Our local is called The Barn Bar, where locals, tourists and folks from nearby Oban come to have a friendly drink, a hearty meal, music and good craic. The setting is as bucolic as it gets- a converted barn byre in the heart of a country lodge and farm called Cologin, in the glen of Lerags ( which means larch tree.) Lerags boasts more sheep than residents, with rolling fields, ancient oak woodlands, Scots pine forests, bubbling burns, trickling waterfalls and mossy rock outcroppings. Thousands of shades of green merge with watercolour effect. The glen slopes on one side to Loch Gleann a’Bhearraidh, on the other down to Loch Feachan, the fairy loch. Standing on the hills, one overlooks the Sound of Kerrera to the south, Ben Cruachan to the north. Our little cottage is on the neighbouring farm, Kilbride, in the shadow of a 13th century church ruin and the final resting places of the Clan MacDougall. A short walk up the hill, past the graveyard, through the paddock and along the burn takes us from our front door to the pub in five minutes.
Here, nestled in that little valley, on Sunday afternoons the normally sleepy country pub comes alive with music. From around the glen, from around Argyll, even from around the world, folks bring out their pipes, guitars, accordions, bagpipes, mandolins, their voices- and every other instrument imaginable- and the result is pure Celtic fusion magic.
There is a solid core of regulars to the Sunday Session. Michael on guitar, mandolin and bouzouki; Craig and George on flutes and whistles; John on guitar; Stevie on border pipes, Galician pipes and other various pipes and whistles; Chris on fiddle and clasarch (Celtic harp); Kirsty on guitar and bodhrán; Daniel on accordion; Rab on guitar, mandolin, harmonica and mandola and me on percussion. Several of us also sing. Sometimes we have guests from far and wide- session players always like to join in when they travel- in fact, we always look for sessions when we are on holiday, seeking them out by word of mouth or on the internet. One of the most interesting guests we’ve had was Paul, a hurdy gurdy player from Lancaster, who brought a uniquely harmonious sound to the session with his vast repertoire of reels, jigs, mazurkas, fandangos and Morris dances from all over Europe.
The Sunday Session is very informal-the floor is open to anyone and new players are always welcome. We’ve had a singer or two this past year, regular folks who just happen to be at the pub listening to the session and graced us with a spine tingling rendition of some beautiful Robert Burns like Ae Fond kiss….
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee.
Who shall say that Fortune grieves him,
While the star of hope she leaves him?
Me, nae cheerful twinkle lights me;
Dark despair around benights me.
When the session gets going good, when our voices have been properly lubricated, and the vibe heats up, everyone lifts a voice to rousing old Scottish melodies like the hypnotic love song “The Shearer,” an ode to a military life in “Twa Recruitin’ Sergeants” and the Jacobite ditty “Johnny Cope”…
Cope sent a challenge from Dunbar
“Charlie, meet me an ye dare,
And I’ll teach you the art of war
If you meet me in the morning.”
When Charlie looked this letter upon
He drew his sword his scabbard from,
Said, “Follow me, my merry men,
We’ll meet Johnnie Cope in the morning!”
Hey, Johnnie Cope, are you waulking yet,
Are your drums a-beating yet?
If you were waking, I would wait
To gang to the coals in the morning.
We love the songs of our cousins to the west, great Irish songs like Galway Girl and Step it Out Mary My Fine Daughter, which is usually played with a very fast tempo, even though it’s about a heartbroken maiden who choses double suicide with her beloved soldier rather than marry the rich country man…
Near the village of Kilgory there’s a deep stream running by, they found Mary there at midnight, she had drowned with her soldier boy, In the village there is music, you can hear her father say, Step it out Mary, my fine daughter, Sunday is your wedding day.
In winter, it rains cats and dogs outside, but inside the fat wood stove is stoked so high that it’s hot with all the people, who occupy every seat in the cozy wee pub, drams lifted, singing Wild Mountain Thyme.
In summer, the party spills out into the beer garden and the ladies dance strapthseys barefoot in the grass among the wildflowers to sets like The Laird O’ Drumblair / The Baker Reel / Will Ye No Come Back Again. These moments makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, and I think… yea, the world is pretty perfect at this moment.