One thing about song circles and jams is there are a lot of guitars. Not that I have anything against guitars – but there are a lot of them. In a Hespeler heritage building which houses the Brownestone Gastropub you’ll find a music session where the guitars are outnumbered. This is where the Mill Race Folk Society hosts traditional English music sessions. On the afternoon I visited, of the 14 or so players, there were two guitar players surrounded by the sounds of flute, whistle, fiddle, viola, mandolin, mandocello, button accordion, banjo and concertina. It was fun to watch people arrive just to see what instrument would be brought out next.
Like many traditional sessions, the occasional ballad is sung with or without accompaniment, but the majority of the music is instrumental and played as a group. The tunes are played mostly from memory – a few pieces of sheet music and tablets were in evidence.
While there may be some overlap with other British Isles and Celtic folk traditions, according to Brad McEwan (session host and Artistic Director of the Mill Race Festival), the Mill Race English pub session is one of the few events where people can come to play English folk tunes.
The sessions have been happening since the 1980s – even before the first Mill Race Festival – and have had several homes over the years. The Brownestone Gastropub is a relatively new venue, welcoming musicians and listeners the 2nd Sunday of the month. If that isn’t enough for you then you can join the group on the 4th Sunday at the Argyle Arms. For details on these and other traditional music events visit the Mill Race Folk Society website: http://www.millracefolksociety.com/
[British Isles Traditional English Music Sessions, 2-4 pm; 2nd Sunday @ Brownestone Gastropub, 39 Queen St E, Hespeler Village, Cambridge; 4th Sunday @ The Argyle Arms, 210 King St E, Preston, Cambridge]