Square with Four Sides

Posted in Music, out and about, shrewsbury with tags , , , , , , on August 28, 2010 by suetortoise

Ironmen 4
August Bank Holiday weekend, Shrewsbury Folk Festival is on. I am supposed to be busy packing my bags for my holiday and tidying the Tortoise Loft. (No more posts from me for a while, but watch out for pictures and a report when I get back in September.)

But knowing there was folk dancing going on in The Square, and that the sun was shining, I allowed myself one hour off, and took my camera with me.

The first of the four sides I saw were One Step Beyond, doing Appalachian step dancing. They moved fast, and it was hard to catch them on camera.
One Step Beyond 1
Next up, Crook Morris, a mixed morris side: white shirts and hankies, amazing hats and high-energy dancing.
Crook Morris 1
Two East Shropshire sides: The ladies of the Severn Gilders dance in clogs, while The Ironmen keep up the wild Border Morris tradition, with wooden staves, blackened faces and tatters.
Severn Gilders 2
Ironmen 3
Severn Gilders 4
The beautifully decorated Square makes a fine setting for morris dancing. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the hats from the hanging baskets!
Ironmen 5
And on that happy note, I’ll say farewell for now. See you back here in the second half of September, if I don’t see you in Melbourne.

May Contain Nuts

Posted in everyday life, Family and Friends, Music with tags , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2010 by suetortoise

It’s May. Time For another update on recent activity. First up, on May Day itself: Eric, my father had his 90th Birthday. Here he is on his special day:

Eric Jones - 90th Birthday Portrait

My sister was visiting from London. So along with my mother and I the whole family were together. Friends kept turning up with presents and cards, relatives phoned. After lunch – Dad’s birthday choice of sausage, mash and peas, cooked by my sister – he found it a bit overwhelming. So he went off to his den for a spot of quiet computer programming.

‘Tis of a fair young maiden, and she lived down in Kent,
Arose one sunny morning, and she a nutting went….

You can’t have May without a spot of morris, can you? So I’ve been adding The Nutting Girl to my guitar repertoire. I am enjoying learning new songs and tunes, especially when I have worked out the chords for myself, as I did with this one. Thanks to inspiration from Graham Higgins, I’ve been tackling La Mer – now that’s tricky to master! But I am getting better at it. I started with chords off the web for La Mer, but Lady Franklin’s Lament is another one I have worked out for myself. It’s a real joy to have a guitar on hand again.

Shropshire Community Flickr Group are doing a ‘Photo a Day’ challenge for May. (Last year we did one in April.) I’m not always remembering to take a photo until the light is fading, but so far I’ve managed to keep up, although they’re not all quality shots! Here are a couple of them.

Another everyday drama
Duckling in the Dingle
The rest are accumulating here.

Bellowhead on St George’s Day

Posted in Music, review, shrewsbury on April 27, 2010 by suetortoise

On Friday 23rd April, I went to see Bellowhead in concert at Theatre Severn. If you’ve not yet heard the band, have a look at (and a listen to) their website. Eleven remarkably talented people, an amazingly eclectic range of instruments and bags of energy. Definitely worth seeing live.
Bellowhead perfoming

This was a seated gig, which meant I got to see them for the first time. I’d find it hard to cope with a standing concert. They played plenty of their best known pieces, including Fakenham Fair and Cholera Camp, and many new songs from their forthcoming album. Which should be a corker: I still can’t get New York Girls (“Can’t You Dance the Polka?”) out of my head! A great evening, and if you get a chance to catch this band, grab it!

Some of you will be saying: Hang on Sue, you posted an earlier version of this report with some photos of the band in concert. So where are they now?

I did. I had my camera with me at the concert, I had a stalls seat with an unobstructed view of the stage, and I  took several photos in the first half of the evening – I’d seen other cameras and mobile phones in use so it seemed to be allowed. But shortly after the break, a member of the Theatre Severn staff came over and that photography wasn’t permitted. Oops! So I stopped.

I’ve not had much luck with my photos in theatre settings before, but I had half a dozen shots of the band that I was really pleased with. Nice and clear. So the next morning I proudly posted them on Flickr and put some of them in a blog post here.

And then I started feeling uncomfortable as they were unauthorised. I like to keep my conscience clear, so I won’t be showing them again unless I get permission from the band or something. The rules don’t say ‘no sketching’ so you’ll have to make do with a drawing for now. Or better still, go and see Bellowhead for yourselves – it’s worth it!

STOP PRESS: Hey, a band that reads blog posts! I feel very honoured. Here’s a couple of shots – they link back to Flickr, where you’ll find the rest.
Bellowhead 3

Bellowhead 1