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Thursday 26th January 2012

A contemporary folk band from Galway called Fling are performing for students of Music at my school. Music teacher, Kamilla Carstensen, has invited other teachers, with their classes too, so I’ve brought my third-year class along with me and have asked them to write a review.

During one of the discussion breaks Peter Bögsted, another Music teacher, announces where his class, 2A, will be going on their study trip in September: Ireland.

“Well,” say the band members, “you should come to Galway then.”

And so it is agreed.

This sounds like my kind of trip. I’m a fan of folk music, and I’m really into Fling’s performance. But it’s a pipe dream. There are two colleagues up for it, a reserve in the wings apparently, and it isn’t even my class.

Tuesday 25th March

One of my students, Dorthe Lodberg, has written a review of the concert that I think is worthy of publication:

Fresh, Festive, Formidable – Fling

One cold, grey Thursday morning towards the end of January a small crowd of Danish students of A-level Music are gathered in the concert hall of their school, Esbjerg Gymnasium & HF, to hear the Irish contemporary folk band, Fling, give a delightful, moving and intimate concert.

The five musicians fling themselves into the concert with the sort of enthusiasm that would seem to be the special reserve of those who play music because not to do so would be unimaginable. They are eminently professional, both inspiring and yet very real and down to earth.

With Liam Carroll (lead vocalist, guitar, octave mandolin and harmonica), Maeve Kelly (lead vocalist, feadóg, low whistle, harmonica, octave mandolin), Liam Conway (banjo, mandolin, octave mandolin and vocals), Pauli Smalls (bass guitar) and Ade Alkin (traditional drum-set supplemented with a bodhrán), the recipe consists of the time-honoured ingredients of humour, spontaneity, musical skill, and a knowledge of and a passion for music, and the dishes they serve are colourful, vibrant and velvety tunes on no less than ten different musical instruments, with polyphonic singing at regular intervals.

This melting pot of musicians from different backgrounds, and with various talents and interests, joined forces a year and a half ago, and they are keeping Irish history and tradition alive by playing and singing in very traditional Celtic and Irish-English strains, and yet simultaneously incorporating more modern features that ensure their brand of music is up-to-date. Their own diverse musical backgrounds are conducive to this approach, but the natural development of Irish folk music has also been to immerse itself in the cultures in which it has found itself, and here the cross-fertilisation of the American Irish returning to Ireland before embarking on a new wave of emigration is particularly characteristic. The strains of bluegrass and Cajun are unmistakably part and parcel of contemporary Irish folk, and yet the sound of the Irish accent is so original, unique, refreshing and charming that the audience is spellbound by it. As Maeve Kelly explains: “In Ireland there’s a strong history of storytelling – especially through poems and songs.” And when Fling perform a traditional sad Irish song such as “Shady Grove” with an upbeat Cajun flavour, and a light tune like “Ballyshannon Bends” with a mix of bluegrass and humour, this heritage would seem to be as alive and kicking as ever. This latter tune is one of several that accelerates as it progresses, and at its fastest the eye has difficulty following the banjo player’s and whistle player’s fingers, having to settle instead for the bounciness of Pauli Smalls’ hair.

It is not only the range of Fling’s musical virtuosity that entertains and impresses the students, but also their evident willingness to impart knowledge. Twice the lights come on as they sit down at the front of the stage and answer as many questions as the students can muster.

This is a pleasant and refreshing learning experience. It’s a cold winter day here in Denmark, but for a couple of hours Fling have us dancing on a 560-kilometre trip across the North Sea to a traditional Irish pub and the milder climes of Galway.

I send it to Maeve Kelly via Facebook.

Tuesday 19th June

My wife and I are out at our caravan in Blaavand. Even though there’s more than a week left of oral exams, my duties are over, and I’m looking forward to some time off before the graduation ball, graduation ceremony and summer party at the school.

I’ve just returned from relaxing at the wellness centre, when my principal rings me up. From previous experience I take this to mean bad news; he’s going to ask me to fill in for a sick colleague. So I take the call with some foreboding.

“Hello.”
“Hello, Duncan. Erling Petersson here”
“Hello, Erling.”
“I’m just calling to ask you if you would like to go to Ireland with 3A in September.”
“Well… (brief pause – purely for decency’s sake) …yes, I’d like that very much.”

Usually a class has the same English teacher for all three years. Occasionally, however, there are circumstances that make it impossible. I did know I’d be teaching 3A English next year. And if I’d thought about it, I’d have figured my chances of going on that trip had thus increased dramatically, but it’s not something I’ve given any thought at all.

The teacher I’m replacing – not their Music teacher, Peter, but another colleague – has been invited to teach on a teacher’s training course during the week in question. As that’s something he’d very much like to do, and as he’ll only be teaching twelve of the thirty students next year, he decided to approach the principal on the matter.

It’s a huge, brilliant surprise. An early birthday present.

Friday 22nd June

To celebrate my 50th birthday I go and hear Peter Bögsted and his band, 21st Blues, perform at Underground in Esbjerg. He’s hired blues icon, Kenn Lending, for the evening, and we are treated to some monstrously brilliant blues. Ten other colleagues come along for the ride.

Thursday 28th June

It turns out that the guy who arranges Fling’s concerts in Denmark, Claus Hebor, has organized the whole trip – four nights in Galway with various events through Fling’s connections there (including a gig on the final night at Monroe’s, where the students will be warming up for Fling), and three nights in Dublin. Not only that, but Claus will be joining us. Although he’s been to Ireland countless times before, he’s never actually been to Galway.

There are no special events planned for Dublin. Not yet, that is. I have a great contact there from my very first visit there three years ago. Here is my “Dublin Memoir”, published in Anglo Files, #156, the journal of DATE (The Danish Association of Teachers of English):

MONDAY 14th September 2009: On our return to the hostel after Day One in Dublin with 3E I borrow my colleague, Gitte’s, computer and discover that the organiser of The Glór Sessions (Music & Poetry), Stephen James Smith, has replied to the e-mail I sent him before I left. He wants me to come to The International Bar at 9pm to recite a couple of poems and sing a song.

I’ve told my students I might be doing so, and they want to be there, so I send one of them a text. Also staying in the hostel is another class from our school. I taught them in their first year, and they want to come along too. They’re studying A-level Music and have just gone out on the Musical Pub Crawl. So I send one of their two teachers, Birgitte, a text too.

In the course of the day I have located an Indian restaurant on Parliament Street called A Taste of India, so Gitte and I go for a meal there. The food is so delicious it’s difficult not to tarry, but a text from Birgitte – “Where are you?” – goads us into action. We scamper up to Wicklow St. and find that the cosy wee bar downstairs is already occupied by a large number of our students. As I make the acquaintance of Stephen and a fellow called Danny Kelleher, many more of the students come tumbling in.

“Are they all with you?” Stephen asks.
“Yes,” I say, wondering if it’s not a bit of an imposition.

But Stephen quickly puts my fears to rest. Eying some good business for the pub, he suggests I appear in the second half. I warn him that the students might get restless, so he decides to put me on earlier.

It’s now 9.40, and the bar is filled to bursting point. Stephen assures the crowd that their teacher will be coming on soon, appeals for quiet (which, bar one lively conversation that he has to douse, is respected), and kicks the evening off with a fine recitation of Eric Bogle’s “And the Band Played ‘Waltzing Matilda’”, thus serving me, coming on fourth, with an intro to my opening piece, as it was also written by a Scot (me) and it too has a main character who loses both his legs, “funnily enough”. Mine due to alcoholism rather than war. It’s “The Dipsomaniac“. In the tradition of presenting the work of others I then sing Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Inversnaid”, without accompaniment, much to the delight, it turns out later, of a literary type called Peter Conway. Now it’s time to borrow Stephen’s guitar.

It’s a new experience for me to hear an audience clap when I present one of my songs. A good one, I find. And it turns out the students know the chorus rather well. I suspect it’s the Musical Pub Crawl contingent that’s on song. I haven’t prepared an encore, but the students start singing the chorus of another of my songs, “Who Needs an Easy Love?“, and although I haven’t performed it for over a year, they won’t let me off the hook. I appeal to Stephen, but suddenly he’s on their side. It’s like playing away in front of a home crowd. The chorus works well at least. Stephen then invites the students to perform something, so two of them do a number by a Danish pop singer, Thomas Helmig.

Most of the students stay on till the end of the long first half. Worthy of mention is Danny, whose set with guitar is very fluent and lyrical. He reminds me a bit of Al Stewart. After the break comes the main act, a series of very compelling and very literary poems by Raven. He moved here from San Francisco four years ago and now runs Rá, Ireland’s premier performance poetry event. After his first piece a handful of students make a discreet exit. And I don’t blame them. This isn’t easy listening. Later on, a new star is discovered in Andy Delamere, a huge talent guitar-wise.

Two of the students, Frederik Dalgas Jensen and Jonas Oldenburg, are still with me at 1am when the hard core are out on the street saying goodbye to each other.

Stephen collars Andy. He wants him back another evening soon.

I want to come back again soon too.

I’ve kept in touch with Stephen on Facebook ever since, and I’ve been a big fan of one project of his especially, viz. a collaboration with Enda Reilly where they sing and recite Irish poems and songs simultaneously, and which has resulted in the album, Arise and Go. So I contact him and ask if we can do a gig with him and Enda, and he says he’d like to do that.

Thursday 6th September

Stephen has fixed up a gig for us with him and Enda at the International Bar on the 21st. That’s going to be fun.

In the evening I go to hear Fling playing at Turisthotellet in Oksböl ten miles north-west of where I live in Hjerting. With me are my wife, my brother-in-law, Anders, and my neighbour and English teacher colleague, Guri. Another English teacher colleague, Heidi, and her husband, Jesper, who live in Oksböl, come along too. Guri and Heidi are both folk music aficionados, and they give Fling a very enthusiastic thumbs-up.

It’s here that I meet Claus for the first time. He’s very taken with the crazy dance I perform to the final encore, “Triptych“, and he says he’s looking forward to having me as a travelling companion in Ireland. I meet his wife, Helle, and it turns out that she’ll be joining us. She reveals that she’s a nurse, which is an extra blessing.

As for the students, well, they’re a bright, friendly, sociable bunch. There are 17 lassies and 13 lads, and they seem harmonious. So things look very promising. I’ve only had four classes with them, and I’m still struggling to remember a couple of their names, but, as I say to Maeve:

“At least I’ll know their names when we come back.”

I’ve given them a crash course in Irish literature, where they’ve read Colm Tóibín’s short story, “The Empty Family”, as well as John Millington Synge’s short play, “Riders to the Sea”. In addition they each have to give an oral presentation of a section of Xenophobe’s Guide to the Irish by Frank McNally (2008). It’s here that they are introduced to the concept of the craic.

Thursday 13th September

I’m looking on the Internet to see what’ll be happening in Galway and Dublin while we’re over. There’s a singer/songwriter from Galway, Miriam Donohue, whose song, “Street Car”, I like. She sounds like Joni Mitchell, Dido, and Suzanne Vega rolled into one. I can see on Facebook she’s just finished a year at the Galway Access Music Project, which we’re going to be sampling for a day. I contact her on Facebook to hear if we can see her in Galway, but she tells me she’ll be out of town.

Sunday 16th September

We set off from the school at 5.30 am on a coach bound for Hamburg. From here we fly to Dublin. We’re then whisked away by coach to Galway. It all goes off without a hitch, under the expert stage-management of Claus. Usually on a study trip the teachers have to take care of all the logistics, so to have Claus doing that for us is a great boon.

We arrive in Ireland’s musical Mecca at two in the afternoon. We’re staying at Barnacles Quay Street House Hostel on the pedestrian precinct at the lower end of the main street in the centre of town

photo, Peter Bögsted

overlooking a pub called The Quays. The weather’s turned nice, and the street is swamped with people. But they seem happy enough, and there’s a mellow and friendly atmosphere that’s infectious.

A few buskers brave the flood.                                photo, Mads Joakim

I have some time to explore a bit on my own before we go out together later. I seek out a quiet spot by the River Corrib and watch it flow.

Ennistymon Waterfalls, Co. Clare         photo, Liam Carroll

In the early evening, at Claus’ recommendation, Peter and I go to have fish and chips at McDonagh’s, where we run into a gaggle of our students. Afterwards we all head up into town to sample some beer and live music. Our first stop is Taaffes, and Peter and I decided to taste the local brew, Galway Hooker, whose name derives from the name of the traditional fishing boat used in Galway Bay.

“I’d like two Galway Hookers,” I tell the barman.
“For how long?” he replies, to much merriment at the bar.
“Oh, twenty minutes, a half hour.”

It’s a nice, fresh, hoppy, fruity ale, not all that unlike some of the ales brewed by small breweries in Denmark. We let some of the students have a snifter. A few other students have carried on chatting with some guys at the bar, and as we pass on our way back out, I hear this Irish guy proudly rattling off a long list of Danish footballers. We go over the road to Tig Cóilí, where a session is in full swing:

photo, Peter Bögsted

It’s not until the next day that we realise the man in the middle on accordion is Anders Traberg, a Danish guy Peter is intent on tracking down after hearing about him from Peter Uhrbrandt, a fiddler on Fanö. The woman opposite Anders is probably his Japanese wife. I say “probably” because the next day we hear another session with him at Tig Cóilí, where he’s accompanied by no less than three female Japanese fiddlers. They are all accomplished, and the music is upbeat. It’s jolly music, and yet not silly in any way. Here’s an article from the Galway Advertiser about Anders.

Claus has informed us that Liam Carroll will be playing at The Merry Fiddler Bar after 9, so a large group of us make our way there later on. Claus and Helle are already there. Liam is playing second fiddle to Ollie, but at one point he is given a twenty-minute set on his own with guitar, harp (i.e. mouth organ) and song, which is a treat. He starts with “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”. Fling play it too, but I’d go for his solo version any time.

Maeve and Pauli turn up later, and I go with them down to Roisin Dubh. Liam Conway turns up, as does another bass player Pauli has played with. The other Liam is turned away at the door, which closes long before the pub is emptied.

After kicking-out time the others go on to a night club. I’ve had an early start (3.45 am Irish time) and sense it’s time to find my bed.

Monday 17th September

We attend the Galway Access Music Project to receive some professional music training. It begins to spit as we wait outside.

photo, Peter Bögsted

But when the spit turns to rain we are let inside.

Cormac Dunne, who was in the original line-up of The Stunning, teaches us some percussion:

photo, Peter Bögsted

Then Michael Durham (a Canadian woman) gives us some voice training:

photo, Peter Bögsted

photo, Peter Bögsted

That’s me in the background offering Maeve a remedy for a hangover – ten drops of Japanese peppermint oil in a pint of water.

Sandwiches and tea or coffee are laid on for lunch, and then Caroline and Colin from a band called Queen Elvis give us a workshop in songwriting:

photo, Peter Bögsted

The students are very well-behaved and attentive throughout, and they seem genuinely grateful. Which is something Maeve marvels at.

“Irish teenagers,” she says, “are terrible louts.”

I don’t dare mention that this class has the reputation for being one of the rowdiest in our school.

Maeve then takes Peter, Claus and me down to a pub called Tigh Neachtains (Naughtons). It’s a mere waddle from the hostel, and here we can sup Bonaparte, a beer that tastes as Guinness used to before it was made milder in order to satisfy a wider, and younger, segment of the population. The fire is lit in one of the small bars inside, and we get cosy. Maeve introduces us to someone called Tim. He doesn’t join in the conversation though. Later, when the sun’s come out and I’m sitting outside smoking, I see him leaving, and I call out:

“See ya, Tim!”

Tim turns around, startled, then comes and sits next to me. We swap some anecdotes, and he ends up staying for another hour and buying me a Bonaparte. That’s Galwegian and Irish hospitality for you. Even though Tim’s originally from Australia. In the meantime Pauli has emerged into the day, and he joins us. Later he calls out to a guy walking by with a pram, and soon we’re talking to Sean, a primary-school teacher.

“Do you play music?” I ask him.
“No.”
“Can I have your autograph?”

Helle has also turned up at Naughtons, and she, Claus, Pauli and I go up to Tig Cóilí, where Anders Traberg is playing again. I do a wee dance (for the benefit of Claus perhaps) only to be joined by two ladies who want to do a more traditional dance, with all that overarm/underarm stuff. I oblige them, but sit myself firmly down when the piece is over.

Dusk has fallen, and buskers have started playing loud, amplified music on the emptied streets, one every forty yards. At Vina Mara I find some very good food quite cheap and served with startling speed. It’s almost as if they know I’m itching to get back to the live music scene. Anders is playing another session at Taaffes, but I wander back into Tig Cóilí to hear a singer on guitar, where I chat with Claus and a couple of the students, Christian Albertsen and Katrine Buur.

Tuesday 18th September

Claus has hired a coach, and we pick up Liam Carroll on our way out of town. As well as being a talented singer and musician, Liam is also a professional photographer, and the students have been advised that he’ll be on hand to give them some useful tips. He also lends them his tripod. We drive north to the picturesque bog, loughs and mountains of Connemara. Here’s a picture that Liam took in Connemara in June 2011:

Connemara                                                          photo, Liam Carroll

Today the weather’s better, thankfully. We’re treated to a couple of rainbows – “Double ones?” I’m asked twice later on, but no, they aren’t – which then dissolve in blue skies and sunshine.

photo, Sara Möller Larsen

The present header on this blog is also taken at this spot – by Mads Joakim. It’s his first-ever attempt at a panorama shot. He calls it “Connemara Panorama”.

After a good lunch in Clifden we drive west up along the Sky Road, with its impressive views of the coast:

photo, Mads Joakim

Katrine Buur                                             photo, Mia Maja Mortensen

Later we stop close to Kylemore Abbey, a romantic castle in a superb setting, i.e. a mountain behind and a loch before.

Later we have a 20-minute leg-stretch down the road.

We only have an hour back in Galway before we’re back on the coach again and off to see some hurling at Castlegar Gaelic Athletic Association. Mike Connolly shows us the ropes and lets the students have a few attempts picking up the sliotar with the hurley and hitting it. And then we watch an hour of hurling. We’re then ushered inside for tea, coffee, sandwiches, cakes and biscuits. Hurling’s big over here. Many of the cars are sporting flags with the colours of the local team, as they’re up against favourites Kilkenny in the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship final replay taking place in Croke Park in Dublin on Sunday 30th September. Because they drew last time, people now fancy their chances, which I always think is a case of over-optimism, but good luck to them anyway.

Back in town I saunter up to The Merry Fiddler along with Christian and Jonas Memborg to hear Liam Carroll playing again. He’s on his own this evening, although a chum, Adrian Keenan, is on hand with some harmonies. Claus and Helle turn up a bit later. Apart from us (at the table of honour) there are only a few old boys sitting at the bar. Again he starts with “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”. It would seem to be his signature song at the moment. Though it’s in close competition with another Dylan song he does: “Girl from the North Country”. This video on You Tube gives an idea of his performance of it. We’re treated to many more fine songs accompanied by lovely guitar and harp. There’s no chat to distract from the music, just some banter in between numbers. I let it fall that I also sing a bit, so Liam insists I take a turn. He’s got 17 different harps, but none in G.

“I just use C for G,” he says.

Well, maybe so, Liam, but I’m not about to try that out off the cuff. Nice guitar though. I do “Suzanne”, “On Fanö”, and “Streets of Gold”, and they go down pretty well. It’s a pleasure to play for people who are listening.

Afterwards we sit round with our pints of Guinness, just watching it settle. Poetry in motion. Then the chat becomes philosophical. I’m told about the ancient site of Newgrange, north of Dublin, a tomb that’s older than Stonehenge and whose passage and chamber are illuminated by the winter solstice sun. I tell a creation myth about Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia resembling the figure of a man and the Americas that of a woman. Then the pub closes, and it’s time to go home.

Wednesday 19th September

Peter and I go into town for breakfast, as the bread and coffee at the hostel aren’t all that brilliant. (The showers also leave something to be desired – a button in the wall activates fifteen seconds of lukewarm water that remains on the linoleum floor, and if I close the shower curtain there’s no room for me in the shower.) Our meal is interrupted by a lady who says she’s fascinated by the way we’re talking about music, and before long we’re talking about intuition and spirituality, and then she’s talking about how Christ guides her through life.

We head back to the hostel to see whether any of the students require help with their projects. Not as such. But one or two of them are tinkling a bit on the guitar provided in the common room – now there’s a nice touch. I find a computer, and via Facebook I tell Stephen we’re on our way to Dublin tomorrow.

Peter and I decide to go shopping. We go into a music shop, the Four Corners. In the Irish folk music section I pick out Sail On by Dick Gaughan. Have they adopted him or what? He’s normally perceived as being Scottish. It turns out his father was Irish. Here’s him singing a lovely song, Song for Ireland (which was written by an English couple). The Scots and the Irish have a common aesthetic. Dougie MacLean’s “Caledonia”, for example, is a very popular song over here. In this performance of the song Dougie actually quips that the Irish think it’s theirs. There’s some truth in this. Even Liam says he’s never heard of Dougie MacLean.

Stephen calls me on my mobile and tells me he’s e-mailed me a couple of choruses he wants us to learn before our gig at the International on Friday. He also urges me to eat fish and chips at McDonagh’s and go to Roisin Dubh. I assure him that these are places that were drawn to my attention from the off. We are in good hands.

Smoking outside Tig Cóilíin, I start conversing with a guy who is a part-time farmer and a part-time musician. He wants to write his own songs, but he’s having trouble with that. So we chat a bit about writing songs.

Peter turns up, and my new acquaintance makes himself scarce – he’s off to write a song or two, he says. Peter has bought himself a brown tweed cap. I left my hat behind at the school, and I decide I want a hat of sorts too. I’ve never been a patient shopper, and within seconds of entering Fallers Sweater Shop I’ve decided upon a black hat with “Guinness” on it. Then we head off to McDonagh’s for some lunch.

There are no events scheduled for the afternoon as two-thirds of the students are performing in the evening. If they want something to do, then there’s the free guided tour of the town. Four of the lads go off to get tattoos done as a memento of their visit. Although it’s a fair walk, Peter and I decide to go and kick the wall as that’s something you do apparently when you’re in Galway. However, we run into Maeve outside Naughtons and barge in on her rendez-vous with Helle there. I tell Maeve once again that I think the day at the Access Music Project was a great success, and I praise the scheduling of the three different classes.

“Though thinking about it,” I say, “it would have been even better if we’d finished off with a class on dancing. When I told Liam that last night, he said he’d organized some dancers for the gig tonight, and he wondered whether they might show the students some steps.”

“What?” says Maeve. “Liam organize some dancers? I’ll fall over if that happens!! That man couldn’t organize his way out of a wet paper bag!”

We subsequently discuss star signs, and it transpires that Pauli and I share the same date of birth.

Maeve and Helle are going for a walk up the river to the University, and Peter and I invite ourselves along. Maeve is an excellent tour guide, telling us all the stories about the river, the nuns on the island, and the cathedral that was a prison not too long ago. The University is a charming mix of old and new, and there are students everywhere. Maeve knows a lot about it as she herself studied here, and it’s a trip down memory lane for her. We hear some apocryphal stories too, like the one about the lawn that no student dare cross as superstition says you’ll then fail your exams. Now that’s a clever way to keep people off the grass. The noisy canteen makes her especially nostalgic. I find myself thinking that we should have brought the students up here. After all, it’s places like these many of them will soon want to be heading.

Down at sea-level again, Maeve goes to move her car as her parking time’s expired, and Peter and I wait for her in The Crane Bar. She never does turn up, not that this worries us too much. We’re confident she’s all right, and the Guinness is good, as is the company. We meet some locals as well as some Swedish visitors. There’s one lassie here who was at Naughtons earlier. I tell her she should come to Monroe’s this evening seeing as all good things come in threes.

I then go to Joyce Book Store and buy some books. One of them is Waking Up in Dublin: A Musical Tour of the Celtic Capital by Neil Hegarty from 2004.

Monroe’s Live is busy when I arrive at 9.30. The students have been campaigning too.

Peter Bögsted presents his students and thanks Monroe’s, Fling, and Claus.

And then they’re underway.

Accordian Swing and the Funkadelic Two (aka. Benjamin Kodböl, Christian Albertsen, and Frederik Mols) kick off with some traditional folk music: “Holevvalsen”, “8-mands Reel” and “Forlovelses Reihnlaender”. Then Inaluk Berthelsen, Kira Lyberth, Maria Thomassen, Mette Hansen, and Sabine Henriksen do ”Gatekeeper” (by Feist).

There’s some trouble with the sound, but the students acquit themselves admirably nonetheless.

Emma Gjörding and Anna Halkjaer perform two of their own songs, “Tears me Apart” and “Wine”, as well as a Tina Dico number, “Room with a View”.

Emma Gjörding and Anna Halkjaer                      photo, Mads Joakim

Then Mads Joakim, Mikkel Hintz, Max Uldahl and Rikke Andersen perform “Set Fire to the Rain” (by Adele) and “Tomgang” (by Shaka Loveless).

The students’ performances are going down well, though there is quite a bit of chatter at the back of the hall.

Then Kasper Rask, Mads Joakim, Max Uhldahl, Mikkel Hintz, and Simon Nielsen perform a Danish rap number, “Kosmisk Kaos” (by Malk de Koijn). The hall falls silent, and mouths fall open. Never have they witnessed anything quite like this.

Finally Emilie Marie Nielsen, Frederik Mols, Jeppe Schack, Jakob Horsböl, and Mads Höjer perform a couple of Toto numbers, “Georgy Porgy” and “Baby He’s Your Man”:

Jeppe Schack and Mads Höjer

Mads’ tattoo                                                        photo, Mads Höjer

Emilie Marie Nielsen

Jakob Horsböl

Frederik Mols

Jeppe Schack, Mads Höjer and Emilie Marie Nielsen

That’s twenty of the thirty students who’ve been up performing. There are several reasons why the remainder aren’t performing. For some of them their preferred genres wouldn’t be apt here, and for others their preferred instruments are not available.

Some of the students are a bit miffed that the monitors weren’t working at all well, but Peter brushes it aside as a healthy learning experience. As Maeve notes a couple of times in my hearing, the sound system at our gymnasium is on a par with those of the very best venues in Ireland. So, yes, the students are used to better things.

When I go out for a smoke in the break, I find that my Guinness hat has been lifted. Some things are just not meant to be.

Now Fling come on, and it’s soon clear they are in great form. They’ve settled with a permanent drummer now, Gerard Flynn, and their performance is much sharper and yet even freer than in the two previous concerts I’ve attended. There’s a great dynamic at play, and they have a wonderfully fluent, happy energy:

Fling at Monroe’s

Maeve Kelly and Liam Carroll

Pauli Smalls, Maeve Kelly, Liam Carroll and Liam Conway

And then, shock of all shocks (for Maeve anyway): Liam introduces the two smartly-dressed youngsters standing behind me at the bar as Irish dancers, and they come up and give a spirited performance.

This apparently inspires the students. When the music resumes I’ve hardly started one of my crazy flings before I’m engulfed by energetic youngsters. No matter. I’m content to collapse beside Claus on one of the two huge white sofas close to the stage and let the young ones do their stuff.

Then Fling dedicate their version of a Waterboys number, “Fisherman’s Blues”, to Claus, who is an avid fan of theirs. In 1988 the band’s founder, Mike Scott, lacked inspiration while recording the album, Fisherman’s Blues, and came to Galway for a break. He was invited to a session at Tigh Hughes in Spiddal, twelve miles west of Galway, and ended up finishing recording the album there. Then Sharon Shannon came along with her accordion, and he stayed on for several years.

I’m so sunk in the sofa that when Liam calls me up to do a number I’m too slow to emerge, and another singer is called onto the stage instead. I catch Liam and ask him if there’s time for a short number. He says okay, and he lends me his harp holder. It’s a lovely harp holder. It doesn’t slip and yet it sits comfortably. It feels like I’ve been driving an Audi for 25 years and now suddenly I’m sitting at the wheel of a BMW. I’ve got my G harp with me this time, and I get up there and do “Streets of Gold”, the piece of mine that has harvested most accolades this summer, before collapsing on the sofa again in a pile of coats and Claus.

The concert goes on to new heights of frenzy, both on the stage and on the dance floor.When I give Liam a hug at the end, I find his t-shirt is soaked through. I tell him about my experience with his harp holder, and he tells me where he bought it – at the shop I was in with Peter earlier today.

“What kind is it?” I ask him.
“It’s a black one,” he says helpfully. “About 40 euros – double the price of the normal ones.”

I confront Pauli with the news that we have the same date of birth, and he’s kind enough to express delight. I’ve forgotten to get myself a drink for the past hour though, and suddenly the bar’s closed, and it’s too late for Roisin Dubh as well. Oh well, moderation can be a good thing.

Thursday 20th September

In the morning I go to the Four Corners again, this time to buy a harp holder, but I’m told their retailer has gone out of business and they’ve run out. Not promising. Is this the economic downturn we’ve heard so much about? I try another music shop. No harp holders. Wow! A dearth of harp holders. It’s no real problem personally as I’ve got one that works. I just hope no one else desperately needs one.

I collect my case and rucksack from my room – all named after writers, mine being Joyce – and I join the others on the coach at the bottom of the street. Fling aren’t there waving hankies, but I understand.

We head off to Kilbeggan Distillery, Ireland’s oldest, for a guided tour and some whiskey tasting. I like the Connemara cask strength peated single malt.

The precious liquid in store                                  photo, Mads Joakim

Afterwards we have an hour to walk about, buy whiskey, eat lunch, whatever, and I find my feet taking me into town. The first two pubs have closed down – not shut but closed down. More signs of the recession. But I find The Saddler’s Inn and a pint of Guinness, and I send texts to family, friends and colleagues in Scotland, England and Denmark. The modern equivalent of the postcard. I tell them where I am, a bit about what I’m doing, and finish with an aphorism that I’ve just seen in the canteen at the distillery: “A balanced diet is a cake in each hand.” Rather apposite halfway between Galway and Dublin.

Back on the coach we get round to learning the two choruses for the gig tomorrow. The first one is easy – “Wild Mountain Thyme”, or as it’s known in Scotland, “Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?” – and Claus has a live recording by Fling with Liam teaching the audience the words:

And we’ll all go together
to pluck wild mountain thyme
all around the blooming heather.
Will ye go, lassie, go?

The other one – “The Star of the County Down” – isn’t quite as easy:

From Bantry Bay up to Derry Quay
and from Galway to Dublin Town
no maid I’ve seen like the sweet colleen
that I met in the County Down.

Claus finds a couple of recordings of this, but neither of these tries to teach the audience the chorus. And I’m not convinced the students have a grip on it. (I’m not even convinced I have a grip on it.)

We arrive in Dublin notwithstanding and subsequently make our way up to the Barnacles Hostel, right next to Temple Bar. My room here is plush compared to my room in Galway. It’s roomier for a start, and the floor has a carpet instead of linoleum. The shower isn’t anything very special in itself, but in comparison to the one in Galway it’s utterly fantastic.

I’ve arranged to meet Claus and Helle at O’Neill’s. It’s a big pub, but they easily find me sitting in the covered smoking area. From there we go to the smallest pub in Dublin, Dawson’s Lounge. Peter joins us there – a giant in a hobbit hole – and before long we go for a delicious Indian meal at Diwali in South Great George’s Street. Claus points out a good music shop almost next door, and then he, Helle, and I go in search of some live music. We soon find some at Sweeney’s. It’s not exactly folk. In fact it’s rock. But some variation in one’s diet is a good thing I’m told.

Friday 21st September

In the morning we take the bus to Kilmainham Gaol and enjoy the guided tour that doubles as a refresher course in Irish history, at the price of only 2 euros per student.

In the afternoon I go to the music shop, and – it’s inevitable really – they have no harp holders in stock.

Our two-hour gig with Stephen James Smith and Enda Reilly downstairs at The International Bar starts at 4pm. I run into Enda at 3.45, and it’s not long before Stephen turns up and buys me a pint. That man knows the way to a Scotsman’s heart. Stephen and I agree to break it up into mini-sets, with him and Enda on for 15 minutes and then us for 10-15 minutes and so on. It’s quite a different setting from the gig at Monroe’s two days ago. It’s purely acoustic, and although the event is open to the public, there aren’t many others besides us. Nevertheless, the fact that it’s open to the public means a lot for the atmosphere. And the lucky punters who turn up while the gig’s underway go nowhere fast.

Stephen’s a very mellow and friendly guy, and yet he’s very outgoing too, and he soon has the students spellbound. Enda enchants us as well with his sweet voice and brilliant guitar play. Together they have a very versatile repertoire, ranging as it does from the gruff stand-up-cum-slam-style poetry that Stephen excels in to the melodious, lyrical music and song that Enda masters. And when they meet in the middle – in these wonderful duets they have recorded on Arise and Go – the angels are winking.

The poem that started it all off for them a few years back was W.B. Yeats’ “September 1913”. Here’s the video they subsequently made of it in The International Bar:

Here’s The Waterboys’ version from 2011:

In this video Mike Scott says: “Taking Yeats’ work and presenting it in such a new way is a radical artistic step.” Fair enough, but I can’t help but wonder about a couple of things. First of all, isn’t this normally the kind of statement one leaves to the marketing people or the reviewers? And secondly, weren’t Stephen and Enda doing this before The Waterboys?

I quiz Stephen over this, and he digs this up:

In other words, The Waterboys started putting Yeats’ poetry to music 24 years ago.

Another Yeats poem performed by both Smith/Reilly and The Waterboys is “Lake Isle of Innisfree”.

Here’s The Waterboys’ version:

To me the tone of this seems directed by Yeats’ recorded recital (click on the page), which I would say is a very good example of the poet not always being the best person to perform the work. The Smith/Reilly version, on the other hand, is both original and uplifting.

The text is here.

Another song/poem Stephen and Enda perform from their album is “Raglan Road”, the first verse of which we sang with Michael Durham in Galway. Here’s the text.

For our part we start aptly with “Gatekeeper” by Inaluk & co., followed by Emma and Anna doing “Wine”, “Tears me Apart”, “Room with a View”, and “On his Knees” (by Ida Gard).

Before the gig Stephen has warned the girls about the barman, Kenny Whelan, being quite a ladies’ man. Now Stephen declares that Kenny has lost his heart.

At one point Enda performs a couple of showman pieces with a double capo, and the students love it. Then Stephen recites “The Gardener”, a poem on Arise and Go, which turns out to be a moving tribute to the narrator’s mother. He’ll be reciting it in a couple of hours on national radio.

The Danish rappers aren’t intending to do their piece, but they’re so comfortable with this scene that they make a go for it, and with Stephen providing the beat with his bhodrán they accomplish it in style.

Rikke & co. “Set Fire to the Rain”, and Anna also sings one of her own songs, “Fickle Heart”, which has Stephen all happy.

When Stephen asks if there are any others amongst us who want to perform and no one responds, I grab my trusty old harp holder and step up to perform “Streets of Gold”. I fluff the words of the first verse dreadfully, but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt this summer it’s Jayne Osborn’s great piece of advice: “Don’t grimace. Just carry on as if everything’s fine.” And when I ask people about it afterwards, no one seems to have noticed.

And of course we’re also treated to “Wild Mountain Thyme” and “The Star of the County Down”, audience participation and all.

The last number Stephen and Enda play is the wonderful gospel number, “Down in the River to Pray”, made famous by the Coen brothers’ film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Now if they’d told us they were going to do that, we’d have come all prepared with the a capella accompaniment. Everyone’s delighted with the level of intensity and involvement shown at the gig, and Stephen and Enda are no less amazed than Maeve at the students’ general good behaviour.

Afterwards we’re served stew, or soup and sandwiches, as well as tea or coffee, and soon we find ourselves in the middle of a new scene taking place in the bar. Two Swedes have booked the Irish Music Bar Tour, represented this evening by Martin on uilleann pipes and Maurice on accordion. A few of us follow them on to The Stag’s Head, and Martin has reserved the table of honour for us there. We return to the International as Stephen has recommended the musician playing tonight, Andy Earley. And Stephen himself is back, accompanying him on bodhrán.

And who should come piling in half an hour later but the rest of the students. Nice one, folks! I turn round and see Stephen beaming freely. At one point Andy does a Neil Young number, and when I start playing harp, Stephen offers me his mic.

When that scene’s over, Stephen takes us down to Oliver St. John’s Gogarty’s, where there’s more live folk music.

Saturday 22nd September

I enjoy a bit of a lie-in the next morning, and while Peter takes the students to the Guinness Storehouse, I toddle up a very busy and sunshiny Grafton Street, buy some coffee and sandwiches and go and mill around on St. Stephen’s Green. Then I walk around the railings outside viewing the paintings hanging there. Later I find a bookshop that’s closing down and buy a few books, most notably In Search of the Craic: One man’s pub crawl through Irish music by Colin Irwin. The 2010 Foreword is written by Moya Brennan of Clannad. She learnt her music in her dad’s pub, Leo’s Tavern in Donegal, and it worries her that so many pubs are closing down as they are often the heart of the community:

The Celtic Tiger brought wealth and economic stature to an unprepared nation. Much of it was good, but in attempting to play its part on the post-modern European and world stage, the government introduced measures which have contributed to the serious demise of pubs across Ireland and, in many areas of the country, a cultural void that threatens the community.

The smoking ban, tough drink-driving laws and the banning of under-18s after 9pm are all, on the surface, common sense measures to protect health and well-being. But the Irish are voting with their feet, the pubs are emptying and closing down and, with it, communities are losing their heart. As many as 800 pubs closed across the country between 2007 and 2009.

As a parent I love the idea of my children learning to play in sessions and experiencing the tradition of musical skills being passed from one generation to the next. But I can’t be sure this will continue to happen in the same way as my own youth.

Peter’s been texting me about meeting up in the evening, and shortly before 5 we set out for Davy Byrne’s pub to meet Claus and Helle. We skip Leopold Bloom’s gorgonzola cheese sandwich and glass of burgundy and go straight for the Guinness. I recall that I still haven’t found a hat and resolve to go and buy a green tweed cap, jointly inspired by Peter’s cap and the green colours that Stephen and Enda were wearing yesterday. There are no green ones in House of Ireland, but I see some caps at the back of a small gift shop, the Irish Celtic Store in Nassau Street, and peering down the back of the non-revolving stand I spy one that is green. I feel my choice is blessed when above the counter I spy the famous portrait of James Joyce with his hat on.

The four of us go for a nice, quiet supper at Pyg Cafe at Powerscourt Shopping Centre, after which I go back with Claus and Helle to their hotel north of the river. We look in at The Celt nearby – it’s wall-to-wall drinking, and a look-in’s all we manage. The O’Shea’s Hotel it is then. Claus and I find some seats and listen to some live trad folk.

Sunday 23rd September

At 5 in the morning we’re down at the River Liffey boarding the coach to the airport. We fly to Hamburg and are soon on a coach back home. Again, all without a hitch. Claus offers to drive me home on his and Helle’s way back to Oksböl, and they drop me off just as my wife and our dog are returning from a walk.

In the evening I dig out Dorthe Lodberg’s review and send it to Maeve again. She didn’t see it first time round.

Tuesday 25th September

Maeve says she’ll post the review on Facebook if that’s okay with Dorthe. I tell her it is, as I made sure she was okay about it back in March. I befriend Dorthe on Facebook so I can alert her to her piece appearing, and I learn that she’s now studying journalism at Odense University.

The Waterboys do two reunion gigs in Spiddal, which double as benefit concerts for Strange Boat Donor Foundation, named after the song, “Strange Boat”, on Fisherman’s Blues. Eleanor Shanley released the song as a CD/single in 2008 to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation and to launch the charity, and today she is performing the song with The Waterboys at the concerts. None of her recordings of the song are available free on the Internet, not even on Spotify, which is otherwise a good site as the artists are paid each time their songs are played. Here’s the original version by The Waterboys anyway:

And here’s a live version:

I can highly recommend this mini-documentary of the event.

There are also several good quality videos of single songs from the concerts on You Tube. Here’s one:

And of course:

And this must be for Peter:

And here are some more:





Sunday 30th September

I tell Maeve I’m going to include Dorthe’s piece in a blog post about our trip, and she’s happy she can just link to it.

Galway lose 11-22 to Kilkenny in the hurling.

In the Ryder Cup the US are looking very likely to win. They are leading 10-6 before the last twelve singles, and they have the home advantage. But Seve Ballesteros works his magic from beyond the grave, and Europe rob them, 14½-13½.

Monday 1st October

Claus tells me he’s booked an event with Stephen and Enda at the International for his next group.

Tuesday 9th October

The students present their projects based on their study trip. With the subjects of Music and English being the points of departure many have chosen to focus on Irish identity through the lenses of the craic and Irish folk music. It’s clear that the fact that they had to do a project has encouraged them to be outward-going in their meeting with the Irish, and this in itself is vindication of the whole project concept. There are a number of excellent aspects in many of the presentations, but there are also several instructive blind spots in both approach and execution. All in all, a great learning experience for everyone involved.

Wednesday 10th October

Peter and I and a few of the students go to Underground to hear Anna perform solo – three sets of forty minutes each. What a huge musical talent! A very impressive performance indeed. She has a wide repertoire of songs interspersed with her own compositions. We should have had her doing a solo gig in Ireland.

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