By Mark Currie, Lancaster
IT ALL STARTED in March 1997. After two years of looking for some Bluegrass
in Britain, Andy Crowe and I finally got a lead. My girlfriend Gill came
home from work with a telephone number she found Chester, via the NWBN on
the Internet. Brilliant! A phone call found Derek Brandon, Bluegrass
mad and full of enthusiasm. A newsletter followed. My name appeared in the
contacts page and we got a phone call from Gary Sommerville, forty
miles down the road with an Earl Scruggs Mastertone. Wow! Gary was around
the same stage of learning as us and we started to have a go at Bluegrass
A trip to Melling Tithe Barn to see New River Ranch (USA) and Rainy
City (North West) knocked us out! we were buzzing for weeks after. Warrington
(The Millstone), Oldham (the Dog and Duck), Silsden with the excellent Knotty
Pine String Band and Omagh (Knotty Pine again) and our summer education was
over. Back to winter and some hard graft on the guitars. By this time
Boston Bill Gilson from Kendal had come along with his flatiron
F5 mandolin, but unfortunately Gary had to pack up because of work commitments.
Learning Bluegrass without banjo was not easy so yours truly took it up as
well as the guitar.
We pick round at each others houses at the moment every Tuesday night
and Saturday afternoon plus any other night we get (most nights). Bill Kerr,
an old mate has now joined in with guitar and vocals and is as hooked as
we are on the music (its catching) Our aim is to get a pub pick going after
winter when hopefully we will be able to put out a decent beat and hit Lancaster
with Bluegrass, something it has never seen (at least we dont think
so... but perhaps you know different?)
Derek & Jean Brandon sit in with Mark (left)
Hot Septet at Edale. Pesty on beer pour.
We had a visit over the winter from Bill Lloyd, a local old time banjo
man and a fantastic singer, who gave us the inspiration to have a go at singing.
This is still a bit hit and miss at the moment, though Boston Bill went to
the Sore Throat week organised by Andrea Preston and came back with plenty
of info to keep us going.
We have a go at a lot of songs and have found Pete Wernicks Bluegrass
Songbook to be invaluable. A typical night will start of with The Wreck of
The Old 97, Long Journey Home, Bury Me Beneath The Willow (wet the
whistle at this point), into Man of Constant Sorrow, Pretty Polly, Little
Maggie (were all big Stanley fans). Then onto Things in Life, Valley
of Peace, Bile Them Cabbages Down (Don Stover rules OK) and Tell It To Me
(a real favourite of ours, the first song where we really went for it). We
might do Lonesome Road Blues (by some freak chance we got the
harmony really easily on this one), St. James Hospital (were working
up to the full Infirmary version), Cripple Creek (we must have had another
tin of beer by now), Tennessee Waltz, Aint Nobody Goin to Miss
Me When Im Gone and Foggy Mountain Breakdown (oh yes, one
The thing I really like about the Bluegrass scene is the help on offer
from good players. Having been into Blues for some years, I found it full
of Guitar Queens who would show you nothing and learning was slow. Bluegrass,
however, with its picking sessions, is something else. Andy and myself have
tended to hide behind the tent We see or are shown something
then slope off and try it; we dont want to ruin a good thing. But we
are fairly confident we will be able to sit in next year - its not
easy for beginners, confidence comes with ability, in our eyes.
This year started with the Barbican. Andy Crowe, Bill Kerr and I shot
down the motorway to London. Nearing London we saw a Rolls Royce with the
number plate JDC1. We looked for the Have you hugged your banjo
today sticker but there wasnt one. Clearly this was an impostor
- we would have to wait a few hours longer to see the real JDC. I thought
the Barbican was a fantastic do, a really good way to kick off
the season. J.D. had a remarkable likeness to Andys dad (are they related?
Andy can have my banjo if they are) Lets hope the Barbican happens
again next year. Is there any chance of getting Ralph Stanley over, I
Edale was next at its new Nottingham venue. I took a look at Chris
Moretons guitar workshop and found masses of info to take home with
us, this learning is never ending. Some excellent bands here and some new
friends. I met up with Mark Taylor (banjo), a real character from Chesterfield
who got me jamming with his crew. I played terribly but at last Ive
had a go. It definitely seems to get easier each time you try.
At night we had a pick (and serious drink) with Portsmouth duo Mike Fowler
(guitar) and Steve Jones (banjo) of the band Future Sound of Kentucky. Again
loads of top tips; cheers guys. We finished of Edale with a Sunday pick with
Derek and Jean, Mike, Steve and a few others.
Conwy was next. Andy Crowe, Pesty (a none player who likes the music)
and myself, bumped straight into Mike and Steve and crew. Drinks all round
and were off! Conwy is by far the best festival Ive been to yet.
Its held in the park in the middle of town so you can get to all amenities
very easily. The bands played in a marquee in the park and in the Civic Hall
There was also a big jamming tent. I saw a few of the bands, the excellent
Bakers Fabulous Boys, Down County Boys and the Clem OBrien Band.
I didnt watch many of the paid performers because there was a session
right outside our tent which was too good to miss. The guys from Portsmouth
attracted a group of musicians over and it turned into a real Bluegrass party!
Even some of the old timers were getting in on the act. Security was very
friendly, patrolled 24 hours and did a great
Theres a few more festivals to go and then its back to Winter,
when I hope to get around the country to as many sessions as I can (including
Chester, at 80 miles...)
All this, new mates, tuition, good fun and great boozing came as a result
of a 'phone call and a fiver in the post to NWBN. Cheers D and J and all
who contribute to the news mag.
Mark Currie, Halton, Lancaster, England
PS. Anyone passing through or stuck in Lancaster who wants a pick, give
me a ring - 01524-812264.
Updated 23rd Jan 1999