Category Archives: live music

Sea of Ale and the Dock Street Mermaid

The following post was reposted from I found myself retelling a bit of this story a few times in the past weekend, and I felt this was personal enough that it should be reposted here.


Back in nineteen-eighty-seven I was at the Westbrook Muster. While there I bought my first fife and drum recording. It was a white cassette of the first Mariner album, which had been released seven years prior. It was one of the few Westbrook Musters where I couldn’t wait for the weekend to end. I desperately wanted to hear what was on that tape, and to do so required making the trek back home where my boom box sat waiting for me in my Massachusetts living room.

The tunes started to roll, White Cockade, Adams and York, and Sailors Hornpipe. I was immediately drawn in. I was then seduced by the singing of Ruben Ranzo and the seamless transition to Clapboard Hill. All of it great and exuberant, but fully within the boundaries of what I had expected. I had, after all, been watching those barefooted bastions of sea music from the time I was a little boy and attending Sudbury Musters in the mid seventies. But, just as side one was coming to a close, the boundaries had been breeched.

Suddenly, from my crappy little speakers, came classical music fused with a complex matrix of fifes spinning around tunes that felt traditional, but not structured like other tunes I had learned. There were too many fifes for me to track and I went into a dizzy trance as the music moved from one tune to the next; a beautiful melodic waltz; a single fife sliding into a slip jig with the others soon in tow; tempo changes; slower; faster; reels; jigs; breaks; ornaments; teases; and something wild on the end that didn’t make any logical sense but seemed like the only way to end. I clawed for the liner notes, praying to God it wasn’t going to have some lame title like Sonata in D. It was…it was…The Sea of Ale and the Dock Street Mermaid. Miraculous!

I never made it to side two. I never made it back to the beginning of side one. I only used two buttons on the boom box; rewind; play; rewind; play; rewind; play.

Suddenly a new thought fell into my teenaged brain. I was going to join the Mariners. It had never even been a passing thought until that moment. But, now it seemed so clear. I would join, and soon I would be playing such masterpieces.

Not long after, 1988 to be precise, I went to my first Ancient Mariner practice along with my buddy Roger Hunnewell. But, what I found was that the Sea of Ale was nowhere to be found. It was a complex piece of music that nobody, in 1988, new how to play, and nobody could located the sheet music. What I subsequently learned, was that the music was complex enough that the Mariners needed to bring in a ringer for the recording. Alan Reed, the only non-Mariner to play on the Mariner album, was brought in to play one of the four voices on The Sea of Ale along with John Ciaglia, John Benoit and Skip Healy. Incidentally, none of those guys were still active in 1988 either. So, the road to The Sea of Ale looked bleak.

Through the decades there were efforts to pull the music together. Jason Malli, most notably, was able to find some badly damaged copies of the original Ciaglia chicken scratch. We leaned that The Sea of Ale was actually two different medleys glued together for the recording. The Admiral of the Narrow Seas and another called Get Off Your Ass. We also learned that it had never been performed live, thought I’m sure that statement will be hotly debated. We also learned that the original masters of the recording have gone missing. Maybe they will show up someday.
Work was started to diligently transcribe and edit the music from the hard-to-read copies into a clean, workable format. Then the newly transcribed music, all seventeen pages, sat for another decade, waiting for the right moment and the right men, with the right amount and right mix of energy. I’m happy to tell you that twenty four years after I first heard The Sea of Ale and the Dock Street Mermaid, the music has been brought back to life, performed first on a grand stage in Basel, Switzerland. For four and a half minutes Scott Redfield, Joe Mawn, Marc Bernier, Eric Chomka and myself had the honor to play this great music with Skip Healy in what felt like a passing of the torch.
For me the circle is now complete, and in my mind I keep hitting those buttons; play; rewind; play; rewind; play; rewind.

Farewell to Fiunary

Late at night, after the session ends at John Stone’s in Ashland, Mustachio and I usually try to sneak in a bit of practice before they throw us out. One night in February I decided to see if there was enough light in the room to record us running through Farewell to Fiunary. We almost had a near disaster when the waitress came over shortly after recording this to pick up a bunch of empty pint glasses that were sitting on a stool. What she didn’t realize was that pint glasses were sandwiching my iPhone, which was carefully balanced on its edge while recording. This could have been a really expensive video. Fortunately, I was able to leap up in time to catch the phone before it plummeted to the floor…and here is the video that was on it.

Concert at Framingham State 3/7/2011

On Monday, March 7th, I will be playing a fun selection of shanties and sea ballads at Framingham State College from 1:30pm to 2:15pm. I will be joined with George Arata on bouzouki, Luke Stark on bass and Mark Evans on concertina. In fact you can hear Mark in a recording I posted of him awhile back. Also, you can check out a recording below from one of our practices to get a sense of what we’ll be playing on Monday. We’re really looking forward to it.

Esequibo River by baconworks

The German Clockwinder

Back in the summer of 1990 I jumped on a plane to Switzerland with my good friend Roger. Our first stop was the Lugano Fife & Drum Muster in the beautiful Italian part of Switzerland. After a brief stay in Lugano, which involved meeting my good friend Massimo for the first time and escapades at a youth hostile, Roger an I boarded an overnight train to Basel. The train was full, and Roger’s drum case was too wide to fit into the train car. So, his drum spent the night between cars and we spent the night trying to sleep in the aisle way. Being young and naive, and hearing horror stories of how the train cars often split during the night, leading the unsuspecting traveler to Liechtenstein instead of Basel, we felt fortunate to arrive in Basel in good shape, good spirits, and with all our instruments.

We then made our way to the airport, where we were to meet up with the Ancient Mariners, who were arriving for their visit with the Swiss Mariners. We walked in to find the Swiss Mariners, who we had never met, all standing in the waiting area, looking through a glass wall, where they were expecting to see the Ancient Mariners arrive at any moment. We walked up behind them and said hello, which entirely confused them since there was only one way through that glass wall…and we didn’t come through it. Apparently nobody told them we were coming early by train.

After a brief explanation, a good laugh was had by all. The Ancient Mariners showed up ten or fifteen minutes later, we all had the first of many beers and a week of celebrating had commenced.

Later that week, we performed for a couple thousand people at the Augst Roman Theater. The memories of that concert, until now, had been slowly fading, being replaced by more recent escapades in Switzerland. Today, however, I saw a video that was posted from that concert and the memories came rushing back.

This is a video of the Ancient Mariner Chantey Men singing a goofy, crowd-pleasing song called the German Clockwinder. What the Chantey Men didn’t know was that the rest of the Swiss Mariners and Ancient Mariners had spontaneously lined up behind them and started bopping up and down, and singing along…if you can call ‘boop, boop’ singing. And, in the end, for reasons I never understood, we all decided to fall down. Goofy, corny, odd, but the crowd loved it. I guess sometimes people just want to see the entertainers make clowns of themselves. And we did. But, more importantly for me, it was the first real moment that I understood what a special group of friends I had, both here and abroad.

Incidentally, Roger and I are the baby faced ones hanging out somewhere over in the left side of the line.

Boston Celtic Music Festival

My band, Stoneybatter Band, is excited to be playing at the Boston Celtic Music Festival next Saturday, January 8th.

We will be taking the stage at Club Passim in Cambridge at 2:30 and will play until 3:25. Tickets are $15 for the day, which includes several performances before us, a session, and a performance after us. In addition there are three other stages, performances Friday evening and performances Saturday evening by many talented groups. For more information on performers and tickets please visit the BCMFest website
We really hope to see you there!

Liz Alexander

Saturday night we had a great party at the Bacon house. Lots of friends, both the musical variety as well as the neighbor variety, stopped by for some food, drink and music. I set up a few mics and hoped for the best. Sometimes the best actually happens. We played lots of great stuff all evening for a lively crowd. But the best, as is often the case, happened after most of our fiends left. That’s when musicians are most relaxed, most oiled, and most able to hear and focus on what each other is doing. They are no longer playing for an audience but, instead, each other. That’s when magic starts happening.

So, here we are, past midnight, sitting in my kitchen, I convince Liz, who is ‘draggin’ and opening her fiddle case, to play just one more. Slowly, tunes we had never heard start coming from her fiddle, and we latch on for a four minute ride of some of the most beautiful fiddle playing you’re ever likely to hear.

Liz Alexander, remember her name. This is the first time she has been caught on tape. It most certainly won’t be the last.

Liz Set by baconworks

Stonybatter to Perform at Fiddlers Green Fri. 1/8

Stoneybatter, the band with the name that everyone loves to hate, is back at the Fiddler’s Green this Friday for another evening of Celtic music.
It will be our first performance at the Worcester pub with our complete lineup of musicians. Where else will you be able to hear the pipes, flute, fiddle, banjo, bouzouki, guitar and bodhrán all making noise at the same time?

Here’s a few other reasons why you should come along:

  1. Brian has a new sock muffling his banjo head. Rumor has it that the sock came from one of the Beatles.
  2. Joey ‘Scappy’ Sullivan triumphantly returns as our bodhránist after a scary motorcycle accident that broke his scapula
  3. Buchanan has a new mic that reportedly allows him to dance on tables.
  4. For those music theory geeks out there, Gleason will be featuring his Bb whistle.
  5. You’ll learn new words like Uilleann and Bouzouki to impress your scrabble friends with.

We hope you can make it for a couple of tasty pints, a burger or two, and some good music. The show starts at 8:30!

Stoneybatter draws a talented crowd…

Our debut performance as Stoneybatter went great. As a band it is certainly enjoyable to get up and perform. But what make an evening really special is when we have friends and the occasional unexpected guest step in for a set or two.

Last night we had both. Our good friend, Katie O’Neill, from Westboro, once again silenced the crowd with her amazing voice. There won’t be a night that slips by where we wouldn’t ask her to sing.

Another friend, Dan Mahoney, had the entire room singing along with one of his great songs.

We also convinced a very talented young fiddler, Liz Alexander, to grace us with a few great sets. All three helped us to mix things up nicely and infuse some great energy into the room while showing off the great talent we have in our own backyards.

During the later half of the evening the crowd swelled with another group of talented musicians and dancers that we would later find out had just finished their performance at the Hanover Theater as part of the Celtic Crossroads.

They also joined us for a few. First, Zac Leger, the multi-instrumentalist, joined us on flute for a lively set. I had never met Zac, but when he sat down he looked familiar. It quickly came back to me that I had posted a youtube video of him a while back, both because I was impressed with his playing and his cool capo. Here’s another nice video of him and some friends. Zac is on the pipes, which is what he plays with Celtic Crossroads as well. Nice guy, great player, keep up the great work.

We then backed a few of the Celtic Crossroads dancers while they entertain the crowd culminating in roaring applause for the dancers. One of them, Kristen, is actually from Middletown, CT.

To end the evening we were graced with Marianne Knight from County Mayo. Marianne is a stunning vocalist with Celtic Crossroads. She joined us to sing Caledonia. George and I did our best not to embarrass ourselves as we tried to back her on a song we’ve never played. You can decide for yourself about her talents in this video of her performing with Celtic Crossroads. Really amazing.

We, Stoneybatter, would really like to thank all our friends that came to the show and joined us for some all-around phenomenal music. I hope we will all get to do this again soon. We also wish good luck to Celtic Crossroads as they make their way around the U.S.