Category Archives: youtube

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.

Peggy ‘O

I recorded this version of Peggy ‘O on my iPhone the other night while practicing for a show in July. It was the first time we tried banjo with it…and I quite liked it. Mark Evans on banjo, Luke Stark on bass, and I on guitar and vocals.

 
Peggy’O by baconworks
 
I first heard Peggy ‘O on a recording of the Dead from the seventies. It was one of those moments where I was completely captivated by the combined beauty of the melody, the story, and the way the Grateful Dead wove together the piano, bass and guitars. It was the only song I listened to for at least a week.

Here is a youtube video of a Dead version of Peggy ‘O from the seventies. Not as much piano in this version as the one I fell in love with. But still, you get the sense of what a powerful ballad this was. If you don’t get chills at least once during this performance…well…I’ll get off my Head soapbox now.
 

Video of the Week: The Autumn Leaf

I’m gonna make a concerted effort to post at least one video a week of something musical. The only rule is that the video will be one that I took. I will not be reposting video’s of my new favorite band, The Avett Brothers, who have a very deep repertoire of some of the best songwriting I’ve heard in years, or versions of Phish’s brilliant Split Open and Melt, which some have called the “best sounding chaos you will ever hear”, or even gems from the Transatlantic Sessions. Nope, none of the above. Instead, I will post just videos of people I know that make great music…and maybe a few from me.

Here is the first from my buddy Mustachio. He is playing a tune that he recently wrote. He didn’t have a name for it…so, in the interest of getting this video posted, I named it for him. The video is from April 12th, 2011 at John Stone’s Public House in Ashland. He played this after everyone had pretty much gone home, which is always the way it works. Musicians know that the best stuff is always played when no one is around to hear it.
 

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.
 

Blackthorn Shillelagh

Just saw this video posted on facebook by my old friend Damon Leibert, who is playing a tune I wrote back in ’98 called Blackthorn Shillelagh. Damon was the fiddle player for my band called Amadán. In fact you can hear Damon’s work on a track called Moving Cloud/Devany’s Goat/Julia Delaney from our one album. Damon is currently playing in several bands. One band, Inchicore, will be playing soon at a brand new venue in Boston called Four Green Fields.
 

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.