Somerset Folk Songs for Midsummer – Yvette Staelens writes…

_DSC2565Wow – the alchemy of song never ceases to amaze me. Somerset Folk Songs for Midsummer at Halsway brought together twenty strangers to a Somerset Manor House, plus two exciting tutors with their stash of ancient ditties, ballads, chorus songs plus bags of enthusiasm.  Yvette Staelens is our guest blogger this week, and here she tells us all about the wonderful weekend of Somerset Folk Songs for Midsummer…

Friday evening, we settled in the bar after a lovely dinner and discovered the incredible folk song legacy of Somerset. I presented slides and stories of the collectors who shared a passion for seeking out and recording ‘the songs of the people’ and then introduced those who sang to the collectors. Wonderful photographic portraits of singers and sometimes their families, taken by collector Cecil Sharp. We saw the, now famous, John England, gardener at Hambridge vicarage standing proudly in the vicarage garden, hoe in hand, having sung ‘The Seeds of Love’ to Cecil Sharp and his friend Reverend Charles Marson. A song that was to start the two men on a collecting journey seeking out the songs of the villagers and towns and hamlets nearby. We met Emma Overd of Langport who gave Sharp over 50 songs and who now has an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for her contribution to English cultural heritage. We saw photos of Louie Hooper and her half-sister Lucy White of Westport standing outside their cottages in pinafores and shawls. We heard about Sharp’s visit to a gypsy, Lucy Carter, who set off a musical box playing

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‘The Bluebells of Scotland‘ which despite, at the request of Sharp, her best efforts to stop it playing, continued for 15 minutes almost driving him mad! The evening ended with conviviality in the bar!

Saturday brought more sunshine and lots of people who said that they had slept really well in the peace of Halsway. It was our chance to become a shanty crew and to sing sea songs and shanties from John Short of Watchet and others, followed by William Woolley‘s un-censored version of ‘No John No’, ‘The Beggar’ and then some work on harmony singing. Lots of other songs were explored including a rousing version of ‘Dicky of Taunton Dean’. There was lots of laughing too when things went a bit…er ..awry and there was a bit of ‘part swapping’ too, and why not?

_DSC2654The evening concert was a blast, I took the part of MC and welcomed the audience and thanked them for their support for Halsway and later conducted 25 members of the Halsway Choir squashed together on a very small stage through a folk, african-american, Baka people, English repertoire ending with Sezenina ‘What have we done?’,. A South African song  from the apartheid era in one of the Zulu languages. It included the verse ‘Wenzenina u Mandela’ and we felt incredibly emotional as we remembered the man and his struggles for his people and with lots of encouragement, the audience joined in with choruses which was wonderful! James Findlay’s set wow-ed everyone, powerful voice, great instrumental skills and lots of stories and cheeky banter…and CDs only £10!!! – according to the advert on his Mac Airbook which he placed on stage for all to see!!

_DSC2674Sunday brought real treasure. The course participants were invited to bring a song to share. We learned about the legend of the ‘The Halsway Ghost’, then stunning twin female vocals accompanied by autoharp, then ‘Johnny’s lost his marble’ had us singing along. There was a little Somerset song about pancake days and the accompanying fun had at Chilton Polden in the early 1950s, and some lovely classical guitar. The temptation to check on the ‘Murray match’ at Winbledon proved too much for some; the library TV was switched on and there was a run to the library to check the score. We finished the day learning the four-part west gallery song ‘Halsway Grace’. It sounded wonderful. The sun shone, lots of friendships were made, people smiled and laughed a lot and the traditional Halsway Sunday afternoon cream tea ended what was a magical weekend.

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Halsway has the ability to draw you in and then somehow, you never want to leave, but we had to. My best memory of the weekend? The spirited singing of ‘don’t go kissing the girls at Bridgwater fair’.

All images kindly supplied by James Findlay, who when he wasn’t playing or singing, was photographing! Thank you James!

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Arts and Crafts Weekend Friday 24th May 2013 – Sunday 26th May 2013

One of the things we are really excited about at the moment is the Arts and Crafts weekend that we have planned for the weekend of 24th to 26th May. It should be so much fun! We are so lucky to have been able to get all these fabulous artists in the same place at the same time, and we can’t wait to share them with you.

All levels of experience are welcome. Whether you are already an artist and want to try something new, or a complete beginner wanting to ‘have a go’! Choose from five workshop options and be inspired by the beautiful setting of Halsway Manor. You can immerse yourself in the weekend by staying at the Manor, or come along as a day-visitor, whichever suits you best. All materials are provided unless stated otherwise on the website http://www.halswaymanor.org.uk 

So, what do we have on offer? We have Printing with Jim Munniona well known, full time Somerset painter and printmaker. Felt Making with Sarah Meikle. Sarah Meikle has worked with a wide range of crafts over many years, and is an experienced teacher and creative therapist. Covering a variety of methods we will make both practical and decorative items using a wide choice of colours and wool fibers. Sculpture with Melanie Deegan who originally trained and worked as a woodcarver before the desire for a more flexible approach to sculpture led her to discover Jesmonite, a non-toxic resin that perfectly suits her requirements. Sketchbook and iPad Art with Alison Jacobs a a specialist in detailed animal studies in acrylic and, in complete contrast, is a painter of landscapes out of doors in an impressionistic, expressive style. This workshop combines her passion for the Somerset countryside with her latest obsession – inspired by David Hockney – in creating iPad art. Willow beasts with Sophie Courtiour a Somerset artist known for her large public willow sculptures including leaping deer and the beast on the Blackdown Hills, and a 7 metre reclining woman in Weston-Super-Mare!

So as you can see there is something for everyone! If you would like further information, then please don’t hesitate to give us a call or email, or just connect with us on twitter and facebook! We have a page set up for the arts and crafts weekend, as hopefully there will be all sorts of fabulous photos we can set up during and after! Arts and Crafts Facebook event 

Melodeon Workshop Weekend for the Two-Row G/D Melodeon with John Kirkpatrick

On Friday 10th May 2013  –  Sunday 12th May 2013 we are delighted to be hosting a Melodeon weekend for the Two-Row G/D Melodeon with John Kirkpatrick, because quite frankly, nobody plays the melodeon like John. John has an enviable reputation as an instrumental virtuoso and interpreter of English folk music and has played with many influential groups including the Albion Country Band, Magic Lantern, the Richard Thompson Band, Umps and Dumps, Steeleye Span, Brass Monkey, Trans-Europe Diatonique, and Band of Hope. This course is a chance to improve your skills on the Melodeon and learn from one of the true greats of the instrument. 

This weekend is pretty intensive and all of the workshops attendees will need to be able to  play folk dance tunes, up tempo from music provided or by ear. Any age is welcome, but must just be of the above proficiency level and those 16 or under have to be accompanied by an adult. The weekend starts on Friday afternoon and will finish on Sunday at 5pm.

John Kirkpatrick melodeon player extraordinaire

John Kirkpatrick melodeon player extraordinaire

We are hoping that the weather will be pretty good too and there is plenty of space to camp at Halsway, should the fancy take you!

Don’t forget that as well as the workshop, John will be playing a concert on the Saturday night (11th May) at Halsway which is open to the public. It starts at 8pm and tickets are £10 for adults and £4 for under 16’s.

If you would like to attend then please do phone Viv on 01984 618274 (+44 19 84 61 82 74) or EMAIL US with your requirements. Have a look at the website for further details and prices too.
This course is definitely not one to be missed!