Back in March 2020 we converted our weekly jam session to a successful online format.  It was a temporary measure until things returned to “normal”.  What we didn’t realize then was that online would become our “normal” this year , especially for Melburniens.  So here we are, celebrating our 6 month anniversary and looking to continue indefinitely.  It’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the many musicians, amateur and professional, who have made our weekly online group such an enjoyable space.

Celtic Jam started up in July 2017 as a weekly slow session.  It filled a gap for players who wanted to join the different jam sessions around town, but either found them too fast, or too far away.  After starting off as a daytime session, we ended up meeting together each Wednesday evening at the gorgeous Box Hill Community Arts Centre, in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

Rolling into 2020, the landscape changed and we took our session online.  We celebrated our 3 month anniversary at the end of June, and were preparing to return to our  sessions in Box Hill in July.  Covid in Australia had largely been contained – as an island nation with strict border control  – and life was starting to get back to normal.  Other Australian states were lifting restrictions and enjoying  life again.  In Melbourne we had our hopes up too… but just a few weeks into the easing of  restrictions, covid was back with a vengeance and our state was forced into lockdown again, increasing in severity as the months have dragged on.

So instead Celtic Jam has continued online, and we will celebrate the 6-month anniversary next Wednesday, September 30, 2020.  While online doesn’t replace the excitement of playing live together, it’s been a privilege to join together with players and guest artists from all over Australia and the world.  The core group from Box Hill now makes up only a small portion of our weekly members.

Our first guest in July brought a smile to our online space – Yann Falquet.  Yann is part of the popular French Canadian trio, Genticorum, and has been a guest artist at the QuasiTrad Quebec Fiddle Weekend camps.  As it was 6am at his home in Boston, Yann greeted us wearing a nightcap, and also his souvenir QuasiTrad apron.  He takes the prize for the most memorable outfit online. And if you’ve had the opportunity to learn from Yann before, you’ll know that his French-accented comments are as entertaining as his music.  We learnt an accordion tune, a song in French and a guitar tune from him.  All in one hour!

Matthew Horsley (Vic) is a multi-instrumentalist of astonishing talent.  With an impressive background as a percussionist in Classical, then Afro-Cuban music, Matthew has now turned his focus to Irish music.  As well as percussion, he is an exceptional player of flute, whistles and the uilleann pipes.  It was the uilleann pipes he chose for our session with him. Matt was recently in the highly acclaimed musical, Come From Away, with its brilliant, toe-tapping Canadian-Irish score. When musicals make it back into our lives, keep an eye out for this one.  Celtic music lovers, it’s for you!

Caity Brennan and Angus Barbary (Vic), from local band, Austral, led us in a high-energy Irish session.  Well, actually music on zoom is never completely high-energy, but this duo came close!  Caity grew up immersed in folk music, thanks to her  musical family and musician dad,  Jack Brennan.  Angus was a convert to the genre at the age of 15.  They have been popular leaders of the Sunday session at Melbourne’s The Last Jar pub.  Their band, Austral is a banger, definitely a crowd favourite at festivals and gigs. You can listen to interviews with Caity and Angus on the excellent Blarney Pilgrims Podcast.

Folk artist and songwriter, Lucy Wise joined together with her musician partner,  Mischa Herman (Vic) to bring us our first song and tune arrangement.  Lucy taught us an Old Man Luedecke song, Little Bird (not to be confused with the tune Little Bird taught earlier  by Linda) and Mischa teamed it with a beautiful Irish whistle tune, Jerry O’Sullivan’s Reel.  It’s pure joy to have a singalong on zoom.  No one can hear you – at least no one on zoom! – so you get all the benefits of singing and none of the hang-ups!

We finished September with a focus on English traditional music.  Young UK musician and dancer, Coral Reid, fell in love with her English musical roots as a teenager, and has delved into the genre ever since.  English music has been the quieter cousin of other British Isles traditions, and there are very few recordings of it. In fact this is one aspect of the music that has attracted Coral; she is able to put her own signature style to the genre, without fear of breaking tradition.  Coral taught us a couple of English dance tunes, including a hornpipe in 3/2 – rather than the standard 4/4 of Irish and Scottish hornpipes.  We finished the session with Coral demonstrating a rapper sword dance.  We were impressed!

Following Coral was our second guest musician from the UK, concertina virtuoso Rob Harbron. Rob is part of the trio Leveret, and an incredibly skilled player and composer.  And we can also recommend his teaching!  Continuing on from Coral and tunes in unexpected time signatures, Rob taught us a gorgeous waltz in 5/4.  According to Rob, 5/4 is a natural meter for English language speakers.  You can listen to the waltz, The Brink of July, and decide for yourself!
We had an impressive turnout of concertina players for our session with Rob Harbron, with Mary, Vonnie, Catherine and Jayne joining.  But it’s definitely a downside of zoom that we couldn’t hear them all play together;  we don’t get to hear concertinas in sessions often enough!

Melbourne jazz-turned-celtic multi-instrumentalist, Richard Mander, started our foray into English music last year, by introducing us to  Rob Harbron and his band Leveret. Thanks to Richard, our  repertoire of Rob Harbron compositions is growing, with a charismatic tune called Terminus being the newest addition.

Linda Rankin, our expat  fiddler currently living in Scotland, has continued to bring us some of the current favourite tunes from the region.  She has also introduced us to the joys of stretching before we play, which makes for an amusing few minutes watching us all exercise in our cosy zoom boxes!
Linda  founded the Adelaide Scottish Fiddlers in 2002, and we are lucky to have several of the members join us each week – Sue, Vicki, Abbie and Christine.

We’ve had tunes too from some of the Melbourne Scottish Fiddlers (past and present) who join us each week  –   David, Mary, Barb, Christina, Sandi , Angela and myself.  David and Mary Anderson are a powerhouse duo of the Melbourne folk scene, hosting sessions and rehearsals at their place, and keeping the folk music energy levels high!

We’ve been lucky to have Melbourne folk favourites, Ray and Joan Mundy join us.   In Joan’s words, they are the oldest folkies in town, except for Paddy Fitz (our legendary Melbourne Irish player) who’s two weeks older!  Don’t be fooled, Ray and Joan are full of that vivacity that brings a session to life!

There’s been  a serious of “firsts” from players over the last three months – tunes shared for the first time by Wendy, Katy and David, the premiere of an original composition by Barb “Jinksy”,  a French session night which brought out a range of lush tunes, including a waltz we all love called Valse à Sylvie.  Thanks Bill and Ellen!  And a small introduction to Breton dance by dance teacher, Philippa, following a Breton tune by Mark.   We’ve also had some great yarns over the months, in particular from Shirley and Annie.

Our young piano player Connor, has brought us a wealth of tunes, many of which he has learnt at the annual Irish music get together each January in Koroit – the Lake School of Song and Dance. 

Also a big shout out to the the players who didn’t have a chance to share a  tune these past  months, but who are valuable members of our group, Deidre, John, Mark, Owen, Rachael, Jeanette, Cath, Kerry and Fiona.

We’ll finish September with a celebratory Trivia Night, with a couple of award-winning cds from Lucy Wise for prizes.   Our online sessions  will  be continuing until the end of the year.  

Happy Playing!

For the Trivia Night contestants, here’s a list of the tunes we’ve covered since July.  It’s highly valuable info…😉

Yann Falquet – Reel de la Cabane, Courage Chers Amis (song), La Promeneuse, Issoudun

Linda Rankin – Stout’s Trip to Skea

Matthew Horsley – Kerry Jig / Ballintore Fancy

Richard Mander – Terminus

Caity Brennan, Angus Barbary – a bunch of Irish session tunes!

David Anderson – Foxhunter’s Slipjig

Mary Anderson – Flatwater Fran

Ray and Joan Mundy – Donal O’Connor’s Polkas

Bill and Ellen:  Valse à Sylvie (and several others!)

Mischa Herman and Lucy Wise: Little Bird (song) / Jerry O’Sullivan’s Reel

Coral Reid – Laudanum Bunches / John Thompson’s Hornpipe

Rob Harbron – Waiting for Rain, The Brink of July