Additionally, all the way from Fort Myer, Virginia comes the United States 3rd Infantry, otherwise known as The Old Guard Fife & Drum. The Old Guard, being an official ceremonial unit for the President of the United States, has also played the wide world over. Imagine having this on your resume; They were asked, by Jackie Kennedy, to play at JFK’s Funeral Parade. You can see them in red at the bottom right of the picture below, which was published in Life Magazine. They are truly classy and put on a great show.
The Ancient Mariners, also recently returning from a European tour, will bring their own unique brand of fife and drum entertainment to the colonial faire, which takes place in what, many years ago, was a corn field across from the Wayside Inn.
Incidentally, many of the Ancient Mariners are actually Old Guard alumni and, in fact, there is one Mariner that has recently joined. I, myself, auditioned for the Old Guard in 1988 but was rejected on the grounds that I was too short. Basta’ds. A year later I joined the Ancient Mariners to receive my floggings…but I digress.
In the early nineties, when I was fairly new to the Mariners, I decided that I wanted to write a medley. I had already played once at the Roman amphitheater in Augusta Raurica in 1990, didn’t think we were very good, and decided that for our trip back to Switzerland in 1994 we needed some new music. So, I began work on what would become known as Bonhomme Richard and the Serapis.
I was in college at the time and did most of my writing in the car. I worked as a calzone delivery guy and spend hours driving around campus. In between deliveries, I would work out a few notes at a time then drive with my knees and play the penny whistle on my way to the next stop. It took months but ultimately I ended up with a medley that was a mix between traditional sea chanteys and original tunes.
The medley was welcomed into the Ancient Mariner repertoire and has remained their ever since, which, as I’ve learned over the years, is not typically the course for new music. The Swiss Mariners, on the other hand, were originally much less eager to learn it. However, after hearing it again in 2004 they had newfound interest in the piece.
After thirteen years, and for the first time ever, the Ancient Mariners and the Swiss Mariners played Bonhomme Richard together, thus solidifying its place in the Mariner repertoire. It is the one contribution to the corps that I am most proud of. The icing on the cake is that everyone seems to really enjoy playing it.
So, a heartfelt thanks goes out to my Swiss friends. Standing with you and performing this together was a real highlight, not only of the trip, but of all my Mariner days. Thanks.
Here are a few pictures from our parade-pub-crawl through Basel and the festivities afterwards.
This is our oar. It comes to every event and contains the names of all the deceased Mariners. It has two sides.
Wogs pulling the canon. You can think of wogs as Mariners in training. The one on the left is actually a phenomenal drummer.
Narrow streets, lots of drums, thunderous sound. You’ll have to take my word for it.
Fife line. Mostly Swiss guys in this picture.
Good looking fellow ain’t he? What the hell, it is my blog, after all.
Big spoon, Big man. As my Irish buddy says, “You don’t get that big not like’n food”.
Happy to see they are all in step.
Everyone always asks, “Where are your shoes?” To which I always reply, “I don’t own any.” There is never a second question.
Beer break. This lady found a relaxing place to sit down. What she did not realize is that thought the canon is loud and looks sturdy, it is essentially made out of paper mache. Fortunately, she didn’t do any damage.
Aren’t they pretty? Old Moeller drums, new paintings, calf-skin heads, warm sunny day, cold beer, Basel…life really is good.
I’m sorry, could you hit those things a bit harder? My ears aren’t bleeding yet.
Mariner exercise program. Oh, reminds me of a good joke…
Q: What did the bass drummer get on his IQ test?
Sorry guys, I couldn’t resist.
After the parade in Basel we jumped on a tram and headed out of town for a party. Our Swiss friend Peter shows us how he can play the drums while hanging upside down like a bat. He might be crazy.
That’s Bob. He is crazy but he’s ours.
A gift From the Swiss. The dead fish is their logo. Cool.
A gift To the Swiss. It was full when we gave it to them. It wasn’t full shortly after.
While in Switzerland I recorded what I could of the after hours scene. The Swiss turned a bar, called the Baggenstos, into our Mariner home, complete with Mariner artifacts from past years, uniforms draped from the ceilings, sails hanging in the back patio and a flowing tide of beer. While going through my recordings I came across this wonderful version of the Whipple from the Baggenstos.
The Whipple, or more accurately entitled, Whipple and the Gaspee is the finest fife and drum medley ever created. It is a melodic, harmonic and percussive work of art. It was sequenced decades ago with a variety of classic sea songs including the cotton screwing chantey Whup Jambouree. After a brief drum solo enters a great Scottish ballad called Henry Martin, which is arranged as a foux bourdon, a technique used in the late middle ages where the melody is harmonized against one line that plays a perfect fourth and another that plays a sixth. I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that it is the standard by which all other medleys are measured, at least in my book.
There are three neat things about this recording. First, all the percussion is being played on tables since we are in a bar. Second, nobody had any idea it was being recorded. It simply is what the Whipple sounds like at 3am in a bar in Switzerland, including the erroneous c natural three notes into the melody. Lastly, I have never heard a better live recording from within a bar of fife and drum music.
One more note on the origins of the title. Whipple was an American sea captain. The Gaspee was a British ship. I won’t go into any other details except to leave you with this great exchange between the British Captain Sir James Wallace and our beloved Abraham Whipple:
You, Abraham Whipple, on the 10th of June, 1772, burned His Majesty’s vessel, the Gaspee, and I will hang you at the yard-arm.
To Sir James Wallace, Sir:
Always catch a man before you hang him.
I had every intention of blogging while in Switzerland. Our ‘active schedule’, however, consumed any time I might have had for such an activity. Now that I am home, and reeling from the experience, I will begin plowing through my pictures, recordings and memories in an attempt try to convey, in some simple manner, the enormity of what happened during our ten days in Switzerland.
To be honest, I don’t really know where to begin. My feeling is that it would be easier to explain what the Alps are like to someone who has never before seen a mountain than to tell you our tale. Also, I am really not sure how much I want to tell you. No, I’ve got nothing to hide. Instead, I’ve so much to keep, and I fear that watering it down for you will dilute its richness in my own mind.
Part of the challenge, is that the seeds for this trip were sown not only in the weeks and months preceding it, but the decades. There is a very rich history between the Ancient Mariners of the United States and the Swiss Mariners that dates back to the early seventies. That history has been building and evolving, much the same way a healthy marriage unfolds. We learn from each other, we grow with each other, we argue with each other, we laugh with each other, we sing and play with each other, we cry with each other and we love each other. Consequently, our reunion culminated in a synergy that is really beyond my ability to verbally describe. Every story is enriched, in our minds and hearts, by the history and the duality that hangs on everything we do. We are not only travelers hoping to see some foreign attractions, we often are the attraction. We are not only old friends, we are also new friends. We are not only guests, we are at home. We are not only the Ancient or Swiss Mariners but, simply put, We are the Mariners.
The pictures and sound that I can offer you don’t really do any of it justice. But until you are on the mountain with me, they are all you can have.
Just found this clip of The Mariners on YouTube. The footage came from the parade at the Deep River Ancient Muster in Connecticut a couple of weekends ago. The guy laying on the ground in the opening seconds of the clip is the mutinous shackled prisoner that gets dragged around, beat up and shot. It is a crazy bit of street theatrics that always wakes the audience up, especially when he makes his way into the crowd. Incidentally, I’m the short fifer on the leftish side of the line.
I’m hoping to have some YouTube footage from our upcoming Swiss show. I just need to figure out how to operate the video camera and play fife at the same time.
That is me on the right and my buddy Roger on the left. We were new to the Mariners and enjoying an ale just moments before a performance at the Roman amphitheater in Augst, Switzerland, which I will be returning to next week. It was the first time I had ever played in front of an audience that really cared and I can’t tell you how hard it was to play a fife while my knees were shaking.
Back it 2001 I was on a kick where I would go into a studio once a month and record. The one month interval was working well since it would give me time to both save money for the session and plan out what I was going to work on. After several months, however, I got a bit lazy and found myself unprepared for a session I had the following morning. Slightly panicked, I pulled out the flute on the evening before the session and was inspired to write the first of the two tunes included here. The first tune in the set I named Blackwater Tide. The second tune, which I wrote in ’99, is called Licking the Moss. This is one of those recordings that is part of the Castaway album.
How poetic is it that the first steps towards independence in America happened at a bridge? Standing on one bank the colonists were subjects to a distant king. Fighting their way across the bridge they took their first steps on the shores of freedom. The bridge I speak of is the North Bridge in Concord, MA.
On the morning of April 19th, 1775 men from Concord and many surrounding towns gathered on Punkatasset Hill to discuss the movement of British troops. Upon seeing a column of smoke rise from the town, and naturally assuming the Regulars were setting their homes ablaze, they “resolved to march to the middle of the town to defend their homes, or die in the attempt.”
The common belief is that, led by the fifes and drums, the men marched towards the North Bridge, which arched the river between them and the good folk of Concord, to oppose the tyranny before them. What was running through their minds as the beat of the drums steadily marched them towards their great foe in red? The moment must have been surreal and the future so dizzyingly uncertain. It amazes me that, at the brink of certain conflict, music was played at all.
What they played on those fifes and drums, as well as the story in general, is the subject of some debate. The surviving tradition, historically correct or not, is to play The White Cockade, which was a “traditional Scottish tune that celebrated the attempt by Bonnie Prince Charlie to reclaim the throne of Britain for the House of Stuart.”  If the story is true, playing the White Cockade represents a “bold taunt of defiance” according to historian D. Michael Ryan.
The fact is, it is not really clear if they played the White Cockade or any tune. There was no mention of the tune being played on that day until 1835. A hundred years after the battle the story was further promoted with a well known article from Harper’s new Monthly Magazine called The Concord Fight.
Regardless of the historical details it is, nevertheless, moving to hear the drums and fifes slicing through the fresh April air every spring on the morning of the 19th as they march down the dusty road towards freedom playing The White Cockade.
… so that when we get onto the street we’re all walking, generally speaking, in the same direction.
Incidentally, if you have never seen The Ancient Mariners perform, we like to clear the parade route with a cannon…
and a mutinous prisoner…
People ask me all the time, ‘Is the prisoner crazy?’ Yes, yes he is. Why else would he not be wearing a shirt and shoes on March 11th in New England? Still not convinced? You should see him during our Christmas parade!
Here are a few of the other characters from this years Saint Patrick’s Day parade in New Haven, Ct…
So, now that you’ve waded through a bunch of photos of people you don’t know, here is a recording of a tune we ran through at Dan’s firehouse over the weekend. The tune is called Katy Hill. It was originally a 2/4 but the Mariners decided to play it first as a 6/8 and the second time through as 2/4. This does not feel like any old 6/8 as you will hear. It really is rudimental drumming at its syncopated strangest, which is why I like it. I also like how you can hear people talking during the first half of the tune. Those aren’t bystanders you hear, it is the drummers debating.