87. Light from Within

Carolan is pleased to bring you the latest instalment from its residency at Folk Beeston folk club (see previous posts 81 and 82) through this guest post from Andy Cooper. Thanks Andy for being such a generous host …

It was the height of the COVID pandemic in Beeston UK and I found myself collecting a prestigious and beautiful instrument, suitably wiped down, from a doorstep on a dark November evening.  The Carolan guitar was born form a love of music, designed with artistic flair, and crafted from wood and steel using traditional and advanced manufacturing technologies.  I left with the expectation I would add to the guitar’s social history by documenting my own reflections at this point in time.

Taking ownership of the guitar for two weeks created some trepidation. I have a long love of folk music and guitars but started performing a little too late in life for brain and muscles to achieve the musical fluidity I so admire in others.

However, adventure, design and creating things sit happily with me, probably inherited from my grandfather who started his own radio and TV business from the living room of his tiny house at the start of the 20th century. He was also an active performer in his own village, playing accordion, mouth organ and mandolin. So, the Carolan guitar became the unexpected focus for a mini adventure at an interesting time in my life.

After an intense career in design & technology education, retirement suddenly loomed with the need to find a new purpose in life.  A return to music and performing with a guitar seemed a good choice and maybe even a chance to gain fame and fortune. Performing looks so easy but in trying to control two hands and deliver a sequence of words in a tune and be entertaining, you realise why professional musicians spend a lifetime honing their skills.

Folk clubs provided a friendly atmosphere to learn performance skills, but I was soon humbled into appreciating a ceiling for my achievements. Encouraging others particularly younger people to perform became an important part of my motivation.  I therefore leapt at the chance to help organise the local folk club, great fun until COVID struck in March 2020 when social gatherings ended.  However, that marked the beginning of a new phase.

A team of enthusiasts from the folk club gripped the reigns of the Internet and social media to launch an online folk show. FOLK Beeston was born, and video programmes were produced weekly throughout the spring and summer involving club members to produce and host songs (see the club’s archive of shows here).  The production demands proved punishing so in the autumn the show turned to Zoom with a mixture of live and video contributions. It attracted visitors from across the UK and world, attracting thirty or more performers each show.  The experiences also helped with the launch of the first online Oxjam fund raising concert.

The Carolan guitar therefore marked the realisation of an important transition from a career to an adventure embracing and moulding some of the latest technologies to create meaningful experiences for the community.  This involved learning new skills such as video editing and unravelling the complexities of social media but at least proved some brain cells still functioned.

My Carolan blog offerings extend to some photographic studies of the guitar using different lighting arrangements and a Zoom performance at the Carrington Folk Club. The photographs were taken with a digital camera, using daylight and LED panels to create different colour temperatures, and adjusting brightness and exposure times to create subtle moods.

Body and soul (Photographs by Andy Cooper)
Shades of Carolan (Photographs by Andy Cooper)
Headstock (Photographs by Andy Cooper)
Light from within (Photographs by Andy Cooper)

The performances involve two songs. ‘Broom O’er the Cowdenowes’ portrays a young woman who has a relationship with a Lord. A child is born, and she is banished but the story has a happy ending as the Lord marries her. However, she still longs for her home country.  The story can be seen as a metaphor for COVID, which has taken us away from our normal lives.  Although some good may have come out of the experience many still long for the past.

Andy performs Broom O’er the Cowdenowes

Sister Josephine by Jake Thackray represents one of my most demanding performances. The speed of word delivery and complexity of chord changes require rapid multi-tasking.  Not only that but Zoom on an iPad brings its own challenges for creating good sound and vision, requiring a USB hub and microphone.  I was delighted to get through it at a reasonable lick and get it recorded with audience views, representing a genuine Carolan in COVID performance. 

Andy Performs Jake Thackray’s Sister Josephine

Andy Cooper, December 2020

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