I will always remember my first Burns night at Ossett Singers Club. Me being uncultured, I had no knowledge of the event until the room was full with kilts, knobbly knees, and a slightly unsettled feeling that one gust of ill timed breeze might scar my little mind for life.
Okay, so there was something called Burns Night going on. Great. Everyone is dressed up and it’s just a normal session. I thought that lots of men in skirts would be the strangest part of the night, as we all got on and sang. Soon the smell of food, gravy, mash fills the air. I wasn’t aware that the pub served food. Again, this was not the oddest part, as the sound of bagpipes suddenly accompanied the smells of food. What on earth is going on? Then, out of the blue, Anita arrives with what can only be described as a ‘thing’ on a plate, as a gentleman on the bagpipes follows her into the room.
‘Dad, what’s that?’ I whispered.
‘What?’ he replied.
You can’t really whisper with bagpipes playing.
‘WHAT’S THAT?’ I shouted.
‘It’s sheep’s pluck, oats, onion, maybe a bit of beef, all wrapped in a sheep’s intestine.’
As I sat, open mouthed, Tom recited Address to a Haggis.
‘What was that?’
‘Address to a Haggis.’
‘How did he remember it all? What language is that even in? Gaelic?’
‘Wow. What did it mean?’
‘I have no idea.’
And with this, the haggis was then paraded around the room with the bagpipes again, and neeps and tatties were handed out in abundance (the best kind of dance) for all to enjoy.
Ever since that night I have always wanted to get back to Ossett for another Burns Night special. Thursday was that night:
It feels odd to write a post on Kootch about a night that was not about us at all. It was all about singing in memory of a wonderful man, and raising some money to try and stop other families and friends going through what we did.
We arrived at 8.00pm, bang on, nice one Charley (friend, lift-giver and general pillar of the community). The club is usually hosted in a back room of the Osset Cricket Club, but today, due to logistics of cooking a haggis, we were upstairs. We unloaded our instruments and tuned up while it was quiet. Kootch have recently upped their string game, with Dean now boasting a 12 string guitar. So we stood and tuned, and tuned, and tuned… (x16) and headed to get a drink.
Met at the bar by lots of knobbly knees and hugs, we at least knew that we were in the right place (and on the right night). Despite my new, more mature age, that ill timed gust of wind still threatened to cost me an awful lot in therapy. While at the bar, Kootch got an eerie feeling they had chosen the wrong band name:
We let Charley back in (Charley had gone for a crafty cig, not realising that there was no handle on the outside of the door and quickly became locked out) and headed back up to take out seats.
Tom (MC) generally runs on a very fair ‘work our way around the circle’ system. We like these systems as it gives everyone a chance, even those that wouldn’t usually have the confidence to shout up and play. With Tom having a poorly voice, Elaine kicked off the night. The song was beautiful and the Aveyards (and Wilson and Ramsden) were already in tears.
We were feeling confident as it swung round to our turn. We knew what song we were going to sing, and we had tuned up, nothing could go wrong. Unless…
Okay, so turns out, it’s pretty cold here in January. Taking instruments from a cold car to warm room is never a good thing and strings tend to have a mind of their own, especially if you have 12 of them. Usually, they don’t detune so bad… However, if the difference in temperature is monumental… Say, for example, I don’t know, you lean your 12 string up against the heating pipes? Yeah, you’re gunna have a baaaaad time.
So Dean counted us in, and half way through the first verse we realised this was sounding a little more like Jazz than folk… Really, really, bad jazz. If you have 6 strings, you can sometimes get away with knowing which string is out and retuning mid song, with 12, you would have to have four times as many ears to even stand a chance.
It turned out okay though. Plumping for Dublin in the Rare Old Times, everyone knew the words, verse and all, and everyone got on pretending that nothing was awry. This wasn’t the only boo-boo, though. Dublin was a song that dad used to sing. Seeing his face on the collection tin and thinking that he should be here, at his club that he attended every week somehow I just couldn’t make ‘Farewell Anna Liffey, I can no longer stay’ and suddenly my voice broke and my tears were dribbling down my guitar neck.
But as the violinist once said ‘don’t fret’. The room took up the rest of the verse and chorus as I carried on playing. The song was finished by Dean and the rest of the club, and they sounded great. In fact, I think the club should sing our songs more often - a lot less work for us!
Just before the break, Tom did his fantastic ‘Address to a Haggis’ after Anita had danced round the room. Rob made the same joke my father did five years prior and raffle tickets were handed out. Classic bottle of wine or meat selection from the butchers was on offer.
After the break, raffle tickets were drawn and it was back to trying to get all the way around the room. Tom was harassed into singing ‘Cholesterol’ for the Aveyards (and Wilson and Ramsden).
Despite her protests, our taxi had to be up for work the next morning. Home was well over an hour away and it was nearing half eleven so I had a quiet word with Tom to say thank you and that we would have to go. So, he drew the night to a close a little early and asked Kootch to lead Wild Mountain Thyme. Dean tuned his guitar and I managed not to cry, so that was better. The room, again, took it away, with additions of beautiful harmonies.
The thing we like about Ossett is that no one seems to sing or play alone. If you know the tune, if you know the words, you pick up your guitar/squeeze box/mandolin and you play/sing along. It’s like having your own orchestra. And it is beautiful.
The last thing to say is a massive thank you to Ossett. You cultivated some of dad’s greatest and closest friendships. You gave him the confidence and the courage to get out there and play at other clubs. If not for Ossett and it’s warmth, maybe he never would have fully returned to music, and maybe I wouldn’t have been writing this blog right now, because maybe I wouldn’t have been encouraged either. Together we raised £253.75 for lung cancer research, but you did so much more for him than donate, and that is worth more than all the money in the world. Thank you.