Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Getting My Scots On

I went to a concert on Sunday night at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. It's a gem of a place on Lincoln Avenue. If you live in the city, taking the elevated train is the way to get there. If you live in the 'burbs, as I do, you kind of have to drive. Mass transit just isn't a real good option for us. There is a parking lot across the street and some on-street parking but, this being Chicago, finding a free spot can be as much of an adventure as driving there.

I hadn't been feeling very well all day but I've been looking forward to this concert since I got the ticket back in February. I saw The Tannahill Weavers, one of my favorite Scottish folk groups. I stumbled across them about 10 years ago now, right after finding Old Blind Dogs, my favorite Scottish folk group. The Tannies have been around for a long, long time and I've come to the dance late. Even as I wrestled with the idea of just sleeping because that seemed to be what my body wanted me to do, my head kept telling me I would regret not going. So, I listened to my head. It was the right choice.

When I got the ticket, I picked the best seat I could. I honestly didn't know how good my selection was until I got there and found my seat. This is the second row of regular seats, on the end. In front of me were the small tables and chairs they have for sale. It was the perfect spot from which to enjoy traditional Scottish music.

Some observations:  The band used to be 5 members. It's now 4. It doesn't lack for musical power with Les being gone. It means Bill has to sing now whereas, in the past, he used to just play pipes and flute.

They always seem to have a different bagpiper. I don't think I've seen the same guy in any of the 3 other times I've seen them. It's always some cute young gentleman who is 6 1/2 feet tall. I swear. Maybe you can't play the pipes if you're short. I don't know. Roy said Colin, who plays the bagpipes, has doctorates in Zoology and Metallurgy so "If you need your hamster welded, talk to Colin."

The vocals are a bit strained and Roy is showing his age. Some of the songs with notes in the higher registers weren't hit square or weren't even attempted. They played many more instrumental songs than in previous concerts. But, I remember the late Beverly Sills saying, when she announced her retirement, that the spirit was willing but the voice had just aged. It's inevitable. The repertoire changed to reflect this. That means some of the songs I hoped they'd sing, they didn't. But an hour and a half of foot stompin' music with a mix of old and new tunes and I wasn't disappointed.

Roy is really funny. You get the feeling, from the jokes he cracked and the stories he told, that if you got him in a pub with non-stop pints, you would be there for hours, days even, as he spun story after story. They have always played "Jaime Raeburn's Farewell", one of my all-time favorites. In the past, the jokes leading up to this song have been amusing. This year, it was really funny.
"Jaime Raeburn is a transport song. What that means is that Jaime was going to be transported out of Glasgow. We have no idea what he did but it doesn't matter. They sometimes made things up as they went along so you could be transported. See, back then, we didn't have a CSI: Glasgow. Heck, we couldn't have one now. There's no teeth for identification. And the DNA all matches." 
It's infectious music. The venue was not sold out, which is a shame. The crowd was mostly my age, which again is a shame. When you have someone you like, you want people to see and experience it. If the venue isn't filled, will they come back again?

The Weavers played a couple of songs by the man from whom they take their name, Robert Tannahill. He was a contemporary of a certain Robert Burns and is very much overshadowed by Burns. He wasn't as prolific. One of my favorite Tannahill songs they didn't play, The Braes O' Balquidder. I have been working through my pile of magazines about Scotland and had just read a brief biography of Tannahill. I knew the group took their name from him but reading the biography gave his short, tragic life a bit more meaning. Roy said they were so glad he wasn't a "colonic irrigationist" when they were choosing band names.

Scottish life is framed by the '45, the ill-starred attempt by Prince Charlie to take the Scottish crown. The Tannies sang one song written about this rebellion, Cam Ye By Athol. Roy said he grandfather taught him this song and I can see this being handed down verbally since it speaks of riding with Prince Charlie which was treason. Sung Sunday night, it became something of a lament, a sad reminder that the rebellion was doomed from the start and so much of Scotland was crushed with Charlie.

After a standing ovation, they came back for 5 more songs and finally ended with a little ditty by Robert Burns. You know it, but you only know a portion of it. Plus, the music the Tannies use is not the schmaltzy Guy Lombardo-induced strains you're familiar with. "Auld Lang Syne" is on their Best Of 1979-1986 CD and, if you don't have anything by them in your collection, get this one. Just sit and listen to the song. It becomes something else, a good bye to a friend.

I walked out of the concert into a light drizzle and drove home in alternating bands of light and heavy rain. I am so glad I put the "meh" feeling aside. If the Tannies come by you, try to go see them. You don't need to know anything about Scotland or Scottish music to enjoy the concert.

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea


No comments:

Post a Comment