Reel to Real

Last week I went to see Alisdair Roberts and friends in the Backroom at the Greystones pub in Sheffield. A venue with an interesting past and a lively present. This week my son is off to the Green Man festival at Crickhowell in the Brecon Beacons. We have seen Alisdair there twice – once as a very traditional Scottish folk singer on one of the small stages, and again as a bit of a rock god on the main stage. He has such a distinctive voice, and he appears to be unafraid of experimenting as a performer. The Backroom is a small space, and he was appearing with a traditional Gaelic singer and a puppet show. I had no idea what to expect. In those circumstances I should remember to expect the unexpected.

The evening started with Gillebride Macmillan singing in Gaelic. For some strange reason we learnt traditional Gaelic songs at my Catholic grammar school in Salford. I was transported back to a concert we did, perhaps when I was 11 or 12 years old. I was also transported back to evenings spent in KuchingSarawak, where I spent my holidays from boarding school. A house on stilts, geckos climbing the walls, mosquito screens instead of windows. My father was a great fan of jazz and folk music. He had a Uher reel to reel tape recorder and a fantastic collection of tapes. Included in his collection was an evening’s worth of traditional Irish and Scottish gaelic songs by a variety of artists. He had another tape of poets reading their own works – Yeats, Eliot and Edith Sitwell stick in my memory. Jigs and reels, tales of love, longing and murder, and then freedom fighters’ songs – the political folk music of America. To round off the evening he’d play Joan Baez’s version of ‘Farewell Angelina’. Sometimes I fail to acknowledge the roots of my love of music, but I am recognising them now.

Just as I was processing these memories, the Sokobauno Puppet Theatre started. Commissioned by the School of Scottish Studies, there were links I shared through my undergraduate degree at Leeds in the School of Folk Life and Dialect Studies. An inspired puppet version of a Mummers‘ play – ‘Galoshins’. Hard to describe but great fun to watch – Punch and Judy mayhem with a Mummers’ twist and Scottish characters.

Finally, Alisdair did his own set. He had been performing all evening with the other artists, and it was great to hear his distinctive voice and pleasantly gloomy songs. Highly recommended as a evening’s entertainment.

Words: Nicky Crewe





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