The Irish for ‘no’ and ‘know’
Though my playing ability and arsenal of tunes still lack, I think I finally got a bit of session-ishness under my psyche. Early on, I realized the futility of posing a question of any kind to a sessioneer, for a straight answer will never come (pints or no pints imbibed). Instead, you’ll get a peculiar and evasive string of statements that asymptotically imply the answer but never quite express it. Whether it’s done on purpose or not, I’ve found it’s always the manner of speaking at a session, and I think it is the sole reason for new-comers feeling like they’re being handed their hat. Known to some as a form of "slagging," I’m not sure if it’s strictly session-ish or just Irish, or both, but it adds to the craic once you get over it; that is, unless you really are being handed you hat…
Here’s some words I had with a Punter at a session recently:
"What’er your favorite tunes to play?"
"Well, I have tunes I like to play, and then I have the tunes that I play well."
"What’s one you like to play then?"
"I guess I like to play ‘The Four Courts.’"
"So that’s one of your favorites?"
"It would be if I played it well."
"You don’t play it well?"
"So your favorite tunes are tunes you like to play and that you play well?"
"I’m not sure, because I can’t do both yet."
"So you don’t have any favorite tunes then?"
"I guess not."
Luckily, the waitress came around and that was that. I was beginning to feel like a jerk, though I meant no ill-will at all. I realized later that session-ishness had finally rubbed off on me, along with the stench of cigarette smoke.
I saw Ciaran Carson, the poet and musician from Belfast, speak here in Philadelphia several years back and I became a fan of his, despite the difficulty of laying hands on any of his books. In describing the meaning of the title of his book of poems _The Irish for No_ he said something like this, though it’s been a while, and I can’t remember exactly:
"We never really say ‘no’; if someone asks ‘Were you at the pub last night?’ we say, ‘Well, the wife needed me to fix something, and then I had to go to the store.’ but we never come right out and simply say ‘no.’"
I finally picked-up on this trait a few months ago, and once I understood, it helped me to relax at sessions, even if I’m really not welcome because, after all, the truth will never be known anyway. It reminds me of what I once heard somewhere before concerning the amorphous nature of sessions: There are no rules at a session, but the minute you break one, you’ll know. Maybe, but it won’t come in the form of a good, old-fashioned, decisive "no."
I did hand someone their hat later that evening…he’d forgotten it.
"You had on a hat when you came in, so you’ll have on a hat when you go out," I said.
"You’ll never get a head without your hat," said he.
Anyone else have some examples of this sort of session tomfoolery?
P.S.: Remove all doubt by leaving your hats at home.