The state of play

The state of play

I have been away from the session scene for over ten years. The other day I cleaned the mould off my instruments, disinfected and oiled them, found a new home for the spiders and discovered that although at first it felt as if all my mediocre skills had faded away totally, after a few hours I was again playing at a poor-to-mediocre level. So far so good. Perhaps I should try to play with other people again before I die?

But as I look around I get the impression that the session scene is not bubbling like it was 15 or 20 years ago. So I wonder - is that just because I’m looking in the wrong places? Has the digital action gone elsewhere? Is it still as bubbly, but I haven’t found it? Or has there been a period of (perhaps appropriate) downsizing?

Re: The state of play

If you’re looking to find sessions near you (or other people interested in playing), I highly recommend updating your member profile to include your location (there’s an "add your location" button on your profile). Then you’ll see which sessions (and fellow members) are nearby.

I’m a little confused by your question though, Alex. The "digital action"—are you asking about playing in sessions or about this website?

Ah, hang on… I see that this is the same discussion that you posted a few years back:

That seems to be about playing in sessions.

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You don’t say where you are, Alex.

I think there’s more people playing now than ever.
However, where I am the session scene is a lot more fragmented and there are more "specialised" groupings…..I hesitate to say cliques.
Certainly, what some of us might refer to as "old school"(For want of a better term) sessions seem to be fewer and further between even when you go to festivals. However, there still seems to be plenty going on although it doesn’t necessarily suit everyone.

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Gosh, Jeremy, you have the skill!! I’d forgotten I ever posted that, so it shows it’s an issue that troubles me.
The page does not seem to find my location (Pontremoli), but I have already used the search functions here quite a lot, and I have put my ear to the ground through more local methods, so I have no doubt there is nothing closer than a two-and-a-half hour car drive away.

Yep, my comment about digital action was muddled. What I meant was that maybe I was looking in the wrong parts of the interweb to find other players or sessions.

But my question was not so much about what is near me (nothing, as I know) but whether that is a reflection of the general state of play in the world. I’ll be interested if any more members are willing to offer their own snapshots.

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For what it’s worth, there are a LOT more sessions than there were 15-20 years ago where I live. But every place is different.

As to whether you should try to play with other people again before you die, I don’t see why not! Playing music with other people is one of the true joys of my life. I was sitting in a session recently, just fascinated that 6 people from completely different backgrounds were able to play some fairly obscure tunes with such a tight groove. It was like we were all different kinds of birds that had learned to sing the same tune, even though it wasn’t part of our nature. It was actually quite a poignant moment for me, and it made me feel like I was part of something bigger, and that it was a human interaction on a different level than most people get to experience. (But that might have also just been the Guinness talking 😉)

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I’m glad to hear that, Reverend, but there are significantly fewer sessions in Ireland than there were in, say, 2000. The cities (particularly Belfast, Cork, Dublin and Galway) haven’t been much affected, but rural counties have lost many sessions. The main reason is pub closures and that’s linked to the low levels or complete lack of public transport in said counties and the drink-driving legislation (with which I have absolutely no issue).

Another key factor in the decline in the numbers of sessions in Ireland was the collapse of the Irish economy in 2008 which led to numerous young people (late teens and early twenties) who might have been able to get jobs in Ireland seeking work in Canada, Australia and the USA. A good few musicians were in their number and they never came back to work here.

Posted by .

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I hadn’t really appreciated how lucky I was living in Worcester, UK there’s always a few sessions each night within 30mins or so:

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@Reverend. I will never attain your level of expertise and length of experience but I understand what you are expressing. I am still trying to make sense of my session experience from this past weekend; very small and intimate, only 5 of us , one a new beginner, but an unnerving level of connection established amongst us.
How did I ever live without this in my life?
Concerning the state of play in my area, the New York Times recently discovered ITM sessions (I don’t subscribe so can’t find the article). For those of you who don’t live in NYC and surrounding environs, a discovery by the NYT is a very bad thing…. .

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Here in what often seems like the back end of nowhere (even if it’s very picturesque!), there doesn’t seem to be a lack of sessions. Some require a fairly lengthy journey but it’s possible. You can pick and choose a bit too - choose a slowish chatty one or a furious let’s-cram-in-as-many-breakneck-reels-as-we-can one. (Surprising because it is really not an area known for its Irish or Scottish populations…!)

A few years back a fiddle player from Carcassonne set up a weekly workshop for learning to play the Irish fiddle. All by ear, a tune a week, and hey presto in what seemed like no time at all there was a core of enthusiasts looking for sessions to play in. And all sorts of players dropping by, staying for a few tunes, all that. (We’ve even had Kevin Burke but that’s another story!) I kept away at first ‘cos I don’t play fiddle but soon enough I joined to "accompany" with my harp, and now there are flutes, whistles, box players, bodhrans - you get the picture. Of course it’s not like living in Galway but it will do. I don’t feel it’s something that’s on its way out either - there are quite a few young people involved.

There are sessions in bars, but with all the usual problems (the speeding radar caught me as I drove back from the session last night!) - and also quite a lot of home sessions. I guess if that is happening in your area it may not show up on the internet?

So I guess not only do I agree with everything Reverend said about playing the music (thanks Rvd for expressing it so well!) but I also feel that here too there are more sessions now than there were 15 or 20 years ago. Tant mieux as they say!

By the way, hi Alex - good to know you’re playing again!


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Good grief, Alison. It’s you! How amazing! I think I owe you a mail.

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"Concerning the state of play in my area, the New York Times recently discovered ITM sessions (I don’t subscribe so can’t find the article). For those of you who don’t live in NYC and surrounding environs, a discovery by the NYT is a very bad thing…."

Too many people piling in with guitars and bodhrans who don’t know what they’re doing? The article itself wasn’t bad as I recall — one of the better descriptions of the session scene I’ve seen from a journalist who doesn’t know anything about sessions. It would be a shame if it made sessions miserable.

Publicity doesn’t always end well, like Glen Etive appearing in James Bond movies. It’s aggravating when all you want to do is drive down there to get from A to B, and the road is rammed with tw**ts who can’t drive on single track roads, creeping along at 20 or stopping in the middle of the road to take photos of deer or the landscape.

Re: The state of play

Alex Wilding : I looked up Pontremoli on Wikipedia and enjoyed reading about it. Some extracts:-

"Pontremoli Tuscany Coordinates: 44°23′N 09°53′E

Pontremoli (Italian: [ponˈtrɛːmoli]; local Emilian: Pontrémal is a small city, comune former Latin Catholic bishopric in the province of Massa and Carrara, Tuscany region, central Italy.
Literally translated, Pontremoli means "Trembling Bridge" (from ponte "bridge" and tremare "to tremble"), as the commune was named after a prominent bridge across the Magra. Pontremoli is in the upper valley of the Magra, 40 kilometres (25 mi) northeast of La Spezia by rail and 90 kilometres (56 mi) south-southwest of Parma. Pontremoli is believed to have been first settled around 1000 BC. It was known in Roman times as Apua. "

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I don’t know about Italy but the session situation here in Greece is dire. Not a single session in the whole country. There is one Greek band, Tir Fada, in Thessaloniki playing Irish and Scottish music to a high standard and, I believe, three or four bands in Athens. However, there is no bar hosting a session… until (I hope) February 29 when I will attempt to get one off the ground in Peraia, just outside Thessaloniki.

Musicians are also thin on the ground. According to the session, there are only three of us in Northern Greece. I have tried to contact the other two, so far without success. Plus the members of Tir Fada and the friends who’ll join me on 29th.

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Luke said: "I will attempt to get one off the ground in Peraia". Good luck!

As far as Italy goes there is a cultural/structural problem. Laws that date back to the fascist era, and which embody a fascist attitude in accordance with which every “good”, including intellectual and artistic “goods” belong to the state and are only used by other people with permission. It has been argued that these laws are no longer valid, but everybody acts as if they are, so there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s particularly embodied in the performing rights organisation. Whenever music is played “outside the immediate circle of friends and family” the bureaucracy is liable to swing into action, demanding high fees.

Even if you argue that NONE of your music is subject to copyright you (or rather the organiser) has to fill in a lengthy form. In some cases they will demand that the organiser pays the fee in advance, and assert that they will return the money (lesson administration fee) if it turns out that nothing was subject to copyright. When I was doing an acoustic blues-based “one-man band” act, I carefully combed through my repertoire to make sure there was nothing in it attributable to somebody who had not been dead for at least 70 years, apart from my own compositions. With some prepared documents of that sort, it was easier.

Otherwise you (or rather the organiser, meaning the landlord, manager or operator of the bar, café, pub, whatever) has to fill in a form detailing (I am about to speak the truth!) EVERY tune, song or piece that was performed. Typically, if the audience is just a handful or a couple of dozen people, and if the performance goes on for an hour or two, you can expect to pay a fee in the region of €100 upwards, even if the event is free of charge and without payment to the musician. A classical composer/pianist who is a friend of a classical composer/pianist who is a friend of mine (friend of a friend, in short) was required to pay €200 to the organisation to PLAY HIS OWN PIECE in a concert, in addition to the significant annual fee he has to pay for “membership”. At the end of the year, they paid him his royalty earnings: 2 euros. So I was told, anyway.

Since the authority goes after the organiser, not the musician, you can’t get away with turning up, playing for a while, and then disappearing into the dusk. It’s the landlord or manager who has to carry the can!

The upshot is that low-money (i.e. amateur) live acoustic music finds it extremely hard to get a venue. Those venues that do provide such live music either have to have a LOT of paying customers, or a particularly cosy relationship (if you catch my drift) with the copyright police in their area. And because venues are hard to find, there is very little culture of young people getting together to play amateur music, since they have to be extremely determined to ever have an opportunity to be heard.

This is one reason why you will often find that live music (particularly classical, as it happens, but that’s beside the point) takes place in churches, or at least under the auspices of the church, which has an exception from the normal rules. It’s also a reason why if people, for example, have an event in which kids are singing, say, Yellow Submarine, they will claim that they were performing Mozart or Bach (who have been dead long enough) unless they believe that the music police were present at the event in plainclothes (which does happen).

None of this, of course, actually prevents amateur music, but it does seriously discourage small-scale, informal, acoustic music-making.

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France can also be like the previous comment on Italy.
We played a ‘session’ evening for St Patrick’s Day at a small restaurent high up in the mountains and about a week later they contacted us to get a play list for the evening as the ‘music police’ had contacted them to say they knew there had been live music and wanted the paperwork - we supplied a list of the well known traditional, no copyright, pieces played. Fortunately, many places now seem to have a general music licence like the PRS one in the UK.
When we made a demo cd we had to itemise every track, even down to the number of seconds of each piece in a medley before we could get the licence from the rights organisation to get the cds pressed - and these were all trad, no copyright and for a free cd.

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Replying to Alex and alexalexander, it’s not often I feel lucky to be based in Greece! I have never worked out if Greece is free or anarchic. I’ve just asked my Greek wife and she couldn’t decide either. We won’t be getting paid so there shouldn’t be a problem BUT if we attract a crowd…. Who knows? Some rival bar might call the authorities and we’ll find out there is, in fact, a law. Certainly in the UK, DJs and musicians need a licence: