27 April 2017

Simon Humphries on Sore Fingers 2017

Thanks to Simon Humphries (who with T.J. Screen organises the annual Bluegrass Camp Ireland) for his perspective on this year's Sore Fingers Summer School. Simon's original text is on the Bluegrass Camp Ireland Facebook.

Roughly eleven-hour trip for us travelling via Rosslare ferry. Finally rock up to Kingham Hill School situated in the very lovely Cotswolds area of England. Fabulous campus set on beautiful, mature grounds [right]. There was a quick registration process and we were directed to our house where we shared a dorm-style room with maybe ten others. Individual beds with modern furniture. Showers and toilets bang up to date. Terrific accommodation. Ear plugs at the ready - but never required at night (could have been excessive alcohol in the system at bedtime).

All the music activities based were held over several separate buildings with a couple of minutes walking. The grounds of the school were rather large. The English Public School system is alive and kicking. (Wouldn't be quite the same at Grange Hill methinks).

Every person I meet seems to have been here before - many have been several times. They have certainly built an incredibly loyal following. All age groups are represented, but generally the largest cohort were in the 60-plus age group. First impressions: this is incredibly well organised.

After early breakfast (often a little too early), the structure of the day is mapped out by the organisers at an assembly meeting thereafter. Classes 9.00-lunch, 2.00-3.30 practice, 3.30-dinner more class, After dinner: tutorial electives, 7.30 show. 10.00 and on, bar and jamming. It's incredibly well organised, everything starts on time, and there's tons of stuff to keep you interested and busy all day.

Sore Fingers has rightly build a reputation for top-level instructors. There were twenty-one in total.

Ned Luberecki [left] is my tutor (banjo) for the week. Twenty banjo players of all ages and nationalities in my class. He's a terrific player and teacher. He's a radio host, has a ton of experience teaching banjo, and is highly entertaining. His approach is to deliver a lot of 'fake it till you make it' tips and strategies. I picked up a lot of simple stuff that I will definitely incorporate into my playing. I've great material for a couple of months - so, job done, I valued it a lot. The classes were snappy, he played us through everything he brought up, and covered topics such as tips on practising, setting goals, how to improve tone, Scruggs, melodic, and single-string styles. Intros, endings, unusual licks, backup, blues style, role of the banjo in a band, care of the instrument, and good tips on stringing the thing. In short, course content was terrific.

Food is grand, with plenty of it. Two choices followed by dessert (those English sure like their custard). Vegetarian option available. It was a help-yourself school-dinner vibe. In short, functional - but not a place to linger with fine wine (in fact no one drinking anything alcoholic at dinner). Meal times are strict and maybe a little early for my liking (5.30 dinners). Breakfasts were steadily becoming harder and harder to attend (mea culpa).

After dinner, there were a number of extra elective tutorials: Stagecraft and making a band work, music theory, improvisation, using swing chords, harmony singing, and one other. Again, these were professional, informative, and a lot of fun. In short, I would have gone to them all if I had the time. Really top notch.

In the evening, there were professional concerts featuring the tutors doing their stuff. The stage setup was top notch. Everything miked up, professional-grade sound system and lighting, with an entrance fee of £6 for one show and £10 for two. In short, these were great. Ron Block, Becky Buller, Mark Schatz, Bill Forster, Billy Cardine, Tyler Grant, John Reischman. Joe Newberry, Val Mindel, Percy Copley etc. Loved them.

A unique feature of the week were the scratch bands, consisting of students put together in a band format. I got to play with Jamie on bass, Holly on fiddle, Bob on mando, Jackie on banjo, and Frank Manigrasso on vocals/ guitar. We were allocated a practice room for three days for one-and-a-half hours. We had to agree a small set of two songs, come up with a name, and try to make it sound OK. On the Thursday, we were allowed to play on stage in a concert with fifteen other bands in front of 250 people. This was a great experience and, like everything else, very professionally managed. We got exposure to fine sound engineers, and were tutored along the journey. After initially tense band negotiations, it was a blast. Great to get through it all.

Evenings after the concerts was a chance to find others to get playing. There were a number of bluegrass jams around and about. Every night, there was the chance to play with other attendees. Maybe three hours every evening. In the bar area, there were some amazing jams going - mostly old-time. All the top players were chipping in. Great, trippy music. On the bluegrass side, the top tutors and players were less accessible, I would have relished the opportunity to play with some of the top guys, but very little chance. There seemed to be a bit of a cliquey thing happening with the tutors. They seemed to have been corralled and segregated by a number of the volunteers who tended to be pretty good and were not letting the unwashed anywhere near their heroes. Even Luke Coffey struggled to play with these guys (however, that didn't stop him, 'cause he's such a talent and a lot pushier than the writer). A bit of a shame. Further, seemed to be a lot of jamming with the top guys in the staff room - civilians not allowed. This is something they should look at.

So overall:

  • Top-notch instructors. Must be the best selection outside of the US.
  • Classes informative, fun, and professional.
  • Great selection of extra electives.
  • Terrific stage shows.
  • Opportunity to play in a concert - great fun, and well run.
  • Accommodation and facilities very impressive.
  • Extremely well run, organised, and professional. John and Moira, the husband-and-wife team who put it all together, manage to stamp some personality on the week too.
  • Food efficient, again well run.
  • A lot of fun, committed and interested/ interesting punters there. Everyone delightful. We met a lot of new friends.
  • It cost me over €1,300 euros with travel, entrance, and spending money. (Don't tell the missus).
  • The bluegrass side maybe a little too cliquey. I'd like to have had the opportunity to jam with some of the top guys. Not really possible. An 'us and them' sort of situation unfolding here. Not necessary at such an event.
  • Some of the areas of main action around the bar are pretty harsh late at night - full-on fluorescent lighting steals a little romance and sense of occasion.
  • Sleep deprivation (OK that one's totally on me).


It's great. Try and make it at least once. Almost everyone I talked to is going back next year. (Almost everyone, Luke!)

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At 9:52 pm, Blogger Unknown said...

Simon- Thanks for the kind words about my class. I certainly had fun! This was my second time as a tutor at Sorefingers and hopefully not my last! Glad to have met you and hope to see you when I visit Ireland again!


At 6:45 pm, Blogger Richard Hawkins said...


I've forwarded your message to Simon, and no doubt he'll want to reply to you personally. All good wishes,

BIB editor


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