Brittany, Ireland, Adelaide via Scotland, Scotland via southern Europe, Sweden and Victoria;  we haven’t been travelling in 2020, but our tunes have!  Our latest round of Celtic Jam Online tunes are  truly global, taught by musicians in different corners of the world, and played by our group who live in different areas of Australia and overseas.  Music is truly an international language!

We started our third round of online sessions with Geelong-based Shane Lestideau (Evergreen Ensemble), an incredibly accomplished baroque and celtic musician, fiddler, dancer and singer.  Shane spent nearly a decade in Brittany, immersed in the music and dance of the region while restoring a 300 year old French farmhouse at the same time.  Shane taught us a couple of Breton tunes and the dances that go with them,  and took us on a brief internet tour to Brittany.   We were spellbound.  Our introduction to Breton dance was good value – if you haven’t experienced zoom dance classes, you’ve been missing out  – it’s a feel-good, hilarious experience!

Our next guest was Australia’s own internationally renowned Irish musician and fiddler, Ado Barker (Trouble in the Kitchen, Freewheeler).  Ado’s presence is as warm as his fiddle playing, and a great antidote to the troubles of 2020.  Ado taught us a version of Over the Bridge to Bessie, a trad Irish tune, and chatted to us about his path to becoming the incredible musician he is today.

The one and only Andy Rigby, from central Victoria, taught us what might be the best anthem for the year, “Seven in Odd Times”.  Composed by Andy, this charismatic tune is in 7/ 8 – a quirky time signature for celtic music, and  perfectly named for 2020.  Andy is an extremely creative and versatile musician and multi-instrumentalist, and is a leading figure in our Australian folk scene. Our session with him was a lot of fun!

Another great composition to join our repertoire is from expat South Australian musician, Linda Rankin, currently based in Scotland.  Linda’s tune, cheekily named Pirate Pete’s Polka in honour of SA musician Pete Thornton, is a banger.  Linda is a proficient composer as well as Scottish fiddler, and we haven’t heard enough of her tunes – we’re looking forward to more of them in 2021.

South Australian musician, Vicky Yaga, brought us another border-crossing banger – Leire’s Welcome to Cozac.  Written by Scottish musician Phil Cunningham, the tune is distinctly South-eastern European in influence with its catchy time signature of 10 / 8.  Vicky is part of the Adelaide Scottish Fiddlers, founded by Linda Rankin.  In fact we have five regular members from the Adelaide group, and we have been lucky to learn a range of great tunes from them over the year.  That’s one of the pluses of being online without geographical borders.

From Scotland to Sweden… it was a privilege to host nyckelharpa player, Olov Johansson from the hugely popular band, Väsen.  Väsen and Olov have never yet made it to Australia, so it was great to have a chance to meet him online and learn a few tunes from him.  The nyckelharpa is a beautifully resonant instrument, especially in the hands of a master player, and Olov’s teaching is excellent.  One short evening of tunes with him is not enough!

Our final guests for 2020 were flute player, Beth McCracken and fiddler / guitarist Declan Simpson (The Simpson Three) who led an Irish session.  Beth and Declan are popular players around town, and know how to crank up the tunes – even on zoom.  It was a long wait to have them join our session;  we had to wait nearly 3 months until Melbourne restrictions had eased enough for them to legally visit each other in their homes and play as a duo.  It was worth the wait!

Which brings us to the backdrop of our online sessions this year – covid restrictions.  Victoria, and in particular Melbourne, was hit hard by lockdown and tight restrictions which started to ease at the end of the October, finally freeing up enough to allow a “covid-normal” summer, just  a day ago, on December 7.  In the meantime, South Australia went from covid-free and carefree to an unexpected short but severe lockdown when a cluster of cases appeared.  Our members in other states are so far enjoying their freedom, so hopefully things stay that way for them… But our international players haven’t been so lucky.  Germany has tightened restrictions, very reluctantly, and Scotland is sadly experiencing a prolonged lockdown.

With this uncertainty happening around the world, our online sessions will continue indefinitely into 2021.  We start up again on Wednesday January 13, 2021, with another guest artist and nyckelharpa player from Sweden, Josefina Paulson.  Along with some Swedish zoom dancing, hopefully!

The tunes we covered these past few months:

Khost ar c’hoat – Shane Lestideau

Over the Bridge to Bessie – Ado Barker

Seven in Odd times, Poor But Happy at 53 – Andy Rigby

Pirate Pete’s Polka – Linda Rankin

Leire’s Welcome to Cozac – Vicky Yagi

Bingsjö Langdans, Guringius – Olov Johansson

And some crankin’ Irish session  sets with Beth McCracken and Declan Simpson

Vale Pete Dwyer

Pete Dwyer’s love of music was infectious, and we were lucky to have him as part of our jam sessions.  An incredibly generous and gifted musician, Pete was encouraging to all players around him.  Pete had a love for and skill in many genres of music, including Irish and Scottish music (Captain Moonlight, Melbourne Scottish Fiddlers) as well as dabbling in pop, blues and jazz.  Since retirement Pete was often found playing to patients in hospitals, dialysis centres  and palliative care, and he had an uncanny knack for finding the perfect song, in any style or era, to suit the listener.   Pete has also had a pivotal role with the Stroke a Chord choir. Pete’s music and light-hearted banter brought smiles and enjoyment to those around him, and he will leave a huge gap in our community.  We miss you, Pete!  Our thoughts and love to Pete’s wife and family.