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Kettle Bridge Concertinas

Concertina group based in Maidstone, Kent, UK

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Banding Together weekend, Seale-Hayne  -  Fri 15th to Sun 17th June 2012

Original photo: Peter Stead
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Written by Sally George

It was with a great deal of excitement but also some temerity (for some of us at least!) that five Kettle Bridge Concertina members (Pat, Liz, John, Sally and one of our honorary members, Sally Barrett) set off for the first ever Banding Together weekend at Seale-Hayne, Newton Abbot held in June 2012. For some of us in our group this was the first time that we had ventured into a concertina weekend advertised for competent and advanced players. We were pleased and got moral support from the fact that a group of us would be experiencing this together. All sorts of thoughts were running through our heads as we set of – would we be able to cope, would we let the others down, would we enjoy it? But underneath it all there was a real excitement in the knowledge that this weekend was really going to take us forward in our concertina playing.

The fun and friendship that were to be a hallmark of this weekend started on the journey down for Sally, Pat and Sally Barrett. After a very early start (6.45 a.m.) we reached Wiltshire in time for mid-morning coffee and cake with Colin and Rosalie Dipper, when Colin undertook some urgent repairs on Pat’s bass (the G was playing as F# and we thought the rest of the band might just notice!). Another hour’s more driving found us at the home of Arthur and Trish Brine. Arthur is membership secretary of WCCP and had phoned the day before to kindly invite us to lunch even though he was not attending the weekend. We enjoyed a very delicious ploughman’s lunch complete with strawberries, cream and wine, Having experienced that you really do have friends all over the UK once you are a concertina player, then it was another 45 minutes drive to Seale-Hayne, which was to be our home for the weekend.

Seale-Hayne is a beautiful and expansive place. As soon as we stepped out of the car our fears were blown away (literally, it was very windy!) by the breathtaking views across the Devon countryside. Any lingering doubts were soon dissolved by the very warm welcome and big hugs we received from Esther, Beryl and Claire, some of the organising committee.

We quickly settled into the accommodation that was to be home for the next couple of days. It was former student accommodation with shared kitchens, showers and loos for each corridor. The Kettle Bridge female contingent had been given their own section at the end of one of the corridors. It took us back to our student days.

Then it was time to orientate ourselves and find our way about, a task which we never did master. Seale-Hayne is an enormous place, including a very large mansion, several outbuildings and extensive grounds. We would just be using a small part of it including the dining room, recording studios and, of course, the bar. Despite the fact that we would be only using such a small part, Pat, Sally & Sally spent a fair bit if time finding ourselves going in and out through the wrong doors.

After a very delicious meal, it was time for the first of what proved to be many very challenging but very enjoyable concertina band sessions. Everything had been so very well organised – we knew the parts we were playing and had received the music a couple of weeks earlier. We would be playing a range of music composed or arranged by Claire Wren. For us in Kettle Bridge Concertinas we had only played one of the pieces before. The music included Claire’s arrangement of The Overture to the Mikado, Simkhes-Toyre Time, El Paso and Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen as well as her own compositions of The Langley March and Moonlight on Cadgwith, a diverse range of challenging but also very stimulating music. There were pieces in the music that would challenge and extend even the most able musicians. So, with everything in place, we made our way to the band room, found our seats and waited for the music to begin!

The band sessions were being led by Paul Hornsby, a professional musician and very talented conductor. His approach made it immediately evident that there was going to be a lot of fun and laughter in our sessions at the same time as very high musical expectations. Paul started every session with a range of exercises to further develop our sense of timing and dynamics. These exercises were going to be very useful to take back to the rest of our band to help us play more closely together. Then we began to work on the music, taking it apart and building it up again as we adjusted our playing to the clear directions from Paul. It was so exciting as the sessions continued to find our playing improving, achieving things that we had not been able to play before. Playing in a band of 25 musicians, some of whom were very experienced and skilful, really lifted us – that was a real privilege.

There were 5 band sessions during the day, so we were very busy but pleasurable so. In every piece of music we had a different seat and new playing companions, so we also got to know the others who were experiencing this weekend. It certainly gave the term “Musical Chairs” new meaning, no longer a party game but a great way of getting to know a little better other like-minded people.

There was also time for relaxation both at meal times and in the bar in the evening where lively and fun chatter with lots of laughter could be heard all around. Everyone was so relaxed. This was helped so much by the brilliant way we were cared and catered for by the staff of Seale-Hayne.

Time flew by and in what seemed like next to no time we found ourselves at the last session of the weekend. Three of the pieces were chosen to perform and record, another heart stopping moment for some of us in Kettle Bridge Concertinas who had never been recorded before. But that was a great way to end the weekend’s work and music making.

Then following a final cuppa, it was time for our goodbyes. We were tired but very happily so with a feeling of deep achievement. As we drove home and for the next few days our hearts and heads were full of the music we had been playing plus a real glow of satisfaction. It had been a really amazing weekend. Thank you to everyone who had worked so hard to organise it.

We were told before we left that the Banding Together weekend will be held again next year, at the same place and at the same time. That was exciting to know for certainly some of Kettle Bridge Concertinas will again be making the journey to Devon to participate in this very special weekend.

Below are links to some video, audio and photos of the Banding Together weekend that other people have uploaded to YouTube:

Rehearsal session (video)
Moonlight on Cadgwith (audio with slideshow)
Simkhes Toyre Time (audio with slideshow)
Hallelujah (audio with slideshow)