It’s probably rather fanciful to imagine the scene: the Cliff Inn several generations ago; a gathering of yokel and sturdy peasant voices lustily singing the songs they learned from their parents; a bit of clog dancing; flagons of strong brown porter. The scene now on Sunday evenings: the beer is much better and there is still plenty of lustiness and some sturdiness. Yokels and peasants? A matter of opinion. But there is a lot of singing, there are instruments, and in recent memory there’s even been some step dancing.
The tradition, if it ever existed, was revived some 15 years ago by two local musicians, Stuart and John. The emphasis was on folk music and the range of instruments was enormous: banjos and bouzoukis, bagpipes, flutes and tin whistles, guitars, dulcimer, zither, mouth organs, accordions, bodhráns, mandolins and fiddles. Even more exotic were Sardinian pipes, Deger pipes, Scottish small pipes and a musical saw! It was around this time that the sessions were described in what was then the CACN.
The range of instruments has contracted somewhat now, but the diversity of music has increased: anything from the last 500 years up to the present. There might be something with a ‘hey nonny nonny’ chorus, a medley of Celtic music, Elvis, Eagles or Ezra. Herbert’s playing Chuck Berry on the ukulele is sadly missed.
Between items there will be some of the finest conversation and worst jokes. Visitors are always made to feel welcome and included. Occasionally, a passing musician will drop in or holidaymakers will stumble upon the sessions and stumble out around midnight. A couple of New Zealand tourists once remarked that they had read about such sessions in the guide books but didn’t believe they really existed.
This is an age where so much entertainment is artificially manufactured and corporately processed or is solitary in front of a screen or locked between headphones. On the last Sunday of each
month, we migrate to the Jug and Glass at Lea to join other musicians there, but otherwise, from about 9pm at the Cliff on a Sunday you can join in communal entertainment that is real and shared, spontaneous and a lot of fun.
by Martyn Offord
Photos by Geoff Brown