I happened across a really interesting radio show over the Christmas holidays. The virtuoso Celtic flautist, Chris Norman, hosted an hour-long documentary on CBC radio (“The Pure Drop”) – all devoted to the deep (and evidently real) connection of alcohol and Celtic music-making. He travelled all over the place and interviewed loads of people who unanimously supported Chris’s contention that booze and jigs, to put it crassly, went beyond stereotype.
Like “duuuuuuuh”, I say. From my earliest memories around bagpipes there’s been booze amongst the haze. I remember as a 15 year-old being put to work behind the bar at a late late (late) night party hosted by the 48th Highlanders for select Scottish bands in Toronto for the Scottish World Festival Tattoo. I remember this particular party for Willie Morrison (South Uist) and his other-worldly piping, especially his rendition of his jig, “Cameronian Rant”. He was the first to adapt the strathspey to jig time – and what a player, a left-handed player, too. I wouldn’t have been drinking orange juice, I’d guess, at that time. But I was a bad kid. And I was at a gathering of “Celtic” music-makers.
I’m reminded of that CBC documentary today. I happened across a snippet from the Globe & Mail:
“It is a hidden, taboo subject, widely known about within the music world but barely discussed,” Charlotte Higgins reports in The Guardian. “… inappropriate use of alcohol in Britain’s great orchestras is, according to musicians, endemic – ranging from drinking a pint before a concert to steady the nerves, to full-blown inebriation on stage.” A delegate to the recent annual conference of the Association of British Orchestras recalled an incident in which a percussionist actually fell off the back of a high stage when drunk.
Performance anxiety is offered as one of the main reasons musicians use alcohol. “Group culture is part of another. Anecdotally, it is often said that brass players – often overwhelmingly male orchestral sections – drink the most.”
So maybe it’s not just “Celtic” musicians, their music-making and alcohol that add up to a special boozey link. Maybe it’s a music thing, period.
A musician’s a musician for a’ that?
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