January saw the loss of another member of the past British Bluegrass Scene. Derek Brandon, banjo player first appeared on the scene at the early Edale Festivals – around 1984. I became more in touch with him when I was the Treasurer of the BBMA in the late 90’s. He joined the committee and set up the BBMA web page and thanks to him we are reading this now. In no time, thanks to his commitment, it had up to 27 pages and over 600 hits a week.
He also edited the NW Bluegrass News giving the Bluegrass in the North some airing – it became a popular read for a number of years.
He always had strong views on items that he was passionate about and god help you if you disagreed. Luckily I was never on his hit list.
He dropped out of the scene in the early 2000’s to spend more time in France and USA, Personally I miss characters like Derek, the British Bluegrass scene was much richer back then.
Ron Stevens R.I.P.
The British bluegrass scene has lost one of its finest supporters with the passing of Ron Stevens on the 9th January.
Ron was best known as “Chairman Ron” of the Heart of England Bluegrass Club in Kenilworth, which he ran weekly for a large number of years with fellow promoter Ken Harris.
The club hosted most of the bands on the U.K circuit, as well as the many American bands who toured here over the years.
He was very good at encouraging anybody who showed any interest or talent and was a huge influence on up and coming musicians.
Anyone who met Ron will have noticed his warmth and kindness, those of us lucky enough to count him as a friend will miss him greatly.
This week the sad news of the death of Bob Winquist – from Vancouver Island, was Britain’s master country-bluegrass fiddler. Known to audiences for his work with top UK bluegrass band A Band Like Alice, he was also a founder and organiser of the annual London Fiddle Convention at Cecil Sharp House, which has been running since 1992. When not playing folk music or jazz, Bob’s “day job” was as a freelance classical viola player.
Many of us living in the South, got to know Bob well – and had the privilege of playing with him.
For years – Bob was the go to fiddler, and frequently played with touring Americans. He was a major influence on the British scene, and will be sadly missed.
The sad news starting the New Year – the death of Pete Stanley. Pete was a key part of the history of British Bluegrass and its love of the Banjo. Born in 1940 – one of England’s best-known banjo players – Pete – was known for his unique mellow tone, acquired by using bare fingernails rather than metal fingerpicks. In 1966 he recorded an album along with Wizz Jones – Sixteen Tons of Bluegrass, and later two albums — Banjo Bounce and Picking And Singing (in the ’70s with guitarist and vocalist Roger Knowles). Pete also played on a number of albums with other musicians and helped in the production side of the music. Numerous broadcasts with the BBC helped speed the popularity of both the Banjo and Bluegrass.
He attended the London School of Furniture (now London Guildhall University), and later was to build a strong reputation as a skilled Luthier, his interest in the Banjo made him an authority on the subject. He will be sadly missed.
Kieran Towers Fiddle Tuition
Discover the joys of the Appalachian fiddling tradition with acclaimed bluegrass & old time fiddle player Kieran Towers!
Where is it?
186 Hackney Road
What is it?
In this short course Kieran will explore 1 or 2 new tunes every week over 4 weeks, focusing on various aspects of American Appalachian fiddle playing including:
Playing with others
Who is it for?
For anyone from folky fiddlers to classical violinists! All abilities welcome, most suitable for intermediate players or anyone looking to expand their fiddle tune or stylistic repertoire and have fun!
Workshops are every Tuesday evening between January 14th & February 4th.
Workshops start at 6:30pm so please arrive a little early to set up.
Ticket price includes all 4 workshops.
Individual workshop tickets can be arranged with me via email.
You will need to bring your own violin. A notepad and/or recording device is also advised.
If you wish to discuss any details with me personally feel free to email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Latest News from Sore Fingers
Sore Fingers Week’s 25th Birthday, April 2020!
When Sore Fingers Week started back in 1996, the concept of the music camp was already well established in the United states and today, there are over a thousand of these residential type workshops every year in North America. At the time, there were few camps emulating that concept in the British Isles and Sore Fingers was about twenty five years behind the most successful camps. So, it seemed like an experiment to launch Sore Fingers Week on unsuspecting British Bluegrass scene back then.
We needn’t have worried, it was a success pretty well from the start and from humble beginnings with just three courses, it grew to include all the instruments found in Bluegrass and very soon afterwards, Old Time String Band music. 2020 marks the 25th Sore Fingers Week and we now offer upwards of seventeen courses every Easter as well as an October weekend offering up to twelves classes.
More recently we have decided to expand our horizons and we are introducing new classes, in particular, “Improvisation” which aims to help students put their instrumental technique into practice when composing or music making. This is an area we’d hope top develop and bring about lots of creativity for the music. More original music, more adventurous arrangements, Bluegrass is an art from that needs new ideas and evolution.
That’s not to denigrate the tradition, one must never forget where it all came from and there always will be those who keep that tradition alive. And don’t be fooled that it is only the older people, we have several young bands playing Traditional Bluegrass on the scene today.
For the historians, there is lots of information on our website – www.sorefingers.co.uk – including a page that tells the Sore Fingers Story from the beginnings. Today, we are proud to be considered one of the top camps in the world in terms of quality and we attribute that to the hard work of the tutors we bring across the Atlantic to teach. Bluegrass and Old Time music have their roots in the Southern Mountains of the USA and when it come the best people to teach this music, only the genuine article will cut the mustard! We have played host to nearly 150 individuals from the USA supported by some of most talented UK based musicians.
Bluegrass and Old Time String Band music is played mostly informally and is also very socially inclusive. Sore Finger Week accommodates students from all walks of life and ages. Our classes are focussed on participation and a message we drum into our tutors is “make them do it!”. Students are also given the opportunity to form into bands and perform in the Student Concert on a fully equipped stage with sound system and stage lights, a total “theatre” experience. For many this is the highlight of the week. All the band are mentored right up to their stage performance by a dedicated team. It’s not just fun, it is an integral part of the course.
Naturally with so many great musicians in one place, they get to perform several showcase concerts and close out the event on the final day. Some of the collaborations produce some of the most blistering music one might see all year! A real treat but, to see them, you have to there, no recordings, no streaming, only an S.F. Week student gets to witness these unique concerts.
One of the real successes of Sore Fingers Week is the support – the BBMA have been regular sponsors – we’ve been able to give to young musicians and get them to attend the event and benefit from the influence of the best players in the world. Some have since forged professional careers and I have to mention current super-band Midnight Skyracer who have been making waves in the UK and also across the Atlantic too. Several of the band members cut their teeth at Sore Fingers Week and have graduated and now teach there! The band have played some of the most prestigious festivals in the UK and were the recipients of a nomination from America’s leading Bluegrass Music association, the International Bluegrass Music Association. Quite an achievement for a UK based band.
To many readers, this press release will be preaching to the converted. But, there are many BBMA members who’ve never been to Sore Fingers and to celebrate our 25th event, we’d love to see some new faces at Kingham Hill School next Easter. It’s an experience one should try even if it’s only once. And to close out a total myth, you don’t have to be good to attend, it’s aimed at people who want to learn. So, if you think your playing stinks, take the plunge and you are likely to come out of the week with a new outlook and lots to practice to improve. And, there nothing like a face to face lesson with someone who has lived the real deal, an American Bluegrass or Old Time musician.
Finally, we have promoted and atmosphere of collaboration and achievement, there no room for elitists, over the week, a strong community builds that spills over into the summer festival season. We’ve seen many S.F. students gather at festivals and meet up for a pick, the community lives on.
Moira and I have been involved with acoustic music for most of our lives, playing at folk clubs , running them, members of bands, Bluegrass and Old Time, organising a festival (Didmarton for 15 years), a pretty full on experience. But all pale into insignificance when put up against Sore Fingers Week. That’s where we’ve seen the best sessions, the best concerts and the happiest people year after year. It’s the best musical experience we know. One cannot tell you what its really like, you have to dive in, get there and see for yourself.
What ever your background, if you enjoy the company of musicians and want to learn some of the astonishing techniques practised by Bluegrass players, Sore Fingers is the place for you. And last word, it’s massive fun too!
Sore Fingers Week 2020 – 13th to 17th April, 2020 www.sorefingers.co.uk – email@example.com – 01373 813590
New Release from Cup O’Joe
New Singing Course
We are all a bit concerned that our Bluegrass World is shrinking, and today I came across an interview by the Bluegrass Situation with Darren Vincent from Daley and Vincent. When Darren was asked about the state of Bluegrass at this present time he replied ……..
‘It seems that bands like the Infamous Stringdusters and Old Crow Medicine Show are more popular and lucrative than the genre and structure of the basic bluegrass festival. A lot of the older folks are dying off, unfortunately, along with the festivals with the camping and the jamming and all the things that go with it.
I think the five-piece bluegrass band will survive, but the bluegrass scene seems to be getting smaller and smaller.’
So, the situation in the UK mirrors what is happening in the States – we are not alone! The message for us is clear – we have very few larger festivals, and the first one of the year for us is Crossover. Lets get there in numbers to ensure that it can grow and survive as a regular feature of our calendar! Have a look at their promotional video and you will see this is going to be a great event!
From the Crossover team (Festival May 2020)
New One Day Festival
True North Music do a lot to put quality bands into our festivals and clubs, so this is another venture really worthy of our support! Lets help make this a regular fixture!
From Hilary Gowen
Just back from Claire Wheeldon and team’s outstanding Chellington bluegrass picking weekend. With all the disappointing news about festivals being cancelled it was reassuring to see a new type of musical gathering being developed so successfully on its first appearance.
For those not lucky enough to be able to attend, this was a weekend (Thursday evening to Sunday morning) retreat for over 30 people in a converted church in the middle of the Bedfordshire countryside.
More information to follow – look out for the next one!
Kristy Cox is the new voice in Australian bluegrass. Adored for her youthful energy infused bluegrass, she has been awarded with radio success and accolades for her talent.
Thanks to the mygrassisblue.com/ team for this announcement:
After a busy inaugural 2019, 2020 will see us concentrate on developing an offering in the UK and mainland Europe, and we’re delighted to have our very first touring artist of 2019, Kristy Cox, on board with us for this overseas foray. The tour will kick off on 7 May at the Crossover Bluegrass, Old-Time & Americana Music Festival in Shropshire, England, before embarking on a run through select venues in mainland Europe. Kristy will return to Ireland for a few gigs before featuring on the roster of the 29th Annual Bluegrass Festival in Co. Tyrone’s Ulster American Folk Park from 22 to 24 May, where the tour will end. We’re busy piecing the tour together and hope to have it confirmed by early 2020.
Cornish Bluegrass Festival
Some really sad news on Facebook this morning! From the Cornish Festival Team…..
Due to rising costs and falling numbers, it is with deep regreat that we, the Cornish Bluegrass Association committee, are no longer able to continue to hold the Cornish Bluegrass Festival. Unfortunately our festival this year, 2019, was our final one.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for all your support over the years with special thanks to our loyal band of volunteers.
Carolyn, Nigel and committee.
Yet another blow to our festival season. The Cornish Festival has been a major part of our music for many years – and the contribution from its organisers – immense ! I hope that we will be able to recognise that input at a later date, but for now …. a big thank you to all those who have been involved over the years – you have provided both opportunities and entertainment for our Bluegrass Family – The Cornish Festival will be sadly missed!
BBMA News from your Committee – BBMA Secretary
Your committee has created a post – Vice Chair which for the moment will be filled by Sherryl Payne our current treasurer. The post will be non executive, and will not mean that Sherryl will become Chairman (woman) automatically! To do that we would need your vote at an AGM.
Tour support run by your current Chair is as successful as ever and continues to bring in funds to the association.
The new editor for the magazine is Chris Lord, banjo man with the Vangaurds – please send him your suff and help populate our publication with new material!
We are working on putting Bluegrass into schools – an extension to a lot of work done by Roland Emanuel long time committee member and Education Officer. I hope by the end of November we will have more news on a trial school visit!
The problems we had with publication of the last magazine may have affected some of the membership renewals, so please check you are up to date …. and if not please get in touch with Chris our membership secretary.
We are hoping to slowly develop the BBMA web site, which will eventually have an education page. I hope that amongst other things we can publish a list of folks who teach Bluegrass instruments / vocals. So, if you have any information about teachers in your area, please get in touch with me (secretary).
We have found a volunteer to help out with the BBMA tent at festivals for next year (Myron Prosser) – if you would like to pitch in and give Myron a hand, please contact me!
Those of you who have read my reflections on the last season of festivals will know there is a real concern as to their survival. So your committee has decided to directly support the festival scene with grants, but sadly has to discontinue the discounted ticket scheme.
We are hoping to have a dedicated page for you to explain how the BBMA might be able to help – including some proceeders that will help speed up the process. Please find below an example that will help students apply for grants.
Information Required to be sent to Les Packer – firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Phone Number
BBMA Membership No. (if applicable)
Details of the course
A short statement on how your attendance on the course will contribute to the Bluegrass Music scene in the UK.
BBMA Sponsorship Scheme
The aim of the BBMA Sponsorship Scheme is to encourage individuals to become more engaged with Bluegrass music in the UK. This can be achieved either through introducing individuals to Bluegrass music or by helping them to enhance their playing ability.
The BBMA Sponsorship Scheme will fund all, or some, of the tuition costs of an individual who attends a Bluegrass instrument/voice instruction class. This can be at a music school ( eg. for a week or weekend ), regular lessons with a recognised music teacher, or regular on-line lessons with a recognised music teacher. The funding of regular lessons will need to be reviewed annually.
Individuals do not have to be BBMA members to qualify for support from the scheme. In most cases the individuals who receive sponsorship from the scheme will be in Full-Time Education. However, other applicants will be considered if they can demonstrate a commitment to Bluegrass music and the need for funding to advance their ability..
Written, or e-mail, applications for funding should be submitted to the BBMA Committee Member responsible for the Sponsorship Scheme a minimum of six weeks before the funding is required. The application should contain information about the intended course, the cost of the course, and a brief statement on why this training will enhance the student’s abilty and involvement with Bluegrass music in the UK..
Applications will be reviewed by the BBMA Committee Member responsible for the Sponsorship Scheme and qualifying applications will then require approval by a majority of the BBMA Committee.
5. Follow Up
Sponsored students should submit a short report to the BBMA Committee at end of their course stating how their chosen course of study has developed their musical ability and interest. And why they would recommend (or not) that course for other students.
A regular Sponsorship report should be submitted to the BBMA committee.. A summary of BBMA sponsorship activity should be presented at the BBMA AGM.
Richard Thrift –
Sadly we report the death of Richard Thrift. Richard was an important part of the British Bluegrass scene back in the 1980’s, and with his brother Phil performed as The Thrifts. The funeral was held at 2.00.p.m. Wednesday 23rd October in The Long Barrow Ceremony Hall at Harbour View, Lytchett Minster. Following the funeral most folks gathered in the Bakers Arms, with many stories exchanged and songs and tunes played. Richard would have approved …..
RICHARD MARTIN HENRY THRIFT
There are a number of people who have been influential in the way our music has developed … Richard Thrift is certainly one of them! Together with Phil and Eve (The Thrifts) they were very prominent in Bluegrass throughout the 70s and 80s – Phil and Eve turning professional and working for a number of years in Disneyland Paris. The story below illustrates Richards career as a teacher, organiser and performer. British Bluegrass will miss him……….
Richard was born in Polegate, Sussex in the middle of WW2; the second child of Peter and Sylvia Thrift, eventually becoming one of six siblings. His father was a Master Draper whose shop in Eastbourne had been bombed out, and so he continued his business by driving a small van containing his stock around the countryside to farms and villages. Richard would go with him and remembered bringing home eggs and other food items in exchange for goods.
After the war the family moved up to London, leasing a property on The Chelsea Embankment which they turned into a small hotel. It was one Christmas when they were here that he received his first musical instrument, a ukulele which he taught himself to play.
At Westminster School he learned to play the violin and was in the school orchestra, but gave that up when he joined the church choir of St. Margaret’s Westminster, (his first paid job in music), rising to the position of Head Chorister. His brother recalls walking in for the first time and turning to his mother to say: “Is that really Richard?” as this incredible voice soared. He left when his voice broke, but the musical journey had only just begun.
Upon leaving school Richard went on to study Catering and Hotel Management at Westminster College but just before he finished his Course his family moved down to Bournemouth where his mother opened a fashion shop “Cassandra” on Commercial Road. After he completed his studies Richard joined them, first taking on a job as an assistant to a window dresser then joining the family business. Forty years later ladies still remembered buying clothes from the shop – he must have made an impression!
It was at this time he bought his first guitar and started to take an interest in folk music, even going as far as travelling up to Cecil Sharp House in London, the home of the English Folk Song and Dance Society. As all local Folk Club attendees know, he had a wide-ranging repertoire of folk songs and was quite happy to sing them with very little persuasion. In his spare time Richard became more involved in the local music scene, forming and running folk clubs, and somewhere in there he heard this, the distinctive voice of Sara Carter and the guitar and autoharp of The Carter Family. He was intrigued by both the voice and the sound they produced, and went out and bought himself an autoharp and started to learn their songs.
Another light bulb moment was when he heard the theme music for the TV programme The Beverley Hillbillies, and again he wanted to learn more about the instrument that produced that five-string, finger-picking style of banjo playing. He told the tale of living in a flat and hearing the sound of a banjo coming up through the pipes of the wash basin in the bathroom and wondering where on earth it was coming from. He eventually traced it back and identified the local property the sound came from, and so he knocked on the door and asked for lessons. Thus began his lasting love affair with the five string banjo.
Looking for a change of career, Richard signed on as a steward on various cruise liners, finishing up as the Captain’s STEWARD on the QEII . He loved travelling the world, and in particular the Pacific. He continued playing, taking his guitar with him and becoming crew entertainments organiser. By the time he came back on shore his little brother Phil was following in big brother’s footsteps and was now playing 5-string Bluegrass banjo and guitar, and they started playing on the local music scene.
Richard opened restaurants ‘La Fontaine’ and ‘St Germain’ in the Bournemouth area, and when Phil arrived back from playing music over in Europe, they got together and formed THE THRIFT BROTHERS, highly sought after in the local pubs and clubs.
Following a trip to California, playing at several venues and festivals, the brothers built up quite a following on the other side of the pond too. They were subsequently joined by Phil’s girlfriend, Eve, (now wife) on the double-bass and vocals, and behold, The Thrift Brothers & Eve were born…at least now they had a secretary!
The trio continued with their success on both sides of the Atlantic, with several trips to play various gigs in California, Albuquerque, Nashville and, best of all, with Dolly Parton at her theme park Dollywood.
“Marriage to Kathy brought Richard the two most important people in his life, his talented and beautiful daughters Laura Jane and Mary-Anne.
A second marriage to Melanie saw Richard become a publican with Eldridge Pope, specialising in training newcomers to the trade and lecturing at Bournemouth University.
In 1999 Richard, now by himself, became the Steward at the Conservative Club in Wareham, a town he knew well as he had run the Wareham Folk Club in The Antelope Hotel many years before.
Retirement to Bere Regis gave him much more time for music of all types, and upon joining ‘The Rex Players’ he enjoyed singing with the Barbershop Quartet, but also sang and played a variety of parts in the shows including several comedy numbers.
Richard was of course a founder member of Bluegrass band ‘The Bow-Legged Skeeter’ who played together for a couple of years until Richard started having problems with his memory.
The South Essex Festival
From Richard lee –
It’s with pleasure that Mags and myself can confirm the South Essex Bluegrass Festival has a new organiser Tony Warman
next year’s date is confirmed please put in your diaries 9-12 July 2020
After all the work mags and I put into this event we are so happy that this great little festival is continuing 😀
Let’s support this guy in what will more than likely be a challenging first year
From the band
OUR NAME IS CHANGING! This is to coincide with our DEBUT ALBUM RELEASE.
We have changed our name from Propane Brothers to Pet Yeti. You can look us up on Facebook!
Just in case you don’t know these guys …..
Reuben and Benjamin Agnew (guitar and bass) are two brothers from Northern Ireland and perform as part of Cup O’ Joe. Their tight, sibling harmonies and instrumental prowess have already made them 2015 BBC Young Folk AwardFinalists as well as having made appearances on Irish television.
Kieran Towers (fiddle) becoming a name to watch out for on the UK and US bluegrass and old-time scenes, since having won the old-time fiddle contest at Gainsborough Festival in 2014, he recently released a duo album with Charlotte Carrivick of The Carrivick Sisters.
Joe Tozer (mandolin) has toured extensively in the UK, Europe and Canada with the band Cardboard Fox. Most recently he appeared at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass event in Raleigh, USA as an official showcasing artist – a first for any UK band.
John Breese (banjo) is another familiar face on the UK scene. Since graduating from his Masters’ Degree on classical guitar in 2011, he has gone on to tour and teach internationally with the banjo and double bass in various outfits including Cardboard Fox, The Carrivick Sisters, The Coal Porters and Thunderbridge Bluegrass Band.
The end of another festival season, and lots to reflect on. The year has seen a number of American musicians tour the UK, and we have been privileged to share their music. Do keep an eye on our tours page to see who is around. Whilst we do our best to keep up to date, I’m sure there are some we miss, so please to notify us if you notice any yawning gaps! The three September festivals have now passed – just the one American (Grant Gordy) at Didmarton. However, the next generation of UK players are raising the bar – and memorable performances from Midnight Skyracer at Didmarton, / Often Herd at Gower, / Pet Yeti and Cuppa Joe at Cornwall clearly demonstrate that there are exciting times to come . Up at the other end of the UK – the Moniaive Festival, and they did have Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa (USA) to round off the year.
The big concern for all of us is the loss of a number festivals over the last few years. We do need to support these events, the old …. use it or loose it comes to mind! Our festivals run on a very tight budget, profit margins if any are small, and the financial risk high. Promoting Bluegrass is hard work, but can also be very rewarding! For those interested in becoming involved, talk to the BBMA – we may be able to help. Please support your local Bluegrass events.
Chris Lord (Vanguards) will be editing the next edition of the BBN – all contributions to the magazine are welcome, its quite a task finding suitable content and then arranging the magazine itself. So any ideas or articles – please post to Chris email@example.com.
The Often Herd Playing at The Gower Festival