Tag Archives: Celtic music

Letters, Boxes, Words–Tomatoes

hidden roomThis time next month Jack and I should be finding places to put things in our new house. It’s 550 Tazewell St, Wytheville if you want to look up the rooms and stuff. People have already observed (correctly) that it is a half-size version of our current bookstore home.

No, we won’t be running a bookstore. Yes, the blog will continue. Yes, I’m still writing, working on my fourth book and oh glory the joy when I can stop packing boxes and start using the time for writing instead. No, I won’t be working with Appalachian Feline Friends in any significant capacity, just driving transports and running an online craft store for fundraising. I’m retiring and turning it over to younger people with more fresh ideas: no strategizing. I need the brain space.

The joys of the new house include: a hidden bedroom. Halfway up the staircase is a small hobbit-shaped door, with no stairs into it. You have to hop. This reveals a slope-sided attic space in which any self-respecting hobbit or child would delight. I revel in the prospect of filling it with my yarn, lining the sides in visible boxes, waiting for me to pluck it out and make it into things that will assist the cats or surprise and terrify friends at Christmas (2019, I hasten to add).

A small greenhouse. My heirloom tomato nerd side is already planning. If you have heirloom tomato seeds you’d like to send me, please do. Oh, the happiness of growing baby tomatoes from seeds. I’m going to pipe in classical music to help them along.

The old jail. Seriously, we inherited the 1866 Wytheville jail as part of the property. It has heat and light and it’s the perfect size for a 9-months-of-the-year writing studio. A small table, my laptop, and NOTHING ELSE! I haven’t had a designated writing room since I finished the writing residency in Fayetteville last March. Jack is the one who called it, too. As soon as he saw the room, he said, “Well, you got your studio back.” Yep.

The tiny balcony. Despite his best efforts and mine, Jack still smokes. Not in the house. It’s a deal-breaker. But on the lee side sheltered by the roof and some trees sits a small patio on the second floor, just big enough for two chairs and an ashtray. My beloved can do his bad thing out there and I won’t have to smell it and he won’t be cold in winter. Little portable heater’s chord fits under the glass door.

The big ceilidh room. The house is 1890, so it has an original and an added bit. The original has big wooden timbers framing it, exposed for aesthetic pleasure. It’s a big room, and even with two sets of double doors leading to the front and back gardens, it gets less light than the rest of the house. And it has the fireplace. This will be our music room and where we hold ceilidhs and house concerts. No furniture, just folding chairs, instruments, and the bookshelves at the far end holding our collection of rounds and songs to sing together. Already we are looking forward to meeting the Wytheville musical crowd. Debra Preese, the lady we bought the house from, knows several, and our realtor Tyler Hughes knows more. They’re rumored to be happy to have a Celtic music couple arriving.

There’s still a twinge at letting go of the bookstore, but it’s thriving and we have high hopes the next owner will continue its community service. Jack and me, we are ready for our next adventure, in a smaller house with a big heart.

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Filed under bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

Homeward Bound

We apologize for not blogging on Monday and Wednesday. Jack is leading his annual tour through Scotland and Ireland, and this is the first time Wendy has gone with him. We’ve had our hands full with the fun and logistics, and are now homeward bound. We invite everyone to hop over to Wendy’s Facebook page, which is public, and view the videos of the trip. It was lovely, if we do say so ourselves. And Wendy will be back on schedule with the Monday book, plus a few observations about life and love and living well.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, Downton Abbey, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Wendy Welch

Old Friends are the Best

Jack’s weekly guest post falls on a Friday this year because Wendy is snowed under with some editing.

I’ve found that as I get to the age I am now and various old friends are passing on, you begin to really value the ones who are still around. One reason why I organize a tour of Scotland every year is so I can meet up with them and, in some cases, re-connect with folks I’d lost touch with.

 

Right now I’m sitting in the home of one old friend and chatting with him and two others. In the last few days I’ve met up with so many that I’m close to overwhelmed!

 

Starting with Derek Hutton who passed on to me historic recordings of the folk club in Dunfermline. Then to Jane Yolen in St. Andrews for afternoon tea in her wonderful arts and crafts house and excellent conversation. On to Linda in New Gilston, where Wendy and I lived for 5 years and a relaxed early evening of memories and village gossip. Finally to Sandy and Elma Stanage in Kilconquhar (pronounced Kinnyuchar) and more memories and catch up.

 

Yesterday evening was dinner in Edinburgh with another old friend. Barbara Dickson is my old singing partner from the 1960s and headlined Big Stone Celtic two years ago. She loved her time in Big Stone Gap and is coming back this year. So lots of laughs about her visit and much harking back to the old days as well.

 

Today my friend Colin and I drove over to Edinburgh for lunch with Dolina McLennan, who I first met in 1960 and the great surprise that she had also invited yet another old friend who has visited Big Stone – Bill Hill (most famous as the composer of a much loved song called ‘The Portree Kid’).

 

But I’m not finished yet because tomorrow, after the bus for my tour has been collected and checked out, I will be having supper with Mike Morris who was the guy who recruited me into college teaching. His son owns a used book store in England and Mike spends his time haunting estate sales and auctions as an agent for his son’s shop. We will be sharing lots of memories too.

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And I would walk – – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post –

It’s Wendy’s birthday at the end of the week and back around the time of my birthday in February she asked me for a very specific present. Not a fancy expensive thing, but just a song. Not any old song, though, and not a traditional song which would have fitted with my usual repertoire.

The song she asked me to learn and then perform publicly at a gig coming up April 30 was ‘500 Miles’ by The Proclaimers!

The Proclaimers are brothers Craig and Charlie Reid, who grew up in Auchtermuchty in my home county of Fife in Scotland, which is also the town where Wendy and I married 18 years ago.

I really wasn’t sure that I could do justice to the song, particularly after watching various excellent performances on YouTube. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I spent weeks going around singing it to myself until I learned the words. But a funny thing began to happen. It may be because the Reids sing in a broad Fife accent very similar to mine or maybe it’s because the sentiments of the song are quintessentially Scottish, but I found myself falling for the song. Of course the idea of demonstrating love by being prepared to travel a long distance – five hundred or even a thousand miles – is a very common motif in folk-songs and that may have chimed with me too.

The opportunity to perform the song had also been a long time in preparation. Almost two years ago our good friend Mark Merz, who leads the excellent Celtic band ‘Night Crossing,’ had proposed a ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ concert at the historic Lincoln Theater in Marion VA. At the time we weren’t able to pull it off, but with the appointment of a new director for the theater the idea was again raised and the sainted Kristin Untiedt worked enthusiastically with Mark to realize his dream.

Also appearing would be our old friends ‘Sigean’ and another local band ‘Fire in the Kitchen’. The idea was to present a live concert version of my radio show and record the whole event for future broadcasting. So a lot to plan and a lot to potentially go wrong! Sigean were happy to give backing me in the song a go, but our only actual rehearsal opportunity was a brief 15 minutes between the sound check and the start of the concert, back in the Green Room.

Soon the theater began to fill up and the concert began. The first half featured ‘Fire in the Kitchen’ and ‘Night Crossing’ who both played wonderfully. The second half would start with Wendy and me followed by Sigean with ‘500 Miles’ as our last item to make for an easy stage transition.

We announced it was Wendy’s birthday present, and then as I began to sing the first few words, the audience reaction was amazing – an enthusiastic shout went up, and everyone sang along. I hadn’t realized just how popular or well known the song was. There’s a special feeling you just occasionally experience when performing – when everything clicks and the audience is right with you. It was such fun.

I may just have to keep ‘500 Miles’ in my repertoire now! Wendy says I have to sing it to her every year on her birthday. That could happen. We’re going to Asheville this weekend with friends, and I see a rendition on their trolley bar that pedals through the streets, the patrons singing lustily. Or perhaps drunkenly.

If you’d like to see the live performance from the Lincoln, click here.

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Filed under folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

New Tech Tricks for an Old Radio Dog?

In which Jack is pleased with himself for getting his home studio going

I’ve been presenting Celtic music radio shows for more than twenty years now, in Scotland as well as here in the US, but I’ve always had the luxury of someone else handling the technicalities. Back at Heartland FM in Pitlochry in Scotland (of blessed memory) it was the ever-patient Alan Brown who sat across from me, running cassettes and dropping the needle onto LPs.

Yes, it was a long time ago.

Later Alan and I tried to get to grips with those new-fangled CD thingamajigs. That show went out live and was often built around a guest who brought favorite pieces of music. I interviewed them about why they had chosen them while poor Alan cued up tracks and cut over to two mics, all the time knowing that we were going out live!

These shows went out monthly for ten plus years, and wound up being re-aired as part of a weekly series of Celtic music shows on WETS in Johnson City, Tennessee – first with Keltik Korner and then in Music from the Stone Circle. So the shows were recorded (again on to cassette) as they were broadcast and mailed to the States.

Alert readers will have worked out that these were now (at least) second generation cassettes; those were the days, my friends…..

Wendy and I moved to Big Stone Gap following the untimely death of Denise Cozad, who had presented Music from the Stone Circle, so WETS no longer had a ‘home-grown’ Celtic music show. So once the bookstore was up and running (or tilting or walking or crawling, those first years) I emailed Wayne, the station manager, and within a week I was back on air. That was eight years ago and throughout that time I have always had someone else handling the technical stuff – all I ever had to do was talk.

Remember last winter? The one that had us snowed in for two solid weeks, no one driving anywhere?

I began to explore recording my shows completely here at the bookstore instead the three hour round trip and the hassle of pre-recording CD tracks to another CD in preparation. I downloaded Audacity, but being a bit of a technophobe just couldn’t make head or tail of it, going back every few months to work through the instructions but always giving up. Renewed impetus came with the discovery of DropBox and motivation from my pal Fiona, who constructs Thistle and Shamrock on a kitchen table in Scotland. She told me she used Dropbox to upload a complete program to a filing cabinet in the sky!

I now salute the wonders of Google, carefully constructed search terms and Youtube, for their assistance in unlocking the mysteries of Dropbox. Last night I was able to make the break through and do everything that I need to do to finally (I hope) schedule my radio time completely to my choosing! Wendy says I came downstairs on Old Christmas night with my face beaming as if I’d seen the Epiphany!

Maybe not quite that, but I was happy, yes.

PS – Although delighted at my new self-sufficiency, I must give most grateful thanks to the glittering array of true professionals who have sat on the other side of the desk over the years keeping me teched up – Alan Brown, Wayne Bean, Denise Cozad, Nick Roosa, Bob Hoffman and Wayne Winkler.

If you want to hear Celtic Clanjamphry, visit their facebook page for times and playlists.

 

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

Jack’s Weekly Guest Blog tackles Celtic Fiddle

Jack’s weekly guest blog about our recent bookstore guest

Among the many delights of running our bookstore are the events that we put on. Just last weekend we had a house concert with a wonderful musician from North Carolina. Jamie Laval is an American who plays Scottish fiddle music as well as any Scot I know and we had first met some years ago when he and Wendy and I were teaching at the Swannanoa Gathering Celtic Week at Warren Wilson College outside Asheville.
Jamie stayed the whole weekend so we had lots of time to talk about his music and share a few tunes together.
But maybe the most fascinating thing happened a couple of evenings before he arrived, when we realized that he’d recently done a ‘Ted Talk’ and watched it on YouTube. He had lots of interesting things to say about his musical career and the reason he switched from playing classical violin in orchestras to making his way as a solo fiddle player specializing not just in Scottish music but west coast Scottish fiddle music!
But when he moved on to talk about how he worked with young people, and involved some of them in his performances, things really got powerful. He explained that his motivation was to open their minds and eyes to the wider world and raise their awareness of what they were capable of. Not necessarily in music but in anything they chose for themselves.
I immediately remembered when I was still working in a college in Scotland and organized student exchange programs with colleges in Denmark and Slovakia. I always had to work hard to recruit participants from among my students, and I only needed fifteen from a population of three hundred and fifty. The reasons why it was hard were simply that most of them needed exactly the boost to their self esteem and self worth that Jamie is doing with his musical events. My students often set off in fear and trepidation wondering what kind of food they’d encounter or whether they’d be able to communicate with people etc., etc. But when they came back they were unrecognizable! Confident and excited they could see, at last, that they could do anything they set their mind to.
So here’s to the folk like Jamie Laval who can find the time to invest in young people and help them to open the door to their future.
What was that about bagpipes?

 

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About that Hardanger Fiddle Thing….

joe coolA friend recently said to me, “Wendy, how can you be so cool and not cool at the same time?” Being of an analytical persuasion of mind, I had to figure it out. Here are my best guesses as to why it’s true: I’m not really cool.

1) Cotton trousers with elasticized waistbands and big floppy sweaters – I like and wear them. Especially when I’m writing, because they are so comfortable to sit in. And let’s face it, writing is a whooooooole lotta sitting. But then I get up to say hi to customers, or do housekeeping stuff, or make a quick run to the grocery, and people look at me like “Oh honey, where’s your carer?”

2) All you need to take me down is a Hardanger fiddle. Back in my youth,  friends who knew me well were astonished to discover I was dating the guitar player instead of the guy doing Hardanger. (But then they met Jack, and understood.) Still, to this day when I hear a good prairie fiddle going, forget the wine and flowers; you won’t need jewelry. Play Hardanger and you will have to beat me off with a bodhran stick. Which you will want to do, given that I’m in a baggy sweater and elastic waistband trousers.

3) I rescue cats. Yeah, say crazy cat lady. Say it again, a little closer…

4) Four days in seven, my hair winds up in a bun. (Go ahead: laugh. I’ll wait.) I like having long hair, but it’s not practical in a bookstore. If you’ve ever caught your long, swinging loose hair between two books just as you’re stacking them in a large group on a shelf – well, you know what a life-changing experience that can be. Not to mention neck-snapping. So, I wear my hair in a bun. Although I have learned never, ever to wear a blue jeans skirt and trainers. It doesn’t matter how swoopy your earrings are, how big and bold your watch; people will glance over, assume “Church of God,” and you will never get out of that labeled bottle again.

5) My favorite number to hear men sing along to is The Proclaimers’ 500 Miles. Lightly inebriated guys trying to bellow “DA-DA-DAT-DAHHHHH” in sync and with some resemblance to an established key–ah me, is there anything cuter? Especially if they’re singing to some girl sitting with them. Ah, sweetness. (BTW I have never been to a karaoke bar. These displays were at festivals.)

6) And the kiss of death: I use the word “cool” in casual conversation. :]

Not cool, but still havin’ fun –  I think I’ll get that put on a t-shirt.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Wendy Welch, writing