Unfortunately, no luck with the funders meant no festival in 2006 but some of us did manage to get together just to keep the 'fires burning'.
Here are a couple of photographs, taken by Jenny Coxon, of our Saturday night session in the Smuggler's Inn, Bushmills. As you will see from my review of this session & the one on the previous night, which was held in the House of McDonnell Pub, Ballycastle, we certainly made sure that Hammered Dulcimers were heard over the weekend.
This week, I’d like to tell you about two very memorable events that took place last weekend, one in Ballycastle & the other in Bushmills, the first in the ‘House of McDonnell’, the home of North Antrim’s premier Traditional Music Session & the finest historic Pub in the county & the second in the Smugglers Inn, the venue for North Antrim’s finest Ballad Session.
In Ballycastle, at our weekly session, it was the first time for many, many years, possibly ever, that no fewer than three Hammered Dulcimers were heard being played together in the same room! A champion player, Rick Davis, who had travelled all the way from North Carolina, entertained us all with his wonderful musicianship on a beautifully crafted modern chromatic Dulcimer while Jenny Coxon, who is from Lancashire, & is probably one of the most influential Dulcimer players in England today, delighted us with some of her areas favourite tunes, including many Hornpipes which her area is famous for & which have influenced so many Irish musicians down through the years, not least Belfast born Sean McGuire and Armoy’s Sean McLaughlin.
Oakwood Dulcimers in England, who are the firm who made my own Dulcimer, made Jenny’s Dulcimer, & yes, I was playing along too, quietly in the background, but it was certainly a historic occasion, given the history of this instrument in Co Antrim.
Sadly, most Co Antrim folk are unaware that the Hammered Dulcimer is in fact an old Co. Antrim instrument that has had a long history in this grand wee county, having been played & made here for at least the last two hundred years! However, in truth, it is more familiar to the folks living around Larne, Ballyclare, Buckna & Glenarm, for this area was the centre of Hammered Dulcimer activity in more recent years.
To put this instrument into perspective, the only instruments which would have been involved in playing traditional music here before the Dulcimer first appeared on the scene here, were probably only Harps, Pipes, Whistles, Fifes & Fiddles.
Today, we are so used to seeing more modern instruments like Guitars and Bodhrans playing this music and we assume that these have been around for ever, but the fact is guitars were actually only five string instruments until, as late as the late 1700s, when the sixth stringed Guitar was first developed in Italy, and Bodhrans, which some people mistakenly regard as an ancient Irish instrument, only appeared towards the end of the 19th century & in fact only started being played along with traditional music, from the 1950s onwards, and so is a relative newcomer to the scene.
The image of the Bodhran being played on the Titanic must be regarded as a joke, and just another of those little historical faux pas’ for which Hollywood is so famous.
Compare these facts then with the first record of a Hammered Dulcimer being played in Ireland, which was in a Dublin advert in the 1740s and you begin to realise just what an important an instrument, the Hammered Dulcimer is, in our musical history.
The fact is ‘Traditional Music is approximately only three hundred years old here, for before that we only had ‘Ancient Music’, so for most of the life of Traditional Music, the Hammered Dulcimer has been playing Antrim music in our glens.
Unfortunately, despite a revival of interest in this instrument recently, Worldwide, over recent years here it has gone into decline, so it was indeed truly wonderful that these two musicians had travelled so far to treat us to the sound of this old Co Antrim instrument.
The following night, in Bushmills, proved to be even more historic, because not only did we have the pleasure of Rick & Jenny’s company, and music, but we were also joined by the last two of Co Antrim’s Hammered Dulcimer players, Nat Magee & William Rea, who are two Antrim men, born and bred, who, thankfully have carried this old Antrim tradition with them over the years. They are the ‘Tradition Bearers’ if you like, and without them, we would only have recorded evidence of this very old musical heartbeat of the county.
They play Dulcimers that were both made by a relative of theirs, the late Alec Magee, and these two instruments are in fact identical to the one the late, great John Rea of Glenarm played. Now Alec made a total of twelve Dulcimers & it was with one of Alec’s Dulcimers that John Rea played with that well known group, the Chieftains. Fortunately for us, John Rea made two wonderful LPs of his music, one solo & the other with Uilleann Pipes & he also appeared many times on Ulster Radio & TV.
It was an absolute delight then to hear these two fine gentlemen playing their wonderful & historic Co Antrim music, both solo and as a duet, in Bushmills and they received a wonderful welcome and tremendous applause whenever they played.
We owe these two men a great deal, for through them, we are able to hear part of this counties history. We sincerely hope they carry on entertaining us with their wonderful music for many, many years to come.
Hopefully the playing of this wonderful old instrument is not going to die out altogether, in Co Antrim, and with the help of excellent musicians like Jenny & Rick, who this year, like last, took the time, trouble and effort to travel, at great expense I may add, to regale us with the delights of their music, I’m confident this old Co Antrim tradition will survive into the future to entertain our children and grandchildren.
The sound of the Dulcimer is an ancient sound and in fact, the Dulcimer is a member of the Psaltery family, which was mentioned in the Bible. It is an unusual sound which usually captivates its audience for it is a very resonant instrument, with long sustain to each note and the sound is often compared to that of the Piano and that is not so strange because the Piano was in fact developed from the Dulcimer.
Anyway, I would like to finish by warmly thanking those four fine musicians, mentioned above, for the time, trouble and effort they took to bring their magnificent music to us last week, we are all in their debt. I would also like to thank the House of McDonnell and the Bushmills Inn for allowing these wonderful musicians to bring a little piece of Co Antrim’s living history into our lives.
Let’s hope the ancient sound of the Hammered Dulcimer rings throughout the glens of Antrim for many, many years to come.
Enjoy yer Music.
In addition to the above, Rick, Sam Flemming, Sabine & myself played at a sharing of cultures festival in Coleraine, on the Saturday afternoon, with Rick & myself on Hammered Dulcimers, Rick letting them hear a couple of Old Time tunes, while I played a couple of old Co Antrim Fife Marches on my Dulcimer with Sabine on the Fife and Sam gave them a flavour of Northumbrian music on his Northumbrian Pipes.
Later that afternoon we all played a session at Dunluce Castle Cafe which was most enjoyable. Many thanks to the hostess for her warm hospitality there.
On the Sunday & Monday Sabine & I played at the 'Wedding Day' festival, 'Old, New, Borrowed, Blue ...', in the Ulster American Folk Park near Omagh, Co Tyrone, playing Harp & Fiddle for the Ulster wedding & Hammered Dulcimer, Fiddle & Fife for the Frontier Wedding. Rick joined us for those on the Monday & filmed the proceedings for CDF posterity.
On Sunday night Jenny Coxon took in the session in Johnny Joe's Pub, Cushendall, where she met some very friendly musicians who gave her and her Dulcimer a warm reception, a proper Caid Mile Failte.
While Jenny was playing in Cushendall, Rick spent Sunday evening giving an impromtu recital in the Smugglers Inn, Bushmills.
On the Monday night, Rick, Sabine & myself met up with two fine Fiddle players, Kathleen & Patricia for a farewell session in the Smugglers Inn
All in all, between, Rick, Jenny, Nat, William & myself we managed to create a bit of a Hammered Dulcimer stir over the weekend, & with the help of such other fine musicians as Sam Flemming, John Hughes & Kathleen King, we helped to introduce a whole bunch of folk here to the delights of the Hammered Dulcimer.
As an interesting footnote, I met a man at the Folk Park on the Sunday, who, when he heard the Dulcimer mentioned, remembered that the only time he had ever seen one was in 1956, when he attended the All Ireland Fleadh that year & saw John Rea playing his Dulcimer in the street! - small world eh?
Roll on CDF2007