I am very lucky to be in a position to take work that I usually really enjoy. I nearly wrote "have a job that I really enjoy", but I don't actually have a job. I am self-employed and people give me money to make music. It's not a fortune, and I have had to trim the outgoings substantially, but currently it covers what I need. This is just how I like it. I can honestly say I don't live to work, but simply work to live. Most weeks I can survive on a day and a half of paid work and this may well have to tide me over weeks when there is no paid work at all. The paid gigs are more erratic, but take on more importance during these fallow periods. This weekend has been one of those slightly frantic working periods. Unlike most people my May Bank Holiday has been work, work and more work. Come Sunday night I was ready to treat myself to some leisure, of which more later.
Have I mentioned I am involved with nine fairly regular live performance projects? Five of these are ceilidh related and with two of these I undertake to carry out the admin, which includes liaising with potential clients and trying to convert these into actual bookings, occasional site visits if I don't know the venue, sorting contracts, fixing the band for the gig, composing and arranging the music, providing and setting up the p.a., calling the dances, and playing whatever instruments are required in that particular configuration. One of these, the six-piece I think of as my band. The other is a duo (a very unusual one, if I may be so bold), over which I do not claim ownership, but still do all the above. All the bands have somehow spun away from the six-piece I first put together in 1991. The present line-up has been pretty steady for more than a decade now. On Friday night I called the dances for one of the spin-off ceilidh projects. That band is my bass player's band. On this occasion he didn't organise the booking or fix the band. This was done by the vicar. The vicar is the wife of my violinist. She has been a professional musician most of her life and met her husband when they were both at the Royal Academy. For many years she played viola in his string quartet. A few years ago she felt herself being drawn to the ministry. She downed strings and trained to be a vicar. Now she presides over some seven parishes. On Friday she played second fiddle in a fiddle, fiddle, keys and bass combo.
The ceilidh was a church fund-raiser. We were in an old and very open barn on a working farm in Molesworth. It was cold. The last time I came to Molesworth was during the eighties when I travelled on a coach with my local CND group to rally and tie ribbons on fences. My main memory of that demo is of the police practising some of the tactics they'd been trying out on miners during the strike. They made the demonstrators walk several miles the wrong way around the perimeter of "R.A.F" Molesworth and funnelled them into an enclosed rallying point where they practised wedge formation dancing into crowds of people who had been given no space to disperse. I saw people scattered like skittles, not just healthy young radicals, but families with pushchairs, children and elderly people, all of whom were simply exercising a democratic right to disagree with the siting of foreign nuclear missiles on U.K. soil. If ever there was an example of inappropriate policing, of committing acts most likely to cause lasting resentment and suspicion, this was it. After this and many other encounters I am very wary of the forces of law and order. As the police acquire more weapons they seem to be less worried about policing by consent. Dissenters and the concerned public appear to have become an enemy and everyone seems to be a potential terrorist. Fortunately, on Friday there were no wedge dances, although I ought to give some thought to choreographing one in commemoration. The barn showed how resourceful people can be. The floor was a dangerously uneven mixed media installation on at least two levels with a linking slope, hardly safe for polkaing and galoping about, but there were not many injuries ... certainly none requiring a halt to the dancing. The food, provided by the parishioners who had also bought tickets (special price for families) was plentiful and delicious. I think it was the drop in temperature that encouraged participation, so there was not much of a gap between dances. Lots of smiling faces and among many treasures the memory of a four-year-old confidently making her way round the circle in a grand chain. After we'd packed up it was back to the Rectory for supper and convivial chat. In bed by two-thirty am. How lovely not to have to drive home after the gig.
The bass player and the keyboard player (married to each other in a beautiful ceremony in a woodland clearing more than a decade ago) have been busy composing and have come up with a number of new tunes for dances, some of which we tried on Friday. I love this move towards more original music. There is a place for tradition, but musicians should be making new music. A pianist's approach to composition is very different from my own. Vive la difference! Weirdly, she had come up with a chromatic tune which, with its repetitions up and down the scales, sounded very close to something I composed a few years ago, when I decided my tunes were getting into a one-dimensional rut. I had set myself a challenge and found the approach I had taken was a cul-de-sac. I couldn't make it work and my very chromatic tune joined the stack of others in a bin of compositions requiring "further attention". It is a huge and deep bin.
I must remember to take photographs. Where is P when I need him? He would have taken hundreds.