Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Live music entertainment Watchet, West Somerset, UK at Esplanade Club 4th Wednesday traditional folk music session

Esplanade Club, Watchet, West Somerset session
Tonight I'm looking forward to taking part in some live music entertainment at Watchet, West Somerset, UK at Esplanade Club which is the 4th Wednesday traditional folk music session.

Plus I shall be doing a bit of busking beforehand on the Watchet harbour front from 7.30pm to get my fingers working and to advertise BarnBuskers Ceilidh and Folk Dance Band which welcomes opportunities to provide live music in duos, trios or as a full band.

The Esplanade Club in Watchet is one of my favourite places in West Somerset on the 4th Wednesday of the month when this session meets. Strictly speaking, it is a private club but the public are generally made welcome. In fact, it's one of the most welcoming places I know and is a repository of all sorts of (in my case, because I used to live there for years when I was younger) memory provoking old Watchet memorabilia.

For information about other Wednesday local sessions, see SadFolk regular sessions under 'Half Pace'.

All acoustic folk musicians or people who enjoy listening to live music entertainment are welcome, just buy a drink at the bar and join us! Perhaps I'll see you there :-)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Live music entertainment in Exmoor and West Somerset

Sax and accordion playing music Minehead Harbour
Over the last few days, I have been taking advantage of the blistering hot weather to pop down to the sea front and play some traditional English, Irish, Scots and Eastern European tunes.

It was a great opportunity to play some music without having to drive miles out of the area and people seemed to enjoy our music judging from their comments and generosity which provided a few bob in the pot for drinks :-)

Getting out and meeting the public is a great opportunity to network, and in the space of a couple of days, we met a musician looking for opportunities to play their various instruments. We were able to point her in the direction of the local instrumental sessions at the Stags Head, Dunster, the Foresters in Williton, the Esplanade Club in Watchet and the Kildare Lodge in Minehead. All these local venues are a great way for musicians to meet up on a Wednesday evening and just play traditional folk tunes with other musicians. Just buy a drink at the bar and join in from about 8.30 pm. Check with these pubs for details of their next session or go to 'Half Pace' sessions on SadFolk web site. (It stands for Somerset and Dorset Folk!!!) Actually, I'd still check with the pub, if I were you, because timetables and venues can change, although this group of musicians has been going for years.

Shamelessly, the poster in my sax case advertised BarnBuskers Ceilidh and Folk Dance Band and Duo - always available for live music entertainment at your garden party, fete or other outdoor (or indoor) event :-)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wessex Folk Festival

The Wessex Folk Festival is coming up soon over the weekend of the 6th - 8th June 2008 with its wonderful performers and pub open music playing and singing sessions.

Last year I had a great time there and I'm really looking forward to it.

Recently, I attended a couple of warm up sessions at Dorchester and Weymouth.

I hope to see you there :-)

Bye for now


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Carhampton Wassailing 2008

The Carhampton Wassail 2008 has come and gone and I am left with a feeling of sadness. So many people who have previously attended this event were not there. Tradition is like a this. The numbers of people participating will go up and down and often for no apparent reason. Next year may be better. Perhaps it is best left to fate whether the event becomes revived or slowly dies away.

Read reasons why the numbers of people there were down and more

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wassailing at the Butchers Arms, Carhampton, Somerset, West Country, England

It's Wassail time at the Butchers Arms, Carhampton on Thursday 17th January 2008 and, if you are looking for a great event to join in playing some traditional folk tunes or would like to listen to them being played by others, this could be one traditional event not to miss.

Always check with the Butchers Arms before travelling in case unforeseen circumstances prevent the event taking place.

Bye for now


Friday, October 05, 2007

Do musicians make the best lovers?

Do musicians make the best lovers for musicians? In other words, if you play a musical instrument, is your most compatible partner, spouse, significant other or lover likely to be a musician too.

At the Sidmouth Folk Festival 2007, I got to musing about this with some interesting results.

Read all about whether musicians make the best lovers?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Dancing or sport - which is toughest exercise?

So, after we had made our introductions, and chatted to a few people, to show willing, as soon as the band struck up, I grabbed my surprised wife's hand and launched us onto the dance floor. I even ignored her protest that it wasn't a favourite tune for her to dance to. I was determined to dance as instructed. Nothing would stop me. Thinking Man was gone and now replaced by Action Man with his vast array of twiddles, twists and turns. After all, I had spent many hours on the tennis courts, honing my body to superb fitness (O.K. So I exaggerate, sometimes!) My wife wanted to dance, so we would dance, and I wasn't going to be the one aching afterwards, since the most active thing she ever does is housework.

Read full dancing story

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

New Year music adventure using new camper van for more UK and West of England folk music session and festival visits

At long last, after prolonged research and gazing at my rather empty wallet, I now have my new (rather preloved) campervan / small motorhome which I intend to use to visit as many new instrumental folk music sessions and festivals as I can this year.

It's an old Ford Transit camper which is white with blue flashes (quite pretty really). Although it's an 'L' registration, it's not in bad condition for it's age and I certainly intend to treat it with all the TLC I would give to any of my ... well ... instruments :-)

Hopefully, getting to more remote inns for pub folk playing sessions and festivals will enable me to record lots of new info about folk music sessions in Exmoor and England's beautiful musical West Country.

Bye for now


(Rob Hopcott - online author and musician)

Bye for now


(Rob Hopcott - online author)

Monday, January 15, 2007

West Somerset folk music at the Butchers Arms wassailing

On the 17th January 2007, wassailing will be in full swing with a folk music playing session at Butchers Arms, Carhampton, West Somerset with cider soaked toast (for the apple trees), shooting (that’s at the apple trees) and singing the Wassailing song (about the apple trees).

See you there or more info (with podcast)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Traditional Christmas and Folk Tunes played with old friends

I had the opportunity to play some traditional Christmas and folk tunes with old friends when I visited old haunts at a local Minehead, Somerset, UK, day care centre.

Fine local musicians and great music in a caring and Christmassy environment.

Read about Christmas and traditional folk tunes at day care centre.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

UK West Country Pub Entertainment Musicians in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset & nearby counties

There are such a fantastic number of opportunities for playing music in the West Country that I have found myself more and more frequently going further afield to play tunes than West Somerset and Exmoor.

To recognise this greater geographical activity, I've started a new blog to record my visits to folk music playing sessions all over the West Country. It is called:

UK West Country Pub Entertainment Musicians in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset & nearby counties

If I visit an instrumental session locally, then I will record it here but otherwise my record of the life and times of live music and musicians will be at the new site.

If you are a beginner musician, new to the wonderful world of pub music, I have set up a new blog to explain some of the basics of pub music sessions which I hope will be helpful.

How to learn an instrument and make friends

Tonight (13th September 2006), I'm off to Appledore in North Devon where there is an acoustic music jam session at the Coach and Horses starting about 8.30 pm. The genre of playing is mainly country music, judging from my last visit. Most of the instruments are likely to be guitars but with the occasional violin, mouth organ, bodhran, bones and mandolin making an appearance.

Naturally, I will be taking my soprano saxophone and flute. Last time I was there, someone requested I play one of their favourite tunes on my soprano sax but I wasn't able to because it was basically a clarinet tune. Perhaps I'll take my clarinet along too, so I can play the tune for them. Perhaps they'll be there again. Anything to spread a little happiness...

Maybe see you there :-)

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Glorious Regular Acoustic Jam Session at the Coach and Horses Pub in the West Country Harbour Town of Appledore, North Devon, England

The regular Wednesday country folk music jam session at the Coach and Horses in the quaint West Country harbour town of Appledore, North Devon, started at 8.30pm and has to be the friendliest session I have ever attended. If you're looking for a musical night out and wondering where to go, it's definitely worth a visit (but always check it's on by phoning the landlord).

Scarcely was I through the door of this traditional pub that nestles just one street back from the harbour amongst a higglety pigglety cluster of tiny houses and tinier streets when the master of ceremonies called me over to join the group of musicians that were gathering around a group of tables at the end of the pub.

Now, to a shrinking violet, this would have been a terrifying experience because the pub was already quite busy with regulars and tourists but yours truly thrives on false ideas of grandeur so I plonked myself down next to him, got out my soprano saxophone and alto flute and tried to look intelligent as he rattled off the names of all musicians who were present.

As with the Monday session at Ye Champion of Wales, the musicians were dominated by acoustic guitars but there was a picked Mandolin player again giving an extremely good account of himself. The mandolin is a quiet instrument but by a combination of picking and tremolo, the mandolin player contributed enormously to the country folk tunes. Tremolo really takes a lot of skill and from time to time he also doubled on the violin (fiddle) which he played with soul and accomplishment. I remember this particular musician telling me about his house full of musical instruments. I bet he can play them all as brilliantly. Appledore is truly a town of great musicians.

So the evening progressed at great speed with the MC welcoming more and more musicians (mainly guitar players), directing the order of the lead instruments and contributing some great songs himself. Session playing can be confusing for those who haven't before experienced it's delights. It usually appears completely spontaneous to the onlooker but there is always an underlying organisation to ensure that all musicians get the chance to play or sing.

The way session playing works is that, once a musician has been selected, usually by the MC, the rest of the group essentially take the lead from that musician. The lead musician determines the speed the music should be played, the key, when it starts and when it finishes.

Joining in by other musicians must always be sympathetic and the musician who breaks these unwritten rules will become very unpopular, very quickly. The skill of the session is to be sensitive to the other players and engage in a true musical conversation that electrifies the audience and sends tingles up the spines of all present. Which it certainly did at the Coach and Horses in Appledore on Wednesday night.

I was in paradise and believed things couldn't get better until Chloe, of the popular Appledore band The Dambuskers, slipped unobtrusively into the session. Chloe is a master musician with huge musicality, She may join a session unobtrusively but her startling and immensely creative violin improvisation immediately contributed massively to the groups musical sound so nobody could fail to know she'd arrived. Dambuskers has been the success story of the folk festivals this year and I enjoyed seeing them at the Exmoor Folk Festival in the delightful village of Brendon. They are a band going places. So don't delay, book them ... while you can!

The sure sign of a great session is, when it is time to stop playing at pub closing time, the musicians still want to hang around and talk. But, eventually, the proprietor disengaged us from his excellent hostelry. Even then, I heard some of the other musicians talking about 'tinnies' at somebodies house. Regretfully, I had to head for my car and the long drive home across Exmoor.

The regular Wednesday acoustic jam session at the Coach and Horses pub in the West Country harbour town of Appledore, North Devon was a truly great experience that leaves me with a conundrum.

Do I come back next week and learn some more about playing Country Folk with these excellent musicians. Or do I jump ship and sample the delights of the Wednesday traditional session at Torrington I've just heard about in North Devon .

Life is so full of tough dilemmas :-)

See you soon!

Update 14 Sepember 2006

There still seem to be some problems with the Entertainment License at the Coach and Horses, Appledore. Hopefully these will be resolved soon but please check the Wednesday evening session is on with the landlord before committing yourself to avoid any disappointment. If the session is not taking place at the Coach and Horses, Appledore, try checking with Ye Champion of Wales, Appledore which seems to be the local musicians alternative venue. Happy playing ... Rob

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Acoustic jam session - Monday at Ye Champion of Wales pub, Meeting Street, Appledore, Devon, UK

I was still champing at the bit for a no holds barred stomping flute and sax playing pub session after finding that the Sunday session at the Coach and Horses, Appledore was sadly discontinued (see previous post).

So I decided on Monday evening to leap into the rickety old Ford Escort and hightail it back down to Appledore to visit another pub where I'd heard there was a music playing session.

The good news was that crossing the lofty heights of the Torridge Bridge was much easier. Those who are knowledgeable about irrational fears such as height phobia often recommend desensitisation, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) or Cognitive Behavior Modification (CBM). They believe giving in to fears and phobias leads to a spiral of reduced activity. Confronting fears leads the opposite way, removes self imposed limits and leads to a fuller and more satisfying life. It sure seems to work for me.

Ye Champion of Wales is to be found just a few yards up Meeting Street, which leads off the harbour front at Appledore. This friendly traditional pub looks tiny from the outside but once you are inside you find it is quite deep with lots of space and a long bar that runs down one side.

When I arrived at 8.30 pm, there were musicians there already sitting in the window area by the entrance who immediately made me feel very welcome. Over the next hour or so there was a regular stream of musicians turning up and joining in until there were about eight in the session playing and singing.

Most of the people had acoustic guitars with them. There was also a chap playing a mandolin (I think) who doubled on the fiddle (violin) and another who played a sort of floor mounted bongo drum (nice sound) and mouth organ (also nice sound).

The main focus of the session was acoustic guitar with accompanied singing but the group was very friendly and joined in when I played a couple of tunes on the sax and flute.

The standard of musicianship was incredibly high. The songs were tuneful and varied (folk / rock / country / blues) and their accompaniments were sophisticated. Judging from the applause, it was also appreciated by the regulars, The landlords were friendly and supportive too (I actually got a free drink).

Keys played in varied. B major was popular but there were some strange keys too like C# which is easy for guitar players because they just move the capo which is a sort of clamp that is fitted across the strings. (I'm sure they can do it by fingering too).

For wind instrument players, playing in different keys involves knowing which sharps and flats to play to get the notes pitched the same as the other players. For this reason most of the 'Irish' folk music sessions tend to stick to the keys of D (two sharps - F# and C# ) or G (one F# sharp). The other reason keys tend to be fairly limited in 'Irish' sessions is that many melodeons and whistles only play in the keys of D and G and melodeons and whistles are very popular folk instruments.

Keyed flutes, violins (fiddles) and other 'orchestral' instruments, of course, can play in any key but, because doing so excludes some squeeze boxes and whistles from the jam session, they tend to stick the the main keys.

Another reason for limiting the range of keys is to keep it simple for the less experienced player. Folk music is very inclusive and there is nothing a folk musician likes more than to see a newcomer joining in more and more until they become a rocking and reeling full partner in the session.

So, for yours truly, the session was pretty challenging. When the keys of D or G were in use I could play along but otherwise the old sax and flute rightfully had to keep pretty quiet lest I spoiled the performance.

All in all, it was a nice evenings music and I got to have a blow with some friendly and very able acoustic guitar players.

Enjoyed this piece of writing?

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Appledore, folk music, tiny winding streets, agoraphobia, legislation, Parliament, MPs and helpful pullovers in England, UK

Sunday saw me suffering agonies of withdrawal. Yes! A severe lack of folk music jamming sessions for days, seemed like weeks.

I was trembling with desire to lash my flute to my lips, form a perfect embouchure and wreck someone else's carefully executed reel or jig.

My soprano sax was practically climbing out of it's case yelling 'play me or I'm finding a new home'!

A North Devon local newspaper pointed to an Open Jam session at the Coach and Horses pub, Appledore so I climbed into my aged Ford Escort, pressed the accelerator to the floor and minutes later was wending my way across the windy and rain swept summer countryside of Exmoor.

As I swept through the narrow lanes of North Devon past a stone chippings quarry, I saw a car on the other side of the road pull over to let the car behind pass.

'What great driving', I thought happily. It's something I've been doing for years. If a faster driver comes up behind you on these windy country roads then it makes sense to help them avoid a dangerous overtaking manouevre by pulling over to let them pass. It's good sense and is catching on, which is good news.

Bideford came into view with it's fabulous Torridge Bridge. Wow that's scary! Here's a picture

Now the years I've spent trying to earn an online living (silly idea wasn't it!) hunched maniacally over my keyboard in the (almost) smallest room of the house has left me decidedly agoraphobic. So the soaring heights of the Torridge Bridge are pretty challenging. (Well it's a diversion from worrying about my mid-life crisis!)

The approach to the bridge was pretty threatening, too, . 'SLOW DOWN' screamed the sign. Slow down? I was just thinking of stopping and going back to the safety of West Somerset.

Gritting my teeth, telling myself I had nerves of steel and using stress reduction Tantric breathing techniques, I pressed on.

The bridge has a 40 mph speed limit. Silly idea! How are you supposed to check how fast you're going ... when you've got your eyes shut!

A right turn at the roundabout just beyond the Torridge Bridge soon had me entering the old shipbuilding town of Appledore looking for the Coach and Horses.

Normally, I reckon I can sniff out the important pubs of any town just by following my bulbous nose. It's just something I'm genetically programmed to do but Appledore was different.

After driving slowly up and down the harbour front a few times with no success except probably to make a young lady in a solitary ice cream van nervous, I had to admit defeat. There was no Coach and Horses in sight.

I stopped and a very nice lady with two little dogs (also very nice) told me where to find the Coach and Horses.

"It's over there, she said pointing down a mass of jumbled together houses and streets.

"But the streets are so tiny I'd doubt you'll get a car down them, let alone park."

Fortunately, there were lots of spaces in the wind swept car park on the sea front and, after 6pm, parking was free.

Me a scrooge? Nonsense! It's just that free parking gives me a nice warm feeling ... I expect everybody feels the same.

All the big superstores know that people hate paying for parking that's why their parking is free. So why do local Councils, on the other hand, rack up the parking charges as fast as they can in the interests of balancing their expense account budgets and then wonder why all the small shops and businesses close down?

Furthermore, why is it that as soon as anyone gets into local or national government, they seem to stop knowing what the ordinary people who've put them in power actually want?

Just about everywhere in Appledore at the moment there are signs saying 'SAVE OUR LIBRARY!' If local government councillors were talking to their constituents, surely they'd know local reaction to trying to close down this obviously cared for amenity.

A quick look online reveals local community organisations are very busy trying to come up with innovative solutions to keep their library open. But why can't the Councils come up with these ideas? Why is it left to voluntary community groups? After all, the Councils have huge budgets and rather well paid officials.

Once people are elected, they just don't seem to want to talk to scruffy old ordinary people. Try sending a letter or an email to your local Member of Parliament or Local Government Councillor. I've tried both over many years and never got a reply yet.

The leader of our local Chamber of Commerce wrote to every ruling majority Councillor in our District Council asking for their justification for a particular policy and only received one reply. The reply said that they couldn't answer his question because this particular Councillor was on a committee that was involved with the decision.

Why is it that when I surf for local sites relating to a place I am visiting, I don't encounter loads of discussion forums and blogs run by local Councillors or Members of Parliament? I even wrote to my local MP and suggested he should have a discussion forum on his site. Unsurprisingly, I didn't get a reply.

Of course, we could vote them out. But, strangely, when it comes around to election time, people seem to vote by party and the same old people get back in. Then, guess what, they seem to move to a rarefied place in a different dimension beyond any communication with the ordinary people they are supposed to represent.

But I was in Appledore to make some magic music so I firmly dismissed such depressing thoughts from my tune starved mind and headed with growing excitement down the twisty, windy, microscopic streets in search of the Coach and Horses.

(Hey maybe our elected representatives are really trying to look after us as best they can!)

The pub was wonderful. It had old beams and polished wood everywhere. You could imagine the old sea dogs leaning on the bar and sucking on clay pipes as they told stories of storms and sea shanties.

The proprietor was very nice but also very apologetic.

There was no music Sunday evening any more. There had been a problem with licensing laws under the new entertainment legislation which had caused the session to be dropped. The licensing had at last been sorted out but the well attended evening jam session was now on Wednesday.

I understood. The publican seemed a very nice person and our local live music sessions around Exmoor and West Somerset have had lots of problems with this new Act. Nobody seems to know the rules and the pubs are finding it cheaper to install electronic karaoke machines which people can sing along to than to pay the expensive licensing fee that enables them to have live musicians.

Tony Blair you are supposed to be a musician. Why are you trying to make it so difficult for us? All we want to do is play a few tunes!

Why is the greatest desire of elected Members of Parliament (MPs) to pass more legislation? We, the ordinary people hate legislation! It causes us loads of problems. We can't keep up with it. We have to employ lawyers and accountants to protect us from legislation. It drives us nuts and we hate it.

So why are elected representatives so keen to pass yet more hurting, harmful, inconvenient legislation? Most legislation has unwanted results and it always hurts some innocent person.

Someone asked me a riddle.

"How do you make Parliament 100% more efficient?"

"I don't know," I replied.

"Close it for six months of the year!" (Riotous applause!)

More laws means more people in prison and the cost per person is huge - way higher than the average UK wage. So paying them to be good would be cheaper!

Why don't we send MPs to Parliament to get rid of laws? This would be a hugely better job for them to do. They would have to campaign on the laws they are going to remove and we would judge their success by counting the laws that they got repealed.

Utopia? I think not. The vast majority of women who are in prison are there directly or indirectly because they have drugs problems. While they are in prison, their children are busy collecting ASBOs and preparing for the same life as their parents. Isn't it massively more sensible to deal with their drugs problem than sticking them back in prison at enormous cost to the taxpayer.

It's time that the whole industry of representation is seen as 'social architecture' rather than just 'law passing'. Admittedly, it is a lot more difficult. But then the people we send to Parliament cost in the region of £100,000 a year and we should expect the best brains for such a large sum of money. We should expect creativity, inspiration and communication.

But maybe the creative ones are in the pubs listening to the karaoke machines and wishing they could play a tune!

Appledore looks a nice place with nice people. I'll be back next Wednesday!

And I'll be sure to record my adventures here!

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Cornwall Folk Festival at Wadebridge

The bad news is that my wife's got a brand new Ford Focus Zetec car :-( costing loads of dosh!

The good news is that she wanted to try it out on a long drive. So off we went on Sunday over the bank Holiday weekend to Wadebridge in the English county of Cornwall :-)

The journey from Minehead, West Somerset, took two and a half hours but it was a glorious drive over Exmoor which is at its best with the wonderful gold's and mauve's of the heather and gorse.

Bideford soon came into view with good memories of the Bideford Folk Festival last week and we soared appreciatively over the new and beautifully bowed bridge.

Wadebridge turned out to be an interesting small Cornish town with easy parking and lots of Morris dancers strutting their stuff with bells and wooden sticks everywhere.

Lunchtime was nearly over so we grabbed a quick Cornish pasty (yum) and headed for the nearest pub in the hope that I might get to play a few tunes on my yamaha flute, eating as we walked.

The Bridge On The Wool was busy but not packed and seemed to be engaged in some sort of karaoke with everybody enthusiastically yelling, if my memory serves me correctly, 'This could be the last time' which I think is most likely a Rolling Stones song. The pub seemed to be quite nice and the people looked friendly so I reckoned it wouldn't be my last time there - but I wasn't into staying either so we went for an excursion on foot around the town.

The next big surprise was to find a Hobgoblin music supplies shop in Wadebridge. I thought they were only in large places, like Bristol. It sort of suggested that Wadebridge, which is quite a small town, may be quite a big town for folk music :-)

As we wandered around a convenience store looking for something sweet to eat after our Cornish pasties, I came across a young lady sporting a mandolin on her back. In true friendly folk tradition, I picked her brain about great sessions and she suggested the Ship Inn which was across the bridge over the river Camel, so off we went again.

The session at the Ship Inn seemed to be more of a singaround. The voices were hearty and the songs were being belted out full power but there wasn't much space for me to swing my flute where the action was happening and the singing was unaccompanied so I reckoned I might not be too popular. So again we moved on back across the bridge over the Camel to the high street for a cup of tea and a piece of cake at Flo's which is sort of a smoothie bar. I think the cake we had is technically called a Brownie.

Surprise, surprise! When we got back to the Bridge On The Wool, they's stopped singing Rollong Stones songs and Glenn, the fine piano accordion player from Bideford, had appeared and was trying to get an instrumental session going. There were a couple of fiddles, a bodhran and a guitar so my wife groaned and retired to the corner of the small stage and I set to work trying to mess the tunes up with my flute. Some of the tunes were a bit to fast for me. One young guy called Stephen Snow (immensely talented see ) told me he was off to study a four year course of Folk and Traditional Arts at the University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in this autumn. I nice young chap able to execute tunes at a truly amazing speed. Now that's a great way to spend four years :-)

A great day out. I'll be off to Wadebridge again one day - but I don't think I'll want to wait until my wife buys another new car :-)

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Bampton Folk Club, Devon at the Bridge House Hotel - regular Tuesday evening playing and singing folk club music session

Bampton Folk Club, Devon at the Bridge House Hotel is a regular Tuesday evening singing and playing session where people are individually invited to play or sing in rotation in the small intimate and atmospheric front bar.

Bampton also has a wonderful folk festival

Bob, the host last night, is a hugely affable local folk music singer and regular at the Bridge House Hotel. There were three guitar players who sang as they played a mixture of traditional English, Irish and American Country folk music. Several singers who sang either unaccompanied or with with the impromptu backing of one of the guitar players. There were a couple from the nearby small village of Timberscombe, recently returned to England from New Zealand who made an excellent violin and wooden flute duet. The guy I was sitting next to in the window seat was on mouth organ and one of the guitar players also played mouth organ. Then there was my Yanagisawa soprano saxophone.

Apparently, the couple from Timberscombe have a second Tuesday of the month folk music session (mainly instrumental) at the Lion Inn in Timberscombe. (Check details with pub to confirm).

The Bridge Hotel at Bampton has a friendly, intimate atmosphere and is one of the main pubs for the folk festival. Bampton Charter Fair and 'After the Fair' Folk Festival' which starts on Thursday 26th. October, 2006 (check their site for any date changes and programme).

The Bampton Charter Fair and 'After the Fair' Folk Festival' has been a wonderfully popular event in recent years with informal music open pub sessions at the White Horse Hotel, Bridge Hotel at Bampton and The Swan Hotel and dance displays in the streets. According to the programme on their site, there will be a “Grand Variety Concert” on Saturday afternoon, and a Country Dance on Saturday night. It looks as if the Anglo / Irish / Breton Flavour will be continued into this year. I am very much hope to hearing those wondeful bombardes again. Although I think my ears have only just recovered from the last time :-)

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Bideford Folk Festival - truly traditional English Folk Tunes at the Joiners Arms

I'd met the cheerful and friendly landlady of the Joiners Arms at the beginning of the week and it was with much anticipation of her hospitality and excellent beer that I set off towards Bideford across the Exmoor National Park last night with my flute to join in an instrumental session of English folk music tunes.

The Joiners Arms has a rustic splendor and wonderful acoustics that makes it ideal for this sort of session. It is situated in the top right hand corner of the Pannier Market, Bideford, a wonderful place to sit on a sunny lunchtime and chat about the important things in the world ... well .... music.

The evening started off quite slowly with less than half a dozen players, mostly melodions and concertinas. Upstairs, away from the bar area, there was a rather sparsely attended 'singaround' with its host looked rather disappointed at the low attendance. Personally, I always like to have an audience for my music apart from the musicians I am playing with. It makes a big difference and the non-performing public in the bar were being very appreciative of us, applauding enthusiastically every set of tunes we played.

Gradually, the number of players grew and soon we were rocking and reeling in a splendid session of English Folk Tunes. I seemed to be the only woodwind instrument but there were three violins at one point, one of them manned by the excellent Rupert of the West Country singing band, Hearts of Oak, unless I'm very much mistaken. There was also a good mouth organ player (harmonica) who added a nice bit of variety.

It's true that not all the tunes were to my taste. Sometimes, English folk tunes seem to me to be over simple and uninteresting. Sometimes they seem to be just a few notes pulled together, designed as a rhythmic beat to accompany traditional folk square dance figures. Squeeze box players love them, though. It's also true that the English folk tradition has a wonderful repertoire of rants, reels and jigs that really can set the pulse racing, especially when played at speed.

Talking about speed, another thing that crops up at English folk tune sessions is that there is often a feeling that the music should be played at dance speed, which usually means a steady, fairly slow beat. Certainly, these tunes were largely designed for dancing but, when played in a session context, I often wonder whether we could have an occasional bit of flexibility in the interests of fun. The 'Morpeth Rant' sounds great when played really fast with its marvelous frolicking chordal sequences. On the other hand, it's also true to say that less experienced musicians often find the slower tunes of English traditional folk music more accessible which we would all want to encourage.

When I left the Joiners Arms at about 11pm, the musicians were still going strong and the packed bar audience was still appreciative.

It was a fun English folk tune session, set in a warm and friendly pub, full of rustic charm, in the ancient port town of Bideford and it has left me with good memories!

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Bideford Folk Festival in the English County of North Devon Tuesday Irish Session Rocked!

Read about Bideford Folk Festival 2007

My first impression on arrival at the car park close to the Blacksmiths Arms, East the Water (the companion town to Bideford) in 2006 was how many more cars were in the car park than on my previous reconnoitring visits. It was packed!

My second thought was of concern because there was clearly a stream of people unencumbered by musical instruments heading in the general direction of the pub.

Could it be that the event was not really a session where anybody can play as long as they can figure out the tune but instead a concert. The advertisement in the excellent Festival Programme stated that the session was to be led by M'Larkey which was great but I wanted to be able to do my thing too. I grabbed my soprano sax and flute cases from the back seat of my car and headed for the Blacksmiths Arms at great speed.

My consternation grew when on entering the bar I was confronted by a sea of people already tapping their feet to very fast Irish music and a steward who wanted to grab my instruments and prevent me taking them to the wash room with me. Well, like all musicians, I will defend my sax and my flute with my life! Take my wife, take my children (please), take my bank account (not that it will do you much good) but leave my sax and flute alone. With my musical instruments I have a very personal relationship. But he looked a nice enough chap and my call of nature was very pressing, so anxiously I acceded to his request.

Minutes later, I was back in the bar and very much relieved to see my instrument cases carefully placed with the other musicians and next to a young teenage flute player. Relieved in every sense, I reunited myself with my instruments, liberated them from their cases and got stuck right in to the reeling and jigging.

The organisers had said that they got fifty people last year. I'd thought they meant people in the bar. It was clear that there was a huge audience and that the fifty could easily have referred to the musicians who were sitting, packed together at one end of the bar with fingers flying, feet stomping and happy grins on their faces.

Heaven it was!

There were all sorts of instruments. Straight ahead of me was a hammer dulcimer player who I recognised from Sidmouth International Folk Festival. He's also a good singer of humorous songs. He sang one called 'The Session' which included the line that on arriving at the moon what did the astronauts find ... 'an Irish session'. Good stuff! I congratulated him later on the power of his voice. Being a wind player, lung extension and breathing technique is almost an obsession to me. He explained that it was all down to public speaking. Sessions are always a blur of short conversations mixed with off the scale musical sensations so I wasn't able to get more of an explanation. Maybe at the next folk festival, I'll find out more.

There was also an impressive set of what looked like Uilleann Pipes, violins (fiddles), more flutes, bodhrans, guitars, mandolins, recorders and probably other instruments that I couldn't see but which all added to the exciting sound.

After about 10 minutes there was a lull and I leapt in with 'Rakes of Kildare' and another tune that goes rather well with it. Of course, when I say leaped, I do actually mean 'leaped'. People have tried to keep me from getting to my feet and cavorting to the sounds of these particular tunes but, hey, the guy leading has to lead. I admit being in the air a foot off the ground and playing the flute at the same time isn't for everybody ... but it works for me, and the audience likes it.

Later, I got the opportunity to bring the soprano saxophone in to play some slower tunes. It's a Yanagisawa and has the most fantastic honeyed sound. Later on, as often happens, people in the audience came up to me and said how much they loved the sound. One lady even said she didn't mind me treading on her toe because I played so beautifully. Me and my big feet :-)

Interestingly, one guy came up and said that he doesn't normally like the soprano sax because it sounds too thin and like an oboe but the sound I had made had been much richer. I have to confess that the advice I got from a very experienced sax player when I was considering buying my soprano sax was to go for the most expensive rather than the cheapest. Audience reaction suggests this was sound advice.

The lady in charge of the microphone played a really haunting melody, beautifully amplified so it seemed to creep around that very rafters of this old pub. There were a few more fast reels and then I led 'Goodnight Irene' on the sax. It's always a good way to finish the evening off and most pub audiences join in.

Kudos to the organisers and musicians of the Bideford Folk Festival for a great Irish session at the Blacksmiths Arms.

I shall definitely be back next year!
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Read about Bideford Folk Festival 2007

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Bideford Folk Festival in the English County of Devon

Bideford didn't look as if there was a folk festival imminent when I made a reconnoitre on Sunday, the day before the Festival was due to begin. The fastest thing moving about the streets of the north Devon town of Bideford were discarded fish and chip wrappers and the odd newspaper.

True there were some impressive signs up at the roundabout advertising the festival, but somehow Bideford just didn't seem to have an air of anticipation.

Little seemed to have changed the next day when I turned up at the Joiners Arms in Bideford town centre. A few folkies were having a singaround but there was no sign of any instrumentalists looking for a session to 'make my day'!

However, there were a few organisers who were very welcoming. I told them that I really loved the idea on their web site of putting the open free joining in session at the centre of the festival. Paid for events are great but most folk musicians play something or sing and we just love to get 'down and dirty' and practice our art.

The organisers seem to have been working really hard to make this years Bideford Folk Festival the best and biggest yet. But Sidmouth International Folk Festival took place only the previous week, and most of the folk music world are probably still feeling fragile ... including yours truly. I think they might find they are on an uphill climb even steeper than the steep streets of Bideford (and boy are they steep)!

Tonight, I'm off to join in at the free Irish Session at the Blacksmith's Arms which is technically not in Bideford but at 'East the Water' which is on the other side of the water to Bideford and considered a separate town. Last year, the Irish Session was their best attended event with 50 plus packed into the bar area so I hope tonight's going to be a good one.

Check out this space for further reports.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

It's all over - but great memories ...

At the live music session last Friday afternoon at the Radway Inn, people suddenly started to leave and I asked the soprano sax player next to me in the circle of musicians whether he was going anywhere interesting.

"Wherever I am going, I am definitely not going to the 'Ceilidh in the Ford'!"

I was mystified and added

"Will there be many musicians there?"

"There will not be musicians there because there won't be any dancing in the Ceilidh in the Ford, even if the waters aren't too deep!"

He left and I gazed after him mystified.

The music that afternoon had consisted of mainly English folk tunes played by the gathered instrumentalists at this popular Radway Inn pub session which is a regular and important part of the Sidmouth International Folk Festival. I was keen to play some more so I next questioned a rather elegant tall flute player.

"There's a Ceilidh in the Ford," she explained, "but because of all sorts of stupid government regulations, we have to pretend that it doesn't exist. It's a long tradition that people dance in the waters at the ford at Sidmouth as part of the Festival."

"I am not going down there now," she said, "would you not like to come?"

I followed her down to the small river that runs through the small seaside town of Sidmouth in the English county of Devon and joined in with the other musicians that were not playing as the not dancers frolicked in sun filled waters for a number of joy filled square dances.

Here's a photo of the ford (taken later).

To be fair, the police who were present were all smiling and everybody had a good laugh when a man stood in the middle of the stream of water and announced that he was not there as the organiser and that if anybody was present they were there as private individuals and not as part of any organised festival event.

After not attending the 'Ceilidh at the Ford', I moved on to the Bedford Hotel where I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in a riot of wonderful Irish, English, Scottish and even Japanese and Thai tunes. People were packed in like sardines and the atmosphere was great and we only stopped for a short time when the torchlit procession of dancers paraded along the sea front and during the wonderful fireworks.

When I left for home at 1pm in the early hours of Saturday, the remaining players were still in full swing, having played for hours without any form of payment, just for their fun and for the fun of the many people who were listening.

There is probably a law against all this fun and happiness. But there are so many laws, it is impossible to keep track of them. This may be why I see ordinary decent people breaking laws daily. I also see people changing their lives for the worse because laws make certain activities impossible. The possible legal consequences of paying somebody to do something for you in the UK these days is absolutely terrifying, ranging from employment law to compulsory insurance and possible liability for negligence and goodness knows what else.

It is the greatest desire of every new Member of Parliament to initiate a new law with their name on it. They would do better to spend their time finding and promoting the abolition of laws than just adding to the legislative mess that just makes lawyers richer and adds nothing to the wealth of this country.

The Members of Parliament are doing the people in the United Kingdom a great disservice by piling law upon law onto the citizens of this country. There are better ways of organising a society than just making more and more laws.

In my experience, the chances of getting a written reply from my local Conservative Member of Parliament on any issue are about zero. I have tried many times with carefully argued and crafted letters on a whole range of issues which have taken a considerable amount of time to compose. In my opinion, he is treating me and the others to whom he probably also doesn't reply with contempt. We deserve better but because of the outdated voting system in the UK that makes his 'seat' one of the safest in the country, we are unlikely to get any more responsive representation in the near future.

It's time to have an alternative to the official government of this country. This alternative government should investigate ways of managing and organising our society to make it a better place without making more laws.

We could call it the not Parliament! And it would certainly not make any more laws!

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Sidmouth Folk Festival in Devon, English, Irish and Thai folk music

Yesterday was the best day yet for yours truly at the Sidmouth Folk Festival.

It was also the longest, because I arrived at about 11.00 and left at midnight. I really must get a campervan. The two hour drive through the English countryside back to West Somerset was horrible.

But it was worth it because the sessions were fascinating ... And the folk music rocked!

First of all I dived down into the depths of the Radway Inn in Sidmouth. I was lucky because it was already crowded, but I sneaked in through their little beer garden at the back which put me at the far end of the bar and at a definite advantage to those who were coming in through the front.

I thought I knew English folk tunes before I started going to the Radway Inn. But the guys and gals there are monumentally impressive with their knowledge of traditional English folk music. Within the first minutes my flute was out and I was joining in with a tune but then I had quite a long wait before another one I could really play with came around.

One of the really great things about the Radway regulars is that they play a tune lots of times. Many sessions I have been to just play a tune three or even two times. At the Radway Inn, they seem to have a policy of playing each tune something like seven times. This helps people who are not as knowledgeable by giving them more time to pick it up.

Talking about picking tunes up, I found that if I adopted the method of comparing the tune being played with other tunes I already know, I could more easily learn the new tunes. If a tune was mainly like one I already knew but had a four bar difference in the middle then I could relax for most of it and then really concentrate on the four bars. I must get myself a book of English folk tunes and start doing some really hard learning.

There were a couple of soprano saxophones, an amazing recorder that had a wide bore and the most incredibly powerful sound and at least one three (or is it four) note whistles. Also lots of violins and squeeze boxes. Some purists feel that saxophones don't belong on the folk scene. Being a soprano sax player, of course, I think they should be everywhere and it was good to see they were readily accepted at the Radway Inn. The 3 / 4 note whistle (I'm not sure if there is a hole at the back for the thumb) is a wonderful instrument and is played with one hand leaving the other to beat a drum ... amazing!

The other good thing about the folk music at the Radway Inn is that they seem to play at English dance speed ie. at the speed they would play if they were playing for Morris dancers or English square dances. This makes the tunes a lot easier to follow and pick up.

The Radway Inn was a great experience and I'm definitely going back but after three hours of huge concentration and enjoyment, I decided I'd had enough and went off for a bit of street walking. The sea front was very busy with buskers, people selling arts and crafts or providing services like face painting. There were also lots of food outlets so I grabbed a prawn bap and sat in the sun on the sea front listening as I ate. The only problem was the seagulls who were obviously intent on eating my prawn bap before I could. Remembering how one took a cake out of my hand when I was down at St Ives in Cornwall, I was very careful to give them as little chance as possible. Somebody said that they have become so brave because people feed them. I wish they wouldn't.

So on to the Sailing Club for a late afternoon visit. I had been told that there would be lots of squeeze boxes (melodeons, accordions, concertinas etc.) and I wasn't disappointed. I played a few tunes but was soon heading for the Bedford Hotel for my evening rendezvous where I had been told there was a different experience in store.

The Bedford was packed! There were practically people hanging from the rafters. I'd previously chatted to the person who seemed to be the main honcho, an excellent, affable and friendly singer and guitar player and he suggested 9 pm was a good time to turn up. As it was, I practically had to crawl underneath the chairs to find a small spot where I could pull out my flute and rest my soprano sax. Obviously, a lot of other people were also drawn to this session by this friendly host.

The music was already in full swing and I have to say the standard of playing was monumental. I don't think I have ever heard Irish music played so fast, yet with absolute rhythmic precision. There was a main violin, another flute player (divine tone) and a fantastic hammer dulcimer. But, in truth, there were so many excellent players that it's unfair to single any out. There were unaccompanied singers too and others who sang as they played the guitar. The pulsating energy and excitement is indescribable.

I started a couple of solos on the soprano sax but it wasn't long before the others were blending and harmonising with me. There was one tune that's really a war song but I normally play it just as a tune. People who've heard me play it previously have often said how much they liked it. But on this occasion, one of the singers joined in with the actual words to the song. The sadness of the sax which has such a human voice and the words so brilliantly sung with the quiet harmonic development by the other instrumentalists made for a truly emotional moment. I swear I saw a tear shed - but I'll not embarrass him here.

Midnight came and it was time for me to head off on the two hour journey home to Exmoor and West Somerset.

Oh and I forgot to mention the Thai singer. A slender, beautiful young Thai lady sang a couple of unaccompanied songs. She sounded wonderful but it was also refreshing because it was so different. It's always good to be reminded that music has truly wonderfully wide horizons.

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Sidmouth Folk Festival in Devon, soggy weather and virtual camping.

Sidmouth Folk Festival in the fair county of Devon during the weekend was great. But the question I asked myself was whether the atmosphere could be as good on a week day as it had been over the weekend or would all the hairy folkies have boxed up their instruments and gone home.

In a moment of wild eyed liberation, I decided to leave my computers behind for a sneaky self-employed Monday away day and find out.

Now it should be easy to take a day off when you are self employed - after all there's nobody who can tell you not to - but it isn't. Firstly, let's define 'day off' because many may assume this means Monday - Friday. Not necessarily, I'm afraid. A day off to a self employed person is just as likely to mean Saturday or Sunday and usually next year not this.

So it was with a massive burden of guilt laying on my shoulders but a strange feeling of gay (I didn't mean that) abandon that I climbed into the fruits of my huge entrepreneurial successes ( a Ford Escort 1.4, 1990) and accelerated (slowly) up the hill away from Minehead and towards Dunkery Beacon, Dulverton and then on to Exeter and Sidmouth.

An hour and a half later, with lips strangely pursed and a diaphragm defying gravity (see earlier post about breathing exercises for improving flute embouchure) Sidmouth came in sight .. looking rather damp.

Now here's where I'll let you into a little secret ... I've had this idea percolating in my brain for a while now and it goes like this. If all I ever do is sit and write stuff on a computer, couldn't I do that while I travel around all over the place. The missing ingredient sees to be the mobile base and it is for these reasons that I have been casting lustful eyes rather less at young females (read mid 30s) and rather more at various high specification motorhomes. (The specification has a 'high' in it until I see the price tag).

I'll admit it, the life of the wandering author has me hooked. Lots of mobile phone providers offer internet access, these days, and the theory is that I can get online just by plugging a PCMCIA card into my laptop. Imagine, I can update my sites as I gaze out over the pounding surf of Sidmouth (er, a bit of literary license there, don't rely on it and bring your surf boards).

So, it was with a considerable degree of interest that I checked out all the folkies who had been camping in the field at the entrance of Sidmouth. These happy campers could be me next year when I would be truly an ambulant author.

Problem was that they looked rather bedraggled. It took me a while to figure out why but it came to me in a flash. Yup, I thought proudly, with the elan of a truly hardened camper, it's been raining in the night.

Camaraderie feelings almost overwhelmed me. They were my fellow adventurers and I was empathising. Of course, it is quite true that I had spent the night in my rather luxurious king size double bed with en-suite shower, but 'at heart' I was already one of them.

My foot leapt towards the footbrake. The least I could do was to save them a bedraggled walk into Sidmouth town.

But then I saw that there was at least thirty of them. What if they all wanted a lift? What if they were so desperate to climb into my limousine (unstretched as yet) that I got mud mobbed. I could even see the headline in the local press. 'Up and coming Internet author bogged!'

Somehow, with great force of will, my foot stayed off the brake pedal, (justified only by a genuine desire not to cause the hard worked police a possible riot) and minutes later I slid into the Sidmouth 'Pay and Display' car park to face my next major dilemma.

For some the act of buying a 'Pay and Display' parking ticket must be an easy matter, for me it's the next worst thing to a nightmare. It's not that I'm a cheapskate. It's just that, if I pay for three hours parking ... It's so embarrassing when the parking attendant asks me why I've been hanging around for an hour at the end of the parking period. Well, if I've paid for parking ...

I shouldn't have worried. When I looked in my pocket, I found I only had four single pound coins which were able to buy me a whole six hours parking - lots of time for playing my flute and soprano sax in the pub with the others. The decision was easy ... I used two of them and kept the other two back for a glass of beer to drink as I played.

Tomorrow, more about the really great folk session I found featuring some very strange instruments ...

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

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Originally uploaded by exmoorandwestsomerset.
Exmoor and West Somerset Folk Musicians at Bee Festival Allercott

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Cornishmen, heavenly head, a wonderful audience and amazing music at the Blue Anchor Inn

The waves were crashing onto the sea shore and the sunset was all crimson and blues across the bay as we fired up with Marlene on the piano accordion, Bob on the Bodhran, Tad on the banjo, Bruce on the melodeon and yours truly on the flute and sax.

We folk musicians were few in number for the first Wednesday in the month at the Blue Anchor pub last night but we rocked!

There was a hugely relaxed feeling and the drinks were flowing well. It's now holiday time and many of the audience were there after enjoying a walk on the long Blue Anchor beach or a ride along West Somerset's very own steam railway. Thirsty work!

Thanks to the Cornish man who liked our rocking and reeling folk music that he actually bought us each a drink! Cheers Dessie! Have a good journey back to Cornwall today.

Joe joined us later with his brilliantly articulated whistle and some of his special songs

And the bit about the heavenly head? You've guessed it ... I've got a new solid silver head for my Yamaha flute - made by AWD Oxley of London. Crisp middle octaves, smoky lower tones and penetrating volume in the higher notes. I'm in heaven. (Some say they are going to send me there unless I stop going on about it!)

The heavenly head has given me the incentive to improve my technique. So I'm going for an improved embouchure big time now (ie. getting my lips right) plus putting myself on a regime of lung expansion exercises to improve the flow of air and my tone.

So if you see a strange looking man wandering around West Somerset or Exmoor with strangely puckered lips and a permanently over expanded chest, that's me folks :-)

Up and coming events:

Saturday 5th August, 2006: Watchet Boat Museum, West Somerset - 8pm - an evening of folk music and possibly some song by local musicians on the pub folk circuit

See this writeup for more info about the Watchet Boat Museum;boardseen#new

Sunday 6th August , 2006: Local West Somerset musicians will be gathering at the Sidmouth Folk Festival, Exmouth on the sea front at the end nearest to the car parks and bus shelters for a instrumental session of folky tunes - all welcome to come, join in.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Wild Folk Music Session at the Esplanade Club, Watchet, West Somerset, UK last night

Last night was the fourth Wednesday of the month so we invaded the Esplanade Private Club at Watchet for a riotous session of folky, jiggy, reely stuff.

The Esplanade Club is a private club that is steeped in history and can be found on the Esplanade which runs alongside Watchet harbour. On the wall are photos of how Watchet used to look. Faces that people remember, relatives or friends, boats, shops and all sorts of photographic memorabilia that really touch the heartstrings of an old Watchet lad like me. Some photos are faded but some are new which shows that the organisers of the Esplanade Club are still keeping the tradition going.

Although we were only few in numbers, we created mayhem for a couple of hours. Judy was on fire on her violin, Marlene was straining at her shoulder straps on her piano accordion and I was leaping up and down in my chair like an idiot whilst alternating between the soprano saxophone and flute. Backing us up were Tad on the Bodhran and Maurice on the guitar filling the pulsating rythms out magnificently.

Watchet Marina looked lovely with all the boats bobbing up and down in the evening sunlight.

Helen who was the supremo organiser at the Seahorse Day Centre brought along a card the residents had done to thank us for our efforts last week. Slightly worrying, I thought, as we looked half way professional - perish the thought.

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