We got to Boul Biddies at half ten (10:30), yes sessions begin rather late, hey we’re talking musician’s hours! Anyway…..we were delighted to see Johnny Fagin, whom we met here our last trip. The session was great. Lots of energy and fun with songs added by locals out to have a pint and social connection. I believe I wrote about this on the last trip but it bears stating again. The Irish pub is not about hanging out at the bar and pounding down pints, although pints are imbibed. The drink certainly lubricates the tongue but it’s not about working to get drunk either.
The Irish pub is a well lit meeting space for friends to meet and catch up, to express joy or sorrow amongst peers or to sing an old or new song and dance steps to a tune that inspires the body to move. I’m sure there are some pubs that are more like some American bars, where people stare into their drinks avoiding one another but I’ve not been in one yet. The other feature is that alcohol does loosen the tongue but does not slow the wits, if anything it sharpens the Irish sense of humor and you’d better be able to take a little wry observation about yourself or you won’t have a good time. A perfect example is one on me. I fell to talking with a very friendly gentleman who was working on his drink and as the evening wore on he sensed that I was a patient listener, so I became the object of his attentions. Later on he was well in his cups and became difficult to avoid, not that I was trying, I liked him as he was a good fellow, but I did want a moment to connect with some others. As we were packing up, again at 2:00 am, Johnny looks at me and says with a sly expression; “you are the master of your own fate “. I looked at him and said; ” and you gave me just enough rope to hang myself “, ” that I did ” he replied, and then we both burst out laughing. Everyone in the bar knew this gentleman and his tendency and watched how I dealt with him. If I needed them they would have helped, but only if I was in real difficulty. Drink sharpens the Irish sense of irony, not dulls it. If you can’t laugh at yourself you’re in trouble.
Standing outside to cool off between sets brought fresh conversations with patrons. Derrick who is the partner of a woman we met at the radio station earlier noted that he’d heard that we were self conscious about playing the music we didn’t grow up with but he assures us that they love our take on it, that he finds it truly entertaining and fresh. He encourages us to keep at it and not feel apologetic. Maria joined in with her observations about pipers and how on average they are the most unsocial people imaginable. They just sit in a corner bent over the pipes ignorin’ everyone. Her partner John she notes would be happiest if he could never speak with anyone and just ask for food. Now we know that’s not true, we love John and he can be quite social, but this is Maria being Maria and once she’s into the story………well she’s telling the story, so just sit back and listen. She continues; (in paraphrase) so they just sit there bent over their pipes ignorin’ everyone. Their the most cantankerous unsocial bastards! I never have to worry about John with another woman, no with John it’s the feckin’ pipes he’s devoted to. “Ya know what the definition of a true gentleman is?” she asks, I shake my head no. “A true gentleman is one who can play the pipes and doesn’t!” At that we burst out laughing. Maria is an absolute gem. A master of the tale. So full of wit and style and we’re so lucky to have met her and John two years ago. I feel blessed that she cares for us not only because she knows everyone to know in Westport but because to have Maria smile on you is a ray of sun in an often sunless place.
So we rise the next day at 11:00, this is getting to be a habit what with real musicians hours, and give Padraig a text and he says to meet him in Westport for coffee. He’d like us to meet his wife Els. This is one of the true differences between Ireland and the States. We meet a man through shared interest, that being music, and we like one another. The door to friendship is opened up and that’s it. We’ve all made friends in the States of course but the feeling of connection feels more cautious and hesitant there than here. The Irish are so hospitable. It’s uncanny.
We go into Westport to do some gift shopping and I find a few things for Ally and girls. James tells me that we’re meeting Padriag at Molloy’s and to meet them there when I finish up my shopping. I walk down to Molloy’s and find the door locked, walk around the side looks closed, scratch my head, try the door again and decide to continue shopping. I’m a bit miffed, but decide to let it go and sit down and read in a coffee shop. I come back out on the street and finally see James and Morgan. They ask me where I’ve been and I tell them I tried the door and it was locked. They look askance. I tell them I pulled the door, turned the knob and James observes that the door opens with a push. Christ! I’m and idiot.
So off to Padraig’s ( pronounced Poorick ) and Els’ where they give Don and I tea and digestives. Padraig shows us some memorabilia of his famous uncle Barney McKenna. I have to admit I’d neglected following Barney and he’s one of the seminal figures in the modern revival of traditional music. James comes over after taking Morgan to Gary’s for bow talk. We all pile into their car with their dog Tessa in our laps and head into the country for a pleasant walk through an oak grove and along a lovely river. Then back to Westport where we’re dropped off at our car and we get ingredients for dinner. Gary and Morgan arrive jut in time for dinner and then off to session. We head up to McGing’s and have a pint and walk down to Bould Biddy’s and things are just starting. A very different feeling than last night though. A different clientele, more settled and when we start playing it begins to feel closer to Cleary’s than anything else. People standing and listening break into song and everyone shushes the crowd silent for a respectful listen. Well we’re rolling along and Padraig the box player who apparently is a fine musician and also a fine drinker is soon leaning into me while talking to some mates, and I’m having to lean into him to avoid being pushed from my stool. I’m twisted around trying to play and it’s like stepping into Ciaran Carson’s Last Night’s Fun. Music, pints, fighting for a perch to play on…..great stuff!
Maggie sings a couple of songs and then after a good many pints belts out an absolutely filthy song that has us all rolling. We’ve got it recorded and I hope it sounds good when I go through and listen to it all.
Don’s got everyone eating out of his hand playing the Paragon and singing blues and old swing. We do Galway Girl which Don seems convinced is a bad choice and the whole pub is singing it in the first couple of measures. We’ve lost any sense of time and hear that Brid the owner wants to go home she finally turns off the lights while John is piping the last tune. I grab Maggie and tell her Morgan has a great joke about Limerick’s that she’ll love. As Morgan tells it he delivers the joke which she howls over then grabs his arm pulls it into her breasts, won’t let go and starts chanting one filthy Limerick after another into his ear. Brid insisted on giving me a Mayo hat, and four cigarette lighters for all of us and pays for the last pints as well. As I’m on my way out the door a young man puts out his hand to shake it. I put down my case and as he grasps my hand he tells me he’s been listening to Dan and Johnny for years and it was the first time he’d heard them have to really push to keep up and with a group of Americans, “good on ya” he said. I thanked him sincerely. We had lots of positives from everyone who approached us. From the woman who thought that Raglan Road should be unaccompanied only to effusively praise James’ rendition
We worked on some new sets and then went to visit a pipe maker by the name of John Butler. John hails originally from Dublin area and now lives on Achill Island. His work shop is in an old school building and when we arrived the wind was blowing hard and it was threatening rain. He’s only been making pipes on his own for a couple of years, had helped another pipe maker at one point build some practice sets, but on his own just a few sets. His skills are evident, his work very clean and well executed. He’d been a designer of medical equipment but was made redundant by the economic times. He’s played pipes since he was sixteen and I’m guessing he’s in his late 30s. He showed us his personal set of Willy Rowesome pipes made in 1924. They’re beautiful things with full regulators and a sound that is sweet and pure. John gave James some advice on his pipes, offered some suggestions and I think James will have him build a new bellows for him.
We got back home and Morgan made a great pasta dinner and we headed into Westport to meet Maria at Hoban’s Pub. When we arrived it was apparent we were going to have to get some pints to catch up with Maria. She did get hold of her friend Padraig who came and chatted for a little while. Maria told us that he loves banjo and had a couple. Once he determined that we were OK ( he asked us several times are you going to play some tunes? ) he said he’d get his banjos. Don was quite pleased at the prospect of having one to play. Padraig gives one case to Don and when he opens it we’re VERY interested. It’s a Clifford Essex Paragon, one of the best English banjos made, bloody beautiful and awesome sounding.
We played for awhile and Padraig suggested strongly that we might want to take it down to Biddy’s a very cool, narrow little pub that was just roaring. Dan and Johnny were leading with the owner’s daughter Jennie on box and young Nigel on flute. They welcomed us into the circle and it took off from there. Some lads show up one in a wig and red dress who’s going to be married and then it really got wild. It got so loud I finally put my guitar away and played drum. Don was the life of the party. He played some blues and some jazz with Dan, A mighty session and great fun.