impressions of the 2011 ACE
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Impressions of the 2011 ACE

...Perhaps it was the island’s way of saying ‘haste ye back next year’!...

Arran Concertina Event, October 7 – 10 2011.

by Helen Graham

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Where on earth could you hear Bach played on the uillean pipes or attend two sessions on one day in two different places with plenty of concertinas of different types, two harps, two sets of pipes, various assorted violins, mandolins, guitars, whistles, brilliant singers, a button accordion and a bouzouki (and a bodhran)? Imagine a weekend where you try to drink a full keg of beer in two days (it wasn’t ready on the Friday or we’d have done it) while there are brilliant assorted malt whiskeys and jenever and boxes and bottles of wine on offer, and then you learn how to dance a strathspey - yes, it’s the Annual Arran Concertina Event in Kilmory Lodge on Arran!

This year was marked firstly by the cancellation of all ferries – luckily on the day BEFORE we were due to sail, and several amber alerts while we were on the island. On our ferry trip we were treated to brilliant clear views of Goat Fell and our one really clear view of Ailsa Craig before the clouds obscured everything and set a very damp tone for the weekend weather! The Dutch contingent, Henk, Willem, Jos and Kees, were delayed by several hours on their ferry trip from the Netherlands to Newcastle, enabling them to visit Hadrian’s Wall on the way up as they had time to spare before the next Arran ferry, but eventually sixteen people sat down to a well-deserved lasagne (provided by the ‘Invisible Robert’ who stepped into the breach as the regular chefs, Chrissie and Paula were on holiday) and the weekend started.

As usual for this weekend Samantha sent round lists for us to state what we could teach, what we could share, and what we wanted to learn, and from these lists she worked out a basic programme for the weekend. This year there were two possible sessions in different pubs on the Sunday, an afternoon one at the Eden lodge in Whiting Bay, and the usual evening session at the Ormidale in Brodick. The majority opted to go to both, especially as three of us needed to catch the afternoon ferry on Sunday, so the visit to the distillery didn’t take place this year. No walk on the beach either because the weather was so bad – better luck next year!

Workshops on offer were on Irish slow airs (Roisin Dubh and Coinnleach Glas an Fhomhair, with a bit of Ashokan Farewell thrown in for good measure; Scottish waltzes (Primrose Waltz, and two Alaskan waltzes in a bit of spare time); song/tune accompaniment; two other sessions on Irish tunes; Arran tunes (Arran Air and Corriegills), and tune sharing where we learned a waltz from the De Cuellar Suite (I want to hear, and possibly learn, the whole thing – it sounds great, and it’s a brilliant story – worth a bit of research on the Net), Planxty Dermot Grogan, and Sarah. It was decided, because strathspeys were very much in evidence during the weekend that we should learn the basic strathspey step, so there was an excursion down into the hall where Patricia led a short workshop, some of which was filmed by Henk (to the consternation of all). Willem, Helen, Phil, Jos, Lynne and Patricia danced, and Samantha, David and Russ played for us while Kees and Jim watched. We returned upstairs very much wiser – thanks Patricia!

Samantha’s husband, Dave, very kindly led us in a band workshop on the Saturday afternoon, where we played Bach’s Christus ist Mein Leben; The Sweetness of Mary, and When Johnny Comes Marching Home. All the other instruments joined in, so not only were there three concertina parts, there were also a violin (Jos), uillean pipes (Willem), and a guitar (Russ) and bouzouki (Kees) playing an improvised accompaniment – Brilliant!

Finally, on the ferry trip back the weekend was topped off by the view – at last – of the island framed by a brilliant rainbow! Perhaps it was the island’s way of saying ‘haste ye back next year’! I’m going to put it in my diary when I get one – 5-8 October 2012. See you there!

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Concertina Weekend at Kilmory

by David Donnison

As I set out on a Friday morning from Glasgow to Ardrossan and the Arran ferry I wondered if I needed my head examined. I was going to shut myself in a hostel at the far corner of the island till Monday morning with fourteen complete strangers to play concertinas. They would all be better musicians than me. We would be playing music that would frequently baffle me. We would be sleeping in bunks – eight to a room – relying on God-knows-what food and drink. And it would rain ceaselessly. Indeed, it was already raining.

But there are so few people who are mad enough to play a concertina. So my attempts to play one either take place in groups who all play other instruments; or they are a lonesome, late-night practice in my Glasgow flat. I was getting into bad musical habits and making little progress. That’s why I had resolved to give the “Arran Concertina Event” a try.

Led by Samantha Payn (you can email her at: ) this week-end project has been going for six years. So there must be something about it that brings musicians back to Kilmory Lodge again and again.

They were assembling as I arrived: four from England; four from Holland - in a small car stuffed with rucksacks and instruments, enduring fourteen hours on the overnight ferry to Newcastle before driving to Ardrossan - and six from Scotland. Samantha did a great job. She has a talent for unobtrusive leadership that gets everyone happily involved in planning the days, choosing and playing the music, preparing food and doing the washing up. Between us we had a flute, two mandolins, a banjo, some uilleann pipes, a melodeon, guitar, two fiddles and a bouzouki, as well as four kinds of concertina.

After working together in groups playing different music and having great evening sessions around the kitchen table, we went on Sunday to play in two well-known bars with Arran musicians who gave us a warm welcome. In the hostel, food was plentiful and good, there was a barrel of excellent beer, bottles of whisky, and plenty of hot water for showers when needed. And - most important – everyone was encouraging and helpful, no-one was humiliated, and I learned new tunes and a good deal about the beautiful little instrument I play.

And yes, it rained ceaselessly, till after our departure on Monday morning. But no-one let this get them down, which shows what a great experience we all had. Next year’s event runs from October 5th to 8th.

Samantha Payn adds,‘The delicious hot meals were provided by Robert Marr of the Old Pier Tea Room, and all I had to do was make them available for the musicians to heat up and dish out.’

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