A Punter’s Perspective
First published in Trad and Now magazine
#1 From a punter’s perspective
First published in Trad and Now magazine, December 2006
The world of folk boasts a limitless supply of people whose breadth and depth of knowledge of their craft and art is simply breath-taking. Their technical knowledge is detailed, their repertoires seemingly endless. Some folklorists have researched, collected and interpreted material for decades, their own lives becoming living folk legends of themselves. Traditional and contemporary artists encapsulate decades and centuries of history in a few short verses or stanzas.
But then there be folk like the author: the punters. We’re the people who hang around the back of session bars in dumb-struck awe (“Awww!”). We watch musicians on stage and can’t work out how they tune an instrument and breathe at the same time, much less engage an audience in simultaneous banter. And as for the seamless transition between fiddle, guitar, bodhran and tin whistle – did those people start learning their trade in the womb?!
We don’t know our jigs from our reels or our airs from our graces. We think an autoharp is Dublin’s car club, that a bouzouki is something immediately followed by ‘bless you’, and that lute is something you get paid if you manage to shift a few CDs.
But we attend festivals, buy the music, wear the t-shirts, sniff out the folk clubs, find when acts are playing in the mainstream world, and even surf off into cyberspace to broaden our folky horizons. We occasionally pluck up (pun intended) the courage to blunder up to musicians at an appropriate time and place (i.e. the middle of the campground – Hi, Geraldine!) to tell them their work has moved or touched us in some way or inspired us or had some profound, life-changing effect.
We don’t necessarily know good folk, but we know what we like. Sometimes we even struggle to spell it proper: hey, if it rhymes with ‘joke’…
I’ve taken a baby step past the punter stage and sometimes get up to introduce and back-announce acts at the odd festival (some of them odder than others). But the sweet science of how this aural gold is weaved remains a beautiful mystery to a mere punter such as I, and maybe in some wide-eyed child-like way, that’s not a bad thing.
However, if Cec and you will have me, I offer you ‘A Punter’s Perspective’; how a musical numpty perceives and makes sense of this eclectic world of music, song, dance, poetry and related arts. And specifically takes a sideways glance at the quirky bits, because the experts will have plenty to say on the normal stuff.
Stick with me on this one, yeah? All (or maybe, some) shall become clear.
A Punter’s Perspective on The Turning Wave
Yes, folks, it is possible to spend a weekend at a Gundagai folk festival (The Turning Wave, 13-17 September) and avoid the ‘Dog on the Tuckerbox’ song. Mind you, on Friday night at Lott’s Family Hotel, folk joke man Colin Mockett had a slip of the tongue and mentioned the place where ‘Doug’ sits on the Tuckerbox. Which would be news to the bus tour which turns up five miles out of town and instead of a quadruped finds a bloke in a blue singlet: ‘G’day, I’m Doug. The dog’s ducked out for smoko.’
Lessons learnt from the weekend: Bhan Tre is not an arboreal protest group. Enda Kenny is not an Irish version of ‘South Park’ (“Well, dat’s der enda Kenny!” “Yer bastards!”) Greg Champion is not a pet name for a set of spark plugs. And Conor Keane is a name only, not a comment on his disposition.
And ‘To be sure, to be sure’ is apparently not in common usage in the emerald isle. ‘Dat’s what Hollywood says we say!’ one disgruntled member of the Diaspora was heard to grumble.
Gundagai seemed to take this inaugural folk outing to their hearts with great gusto, and were well-represented in the crowds, including the biggest indoor venue (St Patrick’s Hall) where the local volunteers were even keeping records at one stage on the percentage of locals they reckoned were in the crowd (about 40-60% on Saturday night, from memory).
Meanwhile, at the two hotels used as venues, local punters were getting some exposure through the blackboards and sessions. It was all too much for a couple of locals who were looking very much the worse for wear in the wee small hours of Sunday morning. As one local character weaved his way out, he made a slight detour to where some of us were sitting and leaned in, much to our trepidation. But he paused only briefly, jabbed a finger in the direction of Cliona Molins’s instrument lying next to her and slurred, ‘Well, love, at least your harp’s in the right place!’ and teetered off into the night.
I’m sure there’s a technical term for the syndrome of denial in which the punter refuses to acknowledge they’ve rejoined the real world, post-festival. And I thank the waitress at the trattoria in Albury who produced a pair of scissors to remove the flouro orange wristband that was unwittingly still being worn under a sweater sleeve.
The Turning Wave 2007 will be held from 12 to 16 September. Nominations open 30 November 2006.
Bill Quinn is a full-time Canberra public servant and part-time MC.