For the best part of three years we’ve had an accordion in the various places that we’ve lived. It’s a kind gift from my other half’s family, but until recently I was very wary about taking it up and playing it. I’m pretty good on the piano but I just didn’t know if I was going to dextrously get to grips with this very different keyboard-based instrument. What about the straps? All the buttons? The co-ordination?
Being my bloody-minded self, I eventually did pick it up about six or seven weeks ago. Result? Instant addiction.
This has immediately transformed our interpretations of Swedish polskas, which we have also become very inclined to play. There’s nothing like the combination of fiddle and accordion, with the squeezebox filling in all the fat bass sounds and also providing melodies both heather-soft and jumping-jack-jarring whilst the virtuoso fiddler takes it away. I think we might have found our natural folk station.
I’m in the process of learning Polska efter Hultkläppen – or at least one of them. I suspect that within the Swedish folk canon, merely saying you know this particular polska is like saying that you know of a Mr John Smith – ie, there are plenty of Polska efter Hultkläppens and Mr John Smiths to go around, so one needs to be more specific. For those of you lucky enough to read music, this is what I’m referring to on this occasion. Otherwise check out this extremely groovy rendition on the harmonium – one of the best things I’ve seen on YouTube in ages.
As for Hultkläppen itself – or rather, himself – this was the alias of 19th-century folk musician Per Abrahamsson Hult Alcén. We’ve already attempted to lodge some inquiries at specialist Hultkläppen sites both here and here regarding the origin of tunes associated with him, being the information gannets that we are. We’ll get back to you on that one. Naturally.
But in the interim we’re particularly relishing learning and playing such polskas for one very good reason – and that is the UK-based musician, composer, folk session organiser and all-round good egg John Langrish. We have been truly lucky to play at events curated by him in and around the Oxfordshire area of England in the last 15 months or so, and we’re getting especially excited that he is now kicking off a new session, on the last Friday of every month, at the Star Inn in Sparsholt, near Wantage.
The pub itself is very much present on Facebook, but John himself, as is his wont, has gone to huge lengths to welcome musicians of every hue and background to his sessions whilst promoting trad and non-trad music alike with open gusto. It’s the least we can do to spread his good news – particularly by mentioning his website, which serves as a similarly generous forum for the inclusion of music both contemporary and traditional, both self-penned and penned (or imagined and articulated) by others.
That’s what the evolution of folk music, live music and open music sessions is all about, in our book. And we just can’t wait to play as many Swedish polskas (and Sami yoicks and Varttina covers) as John will let us get away with. And here’s an exclusive preview – we’ve actually got our own polska dedicated to John himself in the brewing! Gasp! And we’re itching to get it ready for a session at the Star as soon as polska 3/4 time will allow!!
What to call our new tune? We think the idiomatic ’Polska efter Johnny L’ would do the trick – but maybe someone is feeling ingeniously inspired? Please let us know your suggestions.
Obviously the ’star’ in the title of this post refers in one respect to the Star Inn – but it seems only right to say that John is a folk star in his own right as well. If you’re not spreading the word across the global interweb, we hope it’s because you’re in Oxfordshire, Oxford, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Hampshire or the Britain and Ireland landmass and intending to come along at some point. In which case we hope to see you.
Open session at the Star Inn, Sparsholt, Wantage, Oxfordshire, OX12 0PL, UK. Last Friday of every month from around 8.45pm onwards, first session Friday March 30th 2012. Try here for a Google maps location