Own up: how many of you, when alone in the car, or the kitchen, or the bath, take to an imaginary stage and sing along to whatever song is playing on the radio (or inside your head) with fluent, free flowing nonsensical lyrics that you valiantly make up on the spot? Thank goodness it’s not just me then. One of my most memorable sing-alongs (which is not, by any stretch of the imagination my only one) was in Dublin’s Croke Park in 2005 at a U2 concert. I had a standing ticket, down on the pitch – the best place to be – but I got separated from C. who I had gone with. And did I care? No one whit! It meant I could sing along with sheer abandon, blithely making up the words to ‘Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of’ without anyone judging me; butchering the lyrics to ‘Beautiful Day’ unnoticed because all of those around me were probably doing the same.
Common sense goes out the window when you make up lyrics, especially when you almost get it right, like I used to with Kenny Roger’s ‘Lucille’, when I was a child. There’s no denying, Lucille (terrible woman) did pick a fine time to leave him, didn’t she? “Four hundred children and a crop in the field.” How could she? It never occurred to me that what I was hearing was ‘four hungry children’ (and whilst it was 396 fewer children, it still made her a terrible woman). Then there was the beguiling Kate Bush with her unique song, ‘Wuthering Heights’. I was only seven years old when it was released and she may as well have been singing in a foreign language, for I didn’t understand any of her high-pitched words, never mind the title, which I decided was ‘Withering Heights’. My dad was a big fan, I remember it being played lots at home. We loved it, danced around banshee like, arms flailing, voices wailing, “I dunno why, de windy wor, we foldy roldy ree. You had a temper, like Nigella see, too hard to readee.” The fact that it made no sense did not diminish our enjoyment of this new sound one ounce.
And so it has come to pass, again. Except this time I think it is a whole lot worse. You see, I have found a new session, a traditional group with whom I can play my fiddle. The thing is, they play mostly Scots music and I know mostly Irish. Not that there is a huge leap between the two, but there’s a leap, nonetheless. However, I have discovered the one-glass-of-wine-effect: a trick whereby one large measure consumed and all of the Scots tunes are suddenly absorbed through my skin, into by body, bones, soul and down into my fingers and I ‘know’ them; off I go, diddly-dee, fiddly-fee. All at once I’m playing like Yeats’s ‘Fiddler of Dooney’, imagining those listening dancing ‘like waves on the sea’. I don’t play full force, I hold back a little (I think), not sawing at my bow like a tree feller, yet. I tell myself it’s a good thing. Better to let on you know the tune (or half know it) and enjoy yourself, than sit there with a face like a Lurgan spade, shovelling the constant refrain, “I don’t know that one.” Life is joyous when you sing along, play along, or dance along – relax and improvise, and whatever you do, don’t let not knowing the words, tune or steps stop you from joining in.
“For the good are always merry,
Save by an evil chance,
And the merry love to fiddle
And the merry love to dance.”
(extract from W.B. Yeats, ‘The Fiddler of Dooney’)