Links with the past: update
Congratulations to old-time singer and clawhammer-banjo player Alec Somerville, now resident in Donegal, for his part in last night's special instalment of BBC TV's 'Antiques Roadshow', filmed with the Roadshow's Paul Atterbury in front of the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing at the Somme.
Alec had brought the English-made 5-string banjo which he has since donated to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa - the sole example in its collection of a musical instrument that belonged to a soldier. On the inside of the original skin head are the signatures of twenty-eight members of the Canadian armed forces in France.
Alec rounded off his appearance by playing 'It's a long, long way to Tipperary' - on one of his own banjos, as the 'Paris banjo' is not in playing order. Later in the programme Linda Roland, a Canadian now living in Germany, appeared in a remarkable sequel. Alec writes:
Her great-uncle, Gunner Raymond Roland, signed the banjo and added the date 'Paris August 24th 1917'. He died in 1933 from the effects of having been gassed. I found her through the Platts family (another signator) and contacted her and she came to the filming at the Somme. She has since been to stay with us in Donegal. Raymond Roland and James Platts enlisted at Toronto January 9th, 1915, together - they were neighbours in the Niagara Peninsula fruit-farming area.
This was episode 16 of the thirty-sixth series of 'Antiques Roadshow', and the first in a sub-series of episodes dedicated to the first world war. It can be seen here for the next six days on BBC iPlayer (not available outside the UK, unfortunately), and will be re-broadcast on Wednesday 16 April at 9.20 a.m. on BBC Two. Alec's story is also expected to be featured in Banjo NewsLetter.
Meanwhile, in the last week two links with the first generation of bluegrass music have been lost: a week ago (31 Mar. 2014) Gladys Lee Stacy Flatt, widow of Lester Flatt (d. 1979), died at the age of 98 in Sparta, TN, Lester's home town. A few days later (3 April) Arthur Smith died at the age of 93 in Charlotte, NC; entertainer and media personality as well as musician, he composed and recorded the enormously influential 'Guitar boogie' and (with the late Don Reno) 'Feudin' banjos', now widely known as 'Dueling banjos'. John Lawless's reports can be read on Bluegrass Today via the links shown above.
Update: John Lawless publishes the sad news that George Shuffler of Valdese, NC - singer, influential guitarist, and bassist with classic bands including the Stanley Brothers and Don Reno & Bill Harrell - died earlier today, just short of 89. He was inducted into the IBMA Hall of Fame in 2011. A recent recording in his honour, 'The boy from Valdese', is available as a free download.