Month: August 2010

Searching for an authentic Irish session

Ireland – the land of flutes and fiddles, harps and ceilidhs, where strangers can sit down together and play music thanks to a deep well of traditional tunes.  However, finding authentic Irish music is not as easy as one might expect.  I am just back from a couple of weeks on the Emerald Isle.  I found many breathtaking vistas, ancient valleys, great food & drink, friendly people – but it was surprisingly hard to find a genuine session where musicians could sit in.

Part of the problem was a relentless travel pace which allowed us to fit in as many friends, relatives and landscapes as possible in a brief period of time.  I saw posters in more than one small town that advertised sessions just before or after my stay.  We headed for Galway City in search of music.  We found some valiant souls – guitars, banjos, accordion, singers – who could hardly be heard over the crush of tourists (yes, I know I was one of them) streaming in and out of the crowded pubs.  They seemed as Irish as the foil shamrock and leprechaun decorations and smacked of St. Paddy’s Day kitsch more than an authentic session.

I guess I had been prepared for this by my friend Eugene – musician and Irish ex-pat living in Canada – who told me many real sessions are “underground” so that the focus is on the music and not the tourists.  I was hoping for some cosmic dispensation that would overlook my tourist status and lead me to something for a true music lover.

We were just about ready to head back to our lodgings when I spotted a sign for an open mic, every Thursday.  Lo and behold it was a Thursday!  So we entered Garvey’s Bar on Eyre Square – at the far end of the bar was a little alcove with a half a dozen tables dedicated to an open mic.  Not a traditional session – not a flute or fiddle in sight – but some good tunes by opening band, 15 Jugglers, and great guitar work by host, Aidan Ward.  Happy to have stumbled onto this venue – wish I could visit again but the distance makes that unlikely!

The next day we were treated to a variety of delightful street musicians and performers – my favourite was a uillean pipe and guitar duo.  They called themselves “probably the best band in Ireland” – I didn’t disagree.

Musical Musings: Interview with Nonie Crete

To do justice to the Tuesday night jam at Delainey’s I should talk a little about its beginnings at the Old Copper Kettle.  This spring I interviewed the original host – Nonie Crete – for some historical perspective.

Nonie took me back a little further in time to when she hosted a Sunday afternoon jam at Leyander’s in Elora (somewhere around 1995-1998) – locals may remember a CD called Live at Leyander’s.  Around this time Nonie met Mike & Carol who talked about opening their own pub.  “When you do, let me know – I’ll help you out” Nonie offered.  So when it did come to pass that Mike & Carol opened the Old Copper Kettle in Fergus (1999) Nonie started playing there on Tuesday nights, inviting others to join her.  The first year they operated it as a tea room, then as a pub.  Nonie remembers many evenings when she played there on her own.  Then, after about a year, a few musicians started attending (several still come out on Tuesday nights).

Nonie watched the Tuesday night jam grow from a few stalwart regulars to an event that drew people from Kitchener, Guelph, Orangeville and Toronto.  Some nights there would be nowhere to sit and almost nowhere to stand. “People are so starved to play music”, Nonie observed. Right from the beginning it was a place for everyone to play – confident performers and nervous beginners all had their turn to introduce a song.  “I always worked hard at making people want to come back – I wanted people to feel welcome.”  The Old Copper Kettle had a unique warmth and friendliness to it, thanks, in part, to Mike & Carol, enthusiastic supporters of many musical ventures at their establishment.

As the Tuesday night jam grew in popularity, Nonie found her own musical career taking more of her time. Rehearsing, song writing, recording, and performing sometimes three shows a week meant she couldn’t always be there to host or would be there later in the evening.  Terry Golletz eventually took over the hosting role and the Tuesday night jam moved to Delainey’s in Fergus in 2008.