Category Archives: performance

Sea of Ale and the Dock Street Mermaid

The following post was reposted from themariners.org. 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.

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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.
 
SeaOfAle
 
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.
 
SeaOfAle_Basel
 
For me the circle is now complete, and in my mind I keep hitting those buttons; play; rewind; play; rewind; play; rewind.

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.
 

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.
 
stoneybatter_sm
 
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!

Mariner Week

A lot of folks have been asking why I’ve not posted about Mariner Week. Well, I have, just not here. I’ve started and will continue to post over at themariners.org.

In short, the week was great. Here is a photo of me mugging with a Fasnacht mask after all the festivities and just before getting into my Jeep to leave the Deep River Muster. Although I was smiling, it really was a sad moment.
 
me_and_the_mask

Just to whet your appetite about themariners.org I’ve included one recording here from my week with the Mariners. This is a set of two tunes called In the Back Seat and McGowan’s Motorcar. Both these tunes were written by the founder of the Mariners, Roy Watrous. Joe, myself and a few others had planned on performing it at the Mariner Muster, but when it came time to play it, the announcer skipped right past the piece. Oh well.

This recording is at Dan’s Firehouse late one evening. Joe and I played it for our Swiss friends since they never got to hear it during our concert.

In The Back Seat / McGowans Motorcar by baconworks

Civil War Troopers Play the Bacon

A long time friend, Dominick Cuccia, just sent me this video of his fife and drum corps, The Civil War Troopers, playing an arrangement of tunes that I authored through the years. They entitled the piece Bacon Bits. Dom, as well as much of his family, have always been great supporters of my music and it is a real pleasure for me to hear this. Unfortunately, I have not had the chance to hear a live performance yet, but I’m really looking forward to it. Great job Troopers!
 

 
For those that are interested, here is the ordered list of tunes in the medley:

  1. The Seguin Island Light
  2. Gloriana
  3. Cape Horn
  4. Blackwood Reel

Incidentally, Gloriana and Cape Horn can also be found in the Company of Fifers & Drummers Book IV, entitled In the Ancient Spirit.