16 April 2019

Lisdoonvarna 2019 in retrospect

The BIB editor reports:

A taste of the amenity and the amenities of the Second Annual Irish Old-Time Appalachian Music Gathering (22-4 Feb.) at Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare - the photo above shows Alec Somerville in the lounge of the Burren Hostel, playing a banjo by the English maker John Clamp (1833-1907). In the right foreground is a beautiful mountain dulcimer made by Alec about thirty years ago, which is shown more clearly on the Gathering's Facebook.

This post has been drafting since shortly after my return from Lisdoonvarna, and I apologise to readers for the delay in its appearance. The 2019 Gathering was every bit as enjoyable as last year's, even without the masterclasses and concert that Dan Levenson, Erynn Marshall, and Carl Jones provided in 2018. Bob Denton (USA), co-organiser of the Gathering, who has long and wide experience in old-time, bluegrass, and Irish trad, led a seminar giving basic guidance on the roles of different instruments in old-time music and, importantly, clarifying -

What 'Appalachian' means in the Gathering's title

As noted on the BIB on 10 Dec. 2017, the Gathering is inclusive in concept, so 'Appalachian' doesn't mean that 'non-Appalachian music' is strictly excluded. It means that the procedure for jams follows the common practice of old-time gatherings in the south-eastern USA: that is, to avoid frequent retunings of fiddle and banjo a succession of tunes will be played all in one key, followed by several more in a different key, and so on, with songs not in the usual dance-tune keys coming last.

The Saturday night session was vigorously inclusive, with many new singers; it was also by chance a historic occasion, as those present happened to include two founder members of the Lee Valley String Band (the brothers Niall and Colm Toner), two founder members of the Sackville String Band (Niall and the BIB editor), and Kevin Beggan (mandolinist of the Up-County String Ticklers), whose brother Colin was the longest-serving Sackville guitarist.

Sunday morning focused on a mountain dulcimer gathering in the Hostel lounge, and Pat Kelleher brought in and demonstrated a Dulcijo (right: a three-stringed banjo with the fretboard of a dulcimer) made by his friend Michael Fox in the States. Dulcijos range from plain-but-handsome to very fancy (see here). If Pat had brought a sackful with him, they could have been sold.

Thanks to Oldtime Central for introducing us to Thomas Turino's Music as social life: the politics of participation (Chicago, 2008) and its distinction between presentational and participatory music. The Gathering's basic concept, 'a gathering of musicians rather than a more formal festival with paid performers', puts it squarely in the participatory camp. That being said, what the Gathering really needs for the future is for more of the leading figures on the old-time scene in Ireland - and more of the rest of us, too - to come along just to be part of it, meet one another, and pick together. This is what happens at corresponding gatherings in the US, so... why not?

The dates for next year's event are already set, so mark your calendars for 21-23 February 2020. Andy Lambert, the Ireland-based co-organiser, will update us in due course about what may be planned.

Photo credits: Main photo, Pauline Somerville; smaller photo, Andrew Lambert

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