There’s a big pod or box on the top of the Land Rover and there’s a reason for it and nothing really to do with retirement. No, it’s not to put our wheelchairs in it to bring it to Ireland. It’s a first, both the pod and the reason for it. I bought it so I could bring my guitar for the first time and this is our fifth visit to the Dingle peninsula. I’ve brought my Martin D28 (see right) if that means anything and it cost about £2,300 if that doesn’t, i.e. expensive so I couldn’t just pop it on the roof rack. It has to go in its proper case and that’s hefty as you can see. Hence the pod. It better be good because it certainly does not help the mpg.

We’ve always had a musical time coming to this area. As I’ve written before, pretty much every pub in Dingle has live music, traditional or Celtic music, but I’ve always been to listen rather than to play. In the past, as I wrote last time, we’d tended to go to ‘proper’ concerts in the music shop and the church. The music has been great but the audience gets on my nerves, all that hooting and ahollerin’, so we tried to do something different with live music in pubs. After all you expect a level of both the hootin’ and the hollerin’ in a pub so one doesn’t get cross. True people do tend to carry on chatting away when a particularly poignant tune is being rendered, as on Friday night, but that’s pubs for you but not, in my view, concerts. I wrote about the results of the first pub visit in my last blog and we’ve done another one since then. More in a moment.

I’m not quite sure why I decided to play a bit on this trip, but don’t misunderstand, I have not been offered a recording contract or asked to sit in on a session. Unlikely of course because nobody knows I play and I’m not good enough to push myself forward, not yet anyway. True, I might be a little closer to this having performed in my Otley jazz group but that was playing keyboard and it’s easier to hide doing that way. Don’t get me wrong – again, the jazz goes on, I get the joint emails from the band about their last live gig and the tunes they’re planning on doing while I’m away. Do I feel threatened? Nah. Writing this I’m reconnecting with a couple of Miles Davis albums – The Musings of Miles and Blue Moods – and with the wind and rain outside the window and no sign of a Blasket Island, I’m really digging it as they used to say in the ‘50s, or so I’ve read.

Thing is, after several months of playing jazz keyboard, I thought, with this impending trip, that I might try picking up one of my several guitars (it’s not as if I don’t have plenty to choose from) and to try and play a little Celtic music. It’s not easy on account of finding it hard to play the chords what with my arthritic fingers and all, but I can still twiddle away a bit. And that is what I’ve been doing at home for a couple of weeks prior to departure. So no live session like the one we went to at O’Flaherty’s pub on Friday night (our second effort and see photo right) when people are expected to perform in that typically Irish way of showing up and casually joining in. I guess you could say that these O’Flaherty sessions are real and raw (Eilis Kennedy session on Wednesday was professional and accomplished). On Friday night O’Flaherty himself was taking centre stage and with a very full on version of The Foggy Dew (just three chords) with him playing the bohdran in the form of marching drums. Moving, but the people talked through it.

So no, no joining in for me, none of that, just me twiddling along to one or two Celtic CDs that haven’t seen the light of day since I bought them here on previous trips. The chord structure of the typical Irish tune is, as above (3 chords), fairly simple compared to many jazz tunes but that of course makes it just as difficult to play it well. You’ve got to make a big effort, with some level of skill, to make it worth the effort. I’ve probably got one or two more opportunities to meet the ultimate challenge. Hah, it won’t happen of course.

And why is it, I ask myself, that I should be more compelled or inclined maybe to set myself this kind of challenge now I am retired? Probably when I was working there were challenges enough in the work environment. Standing in front of an audience of teachers and telling them how to manage their classes could be pretty scary, so I had little inclination to fill my leisure hours with more opportunities to be embarrassed.

But now here I am, five years retired and seemingly driven to do just that. True, there’s a lot to be said for continuing to set oneself interesting challenges in my retirement, keeping mentally, and even physically, sharp and all that, but it’s a very fine line indeed between healthy challenge and unnecessary stress caused by elderly foolishness. I’m pretty sure I’ve written these lines many times before but then it is an on-going retirement issue, for me at least. So who knows what this trip will bring – achievement or anxiety on the musical front?

Most probably neither, just some gentle pleasure from twiddling along to traditional music in our rented house over-looking the Atlantic Ocean down here in the wilds of West Kerry although currently I can’t see any ocean. But when I write it like that, that sounds pretty decent does it not? True you don’t have to be retired to enjoy the rain lashing against the window and we can hardly complain about the weather we’ve had over the years, but retirement does give a person more opportunity to test out these little challenges.

A short post script. Yesterday, Sunday, we called in at pub in Ballyferriter (next village along the coast) on the way ‘home’ from a very wet walk on the beach and decided to have a drink. To our surprise, after a short while, two musicians started to play – a man playing guitar and a young woman playing fiddle. This was the first time we’d ever come across any music in this village. They were great. They told me they played Sunday nights so this will be the one and only for this year. The point is there was piano next to where they were playing. No, don’t get excited, it’s not like that but I thought, between tunes, it gave me an excuse to chat to them about the role of piano in traditional music. In short it does happen and we talked about a pianist who we had seen on TV on Transatlantic Sessions. He asked me if I played, I replied, a little, what do you play? I said jazz and blues. He said why don’t you play something now, I love jazz and blues? Ooer missus. He went to the piano and hit a few notes and pronounced it in tune with itself but not with them. I secretly heaved a sigh of relief. Oh what a shame, I lied. Nearly hoist by my own retirement petard there.

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