… walking out on to a stage, and being faced with this:
Now imagine those seats were full of people, the balconies too. I exaggerate, there were only perhaps 400 in the stalls, and another couple of hundred upstairs. Those on the balconies were the other performers, musicians, singers. Now imagine you were ten years old doing that. Daunting stuff.
But not so for the boys and girls of Gael Music Folk Academy. Off the bus they came, with their harps and their fiddles; flutes too; and a banjo; and a handful of melodeons. Two groups from Gael, together for the first time as one. East Kilbride meets Carlisle. They had rehearsed in groups, but nevert together, never even met, and there was no warm up time. Back stage, listen to the first two acts then on, and play.
This was the second of three sessions of the Music For Youth North East Festival, at Sage Gateshead. Stage One. The Big One. Four Thousand Seats.
First up was a brass band, from Egglescliffe School. I glanced at the programme. Egglescliffe had a huge role in organising the event, funding it. And they had four different bands and choirs playing. If the brass band were anything to go by this is some school for music. Their Theme From Red October was simply mesmerising. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re playing at again at the MFY National Festival in the summer.
Follow that, thought I.
Our session had three choirs, along with brass, funk and folk. So a group of assorted folkies, stopping short of the Aran knits, were perhaps a bit ‘off the wall’ in such a gathering. But they played their wee hearts out. Logan Water gentled the audience to silence, no need for the backing track, time kept perfectly; Kendal Ghyll went off nearly without a hitch, warming them up. Common Ground to finish, superbly. They know that one so well. Must surreptitiously record it and use it as a ringtone.
But what got me, and I am a tad biased, was Boy Urchin, though I did have an eye for many others. The harps draw the eye, and the ear, driving the group on. Have you ever listened to a harp, no really listened? And half a dozen of them together? For the most part he was hidden from my view, but glimpsed from time to time through a fiddler’s bowing arm. Oot and in, oot and in he went, as one might expect, fingers dancing up the board, rolls and folds and chords.
He’s no stranger to playing in front of folk. But generally he keeps his eyes down, no contact whatsoever. At the school recently, a wee solo piece, his eyes never left the buttons on his box. That in itself is unusual, for one who invariably practices with eyes glued to Pointless, the occasional glance at the musical score in front of him. Didn’t want to make mistakes, his defence. Audiences before have included family gatherings, school chums, or even public performances at their home base in EK, or at Biggar’s Corn Exchange. he’s happy to play, just don’t look up.
Sage One was just a wee bit different, and so was he. For he smiled, eyes lit up, eyes up. And he revelled in every minute of it.
Now this festival is a superb event, with three sessions through the day. And each session is professionally critiqued. We had Damien Harron and Jennifer Martin on duty, and quite some task they had. At the end of the session a representative from each act joined them on stage to hear what they had to say. The feedback from the pros was brilliant; constructive, helpful, encouraging. The boys and girls on stage were presented with the notes made on their performance, and a certificate from the day. The audience loved it, and their tutors and leaders beamed.
And who did Luke Daniels send out there from Gael Music? There were none more surprised than I to see Boy Urchin waiting to lead the six acts on stage, smiling all the way. By the end of the session there was hardly a dry eye in
the house seat J31. Wonderful stuff.