191 Reeds, 10 Strings, 9 Whistles, 3 Voices, 1 Hatchback and 0 Clue

It was with some kind of hellfire that our summer touring got underway. Ireland beckoned in the week beyond but standing in the way was an almighty weekend of tearing round England like blue-arsed flies. Our biggest consolation leaving London? We had delicious nest of boiled-eggs had prepared by Dominic for packed-lunch, and an ashtray load of playlist-laden iPods, primed and ready for the journey ahead.

Backseat Skiver

That Friday evening at Cambridge Folk Festival we had our first booking in the cosy Den Stage thanks to The Nest Collective. Whilst the grandstanding of the stadium-folk acts thundered on in the background we found our corner amongst the soft-furnishings and twee decorations of Cambridge's "space for younger audiences". (Although quite what set it apart as a junior area remains a mystery to me, I certainly wasn't overcome with the urge to suddenly lunge into a school disco knee slide.)  The crowd were lovely and incredibly understanding as the sound-check failed spectacularly to live up to its name. Battling with noise gremlins in the speakers throughout it was nonetheless a thrill to come to one of the major homelands of British folk music and share the bill with some old friends alike.

Elsewhere in the festival we caught up with troubadours Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith who'd been living it up since the night before with some spectacular results up at the camp site, apparently. Meanwhile old favourites of Tommie, The Amsterdam Klezmer Band showed off their wizardry. Sadly life caught up with and threw us far away from Cambridge before we could see many of the other incredible acts that weekend.

Tommie jetted 300 miles to Cornwall for a Penwithian wedding and Port Elliot Festival, James got lost somewhere on the Isle of Purbeck (not really an island but anyway), and Dominic fell prey to the rock-folk of Treacherous Orchestra and Shooglenifty whilst trying to remember how the hell to play Maggie's Pancakes.

We all reunited again Sunday night for a gloriously last minute gig at Standon Calling, our second year in a row with Alaistar and the Autumn Shift crew. They create a uplifting vibe with their handcrafted stage and a host of handpicked acts, with The Rad Orchestra, Bloom Twins and Grace Petrie as absolute highlights. Elsewhere in the festival some peerless programming placed Basement Jaxx and Giles Petersen back-to-back.

But alas! Just a few hours after our performance we climbed back into the hatchback and sped to Holyhead on the northwestern tip of Wales. Ireland and Monday lay just over that horizon. It's those moments at 3am when you're changing driver on the hard-shoulder somewhere on the outskirts of Coventry that you realise how much you want to be a musician. Cue a surreal espresso at a service station on the M6 at dawn which charged the mental batteries momentarily, as did the sight of a moonlit duck pond just beyond the costa coffee counter. The mind is the weirdest curator of pictures. The sky which had until then risen bedecked with stars before us, now ripped open on the Welsh border in a deluge flooding, in an instant, the cascades which run off the hills above Powys. Then skipping past the northern shores of Snowdonia to the sound of Martin Hayes we rounded the corner into the ferry terminal and into a thicket of Irish number plates, the ferry was delayed.

Pulling into the Liffey

James had slept on the floor. Tommie had slept in a stranger's tent. Dominic, who knows. Of certainty though was our bedraggled state. Beijing public toilets are blacklisted if more than two flies are found hovering about. We surely would have failed the Maoist challenge several times over. All in our filthy attire, we were expecting another marathon drive on the Irish side. Then came an excited call. Tommie's father, by some holy or unholy means, had secured us rooms at the plushest hotel in Dublin, The Westbury. We were staying in Dublin that night.

The old, the new and the odd next to The Cobblestone

A few soapy encounters later we emerged fly-less and fancy free, reborn into the Dublin air with our instruments. With a hop across town that night, we found a spot in the corner seat at The Cobblestone, Smithfield's home of song and tune. This fine pub hosts a session every night of the week, twice on Sunday. It was a baptism by fire but we earned our Guinness, which, by the way, does taste better in Ireland.

TEYR business meeting at The Cobblestone

A michelin-starred Irish breakfast in our bellies we hit the road the following morning. Cartoon chaos ran in the streets, a freak gust of atlantic air had ripped a giant Minion inflatable from its moorings. Dublin was gridlocked, or so we heard. We missed the "Despicable" jam by an hour or so as we struck out northwest toward the border and beyond.

The Muldoon Range and our Stage

In Fermanagh, the northern county of lakes (and lots of rain), we holed up with some distant relations of the Gavins, the McGandys and Muldoons. With endless hospitality, and booze, they provided the magical setting for our "Hooley in the Kitchen" house concert. In front Maggie and Harpo's old kitchen range we played acoustic to a raggle-taggle rip-roaring crowd of the local clans with a bonfire blazing beyond the windows. There was none too little fire in peoples eyes, or tongues for that matter, as any quiet gap in the proceedings was immediately filled with chatter and gossip. But once the notes and words got flowing the atmosphere was electric.

Captain Maco

We then had a couple of days of rambling on our hands. Our first rainy afternoon - one of those days where locals might say that Fermanagh was "in the lake" and not the other way around - we spent exploring the isle of Devenish by boat. With Maco as our faithful captain we moored up on the small spit of land and wandered around the monastic ruins and its 12th century round tower, built to supposedly keep the marauding vikings from stealing church treasure. The weird and wonderful engravings scattered about the arches and gravestones held rich blends of christian and pagan imagery. With boots rapidly filling with water and the horizon reduced to just a few hundred yards by the weight of rain and cloud, it felt like the end of the earth.

Damp Devenish

Across to Derry we wandered about the old town the following day. With Aoife our guide we ran the ramparts of the old city, seeing for ourselves the proximity of two politically opposed communities. It was at that time the lead up to the season of bonfires and the Eleventh Night and towering over the Fountain area was a still growing mountain of wooden pallets and tires adorned with flags and slogans. Some hopeful tales were told though, last year's Fleadh Cheoil, the first to ever take place in Northern Ireland, coincided with its year as UK City of Culture. "That was a party" said Aoife.

A Derry Mural in Bogside

Leaving Derry and the Foyle basin, passing through Limavady to the east, we rose up the side of Mount Keady where the McGandy's have a Clachan; an old bundle of stone buildings set around a small green. From here on a good day (which is never guaranteed, even in August) you can gaze over the patchwork of fields and small hidden valleys and see in the distance the mountains of Donegal rising beyond the ribbon of the Foyle on one side, the beginnings of the Atlantic to the North, and the shoulders of the Sperrin Mountains stretching either side behind you. At the centre of the Clachan is a barn set aside for nothing but merriment, complete with a bar, a fire, instruments, teapots and a shedload of irishmen. Every night for the following few days a session sparked up at some point between 1pm and 6am and we were the Keady Clachan’s faithful servants in such affairs.

Across Limavady to the Foyle and Donegal

Stendhal Festival of Art, a relatively new, brilliantly crafted farm festival, had brought us there to Keady with the generous help of the Joan Mikey. The scale of the festival was odd, slightly out of kilter even. A main stage at the entrance gave way to a wide open valley and a few smaller venues. And that appeared to be it. But then you wandered further, across a network of small purpose built wooden bridges, each one leading to another bizarre world and dancefloor. A tree house set in a copse of trees covered by woolen crocheting served as an elevated DJ booth. Or you could walk through Alice’s wonderland and tea party paraphernalia. We played their Saturday night slot down in the depths of the woods alongside all the other vaguely folky acts with a roaring posse of friends arranged on the log toadstools and boat benches. A rock band pumping out baselines in the neighbouring tent challenged us to a shouting match towards the end of our set, the fools! There was an element of avant garde blending of resultant sounds and time signatures. We invite feedback on whether that’s something to celebrate or not.

TEYR on the Mark Patterson Show

BBC Radio Foyle caught us between the action and held us to account for a couple of songs. There’s something reassuring about broadcasting with muddy feet.  We were one of the few acts who’d come from beyond the sea for the occasion. It was intriguing to hear the phrase “London-based band” being bounded around with emphasis. Mark Patterson had half of the festival scheduled to pass through the salubrious BBC tent over the following days so it was an honour to open proceedings for the crew.

Session Time at the Keady Clachan

Further sessions at the Clachan ensued with star turns from Teknopeasant, Dylan Walshe and Terry Craig of The Bijoux Toots. Falling asleep in the corner of a session is one thing, falling asleep on top of your guitar is another entirely.

Back to Dublin on Sunday via the obligatory stops at Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills, we crammed in one last session at The Cobblestone before the ferry, this time with a fine fiddler with some lovely Tommy Peoples grooves and uilleann piper who went to town with his regulator work. His pipes were more shiny than Dominic’s, awkward.

The Causeway?

The Causeway.

Passing back into Wales in the wee hours the sky opened yet again. Immensely sleep deprived and wired on caffeine Dominic pushed on towards the Brecons in a dreamscape of watery taillights and half-seen looming mountains. One by one we departed the hatchback. Dominic in Wales, James in Highgate, Tommie in Hackney. All fell back into place as if nothing had occurred whatsoever. Thank the world for music however. Several songs and tunes were born that whirlwind week and will refuse to let such journeys disappear from memory.

Team Keady, it was a blast!

A thousand thank-yous to Harpo, Maggie, Joan, Mickey, Tinker, Phill, Ross, Vincent Alastair, John, Helen, Terry and all the other troubadours and vagabonds we met along the highroad. Till next year!


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