EARLY INFLUENCES

I have been making music since I was a teenager when I first began to play the mouth-organ at around 14 years old.

My best friend Chris Sullivan's father used to play the mouth-organ and I have very fond memories of sitting in their house, in darkness except for the light from the open fire, and listening to Spen playing tunes such as Westering Home, Over the Sea to Skye, and other folk and popular tunes of the day, on his chromatic harmonica.

Inspired by this I bought a mouth-organ for myself, although I play a diatonic. (I couldn't get on with a chromatic).

There was an old melodeon in our house. It had come up from my Granny's and my mother's Uncles used to play it in their Christmas Mummers and blackface Minstrel troupe before the Great War.

I soon discovered that it was just like the mouth-organ to play. Push-pull with a different note on each.

Paul Marsh, melodeon and David Nuttall, Concertina, in Sam's 2003.
David Nuttall, concertina and me, melodeon, playing in Sam's Hotel, Shedfield, Hampshire 2003.
I first mastered the National Anthem, moving on to When the Saints Go Marching In etc. I soon aquired a Hohner four stop in G for which I swapped a Mandola and an Erica C/C sharp bought for £20 in a Junk shop in Woking, some thirty years ago. I still play these melodeons.

Chris' mother was from Dublin and in the house were records of the Clancy Brothers, and other Irish Groups.

Chris and I voraciously went through these records and we soon began to play songs and tunes from them. Chris bought a guitar and later a tenor banjo and mandolin. I sang and played mouth-organ, jews harp and spoons.

We first went to Ireland in 1967 to look for real Irish music, when we were just sixteen. We stayed with Chris' Uncle Michael and Auntie Noola in their house in Rathmines, Dublin. We walked the length and breadth of Dublin, finding lots of good music as we went. We were too young to drink (officially) and our English accents and hippie hair styles meant that we stood out sometimes in the very 'local' bars and met with some reluctance

In O'Donoghue's bar in Merrion Square we found the music session in the back bar. Here Chris's hero, banjo player Barney McKenna, was leading the music. 'The Dubliners' sprang from earlier informal sessions at O'Donoghue's. We also found the Piper's Club, in Thomas Street. It was a very formal place, more like a barrister's chambers than the lively pubs. I'm still not sure if we should have been in there, but we sat and listened to some magnificent Uillean pipers such as Tommy Reck and Leo Rowsome.

We both started work in 1967 and so as the money came in we went back and forth to Ireland most years. Sweeney's Men were the band of the moment in 1968 and their counterpoint style of playing really hit home to us. We saw them in the Peeler's Club in Middlesex Street, London. Also in the club that night were Finbar and Eddie Furey, their first time over from Ireland, Robin and Barry Dransfield, fresh down from Yorkshire and Roger Nicholson, the leading exponent on the circuit of the Appalachian dulcimer. Chris, by this time could play almost anything with strings on. He also played the tin whistle, inspired in part by Finbar Furey.

A little later we heard the Chieftain's first LP and I decided that I wanted to play the bodhran. I wrote to Peadar Mercier, the bodhran player, asking where I might get one and for any tips on playing. It's VERY hard to believe now but the bodhran was a rare instrument in this country back in the early 1970s. Peadar arranged for me to have one made by Joey Walsh. I wrote to him care of Slattery's bar in Capel Street and a month or so later a beautiful bodhran arrived. It cost me £18 back in 1972. Chris and I at that time were only playing for fun and we didn't actually play out in public.

I joined the Winchester Morris Men in 1973 and met with others who shared my musical interests. Gwilym Davies told me about the old style music in Sam's Hotel, Shedfield. I started going down to the Saturday night sessions where I met with traditional musicians. George Privett and Ruth Askew who were the mainstay musicians of the evenings, Ruth playing melodeon and George exuberantly playing the spoons. I was soon joining in on the mouth-organ, melodeon or bones. I was shown the way to play the bones by Jimmy Ralph, a Sam's regular who 'clacked' along with the music each Saturday night.

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