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Traditional Music at the Shroppie Fly

4th November 2005 @ 11:11am – by Ian Bloor
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Every Monday evening a crowd of musicians descends on Audlem to gather at The Shroppie Fly. They come from far and wide to join the local players and singers for a session of varied and exciting traditional music-making. Each week is different. The tunes that you could hear depend very much on who happens to be there, but whatever it is, it will be performed with verve and enthusiasm.

The instruments that appear from oddly-shaped cases include fiddles, accordions, concertinas, guitars, whistles of every size and tone, and percussion that includes bodhrans, spoons, bones, Vietnamese wooden frogs and jingle-sticks. You will sometimes find a clarinet, a skiffle-board and a tea-chest bass, just to add a little extra variety. There are stranger and more wonderful things too. You may see as many as four hurdy-gurdies there; several sets of bagpipes, dulcimers from the Appalachian Mountains of North America and from France; bulbul tarangs from India; bowed psalteries and medieval fiddles; crumhorns; rackets and kazoos.

The music ranges from medieval ecclesiastical chants – given new and interesting treatments – through traditional English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh and North American folk-songs; French and Spanish dance-tunes, to modern jazz and blues, and even one recent Eurovision Song-contest entry.

The playing and singing draws in supporters from the local community and attract many of the tourists who have tied-up their canal-boats for the night and are looking for something to do. Quite often, finding the session in full swing, boaters will slip away, to return a short time later with the instruments they have brought on holiday, thinking they might just play for their own amusement. But they soon become part of the evening's entertainment Anybody and everybody is welcome to join in. And they do.

The Shroppie Fly also hosts Audlem's Annual Bagpipe and Hurdy-Gurdy day, usually near the beginning of November; an event that attracts players from all over the country.

To find one hurdy-gurdy being played in an English pub is uncommon. To find three (and sometimes four) is almost unheard of, but, in Audlem, three hurdy-gurdies form the core of a group called Forlorne Hope that meets regularly to play music that ranges from medieval to modern European. The hurdy-gurdies are supplemented by a range of similarly unusual instruments including bagpipes, dulcimers, fiddles, a comprehensive selection of woodwind and at times by even more eccentric devices such as a bulbul tarang, an Estonian talharpa and an occarina made from an ostrich egg.

The group has been together, in various forms, since the early 1990s and is in great demand, providing music at events such as re-enactments of battles – from Blore Heath in 1459 to the Battle of Nantwich in 1644. It supports many local charities, playing background music during other events or presenting full-blown concert performances.

Forlorne Hope are known throughout Cheshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and in the more civilised parts of Derbyshire.

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