This week I took part in one of many collaborative projects at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of music and dance. Our particular project, FolkLab, was lead by Roger Wilson, one of the UKs most renowned folk musicians. Throughout the course of the week Roger taught us a range of session tunes of English, Irish and American origins, including a few songs too! We then spent further time coming up with arrangements for these tunes, exploring different combinations of instruments (we had a great mixture; three fiddles, two cellos, guitar, banjo, and voice) and sections of improvising and comping. For the songs we made sure that we paid particular attention to the story and how we might reflect the meaning through our arrangements.
The whole week was a build up to a performance last night at the Admiral Hardy in Greenwich, the third and final pub in the "CoLab pub crawl" which also featured a guitar quartet and monologue at the Cutty Sark, followed by a Greek/Cypriot group at the Trafalgar and ending with FolkLab and a theatrical performance at the Admiral. The evening was a huge success, our performance was greatly enjoyed by all who attended (which was quite a pub-full!) afterwards we were joined by the local "jammers" so space became a little tight! Unfortunately I had to put my cello away, but it was lovely to sit back listen to some wonderful music being played by a bunch of wonderful musicians.
On day one we spent a bit of time getting to know one another and discussing what we would each like to get out of the project. It soon became evident that there was a large gap between people who had had plenty of "folk" experience (i.e. playing the style, learning by ear, working out chords etc.) and people who had had zero experience. In the end we decided that the best way to proceed would be to throw the inexperienced in the "deep end" but with the more experienced helping them along; giving tips on techniques (chopping and "potatoes" - a kind of intro tool commonly used in blue grass), suggesting accompaniment styles to fit with the style of a particular tune and also writing out tunes when people were struggling to learn by ear.
The rest of the first day was spent doing just this and in total we learnt ten tunes;
- two Irish tunes: The Rambling Pitchfork and Frog in the Well
- four American tunes: Billy in the Low ground, Blackberry Blossom, Over the Waterfall and The Kitchen Girl
- a song called The Two Sisters
- three English tunes: Salmon Tails, The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance and The Northern Lass.
Unfortunately on day two I was ill with food poisoning and was unable to attend the session, but from what I've been told from others in the project they just spent the day recapping the tunes they'd learnt the day before, as well as starting to work out chords for them and learning more tunes from Roger.
On day three the group kindly filled me in on the other tunes that I had missed out on and basically brought me up to speed in general. Roger was unable to come in so it was up to us to organise the day ourselves. At this point in the week the people who had less experience were becoming more confident which meant working on tunes became much easier with the flow of ideas becoming more and more fluent. We spent a most of the morning working on two songs - The Two Sisters and Skewbald (one the group had learnt the day before). We adopted a "trial and improvement" method of working whereby we played through the songs, without really deciding on anything to begin with, and then discussed what we liked and didn't like about it and how we could improve it. To help with the style of the accompaniment and the overall shape of the arrangement we looked into the story's of each song. The Two Sisters is a well know tale in which the older sister murders her younger sister out of jealousy of her beauty and handsome suitor and Skewbald is the story of a racehorse who shocks the crowd and wins the race, despite the numbers being against him.
The afternoon turned out to be an 'in depth' recap of all of the tunes we'd learnt so far and making sure we all knew which went together in sets for the pub session the following evening.
Day four was the final day of the project and the day of the performance which would take place that evening in the Admiral Hardy in Greenwich. It was a day for polishing off the sets and making sure everyone was happy with what they were doing. Roger was back with us in the afternoon and we were eager to show him the work we had done on the songs the previous day. He was pleased with the work we had done and also had a few helpful suggestions on how to improve them further. After that we spent the rest of the afternoon running through all of the tunes and then jamming on a few others to get into the session spirit. We were even joined by regular session fiddle player who heard us playing from down the corridor!
I had a great week; learnt some wonderful tunes and got to collaborate with some amazing musicians!