Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Foghorn Stringband - from Ballyhalbert to Ballyboughal

Ballyhalbert Ballyboughal

It was a friend’s recommendation. It turned out to be one of the best musical nights ever. The Foghorn Stringband have played in Northern Ireland a few times, but on this tour they were staying down south - Dingle, Baltimore and Clonmel, as well as tiny Ballyboughal north of Dublin. So we set off to see them, a 2hr 45min drive down and the same up again.

The venue was the small St Patrick's Hall, a fantastically basic wee venue maybe not unlike older Orange Halls you get up here. No carpets, no amplification, no windows it seemed, and a room packed with about 50 locals who all apparently knew each other. We were complete strangers, but were made so welcome, the folk were delighted and a bit astonished we had made the trek down. We were all asked to turn our phones off but I snuck a few photos anyway.

St Patricks Ballyboughal

The Foghorn Stringband have quite a lot of gospel stuff in their normal repertoire, but interestingly they didn't do any that particular evening. We had them for about 2 hours of playing time with a short interval, we were sat just across the room from them. My jaw was on the floor. My gasps were a bit too audible at times! Spectacular authenticity, and Caleb Klauder is probably now my favourite mandolin player. He gets the old-timey stuff in a way that a 100mph bluegrass picker doesn't. He has flashes of Bailes Brothers, Blue Sky Boys and even the Stanley Brothers' mandolin players ('Pee Wee’ Lambert and Richard ‘Curly’ Lambert) about him. A great great talent who just knows what's needed.

Carter Family covers, Louvin Brothers covers, Hank Williams covers, trad songs and tunes from the Appalachia of the 1800s, tunes which the band had learned from old-timers, as well as original compositions too. Spontaneous waltzing and 'dosy doe' dancing - we managed to avoid that bit! The very next night, Tim O'Brien (yes, who appeared on Wayfaring Stranger and said good things about the Ulster-Scots) was playing at the Séamus Ennis Centre just up the road at (the) Naul. O'Brien is a West Virginian who grew up singing in church. The Ballyboughal folk were urging us to come back down and see him too - but sadly the tickets were long-gone. The warm welcome was pretty wonderful, a stark contrast to some church events my brother and I have played at I can tell you!

It is just a pity, maybe even a disgrace, that up here in the Scotch-Irish home province of Ulster, that there were no dates and presumably therefore not much demand compared with the rest of the island. Music is for everyone. But I do have this niggling question now about why there isn't a buzzing 'scene' for this type of stuff in Ulster-Scots heartlands such as County Down and County Antrim. (there is of course the annual Bluegrass festival in September at the Ulster-American Folk Park, a place called The Red Room in Cookstown, and the Bronte Music Club near Rathfriland).

On the other hand, there maybe is a demand, but perhaps the present-day gatekeepers of the publicly-funded arts centres and the locally-run community venues are just on a whole different wavelength. It seems to me that these places are doing very little by way of cultural affirmation, appreciation and education.

It was interesting that the folk were a bit incredulous that I had no idea who Séamus Ennis was. Goes to show the huge cultural gulf that exists.

(I should maybe book the Foghorn Stringband for a gospel gig next time they're in the vicinity). IMG 8196 IMG 8209 IMG 8195 IMG 8197IMG 8193IMG 8194