On the Fiddle, a night to remember

Trip Start May 25, 2005
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Trip End Ongoing


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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Music is a language that I miss.

I miss the communication that comes through the subtle elongation of a note, the minute flash between the eyes of the knowing musicians who are in tune to the rhythm of the gathered few.

So I was desperate, yes desperate to recharge my musical reserves. I needed to do something before I left to help me survive the next few months without a musical connection. It had been too long.

'What are you doing tonight?' Joy asked.

With the conference closed there was only one appropriate response,

"Drinking I hope, and finding some good local music!"

'Fantastic!'

So as we spilled into the conference bar, more and more of the delegates arrived to celebrate the end of the hard work. Here was a perfect opportunity to explore the local sites and to take in the best of what the Irish Culture had to offer. Beer and music, music and beer!

As we walked into town, past the harbour and bay, the group swelled. The word had spread that the scientists were hitting town. The mood was happy and hungry, so we moved to a restaurant big enough to take the party.

Green Thai Chilli - Yum! What a lovely restaurant at the end of the High Street. As we chatted and shared stories I began to feel restless. Time was pressing on, and we simply had to, HAD TO find some music soon.

"Where are we going to go then?" I asked one of the local lads. He was the knowledgeable sort and clued up on the best spots in town.

'Well missy, I thought we would try the Crane Bar. It's the veritable hub of all things musical around here.'

"Sounds good to me! The Crane Bar it is!"

So we polished off our Thai food and headed out onto the packed Galway Streets. This was a Thursday night, so what better excuse than to paint the town shamrock green? The crowd was loud. We weaved and picked our way along the main drag, and scooted off through the alleyways, trying not to loose too many confused foreigners along the way.

'I can hear MUSIC!' I said, looking at the boys, a big grin on my face.

'Hoooo-Bloody-RAY!'

The Crane Bar was a perfect Irish home. A dark and dusty atmosphere spread amongst the old wooden interior. There wasn't much space and the talk was loud. We headed upstairs. The walls became thick with the memorabilia of the town. There were faded photographs of victorious rugby teams from the 1970's and beyond. Local musical heroes' fortunes were spelled out in the yellowed paper of the news, preserved behind glass for all to comment upon.

We shimmied our way past the cluster of chairs near the top of the landing, making our way towards the bar. Here there was air, and enough space for everyone to perch and sit.

In the corner was the prize we had come for; a band of musical warriors, just pausing for a quick sip and a puff or two. A guitar, some uilleann pipes (my favourite), a few whistles, a box (accordion) and three fiddles.

I held up my pipe and sat in close. I wanted to absorb as many of their notes as I could.

'You haven't stopped smiling since we got here!' one of the chaps from Rome said.

"No I know. It's just a while since I have been in this environment, and it feels like home!"

And it really did. How many hours had I lost over the years as the tunes cast the spell? A couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon became a beomoth of last calls. We would often roll out a day later, making the move only when we knew there was nothing more left of Sunday to play through.

And then they started up again, the piper led the way. The notes seemed to pile into the air, as one by one the musicians joined in. The rhythm began and the pace quickened. All eyes turned to see the source of the fun, and smiles sprung across faces as the dancing began.

My leg was already tapping the beat, I knew the tune and I knew the most likely progression of the set. I started to calculate, it was three years since I had sat drumming this out myself. My head was spinning around and around. I just had to join in or I might possibly explode.

'Why don't you just ask?' my Italian friend said

"Well it's a complicated thing, you have to earn you play. You have to prove you are a player, and not an Irish wannabe. I'll ask, but not just yet, I need to hear the rest of the set first."

So we settled back to watch and I prepared to make my move. (Please, please let me join in.)

They stopped for a break and the oldest of the fiddlers walked by. I would stop him on the way back.

Why was I so nervous?

"Hi there!" I said, "I've been listening to your set. It's been a while but I wondered if I could join in for a short time? It would really mean a lot to me."

'Sure, what do you play?' has asked, looking around for a sign of my instrument

"Well, fiddle and viola, but I'm just here visiting from South Africa and don't have an instrument with me!"

'Would you like to borrow mine?'

"Really? That would be great! Yes please! Thanks!"

And so I introduced myself to the rest of the band and took up a spot in the corner.

And the music just flowed. My heart was released. We were communicating through the power of music. The notes swirled around, I felt ecstatic, lighter, lifted somehow onto a different plane. We moved from one tune to the next, getting faster and louder.

The bar joined in, people danced and reeled around, knocking tables flying.

'Ba babbbabbba gdaddd,a ddada ,addddmd dadddd baaa bsbbsbbb.'

The rest of the delegates were smiling, their hearts too were lifted. Now they could understand.

The rest of the evening was a blur of chat between tunes.

"What is that one called?" I asked of the tune I recognised from a time long since past.

'Well, that's 'Girl in the Bright Blue Dress''

'No way man, that's thinguummy's jig, you know, that other one'

'No man, I have no idea what you are talking about. Let's play man, let's play!'

And so the refrain began.

As the night tarried along I said my thanks and bade them a good night. A weight had been lifted. I had been freed.

'That was great! You can really play' said the Italian delegate.

"Thanks!' I said.

There are some things that leave you feeling a deep and saddening loss when you leave them behind. And this was mine. The music. The spread of happiness. The over-riding joy at the feel of the wooden body against my cheek, my bow in hand, ready to take the music to the heights.

And I know I will miss it again, but I have my whistle and viola and I will travel.

But a piece of my heart will always be devoted to it.

Thanks to everyone at the Crane Bar for making me the happiest Geoghegan in town!
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