Tuesday, 11 June 2013

No Prisoners! No Prisoners!

Regular readers may be surprised that this entry has nothing whatsoever to do with politics.  There's more to life than politics and we all deserve a break.  It's just about one of those bizarre situations you find yourself in when you least expect it. It's not as if we hadn't been warned. Well, come to think of it, I had been warned but had failed to pass the warning on to my companion; so perhaps a tinge of guilt and the emotion of the day colours the story.

His family and Scotland's musical fraternity said goodbye yesterday to the wonderful Nick Keir, a truly gentle man.  There was a beautiful service at St Peter's in Lutton Place, followed by lunch and catching up with musical folk (who, as the great Alastair McDonald remarked,  only seem to meet in daylight at weddings and funerals) in the Church Hall.  This was followed by a traditional afternoon session in the bar of The Queen's Hall.  Generally nothing beats the sound of Scotland's folkies saying goodbye to one of their own. However, on this occasion it was as if one light having been extinguished, another was flickering into life as Nick's oldest friend's young stepson twice blew the roof off the place with his exquisite talent.  We will be hearing a lot more of him, I'm sure.

Anyhoo, back to the story.  After the session, a hardcore repaired to that temple of traditional music, Sandy Bell's Bar.  Monday not being a night we're usually out on the spree, we'd forgotten that early evening in Bell's on a Monday is training night and the fiddle learners' session was in full swing.  OK so it's not Paganini, but there's something truly uplifting in hearing novice fiddlers of all ages determinedly bowing out the great Scottish tunes and the fact that it happens every Monday in a place like Bell's really lifts the soul, it's the Carrying Stream in full flow.  It having been a long day, my companion took a load off on the periphery of the musicians and was happily listening and nursing her wine.

Come about quarter past seven, an odd collection of generally wee, older folk carrying an assortment of funny wee cases started to drift into the bar and 'hover' separately.  I was reminded of the funny wee men with funny wee cases I used to see loitering furtively outside Belfast Freemasons' Hall, all pretending not to know each other, until the doors opened when they all rushed in hoping no-one else had seen them.

It was at this point I received the warning from a friend who is a regular 'after work', early evening Bell's punter.  It went along the lines of: Make sure you're not out for a fag at half past seven, you've got to see this.

In the end, we were so deep in conversation I nearly missed it. In a feat of musical timing that would be the envy of many a West End musical director, the last tune came abruptly but perfectly to a halt bang on half past seven. With an obviously well-practiced dexterity, the fiddlers had their fiddles and bows in their cases before the strings had stopped ringing and were vacating the session table as if a tiger had just appeared from the ladies' loo.

In the blink of an eye, the eight or so fiddlers and their guitarist were replaced by no less than fourteen sexagenarian moothie players.  Unfortunately, my companion was caught completely unawares by the onslaught.  First came the squeak, then came the unmistakeable tones of my 'black affronted' companion. Nobody does black affronted like my companion after a couple of glasses of red wine. I turned round to find she had been unceremoniously shunted off her seat by a harmonica-playing harridan and I found myself having to physically shield her from the remonstrations of a couple of them for her temerity in not being out of her seat like Lynford Christie out of the starting blocks.

I was immediately reminded of a scene from Lawrence of Arabia.  If you're ever at a loss for something to do in Edinburgh on a Monday night and can stomach the carnage of seeing the No Prisoners! scene re-enacted in milliseconds, head up to Sandy Bell's for 7:30. I'd suggest the bar stool by the coffee machine would give the best vantage point, while the pillar of the central arch affords some protection from the onslaught.


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