Virtual Folk Club 4 with MC Paul Walker

Tonight’s guest is again Brian Peters, traditional folk singer and well-respected anglo concertina and melodeon player. Tutor once again at this year’s Swaledale Squeeze.

PW: We seem to have Old Glory nailed above the bar, so not all of the US contingent have hit the road. Indeed opening the second half with some tasty electric guitar is Shine Boulder and “Good As The Rain”

PW: So what do you think about the genre Americana Brian?

BP: I’ve never been entirely sure what it is, to be honest. Seems to be singer-songwriter stuff in a country-ish vein, or am I wrong? Perhaps not my cup of tea, though that was some nice guitar picking.

PW: I hadn’t realised till I searched Wikipedia that the term is linked to a quite specific musical period (mid 90s for all the musicologists).Contemporary music that has a flavour of American roots I thought – which covers an enormous field: from Pete Seeger, to Commander Cody and of course those guys that backed Dylan on mandolin, accordion and horns at the basement at the Big Pink. Which brings us to your first choice Brian:

Levon Helm: Deep Ellum Blues

BP: Actually I think this counts as ‘Americana’… if so, I take back everything about it not being my cup of tea. Levon Helm, who used to be in The Band of course, had a really interesting late period in his career after suffering throat cancer. He made some wonderful, rootsy, old time country recordings. I love this arrangement, especially when the horns let rip towards the end. Actually it’s a song I do myself, when I’m in my other musical guise doing old-time music.

PW: Nice to see Bob Weir formerly of the Grateful Dead guesting there. In fact I’m indebted to Arthur (who you know) at my local Old Time session for introducing me to two artists in the folk/country genre: Townes Van Zandt – I’d heard of but never listened to. But also Laurie Lewis is a complete unknown to me. Both brilliant.

Nanci Griffith & Townes Van Zandt – “Tecumseh Valley”

Laurie Lewis “Who Will Watch The Home Place”

BP: Ah, yes, we used to do that one when I was in the Rocky Mountain Ploughboys – playing melodeon in a band doing country, blues and bluegrass was a nice challenge. My old bandmate Dave Pope sings that song really well, and I had the pleasure of working with the person who wrote it – Kate Long – at a song workshop in the Appalachians a few years back.

PW: As I think you know my concertina is tolerated at the Old Time session Dave Pope hosts – the reasoning being it makes less racket than a melodeon!

But seriously I do find it an interesting technical challenge to play American music on the English concertina – the difficulty I think is something to do with the attack and decay of the notes.

Any comments CW readers?

Now in America CONCERTINA means something different…

Jersey Polka Richie Twirl – at the Annual Twin Cities Polish Festival

PW: Difficult to separate the tune title and the band there… Wikipedia would have me believe that’s a Chemnitzer. Have you come across one of these beasts Brian?

BP: I’ve seen one or two but never tried to play one – it looks quite hard just because of the size of the thing! Be careful what you say about the word ‘concertina’ in North America, though, Paul. There are plenty of good anglo, duet and English instruments and players out there, and not a few morris sides dancing to anglos.

BP: Well we heard some Polish music there, even though it was from the diaspora community in the USA.

I’m going to make a tenuous Northern European connection with that, and head now to Finland. I met this fellow on the continent at a melodeon workshop as well. One of the best box players technically that I’ve ever seen… lovely touch. His mandolin accompanist Petri Hakkala is really tasty as well. Markku has done a lot of very valuable work bringing the repertoire of the old musicians from the Finnish countryside to light. They take their traditional music very seriously over there – he’s done a lot of work for the Sibelius Institute.

Markku Lepistö: La Vals a Silia

PW: So for traditionalists – here’s a “proper” concertina! A cracking French dance tune by Philippe Plard. “Zelda” played by Jody Kruskal on a G/D dipper Anglo concertina.

Your next choice Brian?

Hedningarna: Joupolle

BP: I’m going to drag you back to Scandinavia now. Hedningarna is (or was, are they still going?) a Swedish band that got together with some Finnish singers. I came across their music in the 1990s when Nick, who used to be in charge of the folk music section at Decoy Records in Manchester, told me I would love them. I did – I miss that kind of enthusiastic guidance from a specialist record shop. They played music that sounded very old and very new at the same time, mixing antique instruments and vocal styles with what were then state-of-the-art electronics and beats. Their CD ‘Trä’ is one of my favourite recordings ever.

PW: Good to hear some world music (a naff term I know); and now for your final choice?

BP: We’ve ranged far and wide musically today, Paul, so I thought I’d better get back to the concertina. Here’s something a bit different…

Clown Gobi: Die kleinste Ziehharmonika der Welt

PW: Now I’m afraid the bar’s out of Steam Beer Brian. But you’re in luck to finish, we’ve a jug of “Mountain Dew” by The Stanley Brothers

BP: I saw Ralph Stanley play when I was in West Virginia for a folksong school in 2013. He was pretty frail, and struggled a bit with his voice, but when he got going it was great to hear some old favourites. It’s a privilege to see and hear a real legend performing right in front of you.

PW: Finally, an encore from Brian: ‘Weeping Willow Rag’ by Scott Joplin.

PW: Lovely rhythm, Brian. A track which I’ve heard on your latest CD “Squeezebox, Voicebox” and is already a favourite.

BP: Yes, I worked out my anglo arrangement partly from listening to piano versions, then I got the trickier chords from a score for four violas that I managed to track down online.  It took me about seven years to get all four parts of the rag ready for public performance!


For this feature we have an unlimited budget and can feature artistes from any area/decade! If you have any requests for the VIRTUAL FOLK CLUB, please let the editor know. PW