March-April 2010

The McCalmans played to an SRO crowd, and had the entire hall captivated. This is Ian McCalman's final year as a performer, and so the final year for the Macs, and it seemed as if they were all determined to enjoy every minute of their swan song. They were funny, they were clever, and those harmonies just keep getting better with age.

The crowd who came to hear the Carolina Chocolate Drops was a mix of ardent fans and curious first-timers. It didn't take long at all for the newcomers to be converted, and by the third tune the entire audience was clapping and singing along. What is there to say about the Drops-they were amazing, and were the only act we saw who got two standing-ovation encores.

**********

I was reminded the other day of a book that was published in the mid-1990s and deserves to be read and re-read. When We Were Good - The Folk Revival, by Robert Cantwell is a brilliant summary of those days, both as a social history and as a study of Folk Music and its part in the events of the time.

**********

"Haven't I seen your face before?" a judge demanded, looking down at the defendant.

"You have, Your Honor," the man answered hopefully. "I gave your son banjo lessons last winter."

"Ah, yes," recalled the judge. "Twenty years!"

**********

Kate McGarrigle is gone. She was a blinding star in a galaxy of songwriters, a performer who, along with her sister Anna, could make a song come alive. And as if her own contributions to the world of music weren't enough, she was mother to two gifted children, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, whose music is already a part of our culture. Her family has posted a moving tribute on their web site.

**********

The following is an edited excerpt from the British newspaper The Guardian, dated February 9, 2010. I offer it to you as portions of the original article because I couldn't possibly have paraphrased it with any improvement whatsoever:

Over the past decade, the Philippines has been stung by a series of killings all reportedly provoked by karaoke versions of Frank Sinatra's My Way. At least half a dozen people have been murdered after singing the tune at karaoke, according to the New York Times. Local media call them "My Way killings." Someone gets up, clears his or her throat, and chooses My Way from a list of songs. The lyrics appear on a screen, the music begins to play - and the trouble begins.

"The trouble with My Way is that everyone knows it and everyone has an opinion," Rodolfo Gregorio, an amateur singer from General Santos, told the newspaper. Some performers get into fights with their critics. Some are rude, some jump forward in line, and some simply sing out of tune. "I used to like My Way but after all the trouble, I stopped singing it," Gregorio said. "You can get killed."

Manila resident Alisa Escanlar recalled an incident where her uncle, a police officer, was listening to a friend sing My Way, apparently the most remade song in history, at a local bar. When someone at another table began to laugh, Escanlar's uncle drew his revolver. The people fled, she explained - but Escanlar and her relatives have now banned the Sinatra song from their karaoke parties.

Stories like these have helped My Way to gain a sinister, even malevolent reputation. While some say the violence is simply a matter of statistics - the song is one of the favourites in a country prone to violence - others blame its boastful style. Paul Anka wrote the English lyrics with Sinatra in mind, and they reflect Old Blue Eyes' preeminence. A man, his song explains, must "say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels."

An American now living in Scotland, Linda Dewar is a singer and a player of various instruments with strings and keys. She can be found performing Scottish and American folk music at gatherings on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as singing In the Aberfeldy and District Gaelic Choir. Visit her web site at www.lindadewar.com.

  

All Columns by Linda Dewar