Wednesday, March 13, 2019


Looking Back

In my first treasure hunt book, Seek and Ye Shall Find, I mentioned the time I spent studying in London, England in 1993 as part of an MSU study abroad program. Recently, thanks to a family outing, I've been reminiscing quite a bit about it. It's amazing to realize that 26 years ago, at this time, I was residing in that mesmerizing city.

Last Saturday, my family and I went to a local "pub" call Bud & Stanley's (best burgers in Grand Rapids, IMO). Their sign said they'll be having live Irish music on March 17 (St. Patrick's Day). Inspired by the thought of listening to live Irish music in a pub again, I recalled my Friday night ritual from another life.

It was 1993. The internet was in its infancy and mobile phones were still attached to cars. About a dozen of us from Michigan State University ventured over to London to participate in an MSU study abroad program. No electronic devices (except for a shoulder held video camera and a 35mm film point and shoot camera). We took up residency in a three story flat on Kilburn Park Road that MSU had arranged for us. Our professors lectured in our living room every day. Those were the days.

To find out what was going on in London (remember: we didn't have the internet), we'd pick up an issue of Time Out London, a weekly magazine that had all the goings on around London. That's where we saw a listing for live Irish music at the Victoria pub every Friday night. Looking it up now, I can see after numerous name changes throughout the years, it's again the Victoria Tavern and it looks a lot different, both inside and out. Click here for a Google street view - change the dates to see some of the more recent iterations. In a way, it makes me kind of sad to see the "old" pub feel may be lost in that special place.

The Band

The band was called Chanter. We went and had a blast. It was dark, dingy and smoky, yet somehow perfect. The music was loud and good. We'd get there early so we could claim a table right up front.  Chanter were fun. Great singing, great energy. Some humor thrown in. They had a good time while we had a good time. 

Their playlist was filled with song after song that you could sing along with. The Old Triangle, Johnny Cope, Down on the Glen,  The Star of the County Down / Soldier’s Joy and more. One of my favorite songs was an original twist they had on  "Fiddlyoory" (or "Poor Paddy Works on the Railway"). The lyrics went something like this:

In eighteen hundred and forty one, me corduroy breeches I put on
Me corduroy breeches I put on, to work upon the railway, the railway
I'm weary of the railway, poor Paddy works on the railway
Fiddlyoory-oory-Ay, Fiddlyoory-oory-Ay, Fiddlyoory-oory-Ay to work upon the railway.

In eighteen hundred and forty two, from Bartley Pool I moved to Crewe
And I found meself a job to do, workin' on the railway
I was wearing corduroy britches
Digging ditches, pulling switches, dodging hitches
I was workin' on the railway
Fiddlyoory-oory-Ay, Fiddlyoory-oory-Ay, Fiddlyoory-oory-Ay to work upon the railway.

Each verse progressed the story through the years...1841, 1842, 1843, 1844, 1845, 1846 and then....

In eighteen hundred and forty seven poor Paddy was thinkin' of goin' ta heaven
Poor Paddy was thinkin' of goin' ta heaven, to work upon the railway, the railway

At this point, the band put a slight spin on it and switched to "Stairway to Heaven", singing - 
"And he's building a railway to Heaven"
And then they'd kick it back to the 
Fiddlyoory-oory-Ay, Fiddlyoory-oory-Ay, Fiddlyoory-oory-Ay to work upon the railway.

It was kind of one of those wait for it, wait for it moments that was great every time.

The Journey Home

As the evening wrapped up, on our walk to the Holloway Road tube (subway) station, we'd stop by a local fish & chips shop to buy some chips (french fries), wrapped in newspaper (without the print) and covered with malt vinegar. That little treat made the 30 minute journey underground much more enjoyable.

After going to the Victoria almost every weekend for about 2 months the brevity of our time in London became a reality. To capture the memories, we asked if we could record the show one evening. We were pleasantly surprised when the band agreed. So there I stood for roughly two hours with that giant video camera on my shoulder. Kids these days, with their cell phones, will never understand the struggles.

When my family and I returned home from dinner last weekend, I found that old VHS tape. Sadly, the quality has degraded a lot. Watching that fuzzy video that blacked out every ten seconds or so was sadly metaphorical for my own memories. I jumped on the internet to see what I could find about Chanter. Did they release any more albums? Did they keep performing? What ever happened to them? I mean it's been 26 years since I recorded this video:

Plot Twist

They released an album last year. You can listen to samples and buy it on Amazon or other music download sites. They also have a website, through which I sent a moderately lamenting and mostly reminiscing email to them. I received a nice, sincere and humorous response from Roddy Rogers (one of the members of Chanter who also has some solo albums).

Really, do yourself a favor and buy their new album John Barleycorn.

You won't regret it (especially if you like some mad fiddling).

Album notes: 

John Barleycorn is a new album from celtic band Chanter. The band is celebrating 40 years of live performances and recordings, and has chosen to record a range of mainly traditional songs from its back catalogue.

The core of the band, Malcolm and Roddy Rogers, have been joined across the years by a cast of brilliant musicians, ranging from the great tinwhistle playing by Brian Aldwinckle to the stellar drumming of Hughie Flint (of McGuiness-Flint and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers fame) and Mickey Waller (of Jeff Beck/Rod Stewart fame!).

This album has set out, and hopefully succeeded (you judge!), in faithfully reproducing some of the best arrangements of traditional material we've played over the years. 

Recorded by Roddy Rogers, Malcolm Rogers and Steno Vitale, the album features vocals, guitars, fiddles, mandola, keyboards and drums - kit, bodhran and djembe.

For Chanter's original material, in the same genre, please see 'The Journey' on Chanter's own website, and also look for Roddy Rogers on CD Baby and the usual downloading and streaming services.

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