How it’s New York: Tom Dunne and myself are the New York pilgrims – we wouldn’t miss this for the world.
How it’s Irish: It is part of an ongoing tale of the birth and growth of a Irish Traditional Music Summer School in Birmingham, England.
Something beautiful has sprung to life in Birmingham these last two summers, and it’s happening again the last weekend in July.
“It is first of all music, yet is also traditional and it is Irish” to paraphrase the carefully inclusive words of Pat Molloy, the man who has inspired this happening. It is no secret that it is also fun and a chance to let it all hang out. What I am talking about is Irish Traditional Music (ITM or “Trad” for short) and the Anne and Pat Molloy Summer School is where you can get your first lesson, a refresher course or just a plain old session fix – whatever you like. All are welcome.
The story for me, like many, starts much earlier – in the 1980s in fact. It is no exaggeration to say that Birmingham was then THE place for the music. I’m talking THE place, worldwide. The full history of that time is waiting to be written but let me give you some insights. The scene was very different then. I called it the Irish music “underworld”, where creative anarchy ruled with a flagrant disregard for the licensing laws (with the sessions typically starting at “closing time”). There was also an urge to pack as many people into as small and as smoky space as possible, as if in some perverse Guinness Records attempt. Going home before complete physical exhaustion was forbidden under almost any circumstances (Karen Tweed recalls her bus ticket being eaten when she tried to make a break for it after an entire weekend of playing). If in this underworld Joe Molloy was the captain of the young exuberant “crew”, his father Pat was the benign Don in the corner, playing sweet fiddle and smiling at the craic.
“Meets” seemed to require a code I could never quite crack – I remember phoning Pat at 9:30 one evening hoping for some information and him saying “well I’d say there’d be a session tonight but I wouldn’t like to say where. It’s a bit early for the boys. Can you call back in half an hour?” He might throw in a whistle (also part of the ritual?)
The sessions were one thing, but there was a whole other world which was the teaching. Anne and Pat’s house in Hendon Road, Sparkhill, was the academy, spiritual center and sometime flop-house where fiddle lessons, words of encouragement, soda-bread and eccentric curries were served in equal measure.
These two complimentary activities of lessons and sessions have provided the winning formula for the first two years of the summer school. There are expert teachers on pretty much every instrument (tin whistle / flute/ button accordion/ melodeon/ piano accordion/ banjo/ mandolin/ bodhran/ bones/ anglo-concertina/ guitar&piano accompaniment/ ballad singing/ sean-nos dancing and of course the fiddle), and classes are designed so that no one is left out – from complete beginners who have never touched an instrument through to advanced.
A lot of summer schools may of course have a similar format but there is something unique about the Anne and Pat Molloy Summer School which is hard to put your finger on. Part of it is the very definite Birmingham flavor, but to me it is really the love and affection that all the musicians had for Anne and Pat that you can feel. One manifestation of this is the Sunday group performance afternoon where we gather to cheer on the class arrangements from the simple to the (intentionally) humorous to the extravagant -check out Noreen Cullen’s grand opus last year on Facebook.
Musicians who travelled to Birmingham for those famous sessions of the 80’s and 90’s are becoming enthusiastically involved in this year’s development, the Saturday night concert. This is to be headlined by the world-acclaimed London Lasses & Chris O’Malley, supported by DisKan (who happen to include Ivan Miletitch, the consumer of the afore-mentioned bus ticket), who are reforming for the event
It all happens on 26th & 27th July 2014 at South & City College, Digbeth, starting at 10am Saturday. It costs next to nothing – of £15 for the weekend of workshops and a small charge for the concert. For more info and to sign up check out http://www.patmolloysummerschool.co.uk/ or search for “Pat Molloy Summer School 2014” on Facebook.
I feel a bit uncomfortable giving away so much information (it could be bad luck) so let me tease you with not too much about the sessions. They will be in some of those great old Victorian pubs in the Irish district. One of them will have a small, no longer smoky, back room. They will definitely happen Friday night through Sunday night but I would lay money on Thursday and Monday as well. If all else fails, look for Facebook events with a Start Time: of “now it would be hard to say” and an End Time: of “while you still have your ticket home”.