Mudcat Café message #901646 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #56271   Message #901646
Posted By: The Shambles
02-Mar-03 - 09:17 AM
Thread Name: PEL's: News Blackout!
Subject: RE: PEL's: News Blackout!
Article in the Western Morning News 1st March 2003.
Keep this music live and untamed
Neil Young

Fingers hot-skipped over fiddles, and guitars, an accordion, whistles and a banjo swelled out the sound that seemed to envelope every pocket of air, and in that packed sideroom of Johnny-Joe's, people who had never met before squeezed limb into warm limb over Guinness and cigarettes and sang together as if they were intimate friends. Some started solo then others joined in, even those who only half-knew the words. I murdered a version of the Foggy Dew, but still was met with roars of approval and a thumping full-on kiss from a girl across the table who I never saw again, but if she's out there now….

Just another Saturday night in Cushendall, Antrim. On Thursdays the youngsters of the village joined the veteran musicians – their fathers, mothers, uncles, grandfathers – and their music merged in a fusion of seamless experience and the improvising practice and skill of the newly-versed. I asked where this music came from that seemed so familiar in its themes and yet was unscored. And the truth of it was that it came from no place you could touch. It was passed from one generation to the next, like a whisper in the ear along a link that had never been broken, like something filtered through the bloodstream that gave this place and its people the gift of sound and intonation that was their own native tongue.

And so to Auld Lammas fair in Ballycastle, where you trip over the corpses of three-day-drunk farmers in the middle of the road, and the riot of music pours out of backroom windows. A great ape of a thing who looked like Johnny "Mad dog" Adair's ugly brother cast me a look that would slacken the staunchest of bowels. The scrawnt singer on the guitar barked something indecipherable in his direction, and Madder-than-Mad-Dog melted into a smile.

And here too, even a big sea apart, in scattered places, unsuspected corners, back lanes, from down-at-heel Plymouth to rain-soaked Mevagissey, or where a couple of people meet and fumble for song, a violin case is opened, a harmonica pulled from a jacket pocket, a piano lid battered open, I've found that same spirit that binds and brings strangers together who moments before might have shied from conversation or shifted for space on their stools. They too are swept up in spite of themselves. They too find common language in the words of others, the clumsy rhymes, the seductive melodies, when their own solitary tongues might stumble for expression.

There are places even in this city where songs stretching back to the First World War, words and themes that belong to folk memory, can be head belted out from voices that know their lines too well to those croaked or ragged to care but simply hanker for to enjoin in the shared shedding of inhibition. Songs that glimpse of times and lives long gone , jumbled up with the cheesiest pop, the Sixties or Seventies nostalgia-blasters, the singer-songwriter standards, the folk classics and protest anthems, the end-of-the –night slow burners.

They can all be found in pub or a room or a turn-of-the-corner away. Here too, in England and Cornwall, where the culture police want to license the weekend drumkit thumper and his mate on the mike with an eight chord repertoire on the guitar. Here, where the worst offence of noise pollution is an overdose of the Beatles songbook, the din of traffic, or the throbbing night-club rhythms that reach from street to street, but where the starched-knickered moralisers from the Ministry of New-Lab Culcha want to straitjacket each vibrant and authentic thing that flits across their radar.

Only in England, we say, it could only happen here, but whether or not that's the case does not detract from the surge in censoriousness to which this Bill – so small and inoffensive a word – the Licensing Bill, belongs. It belongs to the legislation obsession that is colonising so much of our private and public space. It belongs to a mindset that is addicted to interfering and intrusion – "for the public good. in our own interests, because we know best what is best for you" – that drop by drop drains the well from which we shake our thirsty spirits, or revivify ourselves.

The pub that is silenced, or where loud voices are tut-tutted into a tamed huddle, is like the wild ground with a sign instructing us to Keep Off the grass. It's like throwing someone out of church for praying too hard. The pub as social centre, focal point for ribald humour and debate, is no pub at all when the edgier points of society are squeezed out. The pub that knows no lock-in is a dry and abandoned place. And the pub that has no singers, be they lonesome folkie with an amp, Sunday jazzman, brazen band, or a few stray Cornish choir singers who can't resist the temptation to lift their voices, is a place best suited to alien parts where they like their culture scrubbed clean.

Not here, not here. Not in Ireland, Scotland, England or Wales, nor the windy outreaches of Cornwall. The emphasis of the music is on LIVE because it's a living thing, that is part of our language, our native speech, from its everyday to its best – from the pokey Plymouth pub to the lifeblood of the musicians of Cushendall.