Whitby Folk Week

I’ve been back from Whitby for nearly a week, and, as usual, it’s taken me that long to pick up the pieces.

The undoubted highlight, for me, was Robin Huw Bowen playing the Welsh triple harp. I’ve read lots about it, but I’ve never even seen one before, let alone heard anyone playing it, and playing it so superbly.

I especially remember the comment he passed on, from an old harpist that he had been learning tunes from, who said “Now, you’re getting there. You’ve got the notes, now you need to learn the music.”  That’s a piece of advice that many session players could take heed of! All too often we seem to be just playing the notes, with no sort of feel for the music. I get particularly annoyed when the source material, and the feel of the tune, clearly indicates that there should be a brief gap between the notes – the source notation shows a rest there – but it gets filled in, either by joining the notes or adding an extra one to fill the ‘gap’. Paddy Carey is a clear example.

I didn’t go to so many sessions this time. I decided there were more interesting things going on than sitting in a session playing the same tunes that we always play. People seem afraid to start off tunes that they think others won’t know, and if they do, so many people just sit on their hands and don’t even try to join in. I even heard someone grumble about people playing tunes they didn’t know. For me, that would be a cause of celebration rather than grumble. I want to hear, and hopefully learn, ‘new’ tunes. Otherwise there’s no point in going all that way, except that it’s cheap entertainment.

Furthermore, many of the tunes exist in a number of variants, one of which has become dominant, usually because some band has recorded that version. If you try to play a different version, the chance are everyone will try to play the ‘standard’ one and you will get swamped. Even worse, you may be told you’re playing it wrong! That did happen to me, when I was just starting out, and I was too new to the game to argue. If anyone tried it now, I would point out that if I start a tune, then everyone should try to play the version that I’m playing. If I start it, that’s the ‘right’ version. The focus on ‘standard’ versions of a limited number of tunes means that we are missing out on the tremendous variety of tunes, and versions of them, that exist.



I’m becoming increasingly fed-up with all this stuff about anti-semitism in the Labour Party. I don’t doubt that there are a very small number of members who are genuinely anti-semitic, and perhaps a few more who have made comments at times that could be construed as anti-semitic. But I have seen no evidence that it is any worse now than at any time in the past.

Now the argument seems to be all about whether Labour should include all these supposed examples of anti-semitism. The fact that they are the sort of things that might be said by anti-semites does not mean that these statements are themselves anti-semitic.

Take one example; “The existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavour.” Is this itself an anti-semitic statement? Consider the following series of statements:

1. Israel is a state based on racial identity.

2. Israel is a racially based state.

3. Israel is a racist state.

4. The state of Israel is a racist endeavour.

Which of these statements would get me into trouble? Statement 1 has now been affirmed by the Israeli Parliament, and I don’t think they are being accused of anti-semitism, so presumably that is OK. Statement 2 seems to follow inexorably from 1, so that must be OK. Statement 3, I would argue, also then follows logically from 1 and 2; I guess there would be political objections, but I can’t see that it is inherently anti-semitic.

So we come to statement 4, which is the controversial one. To my mind, it requires some detailed semantic analysis to distinguish 3 and 4. So I really do not see the point.

In the end, we have to ask why all this has been blown up now, and why so much attention is being given to this supposed anti-semitism, as opposed to all the other possible forms of discrimination (which are undoubtedly more prevalent)? Are there forces at work that are afraid of the outcome if JC were to get into power? I fear that all this fuss runs the risk of causing some people to actually become more anti-semitic, e.g., by believing that the ‘Jewish lobby’ is powerful enough to manipulate the news in their own interests – which could be said to be an anti-semitic statement. So I wouldn’t want to say that, but I can see the potential for that argument emerging. It could be stirring up a hornet’s nest.