Lockdown: Don't let it bring you down

Strumming and Dreaming - from Les Ray

On the Crosby Stills Nash & Young album 4 Way Street, when introducing his song, Neil Young says: “Here is a new song, it's guaranteed to bring you right down; it's called ‘Don't Let It Bring You Down’”.

In contrast, this issue’s Strumming and Dreaming is genuinely designed not to bring you down, after all, there are plenty of other things that are doing that right now. That’s the aim, and the means is by telling you about a couple of very positive initiatives intended to bring you live music during the lockdown. Hopefully it will succeed.

Of course, the Mardles website includes lots of other pointers to where to find great music online coming from our region, but I thought I’d focus on a couple of initiatives that are close to my heart... and my home. 

Read more: Lockdown: Don't let it bring you down

Getting a Life

I wrote this article for Living Tradition Magazine in early 2020 - pre-virus. Maybe the prolonged lockdown and cancellation of festivals, folk clubs and related events and the effect this is having on the lives of many folk musicians make my thoughts even more relevant than I had anticipated. (Sorry - you may have to get out a magnfying  glass to read this clearly.)

LT 2020 

Me and my recorder

by Val Haines

There’s a meme going around social media: just when you think parenting can’t get any harder your kid comes home with a recorder. Us recorder players still have a lot of convincing to do.

Flashback to 1969. I’m at primary school and we are told to line up and take a recorder out of a large box. I’m at the back of the queue, as always, as my name is at the back of the Val1recEarly daysalphabet. When I get to the box there is one left, a dark brown one, Bakelite I learned much later. Everybody else has a pale wooden recorder with a white top. Appearance is not the only difference I realise as we all begin to blow. Everybody else’s sound like asthmatic mice – mine sounds like a bird. Nothing I can do can make my recorder wheeze like theirs and this beautiful sound encouraged me on.  

Unlike the current meme my parents never objected to my recorder. We were told don’t take the recorder home. I took it home. We were told don’t tell your parents you have to buy one. I told my parents we had to buy one, after all once a week playing wasn’t enough, but I had to wait until my eleventh birthday. The night before I could hear my dad blowing it and my mum saying shhh, she’ll hear you. I was too excited to sleep.

I found early on that I could play lots of tunes from memory which meant that if I had to read music it slowed me down. There seemed to be an automatic connection from ears to brain to fingers. When I heard Sparky’s Magic Piano on the radio, I thought yes, that’s how it works. My teacher liked my playing and asked me to play in assembly. I refused to play alone and asked a friend to join me. We played together but I didn’t enjoy it at all. She was too loud and blew all wrong and didn’t think about how it could sound nice. I was too shy to play on my own in public so continued to march around the house playing instead: TV adverts, hymns, pop songs, anything. Then it was time to go to secondary school and I got my trumpet, flugel horn and cornet. Recorders became a bit childish, but at least you could hide them in your bag.

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Big box, Little box

by Sally Hall

SallHMy big accordionI long to play music in a way which feels fun and soulful… to feel joy from music, without shame or inhibitions. I dream of feeling relaxed at trad sessions and not wishing that the ground would swallow me up. I imagine how it would feel to play confidently, without the nervous shakes that come when I feel I’m getting it wrong. I long to feel a part of the lively jigs and reels at sessions, and the soft waltzes and airs.

I have been trying to do this for so long but it has always felt like an uphill struggle. In the last few months however, I’d say that I’ve had a breakthrough, which has come in the form of a new, little box.

I have always had accordions in my life. As a small child, I sat cross-legged, mesmerised by my grandma’s huge piano accordion. “Again, again!” I used to say, “Ragamuffin!” (my favourite jazzy ragtime tune).

Read more: Big box, Little box

Folk Songs for Today

from Les Ray

When I wrote my last column, I was eagerly looking forward to one of my highlights of the summer: Cambridge Folk Festival. Well, summer and its festivals have come and gone, so now we’re battening down the hatches in preparation for autumn (and the B-word) and becoming more contemplative.

One highlight of this year’s CFF for me was getting to interview the great Ralph McTell on my radio show broadcast live from the festival site.  In the interview, Ralph - first name terms now of course! - told me about the amazing reaction when he performed ‘Streets of London’ at CFF for the first time back in 1969, 50 years ago this year. As he described it: “I’m often asked about which are the memorable days in your career and I have to say the first Cambridge was for me because, before mobile phones and social media and all that stuff, you didn’t know that people had picked up on your songs or anything, but when I announced ‘Streets of London’, which had just come out on my second album, called ‘Spiral Staircase’, the entire audience sang it all the way through with me and it was a bit emotional for me, I nearly didn’t get through it, and I was quite overwhelmed by the fact, so that’s a landmark for me”.

Fifty years on, it comes as no surprise that the whole audience sang along back then - as they did this year too - because ‘Streets of London’ was a folk song for its time, in other words, a song that connected with and carried forward the folk tradition, telling of events and circumstances affecting ordinary people’s lives.

I’m in the process of putting together a list of songs written in recent years that in my view are - or will become - folk songs for their time. A couple that immediately spring to mind are ‘Hollow Point’ by Chris Wood, which tells of the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes in July 2005, and ‘On Morecambe Bay’ by Kevin Littlewood, about the tragic deaths of the Chinese cockle pickers there in February 2004.

REQUEST
If Mardles readers can you think of other songs that would fit the bill, send email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Les Ray