We weren’t sure about what time proceedings were going to start or quite where it was going to happen but Dr Ruth had seen a sign that said 9 o’clock. Neither of us knew quite what to expect as the notice seemed quite vague but Dr Ruth plucked up the courage and said she wanted to go so we tentatively climbed the stairs.
When we arrived it seemed that we were late. Music was already playing and as we opened the door I squirmed a little like we were intruding. Everyone was in their seats and looked really comfortable. A silver haired lady jumped out of her seat and walked to the door with a smile. She appeared to be holding a wooden bowl with some money on it. I glanced to Dr Ruth who looked back. An unspoken sentence passed between us ‘but I thought it was free’. I can feel the words “I’m sorry, i think we’ve come to the wrong place” welling up in the back of my throat but i feel my hand fishing around in my pocket for loose change. The silver haired lady doesn’t push us to one side but her body language indicates that we are to be moved away from the main group…
“Would you like to buy some raffle tickets, they are a pound a strip”
Through the annals of my mind fleeting questions flicker and crackle like the the embers on bonfire night. Only one crystallises fully and bursts forth from my lips in the split second I am given to make a decision. “What is the prize?” I whisper in hushed tones not wanting to disturb the atmosphere or interrupt the lilting voice of the singers…
“A bottle of wine or a CD of….” the name escapes my memory but the artist was not someone I’ve over heard of. I didn’t want them but I felt that I must buy some tickets. All eyes seemed to be upon me, judging me with a beady glare. I took the perforated orange paper and slinked quietly to the back of the room.
The first thing to strike me was that everyone was so much older than us. If it was not for the guy with the acoustic guitar we would have been the youngest people in the room. This was a little unnerving.
As we quickly glanced around the room we realised that we were out of place. To our left was a man in a waistcoat with a bow tie. In fact, everyone seemed to be dressed as though appearing before high society. We on the other hand had arrived in full bike leathers carrying helmets. We sat conspicuously glancing around and occasionally whispering to each other:
“What do you think this means?”
“They all seem to know each other”
The songs that they were singing were unfamiliar. Everyone was joining in with a tune that we’d never heard and words that they seemed to be plucking from the air. A vocabulary that we didn’t even recognise was pouring out in a unity we were unable to join.
The song drew to a close and then the man who seemed to be in charge announced tentatively that ‘Dave is going to play’. Dave is rather predictably a man with an acoustic guitar. He spends a couple of minutes explaining that this was an older song and that we should all be able to join in.
He starts playing. I turn to Dr Ruth and whisper “I know this, I love this one”. She looks quizzically at me.
She whispers “I don’t know this” as her eyebrows bunch up closer together.
“But you must know this one, it’s a classic” as I enthusiastically join in with the chorus only to find that in the second line he’s changed some of the words. And the timing. It’s just not…. Singable.
Except everyone in the room seems to be familiar with it just as it is!!!
Next the man who is in charge asks us all if we would like to share anything. “Does anyone have a story or a song that they would be willing to bring to us? Anyone?…. No one ?…. Well if not, we’re going to play…”
Proceedings continue like this for a while longer. All the way through Dr Ruth spends the whole time whispering these lines to me:
“They want us to join in”
[“shhhhhh, we’ll just sit here”]
“But we could play SONG X or SONG Y”
[“No we couldn’t, they all seem to know each other”]
At the end we quietly put on our coats and tentatively made our way to the doors without trying to draw attention to ourselves. We opened the door with the minimum force required so as to not make a sound and then scurried away into the night….
And thus ended our first and last evening at a Highland Folk Music Group’s music night, open to all.