Pierre Schryer & Adam Dobres @ Stocksfield Community Centre, Northumberland, June 2019.
Stocksfield, a small place just off Hadrian's Wall with its own railway station, seems an unlikely place for a concert by musicians from western Canada, until you realise that it is the home of folk agency and promoter SharperThan.com, and it has a wonderful Victorian community centre with great concert facilities for a couple of hundred people. Into this grand if somewhat agrarian venue stepped two of Canadian music's finest exponents, and I have to say it was a revelation for locals and visitors alike. Pierre Schryer is among Canada's foremost fiddlers: coming from the French Canadian tradition of the East Coast, he has absorbed North American oldtime and Irish fiddling, and broadened his repertoire with Scottish, Western Swing, Eastern European and even Renaissance music.
Adam Dobres is a rising guitar star, playing everything from rock to Rachmaninov, and he's been getting familiar with traditional music for the best part of two decades now. Schryer and Dobres aren't exactly typical names for Canadian folkies, but as a new nation Canada has always welcomed musicians from many places: the French, Irish, Spanish, Scandinavians, Russians and others met and blended their music with the First Nations musicians, and with each other, so eclecticism is literally in the DNA of Canadian musicians. Pierre and Adam certainly showed that, with influences from North Africa, England, the Celtic countries, Brazil, and many regions of Canada.
This gig was part of a tour taking in Scotland and Ireland, to showcase the duo's new album Mandorla, and of course they played all the material off that CD, but Adam and Pierre added a few pieces old and new from their own repertoires and from various traditions. Silver Anniversary Jig by Dobres sparked an improvisation in C which built into a couple of Irish tunes. A traditional reel from Quebec, with Pierre's hallmark foot percussion, led into The Star of Munster and Martin Wynne's Number 1.
Interestingly, whenever the fiddle switched from French Canadian to Irish or Scottish, Pierre's feet stopped, almost as though a connection had been cut! But turn to a Canadian tune, and the feet were back: Fleur de Mandragore, Whitefish in the Rapids, Sheepskin & Beeswax in a Quebec version, and even Jerry Holland's Reel for Carl triggered his rhythmic accmpaniment. There were slower pieces by Dowland and Carolan, faster pieces by Sutherland and Reavy, and a selection of compositions from Schryer and Dobres themselves. The fiddle and guitar sounds were clear and crisp, interwoven but distinct, and the artistry from both players was simply world class.
Schryer and Dobres were supported by Tam Lin, a local group of eight strikingly young and talented musicians: Ada Wood, Arty Wyatt, Evie Ronnie and Fergus Drysdale on fiddles, harpist Ariel Bingham, guitarists Ruth Leeson and Billy Davies, and Oscar Say on keyboards, with scarily young ages of eleven to fifteen! Tam Lin played a mixture of Irish and Northumbrian tunes, and a couple of less well known pieces from their coaching by Sophy Ball (Andy May Trio, Bottle Bank Band). They were also keen to learn from Pierre and Adam, who put on an impromptu workshop before the concert. I was very impressed at the togetherness of the eightsome on some quite complex arrangements - it's hard enough to keep three musicians in time, never mind eight, but the youngsters never missed a beat.
Schryer and Dobres were equally flawless, of course, and the close interplay between these two musicians was remarkable - smiles, gestures, nods and knowing looks, all with a great sense of fun and enjoyment which really engaged the audience. They played to a full house, babes in arms to babbling geriatrics, and the applause was loud and enthusiastic. The beer was also plentiful, which may have helped. Despite the drink, I'm sure this night will be long remembered by Stocksfield, and by me.
Photo Credits: (1) -(2) Pierre Schryer & Adam Dobres (unknown/website).