Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Broken String Band

Well well well, we met a superb Ulster-based 5 piece bluegrass band last Friday evening, at the Star of the Maze Orange Hall (near Down Royal racetrack).

A local historical re-enactment group called "The Rising Sons of Dixie" put on a great night's crack and a load of good ol' Southern homecookin. We were there to provide a wee bit of music, as were the Broken String Band.

They're based around Belfast and Bangor and are "proper" full-time musicians (not just rakers like us) Really good guys - Gibson and Ivan knew one of them, Ivan Moorehead, from bands they were in in days gone by. Their fiddle player is Geordie McAdam (used to be in Appalachian Strings) as did Wilson the bass player. Michael the banjo player/vocalist used to be in the Soundhogs, and the mandolin player Adrian is Ivan Moorehead's brother. They were absolutely superb. If you want some real, pure, 16-notes-a-second bluegrass, these guys are for you. They did two sets, we did one in the middle - the evening kicked off around 9 and it was well after midnight before we got away.

When we did the Ulster-Scots stuff we may as well have been speaking Chinese, the poor folks in the audience hadn't a notion what we were talking/singing about - even with our lyric leaflets in their hands. Especially when I said "hoo can A dae ocht whun A hinnae got ocht tae dae ocht wae"... hmm... and then there was the joke about the Iraqis in Portavogie... must remember that these things only work in Ulster-Scots speaking areas!! We finished with an acapella version of "Did Christ Oer Sinners Weep", which we'd dug up out of an old Confederate army hymnbook.

I must admit we were wile rouch, instruments really going out of tune and everything a bit haywire, but we had a good night and met some really nice people too - including the Broken String Band.

I'm sure you'll be reading more about them very soon (if they had a web site I'd put a link here - but you can check them out each Wednesday night in session at Balloo House restaurant/pub, near Killinchy in County Down)

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Killicomaine Baptist Meeting House, Portadown - Sunday 5th June

Another really good night; place was packed out so extra seats were brought in, making the area we were standing in pretty tight. Graeme's been struggling with a sore throat so he croaked his way through. I'd guess maybe 150-ish people were there, young and old.

Gibson unveiled the new Mastertone banjo tonight; we opened with "Hallelujah I'm Ready to Go", next was Big Smith's "I Am The Door" and finished off with "I Saw the Light", with everyone singing along. Pastor Harvey Shaw preached, we did "My Lord Keeps a Record", and when the meeting was finished at 8pm only about 10 people left...

... so we kicked off all over again and did "Fu an Skailin", "Come Awa the Noo", "A Joy That Turn't my Hairt Frae Stane", "Gran Time Comin", "My Sins are A Awa", our own special Ulster-ified version of "What A Friend We Have in Jesus" and a rough and ready version of the Louvin Brothers standard (also covered by Uncle Tupelo) "The Great Atomic Power". A good night's crack and fellowship - all recorded onto digital video tape so there may well be VHS / DVD evidence somewhere!

Then - of course - everyone piled into the big back room for tea, sandwiches and buns. Met some lovely people including a group of metallers/rockers who travelled all the way from Larne to see us play (and even asked us for autographs at the end!) We reckon Larne to Portadown is a round trip of over 100miles. Impressive (or else daft?!)

Back home to the Low Country after 11pm, ready for bed.... next stop the Confederate Night at Star of the Maze next Saturday.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Radio Ulster - George Jones

So after Ballyclare it was over on the ferry, across Strangford Lough, to meet up with the BBC Radio Ulster team and the Big Yellow Bus (the vehicle they use for outside broadcasts) at the Dufferin Arms in Killyleagh (see ).

George had contacted us after the Good Friday show we did with him and invited us along. Once again we met some good people (Mark bumped in to an old school friend - Robbie Meredith - who now works for BBC Northern Ireland) had some fun, did a soundcheck in a wee room in the pub and got stuck in.

We did three tracks - "Hallelujah I'm Ready" and "My Sins are A Awa", a short interview and then later on in the show we played "My Lord Keeps a Record". Kinda nerve-wracking being on live radio but we really enjoyed it.

George told us that the Del McCoury Band are coming to Belfast later in the year, so we're looking forward to that one; for those of you who saw them playing with Steve Earle in the Ulster Hall on "The Mountain" tour a few years ago you'll know how brilliant they are.

Gibson's new banjo has arrived - a Gibson Mastertone. Now he has no excuse...

And good to see you again Robbie, give us a shout/email some time!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Ballyclare May Fair - last Thursday evening

We had a great time at this event, playing in the assembly hall of the High School to about 300 / 350 folk with our friends in the Ulster-Scots Folk Orchestra. The May Fair is a big deal, with fairgrounds, markets, a horse fair in the middle of the town itself - so we were delighted to be asked to play there.

Lord Laird kicked things off as guest of honour having just flown back from London that same afternoon. As usual the USFO played up to the interval, we came on and did half an hour and they came on to play "I Saw the Light" with us (fiddles flying!). We stayed onstage together till the end with a rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" to end the evening. We met some lovely people and enjoyed a great Ulster-Scots Supper of wheaten bread, soda bread, potato bread, lorne sausage, beef sausage and haggis. Gallons of tea - good, simple Ulster-Scots grub, and delicious too! As usual there were folk there who were keen to have a yarn afterwards, some of whom had Low Country family connections and others who just wanted to talk about music, faith and language. Really good night!

Check out the Ulster-Scots Folk Orchestra web site at

Virginia Calling

This email from James Barbour from Virginia:

"...I'm from North Carolina just south of Virginia. We have a wee festival in my little town every fourth weekend in September. We call the event Mule Days. My family started the annual tradition over sixty years ago. It all comes together in the small town of Benson. Just of the interstate 95. If ya'll ever make it here around that time drop in on us..."

"...I just wanted to ask if you would be making any possible trips to the states. we have a many folk and Bluegrass shows here that you would indeed be a wonderful part of and would allow your sound to be spread thru out the world. just an idea. I do have another question for you though. I was told my last name was from a Scottish decent. I was wondering if by chance you would know. as you noticed the spelling of my name at the opening of this letter it is pronounced (bar-ber) which i was told was also a name from the Scottish..." 

James Barbour

We were pleased to let James know that the name Barbour has a great Scottish heritage - for example, the 14th century writings about the Scottish King Robert the Bruce were written by John Barbour.

Low Country Boys hit Alabama!

The internet is an amazing thing - this email came from Lynne Neal is Seale, Alabama:

"...I'm glad to have found y'all and look forward to receiving the CD.  I am Scotch-Irish through and through, my mother's maiden name was Bruce and her Grandfather Bruce made fiddles and played with an informal group of friends any time they could get together!  I love this kind of music, and as a Christian, like the gospel music aspect very much.

Thanks so much for making this available to us all!

Lynne Neal.....from the Heart of Dixie.....Alabama  (and I hope you do get to visit the great state of Alabama's beautiful!)..."

So far we've probably sent more than 30 CDs to the States. Maybe we'll make it to Alabama some day?!

Thanks Y'all

Thanks to everyone who has supported the Low Country Boys so far - 1000 cds sold in 10 weeks since it was launched, airplay all over Ulster and Scotland, 2 live broadcasts with George Jones of Radio Ulster (in the studio on Good Friday, and just last Friday live from the Dufferin Arms in Killyleagh), a full hour interview with Ronnie Morrison of Downtown Radio on his "Gospel Hour" show a few weeks back - all amazing and we're thankful to everyone.

Looks like there's life in this oul Ulster-Scots language and the oul Gospel for a while yet!