Halsway Gurdy Weekend 2014

The third Hurdy Gurdy and Bagpipe weekend took place earlier this month at Halsway Manor, Somerset — as someone who’s had the good fortune of attending both of the previous ones, I can attest that these events just keep getting better and better.

Gregory Jolivet returned after teaching at Halsway last year and taught some lovely traditional French dances with emphasis on left hand ornamentation, and the transferal of energy from the right hand to the left hand. He also mentioned manipulating tunes into different rhythms so each one can be used for multiple dance types — something Patrick Bouffard touched upon at the first Halsway gurdy weekend — but never got a chance to expand on it as everyone was having too much fun playing the tunes in their original forms.

Till Uhlmann of ulman.info taught some more esoteric but equally enjoyable tunes of his own, with emphasis on control and regulation of the trompette, enabling playing in unusual time signatures. Once you’ve learnt the coup de catre and play primarily 2 or 4 time tunes it’s very easy to cultivate bad habits like overemphasising particular buzzes — Till taught some exercises and tunes which can be used to avoid falling into such ruts.

Till also demonstrated and evangelised a method of playing harmonies on the gurdy pioneered by Simon Wascher, involving doubling up low G chanters and removing all tangents higher than Eb on one of them. Several people tried the technique out on their own instruments, and Till also suggested an similar but less intrusive method involving holding down the lower note and playing staccato on higher notes.

Claire Dugue was acting as resident luthier for the weekend, helping people get their instruments in top shape as well as facilitating aforementioned tangent-removal experimentation inspired by Till.

I wasn’t involved with Jon Swayne’s bagpiping workshop but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, learning rather a complex old seven-part (!!!) hornpipe.

Concert and Sessions

On the Saturday night the tutors kicked off a semi-formal concert for course participants and outsiders alike. They agreed that F was the new G, before being followed by Katie Merchant and Steve Tyler performing their usual mix of medieval, traditional and new tunes on a variety of instruments. Then the stage was opened for everyone to perform, and the night erupted into a varied mixture of sound-worlds from a bunch of extremely talented people.

Jack Humphries followed up on his beautiful session repertoire with a traditional French song, accompanied on diatonic accordion. The amazingly talented duo Dylan Cairns and Sam Mabbett performed together on fiddle/gurdy and melodion/pipes. I had the pleasure of being able to perform again with Robin Andrews, before Paul Leigh and Gill Page finished off the night with some impeccably played medieval medleys on harp and recorder — a welcome break from drone-heavy music before the evening session.

Photo courtesy of Mike Smith

Following on in the tradition Nigel Eaton started last year with Halsway Schottisch, the pipes and gurdies all got together at the end of the weekend to play Organdi (a lovely Gilles Chabenat tune) en masse in the hall.

As always, Halsway (pronounced hawl-zee) was the perfect venue, not least because of the amazing staff who are consistently helpful, friendly and professional. I can’t recommend it enough. If you’re a gurdy player in the UK, you’d be mad not to get to next year’s gurdy weekend, and in the meantime they have events to satisfy most trad-oriented musical/dancey people. Check out halswaymanor.org.uk for more information, and support the wonderful work this charity is doing for traditional music and dance.

Travel Tips

Moving to Iceland has made traveling long distances in general and flying in particular a much more common occurrence for me, and there’s something new to be learned each time.

I traveled on the very front row of the plane (apparently due to being one of the last to check in) for the first time — the overhead lockers are filled with safety stuff so my gurdy was put in the front locker behind the trolleys. It’s much larger than the overhead lockers but prone to more movement, and smelling a bit if stowed behind the bin!

If craving Indian food in Taunton, you can’t go far wrong with Mint and Mustard — excellent food with service to match.

Resources and Links

Mike Smith somehow managed to juggle participating in all the workshops and sessions alongside photo- and video-documenting the entire weekend. Most of his photos seem to only be on facebook, you might be able to see them somewhere here.

I’ve added a bunch of his videos into a playlist and will continue to add more as people upload them.

Some of the tunes Jack Humphries played in the sessions really stood out, and many of them (both traditional and new) are available on the bathfrenchsession.wordpress.com site.

Robin Andrews, who performed with me in the concert, was selling his tunebook. There were CDs on sale from many of the musicians involved including ulmann.info and woodwose — both worth checking out.

I’ll try to notate the tunes Greg was teaching and upload them here for future reference.