The Second Line Song Game

I thought I’d resurrect this for anyone missing those long nights at work when we used to keep ourselves entertained by singing one song to the tune of another or guessing the song when the first line is read in BBC Radio 4 voice.  Or this is for anyone who is bored and wants to play an inconsequential game.

Because the first line is always easy… then we tend to la la la the next one! So this is what you have to do for this game:

1. Put your music player on shuffle
2. Write down 30 songs that you come to – but give people a fighting chance! We’re not going to get some obscure B-Side! Believe me, it’s harder than you think!
3. Write down the first line of the song
4. Tag friends and get them to fill in the second line of the song
5. Cross the songs out as they’re completed.

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Step back in time…

Ok, so I should admit that I’ve just googled myself. It’s not big, it’s not clever, it’s not something I’m proud of but I’d just seen a facebook post from my cousin Iona who had cut her own fringe and it reminded me of something I’d once written about cutting my own hair with kitchen scissors.

I can remember doing it, sat in my bedroom, 39 Curtis Road, Newcastle, with its rag rolled golden walls with one brown striped wallpapered room before one wall of wallpaper was cool. I’d propped the mirror up on my desk and started cutting in some layers and hoping for the best. I did a similar thing about 2 weeks ago – my graduated bob grew out about 3 months ago and the African sun combined with bleach and repeated coverings of red hair dye had left the ends frazzled. I had wanted a professional hairdresser to fix it but couldn’t get hold of her so one Saturday afternoon, whilst avoiding doing some actual work I switched on the bathroom light, took the kitchen scissors in my hand and started to hack away. The result wasn’t that bad.

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A weekend in the country.

So where was I?  Oh yes, a bit hung over.  Not intentionally but it happened.  And I dealt with it.  Just about. Mainly by sitting inside watching stuff, avoiding excessive movement and the sun.  Then by writing things for this.

It’s been a busy week by and large.  I finished school at 2.15 on Friday, got home picked up my suitcases and by 5.15 I was on a plane for Dar es Salaam and the beginning of my half term birthday holiday adventure.

“Beep de be beep, beep de be beep…”  The alarm wouldn’t stop when I hit the button, even though I was pressing very, very hard and willing with all of my might for it to stop.  It was 7 o’clock on Saturday morning and we needed to get up to get ferry tickets because that was the day we were going to Zanzibar.

I had been sharing a hot, humid room with a partially functioning air conditioning unit at Mongolia’s house with Vicki.  As she went off to clean up in the bathroom, I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep, but failed miserably.  Mongolia (An American, real name Joyce, but forever to be known as Mongolia because she lived there and that was what she was introduced as) stumbled into the room to say hello.  It was clear that she was still a little hung over if not still drunk.  And just wearing a towel.  She pointed out that we needed to wake the boys and head across the compound to Emma’s house where the others would be waiting for us.  I said I would do it, but Mongolia got there first, scrambling upstairs on all fours and announcing that she knew where at least one of them was.  Luckily nothing was flashed during that scramble.  I suspected that Phil had perhaps managed to find himself a lady so went into the room to wake James…  But instead of finding James it was Phil, his face bleeding, passed out on the bed.

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RE: Degrees of Folk

Facebook’s a marvellous thing sometimes. This morning it alerted me to a post written on another blog talking about the degree I studied. I felt I should probably reply to it…

Here is the original post:

Just lately I’ve been listening online to what’s been emerging from Newcastle University’s Folk Music degree course. Here’s a typical example of some of their third year students in action.

(For videos, please see Andy’s original blog)

I worry a bit about endless cohorts of students forking out nine grand a year and thinking there’s a living as a folk musician waiting for them at the end of it. (I worry about my Religious Studies students too, but at least they come out able to write an essay). But mostly, while the standard of musicianship is obviously high, I worry that it’s all so excruciatingly nice. Wouldn’t you rather go and see the old guy singing down the pub than something so…polished?

If folk music has a place in the academy then perhaps a bit of competition would be good for business, maybe somewhere down South. I’ve had some fun trying to think of what my folk syllabus would look like.
Obviously students would need to learn about the tradition and how to play their instrument.

But I’d get them to read up on carnivalesque theory and go hunting misericords. I’d get them to see some traditional folk customs and write an essay about it. I’d get them to jam with musicians with whom they shared no language, and then try and copy the style of another instrument entirely. I’d send them to the Glastonbury dance tent with instructions not to come back until they’d fallen to the floor in a delirium of sweaty ecstasy. I’d get them to shut the fuck up and listen. I’d make them sleep a night or two under the stars. A passionate love affair and a heart-break or two would probably be character-building. And for their final practical, I’d pack them off to France for the summer with nothing but fifty quid, their instruments and their wits to see how they got on. A bit of enforced busking does wonders for performance skills I find.

Oh hold on a minute, that’s what I did. Forgive me. I’ve committed the unpardonable sin of thinking that my life could provide a template for everyone else. Please accept my sincere apologies. Utter hubris.

But there’s a serious point here. If folk music is as relevant as we claim then it has to have something to say. It has to have arisen, unbidden and insistent out of the sheer messy fact of being alive. It has to have come up through the feet, to have lingered in the loins, rolled around the heart and soared out from the belly. It has to give voice to what the Welsh call the hwyll and the hiraeth – loosely, joy and sorrow. That’s not something you can teach, nor something you can buy. No wonder it all sounds so clean. The poor sods haven’t had a chance to live yet.

Here’s some folk music straight from the source. It’s from Gyimes in Transylvania, and is I believe a style unique to that area. The wild intonation of their fiddles may be too tart for Western ears but for me this is the pure drop.

It makes my fingers tingle and my feet itch in a way that, sadly, nothing I’ve heard from the Folk Degree ever does. If I were eighteen with nine grand in my pocket, I know where I’d go.


And here’s my response:

Hello Andy.

I’m Ellie, I studied the Folk Degree between 2003 and 2007. I graduated with a 2:1, major in performance, and now work as a primary teacher in Tanzania, having studied a PGCE and passed at Masters level. I CAN write an essay, mainly because of the practise I had in writing them on the folk degree… Just thought I’d clear that bit up.

I was in a year group that included many mature students and many, like myself, who were 18 or 19 when they began. Before I moved to Newcastle, the only contact I had with other folk musicians was with my Mum’s Morris team. I lived in a small town in South Northamptonshire, there was very little public transport – none after 6 at night and I can’t drive. I applied to study at Newcastle, but I also applied (and was accepted) for Ethnomusicology at Queen’s in Belfast, Norse, Saxon and Celtic at Cambridge and Music combined with English and Folklore at Sheffield. I chose to study at Newcastle because I felt comfortable in the city, I wanted to learn from the tutors available and I wanted to study folk music. For me, it was the best choice I could have made.

I ended up living in Newcastle for 9 years, making friends with other students, getting to make music with them, being taught by some amazing singers and having opportunities that I doubt I would have had if I had chosen one of the other courses.

But should I have been allowed to sing folk music at 19? I had barely lived! What had I done by that point? I’d worked since the age of 14, I’d stayed up all night in the happy hardcore tent at Gatecrasher and put in an 8 hour shift in the morning. I’d had my heart broken, I’d been stalked, I’d been a witness in a rape trial, my parents had split up, I’d been to Brittany and Normandy to play with musicians there. I’d had work experience in two, rather large, West End productions, and auditioned for a third. I’d volunteered with children with learning difficulites. But I couldn’t sing a folk song properly becuase I hadn’t lived.

Whilst on the degree I had more opportunities, I got to work with musicians, singers and dancers of different styles, genres and ages. I worked at festivals both onstage and backstage. I ran a summer school with 120 participants. I went to Hungary to perform at an International Folk Dance Festival in fromt of 5000 people. I stayed up all night, each night for the week dancing and singing with Greek Cypriots, Turks, Hungarians, Italians, French, Aboriginals, Israelis…

I didn’t enjoy every single aspect of the degree, and not everyone I enrolled with completed the course. But, I have friends who have studied many different subjects at many different universities, and (surprisingly) they’ve not enjoyed every aspect of their degrees and not every member of their cohorts graduated either. Not everyone will – it’s a hard choice to make at any age, deciding what you are going to dedicate yourself to for the next 3 or 4 years. But I do not ever regret that I have done it.

My modules for the first two years were picked for me, to give me a broad musical knowledge alongside specific folk knowledge and specialised teaching in folk styles that I hadn’t had before. But in my 3rd and 4th years, I chose my modules, I chose my singing teachers. I studied Corsican and Sardinian traditional choral music, Medieval music, contemporary culture, popular music, jazz, music business and musicc teaching. It allowed me to get gigs, because I had an opportunity to meet festival organisers, folk club organisers, other musicians. My performances aren’t polished, I wouldn’t want them to be, I make mistakes, I forget words and re-write them on the spot, I talk nonsense on stage. But for others, they have the ability for excellence and want to show it.

I was never under the impression that I would have a professional career in folk music and this was never perpetuated by the tutors on the degree. If anything, they stressed the fact that very few of us would make a living from it and that we should diversify our skills. I was always going to train as a teacher, partially fuelled by a conversation with my secondary music teacher who, when I applied for the degree, said “It’s not proper music, but it’ll suit you.”

Enough people ridicule folk music and knock it down for being less worthy than classical, or jazz, musical theatre or even pop, that I think if you love the music you should encourage people for getting it out there. You may think that the performers you saw are overly polished, it’s not your taste, so what? They are doing what they enjoy, they are learning, they are developing, they have opportunities. I would not say that they are typical third years, I would say their performance is typical of them. I know them and I am very proud of them for what they have achieved (and I know that they certainly have ‘lived’ despite their young ages).

Sometimes I would like to see a bloke singing in a pub, but sometimes that can be utterly awful, out of tune and uncomfortable to listen to, but I suppose it’s allowed because he’s over 40 and being out of tune is more authentic.

I am not a fan of every performer that comes from the degree, but I wouldn’t expect to be. There is a range of style, genre and talent there (I would put myself amongst the less talented), but I am not a fan of every person I hear at a pub, folk club or festival. Variety is good, why knock people for doing what they want, if you don’t like their music, don’t go out of your way to listen to them again.

If you think that folk music has to rise unbidden then it will die away. I am teaching folk music of the British Isles to my Tanzanian students because I had an opportunity to learn about it, I am teaching here partly because I have studied it. Had I just relied on my music GCSE and A level to inform me about it (as most secondary music teachers do) then they would confidently know that folk music consists of ‘What shall we do with a drunken sailor?’, ‘Scarborough Fair’ by Simon and Garfunkle and Bob Dylan songs.

I’m still under 30, I’ve still not lived enough to sing folk songs because I’ve not busked, I’ve never been to Glastonbury, I’ve not read up on carnivalesque theory (and probably can’t spell it), I’ve not had torrid love affairs, I suppose I had better close my mouth and stop singing.

P.S. These 18 year olds that started this September don’t have 9 grand in their pockets, it’s loans that they will probably never pay back, they start to repay once they are earning over £21,000 a year but that have no impact on their credit record, applying for mortgages, loans, credit cards etc. The repayments come out at source and so, like tax and NI, could be seen as a payment that you never had. I worked as a careers adviser for teenagers for 3 years, I did read up on this a little bit in that time. But yes, if I had £9,000 in my pocket I would like to go all over and experience different things, but I didn’t so I studied something I loved instead and it has since opened those doors for me.

Please feel free to add your own comments here. I realise that my reply is rather lengthy, but it’s what I felt I needed to say…

Travelling in time

I’ve come to my grandmother’s house to clean up before my aunt gets here tomorrow; I pressed play on my ipod – there’s 7144 tracks ont here at the moment (I really should get some more) and the first that came up was this song by Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts .  Jamie is the little brother of Kathryn Roberts that I linked to earlier in this blog, talented family.

Travelling in Time:

I wandered off today, back to the house we lived in then, the sound of voices play, the children are young 5, 8 and 10.

The rooms seem darker to me, but everyone else says they can see fine, shapes are all I can see, your voice calls me back to present day time.

It seemed to fit with what I’m doing.  I’m picking up some cds I loaned to Dad, pinching back the DVD The West that I gave him, and getting rid of the mess I made staying here last week.  It doesn’t seem fair for my aunt to come here to come to say goodbye to her brother and mother with some of my washing up still here.

It’s a different house now.  It has been in our family for 80 years or so – I think my great-grandmother lived here, my great-uncle, great-aunt, my grandmother moved here after her husband died 38 years ago, my dad moved in 9 years ago after he and mum split up.  The house will be sold now, maybe it will stay with another family for as long, but more likely someone will buy it and  build something in the garden, sell it for much more.  I don’t want to stay here now, it was fine when I was staying to visit dad, my cat was here, but now the cat has gone to live with my oldest brother and his family, so nothing living is here now.  It still has its familiar books and pictures, models that dad made, plates, pencils that went towards Gaggy’s collection.

I know that this seems morbid or melancholic, but I don’t think it is really.  People are what makes something or somewhere make you feel like you belong.  I’ve been very lucky, I’ve lived with 18 people in the last 9 years and I’ve felt at home nearly everywhere I’ve been.  I’ve had a good week – I’ve been singing with my old choir, I’ve sat in on some lessons at my old school to see the sorts of things I should be doing when I get back to Tanzania, I’ve bumped into people I’ve not seen for years.  Although I can’t picture myself ever living permanently in Northamptonshire or even in England for quite a while, it’s good to know I can fit back in relatively easily.  And I know I’ll fit back in Tanzania when I go back there.

It’s been interesting watching people since I’ve been back because I’m the only one on my own – in some respects that gives me a fair bit of freedom because I can decide what I want to do without having to co-ordinate plans with someone else, or think about what they want to do.  It’s good to be a bit selfish sometimes.  But it’s also good to see people being able to support each other, being happy, doing silly little things together, I do miss that a bit but for now, it’s just me on my own and it’s time for that.  I’ve completely lost my train of thought now and should probably get back to cleaning things up…

Burt Bacharach and Hal David put it well, Ella Fitzgerald sings it best

(Although, I don’t think you have to have a man around to make your house a home, but that’s not the point of the song.)

Wide Open Spaces

Sometimes in my current job we have a bit of quiet time and have to entertain ourselves with questions and games. 

A recent question that was set was ‘What song would you use to sum up your life or personality?’  Most people struggled to think of one, but mine sprung to mind straight away.  I’ll post the lyrics below:

Taking the Long Way Around
My friends from high school married their high school boyfriends.
Moved into houses in the same ZIP codes where their parents live
But I, I could never follow. No I, I could never follow.
I hit the highway in a pink RV with stars on the ceiling.
Lived like a gypsy, six strong hands on the steering wheel.
I’ve been a long time gone now maybe someday, someday I’m gonna settle down
But I’ve always found my way somehow
By takin’ the long way. Takin’ the long way around.
I met the queen of whatever, drank with the Irish and smoked with the hippies.
Moved with the shakers, wouldn’t kiss all the asses that they told me to
No I, I could never follow.  No I, I could never follow.
It’s been two long years now since the top of the world came crashing down
And I’m getting’ it back on the road now
But I’m takin’ the long way, takin’ the long way around.
Well I fought with a stranger and I met myself
I opened my mouth and I heard myself
It can get pretty lonely when you show yourself
Guess I could have made it easier on myself
But I, I could never follow. No I, I could never follow
Well I never seem to do it like anybody else maybe someday, someday I’m gonna settle down
If you ever want to find me I can still be found
Takin’ the long way, takin’ the long way around
The Dixie Chicks
When I first heard this song it reminded me of a conversation I had in a pub with my best friend from school in 2004.
I was 20 and had gone home for Easter.  I’d met up with Clare and other friends and we were discussing what we wanted from our lives.  I had a plan (as people tend to do at 20ish) of what the next ten years would probably bring.  I would be 23 by the time I finished my degree, I would work and take a part time Masters in Music and Education, train as a primary teacher, work for a few years and hopefully start having kids at about 30. 
Clare baulked at this idea, saying 30 was pretty old to start having kids, she wanted one as soon as possible.  My mum had me at 30, although her first child was when she was 21 and the 5th at 34, so 30ish seemed a good time to get going.  We were at different stages in our lives – Clare had been working since she left school, was settled with her boyfriend and either had just, or was just about to, buy a flat.  I was part way through my first year of university and had almost had a relationship with someone who liked to dress as an elf.
Eight years on from that night in the pub and Clare has a lovely little boy, has been married to that boyfriend for about 6 years and is still very settled.  I finished the folk degree, started the masters, dropped out because I didn’t get a job I was relying on.  So I ended up working in a homeless hostel for two years before finding the careers advice job. So I’m still no closer to having kids unless someone hands them to me, but I’ve mostly achieved what I set out to do.  Still taking the long way but sometimes that can be a bit more interesting I guess.
What would your song be?