(I edited this piece, then it didn't save properly. I don't feel like editing it again. pardon the typos and some of the names are wrong/weird)
Sunday night...And a grand show it was. Morgan was reaching new depths of his sexually depraved style of banter. We sounded grand.
You'll have to pardon some gaps in my knowledge, because if there is one skill I've gained on this tour, it's the capacity to drink high volumes of alcohol. The friday night we arrived, two pints were fine, pleasantly buzzed and if I had much more I'd be sick in the morning. But since then, I've had much practice, every night for the last week. and can now knock down roughly 8 or night pints of Guinness in a night, without being hungover! And we've got another two weeks to go....
So here are the highlights from the last week (as much as I can remember)
The audience was quite receptive, we sold a bunch of Cds and then took off to Nicola's friends house to party more. While outside for a smoke, I met a high energy fellow named Dave Kelly. Dave was a tall, friendly guy who is part of culture reffered to as “Nordies” by some, meaning they come from the North Cork, the working class side of the city. All over town were mostly teenagers, and older guys dressed in the Nordy uniform, matching track pants and jacket. Most had the same haircut, short on the sides, a bit longer on the top, many had neck chains, some had neck tattoos. All had accents that were highly indecipherable. Dave came from that type of folk. He gave the impression of a joyous hopelessness. Said he saw the backwardness of the Irish people.
That night he was dressed up in the type of clothes he would have worn to church: clean jeans and a hooded sweatshirt. He told us stories about running from cops, having big fires once a month in a field, the cops cracking down, and melees breaking about. The gang went to his cozy one room apartment, and having my guitar and being I performed for hours. Longs chats with our polish friend Amelia gave much valued insight into the varieties of European culture. The Spanish and Polish, being some of the most outgoing and relaxed came in droves to Ireland to be in a similar culture.
Got in as the sun was coming up and agreed to visit a sacred well andshine to a local goddess the next day. The trend of little sleep, much fun, and much booze continues.
Nicola moved to a tiny town outside of cork in hopes of learning Gealic, or Irish as it's known in Ireland. The language is still spoken all over the country (especially in Gallway). Unfortunately, the local speakers internalized the oppression they received from the English and the educated cosmopolitan English speakers; they were distrustful of outsiders. Nicola wasn't able to be immersed in the language as she hoped and became a bit isolated in the tiny town. Walking into the woods, she took a rest and a bee came and sat on her knee. Back in town, she asked about the bee hive that's on the crest of xxxxx. Turned out the be hive was a reference, to Gobnit, or St Gobnit as the catholic church has since named her.
Click HERE for a background essay about her.
The legend goes that she was the local goddess to the pagan people. When cattle were the currency and cattle rustlers posed a threat, farmers would pray to Gobnait and she would send swarms of mysterious bees to chase them off. In the campaign to spread Catholicism, she became a saint. We visited her holy well, where people left offerings. The clearest clue that she predated Christianity is that her grave is dug out of a small hill and covered with massive stone slabs as a marker, instead of a head stone.
I tried to get a bit of sleep in, got some food but was totally exhausted by evening. Luckily my friends forced me to join them at the next party. It was awesome. In a tiny bar called Charlie's I got to experience a true Irish pub. The big Irish pubs in downtown Ottawa don't really have it right. But my local, Quinn's, is right on the money. Think living room, filled with eclectic local pride. Odes to local wonderboy Rory Gallager were covering one wall. The best part of the pub was the hearth. A beautiful coal fire burning away.
Once a week Nicola's friends Hank and Ray do a country night. We got to perform as guests. Hank is a local legend, playing all over town, huge song list, great voice, great guitar picker, looks like Chris Christopherson. His partner Ray is a hell of a mandolin picker. By this point the magical effects of alcohol began to take hold, suddenly I was transformed back into my energetic self. I had the pleasure of performing two songs for the audience and then Morgan Friend and Friends (as I call the band I'm touring with, because we don't really have a name) took the stage and did a mini set. Very well received and the glimps of the seeds of a Salvador Dali Lama and the Sick Sick Sicks, Irish tour, began to be formed.
Then things got interesting. Went to a huge bar called Crane Lane which was the late night hang out. Massive patio, two rooms with two different DJ s, and large room with a stage with rock bands playing. The music was good so I started dancing. A fit, petite, 40 something french woman and I started doing acrobatic clown dancing to the delighted audience. Many laughs, performance yoga, exaggerated gestures. Danced for hours. The older folks went back to their hostel eventually. I was in high energy mode. Got invited to a party with five, early twenties girls, we sang some tunes, and as the first lights were breaking, I went to sleep.
Off to Tipperary! Met the travel family back at the hostel around 10 and hit the road. Much like my tour with Amanda Rheaume in 2010 through the eastern US down to Texas, I slept in the car. Our first destination was the wind swept ruines of Rock of Cashal. A stone fort in county Tipperary where the local Kings where crowned. It was given to the church at one point and it became a Cathedral. Back to sleep and woke in the small town of Clog Jordan. Smack in the middle of the town, (because it basically revolves around the main strip,) is a passage way that leads to an eco village. A self sustaining, village of the future that has plenty of gardens, water capturing, solar panels and carbon neutral houses.
In the middle of the eco village was Django's eco hostle. Named after the proprietor Pa's dog. Pa is a huge gypsy jazz fan. And get this, he and his wife put on something called Clog-Tober fest. They invited the best gypsy jazz players from Europe to come and perform. The town and county loved it and they are doing again this year. After hearing me perform that night, they hopped I could come back with my band. They like my gypsybilly sound. The Sicks tour suddenly became slightly more viable.
There was peat burning in the fire place at the Railway bar in the middle of town. Smelled delicious. The gig was one of the most memorable and enjoyable of my life. I opened up. My “I like my bike” song was appreciated by the green minded eco village folk. We play a set, sounded great, and then the real fun started. We got the word out that we wanted to play with local traditional irish musicians and we got some of the best players in the area. Accordion, bazoki, Irish flute, tenor banjo, guitar, bodhran (Irish Drum), cahone (south american drum) were the instruments the players brought down and they killed it. It was the first time I'd been part of an Irish jam before and I loved it. My bluegrass rhythm playing lended itself well. One part of the tradition that I'd heard of but not seen before was the table in the middle for drinks. At every jam it's like that. On dulcimer, standup bass and resonator guitar we backed them up and then we taught them our songs and they backed us up. Pure marvel.
Bomber, the bartended would catch my eye every 20 minutes or so and do the “would you like another drink?” mime from across the room. I learned right away to not say no, because if I did he'd give a strong look and do the “Chug your beer!” mime. I had an especially good time playing the bohran. It's a beautiful percussive sound with many different possible tones. We all danced and sung and drank late into the night. Morgan and I stumbled back to the eco village laughing away.
As an aside, I'd like to make it very clear that despite all the drinking and quick pace of this tour, I've been meditating twice a day for half an hour each time. This lifestyle can be very harsh on the mind, body and spirit, but having a daily practice of reconnecting to one's core beliefs, and just breathing slowly to regulate the nervous system, is extremely beneficial.
It was a bright and beautiful day, we headed west to County Clar (pronounced clair). Our stop that day was a neolithic stone structure. Built around the same time as stone hendge, they say this marker predates the pyramids. We spent a good deal of time looking for Buren National Park, then found out we were it in. Navigating the back roads we tricky at times but we pulled through. Oh yeah, on driving, it's treacherous here. The roads are quite narrow and the road signs indicate speeds far to high to navigate safety. The Buren was like a moon scape, totally unique on the Island, grey rock everywhere. But farmers still pastured their cows, goats and donkeys.
Another cool note, there are loads of old Castles dotting the landscape. It seemed like every 40 minutes or so we'd come across the ruines of another ancient building in the middle of a field. Some had been overhauled and modernized. Old churches as well. In many small towns, next to the existing church is the front, back and side walls of the old place of worship.
By late afternoon we made it to Milltown Malbay, in Clar. We were playing for our lodging and food at the Central bar and hotel. Pat, the owner was warm and kind. The old building seemed to have a maze of passage ways up to our rooms. Morgan and I ate traditional Irish meal of Boiled Bacon Loin with Boiled Cabbage and Mash. It was surprisingly fantastic. Boiled together, the salty bacon flavoured the cabbage just right. It was delicious.
Strolling the town we stopped at Lynch's, a protected heritage pub. Basically three living rooms in a line front to back, it's the unnofiicial epicienter of trad music in Ireland. Paintings of the local hero of the Eilian pipes adroned the walls, as well as orrigional lyric sheets and advertisements for world class musicians set to play there later that month. There's a trad festival every summer in Milltown Malbay, and the town gets packed to the gills. The music brings people down, but so does the senery. It's on the Irish Sea and has tropical weather patterns. Think palm trees.
The gig wasn't as well attended as the night before, a fine repose from the intense living of the past few days. I opened up, Friend and Friend's played. But when the jam started, and the endless pints of Guinness started flowing. The locals were competing for buying us drinks! For some reason Greg, Morgan and I each had two and a half pints going at the same time. Local boys brought out a bohdran and mandolin and the jams continues. Nicola sang and played the penny whistle that night, which was a lovely addition. I think we went to bed, slightly early then the night before, but it's tough to say.
Up early again and slept in the car. The Cliffs of Maher was the sight of the day. Massive, overwhelming power and beauty of earth and ocean, transcending eons. A humbling experience.
There was a woman playing a full size Irish harp that took my breath away. It felt like I as being immersed deeper and deeper into the culture. And loving every moment of it.
Back in the Car, back to sleep to the little town of Dolin. A touching little fishing/tourist villiage. We ate some fantastic local fare and got to sit in the musicians table. Along the way we saw a donkey. The sights speak for themselves.
Then came GALWAY, my new favourite city on earth. Brimming with life, I see myself spending at least a few weeks if not a few years there sometime in the future. Brimming with life, character, it feels like going back in time, but is also cosmopolitan, artistic, beautiful. Strolling the pedestrian walk, Morgan and I popped into a trad bar to listen to the fantastic session players. I jammed along a little bit, ( was carrying my guitar on my back) and got the nod that I could join them in the front, cordoned off area reserved for musician. The appreciating for my trade is like none I've ever experienced. I felt like royalty jamming in the reserved section in this full bar, all eyes on us.
Hadn't heard many of those tune before, but a background in traditional music made jumping in as smooth as butter. I'll get music nerdy for a second here. One of the four fiddle players would start a tune, then usually all the other fiddle players, the banjo player, would jump in playing the same thing, A and B parts, until the person that started the song signalled they would go to a different tune. He or she would jump right in, sometimes in a different key and it would be a sequence of 5 to ten tunes in a row. Then a quick break.
With each new tune I would mute my strings and lay out a rhythm. The new rhythm I learned on the bohdran, basically a down-down-up down-down-up, fit into most songs. Then I would find the root note, or tonic, to find out which key it was. To make it slightly more interesting, a trick from bluegrass and country playing is to play as a bass note, the root and then the five of each chord. Neil, the fiddle player next to me confirmed my though that there are no set chord progressions to many of these tunes, much is interchangeable. I would play the basic structure of the tunes, generally, but not always, starting on the one, then they would go to two, three, four, five or six. And back, most tunes had three basic chords.
But then I started experimenting. Turns out jazz cording with walking bass lines lends itself extremely well to traditional Irish music. Depending on the chord you were one, with each beat you could walk up the scale, play the corresponding chord and then land back on the chord changes. Swinging the rhythm worked too. But as Neil said, it's a world of subtlety, you need to know when to stick your neck out, and when to pull back. A bunch of tunes were in minor keys, and if you've payed any critical attention to my playing late, I'm rarerly far off from the spooky, minor nine gypsy jazz chord. It went along quite well.
Neil was tall, with shaggy long hair, and was impressed with my playing. He said trad players are racist against guitar players at sessions. Probably because guitar is a more a more common and popular instrument so people who think they know something about playing guitar think they can sit in with a trad session. But to play the style well requires a sharp ear and a certain dedication to rhythm playing and backing up melodic instruments. But he said I knew what I was doing. Specifically when I came in on a one beat with a minor chord, he said most guitar players wouldn't have know. I took it as a great compliment. Between songs we chatted about the Sicks touring in the fall, that all we really needed was a vehicle. He said he could get one and play fiddle for us. We shall see, we shall see. The jam was incredible though. Happiest I've been in a while.
On the main strip Morgan and I dined outside, had fresh oysters and fish and chips. The live band inside kicked ass. The bohran again, is a spellbinding instrument.
We went to a bluegrass jam that was jam packed. Morgan headed home and I drank in a park with a guy in a ska band named Ben. About to pull my card out to open the door to the hostel, from behind me I heard. “Oh you play guitar, can you come play guitar at our house.” I was a cute well dressed woman with a scotish accent, her sister, her friend, and the friends brother, (who was dating the sister). We played tunes and drank cocktails. Then she asked if I wanted to wear a dress. I couldn't see the harm. Four hours and four cocktails later, some ridiculous pictures of me, all done up in full drag, were being prepared for the world. Very much fun. Very little sense. And what do you know, went to sleep at 6, got up at 9 to wash that stuff off my face, (except the eye liner). And prepare our trip to Dublin.
There you have it, I freaking love Galway.
Driving out today, I saw something that warmed my heart. Sadly I hadn't heard of it before, but the occupy Galway encampent looks to be going strong. Well fortified!
No historic sight today. Just sleeping in the car. I like Dublin, so far, but I miss Galway already. The city is alive, but grimier. It's good friday today, so you can't buy booze anywhere. There is a sangria party in the kitchen of the hostel, though. We play at 730 tonight, opening for a metal band and a hip hop band. Tomorrow is a benefit for the shell to sea campaign. This afternoon, an italian girl named Gaia showed me around a bit, bought some groceries. And wrote wrote wrote!
For what ever reason wifi isnt working for my computer or my phone, so you all will have to wait untill I can email myself the pictures (my comp wont recognize my phone my plugged in iphone either, for some reason) but it will be well worth it. I assure you. Hope everyone is healthy and happy. Thanks for the support.
Very much love, SDL.