Sitting on the bus one morning I hear a conversation behind me, two guys talking about music and a festival called Fire In The Mountain. As we get off at the same stop I say “I’ve been to that festival!” and we strike up a conversation, telling each other about our musical projects. One of them runs an Irish folk night in a nearby pub and invites me to come along and play a song. A week or so later on a Wednesday night I catch a bus down the hill to the Maynard Arms. As I enter through the swinging double doors with my guitar on my back I have the sensation of walking into a room of sound – loud, amplified traditional folk tunes played by a four-piece sitting in the corner. One of the guys I met on the bus, Adam, playing banjo along with two fiddlers and a guitarist-singer. Adam nods to me as I walk up and asks me to listen to the balance of the instruments, to let him know if anything needs changing. After half a minute I give a thumbs up – sounds good to me. A woman who seems to know the band is sitting on the table next to me and we exchange intermittent chit-chat. I sit back and listen to four or five tunes, letting the music wash over me, the ups and downs and runs of melodies, interlocking of the different instruments, pulsing of the guitar. I like the guitarist’s style and focus on his technique as he slides chord shapes up and down the neck, letting open strings ring and strumming eighth notes, creating a driving, droning, percussive rhythm section of sound. I’m impressed by the fluidity of his wrist movement and the sixteenth-note flourishes he adds to mark section changes and build shape into the music.
After a while I get the you’re on next nod and think, what shall I play?? Adam tells me he’s not very keen on the acoustics of the venue – too reverberant, too many hard surfaces, “an aircraft hangar of a place”. As the band vacate the ‘stage’ (a bench) I approach and get permission to use the guitar – easier than plugging in mine. “Can I tune the E down to D?” No problem. I sit down, tune it and start fingerpicking the chords to “Dink’s Song”, an American folk song (also known as “Fare Thee Well”). I feel confident playing this one; the guitar part is engaging and the song is simple and affecting. People who like folk music often know it. The musicians are stood in a line near the stage, watching me and listening, and some of their friends on a nearby table are interested in what I’m doing; the rest of the pub seems oblivious – they’re here to socialise. But I’m enjoying playing. My voice feels quiet and I try to let go of more volume, opening up in my belly. Adam sits down next to me and starts to join in on mandolin. I can see nodding heads. Each time I sing the high note of the refrain I’m thinking, am I going to make it? and I always do, cleanly or less cleanly but cleanly enough. I finish as usual by humming the tune in unison with the guitar part. There’s applause and Adam says feel free to do another. “Do you know Angeline The Baker?” I ask. He thinks for a moment and then just launches into it and luckily he’s playing in D so I join in and there we are, playing it, playing it around and around and I’m enjoying the pushed note in the second part, playing it up high on the neck, and the pumping bass of my thumb on the sixth and fourth strings.
Lastly I play “Won’t You Go My Way”, in A instead of the usual Bb as that’s easier to play along to and it doesn’t make much difference to me because I’m using a capo which I clamp on fret two. String three is buzzing and the guitar is not as bright sounding as I’m used to. “I love that song,” one of the musicians says as I leave the stage and settle back into my chair, listen to a few more tunes from the band and finish my drink. I give the musicians a thumbs up and a smile, making my way to the doors and out into the night.