For your information, Helsby is a small town (or village) on Cheshire's west side, quite near Ellesmere Port; so I presume they suffer the odd wiff of chemical outpouring when the wind's direction favours it. But that's another story.
What I am here to write about is the rather good bluegrass evening I went to in Helsby yesterday. I am writing from a position of relative ignorance in so far as I don't yet know enough about the local scene, how often the nights are run or the names of those worth knowing.But based on last night's visit, I am sure to go back again.
I had heard previously that Helsby is a focal point for Bluegrass, for reasons I cannot offer at the moment (I will try to find out, though I suspect it has to do with a local instrument teacher who has been working in the area for some years). Anyway, it was upon that basis that I travelled down.
I must confess that for all my musical experience, I had never actually attended a bluegrass evening prior to this; so I wasn't sure what to expect. For a variety of reasons, I decided not to take my banjo or indeed guitar. I was there to spectate and nothing more. What I got was a lot of friendly people and a really good atmosphere allround. A small stage was populated by a revolving door of players playing the standard Bluegrass instruments but backed up by players scattered throughout the ample-sized room; who were at liberty to play along. A single condensor microphone was placed in the middle of the stage so that singers and soloists could get a little closer when necessary. The sound quality and the balance was great and the standard of musicianship on the small stage was pretty good; with one or two notables.Given that the sound was coming from all directions (stage and room), it felt a bit like surround sound; so that was unusual too.
But you know, it worked and it was good! Sure the lighting was a bit ropy and some jokes were made about that; but what the hell. The fact that this is not the Grand Ole Opry meant it had its own appeal in a sort of hick and down home sort of way. Perhaps the addage, what is not broken doesn't need fixed is apt here. It was certainly a very unintimidating environment in which amateurs could tag along with bluegrass standards, most of which were played over the three main chords in the Key of G. No surprises there...although one singer/guitar player at a certain point, strayed off into an obscure key change mid song and it was met with silence as the other playeres contemplated life beyond G, C and D (or D7). Frankly it was unfathomable!
And the bottom line - the night was well attended; the room was healthily filled with players and spectators. There was a bar to keep you refreshed too. So all was good in the world: for one evening, a wonderful distraction from the realities of modern life, with a trip back to another world and another time perhaps...All that was needed were a couple of bales of hay on the stage!
Rest assured, next time I visit, I will take my instruments of pleasure.
ps: in case you're interested or thinking of attending a Helsby session, here is the set list that was covered:
* Buffalo Gals
* Banjo In the Hollow
* Boil The Cabbages
* Cripple Creek
* In the Mood
* Turkey in the Straw
* Blackberry Blossom
* Black Eyed Susie
* Dixie Hoedown
* Virginia Hornpipe
* Old Jo Clark
* Ground Hog
* Old Grey Goose
* Helsby Hoedown
* Cumberland Gap