Monday, May 12, 2008

Fiddle Fair 2008

There are 2 blog entries on West Cork, Ireland
1. Fiddle Fair 2008 May 08
2. St. Patrick's Day Weekend March 07

flickr photo link <Fiddle Fair 2008> (still adding more photos)
NEW! YouTube clip link <The Amazing Jerry Holland>
What a wonderful weekend. We're driving home from Baltimore, West Cork, using the laptop in the car. We really love West Cork. Maybe lots of Irish people think that Connemarra or Donegal is the real Ireland, but we think that County Cork is the ultimate Ireland - the countryside, the scenery, the people, the food and the music. BUT THE FIDDLE FAIR... MY GOD, THE MUSIC WAS VERY, VERY GOOD! I think we may have heard some of the best fiddle music in the world over the last 48 hours. We heard fiddlers from Canada, Spain and all over Ireland, and people had come from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Spain & the USA to hear the music. As well as the "fiddle" enthusiasts, there were yachties at the pubs still in their buoyancy vests and divers still in their dive gear! Even a TV crew filming a show about Jeremy Irons who actually played a gig at the fiddle fair on Sunday afternoon. But we gave him a miss and went to see Leonard Barry playing his uilleann pipes at the O'Driscoll Castle instead. So let's start at the beginning...
Clare raced down from work in the far north of the Republic of Ireland to pick up Joe from work on the southern side of Dublin. All good going until Clare got lost around the Dublin Docklands! Eventually by 7.30pm or so we hit the M50 and really got going on the road south. Got to the "Rathmore House" B&B (€75/nt) at Baltimore, Co Cork around 11.30pm. This was one of the best B&B's we've stayed in - awesome harbour views out of our bedroom window; good breakfasts with options of the full Irish with Clonakilty black pudding, or a platter of Cork cheeses. Guess which Clare had? Not the black pudding... That's another thing we always notice about Co Cork - the support of the local food industry, and what great local food it is. We managed to pick up some smoked mackarel dip & smoked salmon pate from the Union Hall Fish Co-op at the local store in Baltimore, where they also sold 3 different local black puddings - not just the famous Clonakilty black puddings.
We had bookings for 3 concerts over the weekend and anticipated an early start on Saturday morning. But the "weekend" had started for some on Thursday morning, and by Saturday morning more than a few people including the muso's had had a very late/early session on Friday night - so the 12.30pm concert started around 1pm'ish! By then there was a queue going up the stairs of the Dún na Séad Castle (O'Driscoll Castle), built in 1215. A couple of impatient Americans were making comments on the Irish time keeping skills. Clare said we we should all go back to the pub and wait for a bit. A local Irishman said "yes, you're copping on quick!" But we'd already been to the local pubs. First we'd checked out the little harbour, then Clare bought some postcards at the craft shop, then we got some rum & cokes while Clare checked out the tourist literature and watched the 10.30am local island ferry steam away at 12noon... Irish time. There are 3 islands off the coast here that you can easily get to (in Summer) with people living on them year round. But there weren't many people around this morning. We later found out that the Friday night session had finished just a few hours before...
3 main pubs face Baltimore Harbour, with a few more in the back streets. We spent most time at Jacob's Bar & Bushe's. Jacob's Bar must have been refurbed quite recently we think... could easily fit in at Byron Bay. They had staff from France & NZ as well as locals. Bushe's (linked to W. Goggin) was far more traditional. The barman at Bushe's seemed like an Irish version of "Daffyd - The only gay in the village!" He was very efficient at serving Guinness and crab sandwiches. We also saw him cleaning the pub windowsills on Sunday morning. Now George W Bush claims to be a decendant from this village, not a notion much supported by the locals...
A brief history of Baltimore by Clare
So the village (yes, the US city is named after this place) clearly relies on tourism now, but was (and still is really) the ancestral home of the O'Driscoll clan. They specialised in piracy in the 1500/1600's. They pissed off other people including other pirates and one day in the 1600's some pirates from Morocco sailed in and took 107 prisoners in retaliation for some activity of the O'Driscoll's and took them back to North Africa into slavery. Only one person made it back to Ireland about 20 years later to tell what happened. But at the Heritage Centre in nearby Skibbereen, they mentioned that actually only 2 out of the 107 were actually Irish - the rest were English settlers. Later on, some Irish from Waterford came down and did the castle over, after being pissed off. Things went downhill from there, then in 1845 the famine really hit this area. It was very badly hit due to the massive reliance on the potato for the 60% or so of the population who were landless peasants living in rented mud huts with one pig and a few chickens. The Great Famine Commemoration Exhibition at the Heritage Centre commemorates the tragic period in the 1840s that is known in Irish History as the Great Hunger. Skibbereen was one of the worst affected areas, and the events of the era are depicted using local characters and events. Well worth a visit.
But enough of history and back to the music... The first concert on the Saturday featured 2 sisters from Dingle, Aoife & Deirdre Granville playing mainly the fiddle and harp but also the flute & tin whistle. The fiddling was good but the harp playing was really amazing. We'd never heard anything like it, rather like Enya without synthesis. A particularly good number was "Beauty" from the Blasket Islands that the girls learnt from their grandmother. Aoife is certainly a talented fiddle player, but it made us realise just how good the level of playing at our local, The Glyde Inn, is on Friday nights. Lisa, the resident fiddle player, could hold her own in this festival, but she's off travelling now, and is likely to be on a beach somewhere between Koh Samet and Bryon. Lisa, if you read this, we miss your fiddling already! We bought some CD's after this concert and managed to support the various musicians with a few CD purchases, a couple of t-shirts and a poster during the festival.
We went back for a trad session at Jacob's Bar. Every second person in Baltimore seemed to have an instrument and some of the world's best were joining in, so for young muso's it was a great place. People were dragging around harps, banjos, fiddles, flutes and tin whistles in specially designed backpacks for such opportunities. We eventually headed back to our room at the B&B and took some great pics of the evening light fading over the harbour. At 8pm we joined the festival shuttle bus to the West Cork Hotel at Skibbereen. Stopped off at The Sibín pub in the back lanes of Baltimore. Worth a visit. Whilst we drove along, the girls from "The Polskadots" group played a fiddle session on the bus...
The Amazing Jerry Holland
The evening concert was in 2 parts. The first act was Jerry Holland & John Doyle. Wow. Fiddle playing like we'd never heard before - mesmerising & literally spine tingling. Jerry (the fiddler) was an old bloke from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia (Canada) with John (from Ireland) absolutely amazing on guitar. Whilst the Irish roots are deeply felt here, the influence of Jerry's Nova Scotia trad fiddle sound is really strong, and sounded to me almost as if from the American South, perhaps Appalachian... I took one clip of this show, and have watched it a few times. Just a really incredible set, with a very enthusiastic and supportive crowd. A hard act to follow.
Berrogüetto... Trad fusion brilliance
Once in a while, we can be witness to rare musical gems. Perhaps obscure, possibly never to be seen again. But I hold out hope that these guys might turn up at the Bluesfest one year, as they truly fall into the category of "Roots" - but much more than that... Berrogüetto hail from Galicia (Spain) but language is no barrier to their infectious blend of trad fusion, roots, classical and world music. Even Greek & Middle Eastern influences. Something reminded me of Bela Fleck, and on listening to their brilliant album "10.0", I even hear electronica there too, although they had no electronic instruments on stage. The 7 member group play: 2 fiddles (dueling fiddles!); accordian; bouzouki; flutes; 2 gaitas/pipes; guitar & bass; harp; percussions incl. bodrum, drums & tamborine; saxo; zanfona/hurdy-gurdy... The zanfona/hurdy-gurdy is an amazing instrument like a big boxy violin where you turn a handle on the end whilst playing the strings. The gaitas/pipes have a distinct sound and are closer to the Scottish bagpipes than the Irish (Uilleann) pipes (more on those later). The sound of Berrogüetto had strong Irish trad themes in some songs, Greek/Turkish influences in others, with dueling fiddles & pipes... Still somewhat hard to describe - you have to hear it for yourself! The name Galicia comes from the Latin name Gallaecia, associated with the name of the ancient Celtic tribe that once resided there, so you can really understand the Irish roots heard in these tunes...
The concert finished up around 12.30am, and by then trad sessions had already started in other bars at the hotel. The boys from Berrogüetto obviously didn't play enough fiddles for everyone! One trad session was running in the hallway with about 10 fiddles going. Another was going in the front bar led by Jerry Holland. Very good music. We kept on until 2am and caught the shuttle bus back to Rathmore House. Most people didn't make the bus and probably kept going till dawn...
The next morning we managed, just, to make it to breakfast by 10am, then checked out and made our way back to the village. Nobody was stirring, so we went for a drive up to the spectacular whitewashed Beacon on the clifftops. A few festival campers had put themselves in the fields around the Beacon carpark, and the sounds of a plucking banjo could be heard in the air - the trad sessions never end here! So we wandered up to the Beacon, trying to avoid slipping over the edge of the of the unprotected 100 metre+ clifftops - no fences here! Spectacular rugged views, and wildflowers on the hillsides. There's a Wooden Boat Festival here later in May, and some guys were out on the harbour training for the races. Yes we thought about the Virtue boys and took some pics just for Rob, Keith & John.
Back to Jacob's Bar for an iced coffee, then to "Daffyd - The only gay in the village" for a crab sandwich before the next concert at O'Driscoll Castle. This was Leonard Barry, playing uilleann pipes & Michelle O’Brien on the fiddle. Apparently the uilleann pipes are made individually for each person and are pitched at different notes - Clare is sooo not musicial and is probably not explaining this correctly! We'd heard these pipes in Clifden last year and once at our local too. Perhaps the fiddle playing was a touch high pitched today, but the pipes were brilliant with many reels, jigs and "sets" played for over 1 1/2 hours. Yes, Leonard was great, but we still think the bloke who did a session at the Glyde Inn one night was better. He'd spent a year touring the world with "Riverdance" and was damn good. God, now we're comparing uilleann pipe playing - have we been in Ireland too long? Anyway, there will be some clips linked here shortly. This is the sort of music that's played at "caleigh's" (spelling?) which is clearly the music that Australian bushdances are based on. We noticed that Leonard played pieces from County Clare, Donegal, Kerry, Leitrim, Limerick and Sligo, but never from County Louth where we live. Why is this we wonder ???
Back to Jacob's Bar again for a last listen to the neverending trad session... dogs, kids and crab sandwiches, the Baltimore experience... before heading back on our long drive home. We drove through Kinsale on the way and ruled it out as some sort of Irish Noosa, without the rainforest. People walking along the esplanade with their icecreams, and fighting over carparks, etc. Oh, it's hitting 20c now, so summer is here at last (but don't expect it to last for too long!) Happy Days.

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