The mystery of Irish music; Yehudi Menuhin playing the shit out of Stephane Grappelli arrangements; late night sessions in Canberra and Ennis; the fear of learning to learn a tune by ear; and Six Degrees of Gerry McKeague.
Truth be told this is the second ever episode we recorded. Back when Darren had a strictly non-speaking role. For a long time we thought it wasn't right, then upon revisiting, we realised what a cracker it is.
Ado plays the following tunes during the episode:
The Golden Keyboard
The Oak Tree
The Porthole of The Kelp
...a reel we never got the name of, and...
The London Jig
Darren & Dom
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Once upon a time I spent a few nights kipping in an orange VW van that was parked just down the hill from Stirling Castle in Scotland. I was between jobs, and between (very shitty) houses, and the van was a refuge offered to me by my friends Frank and Linda. In the days when I wasn't sleeping in it, I'd look out for that van every time I was wondering across the top of the town, because if it was around it meant they were around, and if they were around it meant mugs of tea and music and a bit of crack. I loved that van. I kipped in it after gigs up the west of Scotland - ('Do ye dae any Rangers songs?' 'Naw, we're not that kind of blues band') - or Frank would drive us out to Cambusbarron or somewhere to pass a rainy afternoon talking about books and politics and quoits and a guy called 'Skin Bone' from Fallin who was the local champion. But more than the van, I loved being with Frank, Linda and their kids, Gregor, Neil, Peter and Emily.
I used to work in a wine and whiskey shop in Stirling, just down the hill from Frank and Linda's house, which is how I first got to know them. I worked there for a good few years, and one of the perks was that I could play whatever music I wanted all day long on the shop stereo system. (Another perk was naptime in the cellar on delivery day). When there weren't many customers (Tuesday mornings) I'd drink mugs of instant coffee and construct complicated doodles on the wrapping paper stacked on the counter, daydreaming, wondering where in the world I'd be in some far off year like 2019, wondering if I'd look back fondly to working in a wine and whiskey shop in Stirling, Scotland, doodling and daydreaming.
Frank was a regular visitor, shopping bags bursting on his way back up the hill from the shops, always with an eager ear out for what I was listening to - Dr Wu by Steely Dan, Songs of the Auvergne sung by Gill Gomez, The Bothy Band Live (Afterhours, that epic of epic albums) or Yank Rachell, on casette or CD.
We'd talk about trains, railway signal box design (Frank was a former signalman), beer (Efes Pilsener, Sam Smith's Nut Brown Ale, Redback), Walter Becker's hair and the engineer who supposedly accidentally wiped the original masters of the famously painstakingly assembled Countdown To Ecstasy, an album I knew from my brother Gerard's collection. We'd talk about whiskey and wine and mandolins and blues music and sausage rolls and Ye Jacobites By Name (Lend an ear, Lend an ear). And we ended up playing together on and off for years, in folk bands which always felt a bit ill fitting for Frank and blues-rock-ish bands which always felt a bit ill fitting for me. He is, I should say, because he wouldn't say it himself, a fabulous musician. He has the chops, but more than that, he has such heart, such a feel for music. He's the unassuming center of any band he plays in, basically.
So the McCullough's house was my home away from home, their kids like my own nephews and nieces. How do you quantify a friendship like that? Why would you even try? It's enough to say it's here, even now after...how many years? It'll always be with me, permanently wrapped around my heart.
So, when Ado Barker and Kate Burke and Beth McCracken and virtually everyone else we've spoken to mention that it feels strange to sit and play a tune in isolation, detached from its usual social setting, I know exactly what they mean. So much of what me and Ado talked about, even before we started recording, was about how music connects us to others, and to deeper parts of ourselves that we are only able to articulate through it. It was music that first connected me to Frank and Linda (well, music and my staff discount on cases of Portuguese lager). And it was music connected me with so, so many other friends besides.
As Ado was talking about going deep into the music I was remembering playing with Frank in a bar called The Tollbooth where we had a regular gig, him singing Back of My Mind (John Hiatt) or Steady Rollin' Man, bottleneck ratting on his Yamaha acoustic, me playing a mandolin borrowed from a friend ten years previous and never returned, a mandolin missing two of its tuning pegs. On those nights, and many others, especially working on some of Frank's own songs - brilliant, beautiful, melodic, and mostly unrecorded - I was often lost in what we were playing (in a good way, like). I mean, we'd be gone (in a good way, like).
In the way that Ado describes.