A fine treat…
…it was with great surprise that I read the poster on the bullletin board in the hall outside the bursar’s office at Harris Manchester College on Sunday, July 4 announcing your July 8 lecture/recital at HMC. There at Oxford while my partner attended an academic conference, I was looking for interesting things to do while occasionally on my own. That Thursday evening was to be our last night of a nine day stay in Scotland & England. She had a formal dinner to attend. I was reluctant to get back into the suit coat & tie I never otherwise wear. Your poster gave me my out!
I confess I hadn’t heard much about your music for many years after first hearing it on that 1970’s Kicking Mule recording “Something for Everyone in America”. In those days I was playing almost exclusively fingerstyle arrangements after John Fahey & Mississippi John Hurt stylings I’d picked up from a couple of college pals. Your music–and the nylon guitar sound–caught my ear. The tab book for that record is still around here somewhere. I never could quite do justice to your arrangements on my steel strings…and I’m addicted to fingerpicks.
I’d spent most of the summer of 1976 hanging out upstairs at Acoustic Music on Haight Street in SF working with guitarmaker Rodney Albin learning to build Martin style guitars. I had romantic delusions of leaving my elementary school teaching job and becoming a famous maker. Though that insanity was eventually drummed out of me…or maybe just surpressed under obligations to home and family…I’ve never stopped playing a wide range of acoustic music on guitar, 5-string banjo and mandolin. It didn’t come to pass but all that summer I’d heard it rumored you occasionally dropped by that shop. I’d hoped we might cross paths so I could tell you how much I was energized by your playing on that first record.
And even though my own repertoire and stylistic interests also range far and wide from Gypsy Jazz to Old Time String Band tunes & traditional Irish country dance music, I remain a diehard kitchen musician…mostly. As far as my band goes we are folk music millionaire poster boys but we have a whole lot of fun and do get the occasional local gig to supplement the First Fridays With Mom’s Chili Boys House Concert series we’ve run in the Stockton/Sacramento area the last two and a half years. You’ve got an open invite to join us if you’re ever planning to be in our area on a first Friday of any month between September and June.
I do also still enjoy building, restoring and repairing acoustic instruments though the two D28 inspired dreadnoughts I began under Rodney’s tutelage remain works in progress all these years later. I am working my way through a long list of postponed projects though; they are on the short list now.
So…in a way…hearing you play live for the first time last Thursday evening there in the chapel at HMC brought me full circle. I’ve retired from teaching after what eventually became a fulfilling 33 years. I have lots of time and a little bit of disposalble cash from my teacher retirement income for travel…one of few economic trade-offs from a day job life spent in public education. I now play a lot more music again, do a lot more art and photography and get into the shop to build toys for a two year old grandchild pretty much anytime I want…and I get to spend more time going to live shows and being inspired by the musicians of my generation I’ve come to admire & respect.
What a treat to stumble across you & Helen there in Oxford. Your lecture/recital approach was spot on. Though I was maybe more familiar than some of the audience with the roots & branches of American “folk” music your spoke of, your take on it encouraged some new insights. Helen’s songs complemented them perfectly and were a wonderful bonus.
It dawned on me later that it really was a scholarly and wide-ranging lecture but you never stumbled off the path into dry, pedantic, preachy or stuffy territory…a great risk when talking about “the people’s” music.
I’ve got your site bookmarked now. I’m looking forward to catching up with you again some time in the not too distant future. Contact me if you’d be interested to do a House Concert in my area of the Central Valley.
Thanks for an outstanding final evening in Oxford town.
Be well & take care,
The Picturehouse shows review in ‘The Scotsman”: