Folk gets in your ayes


    THERE is a little corner of Edinburgh which I fondly miss.

    It was the tiniest of hostelries called The Candlemakers Arms on the turn between the Grassmarket and Candlemaker Row.

    It’s long since shut down, but I spent many a night in there with friends listening to, among others, a great chanter by the name of Kevin Tait.

    He would strum his guitar and play Scottish folks songs and Irish ballads all night long, trading banter with his whisky fuelled regulars.

    The atmosphere was such that you didn’t really notice the paint peeling off the walls, the burn marks in the seats from discarded pre ban fags.

    You never had to, because the company was all that mattered as probably the best closing down nights none of us will ever remember would attest if it could.

    The Candlemakers was just one of the many places that would lure me in on a weekend.

    The Royal Oak down on Infirmary Street, a draw not so much for its highbrow take on traditional music, but the basement bar open until 3am.

    And often sat in the corner a former English teacher, Colin Wallace, once a none too shabby performer in his own right.

    Graeme E Pearson was another regular to see, playing many a bar as he did, not least a regular spot at the Ensign Ewart just off the castle.

    But work, travel and life saw me venture away from Edinburgh for the best part of two decades causing me to lose touch with all that scene.

    In London I was able to catch the odd gig, mostly Irish.

    Canterbury and Faversham seemed all about dodgy heavy metal bands.

    There was some solace in Ayr, thanks largely to Mick and Nan who run Wellie’s – the Wellington Bar Bar – where some remarkable big names would turn out.

    Throw in the Burns and a’ That Festival and annual Ayr Whisky Festival with Robbie’s Drams, and it could be Edinburgh in miniature at times.

    Even then, working life and the daily commute kept me pretty away from the tunes.

    Despite returning East a summer or two ago, to West Lothian, I’ve still been a bit too far out to think properly about venturing into the old haunts.

    Until the past few weeks, that is.

    A few fabled ‘quick pints’ with friends old and new has led me back to among others  The Scotsman Lounge, where a wee band we’d seen only a week before in Finnegan’s Wake were back on, still utterly intelligible.

    Absent Friends were a blast from the past when I caught them again at Biddy Mulligans on the Grassmarket, doing their own brand of cover versions.

    In the ongoing snow, I’ve turned to my iPod for the various wanders to and from work, with Port O’Brien, The Felice Brothers, Findlay Napier and North Sea Gas among the various combos I’ve caught up with.

    And while we can all moan about the winter weather, if nothing else, it’s done me a favour getting me back in the folk groove.

    So much so, that I’ll be heading back to Celtic Connections for the first time in many years next month for Hazy Recollections, featuring another Edinburgh son in Alex Cornish along with old favourites Findlay Napier and the Bar Room Mountaineers.

    With a bit of luck that same night could also see a wee visit to watch The Waterboys, one of many highlights announced in full by organisers today.

    The listings are here, for anyone interested, and I’ll be blogging a bit more along the way too.