Pub on The Edge of Forever

We believe that Zina Lee, Irish fiddler extrodinaire, wrote this piece…

The Neverending Session has always had more than its fair share of surprises; you can’t really say ‘when you least expect them,’ because surprises spring themselves upon you so often there, you come to accept that they’ll usually happen. Head down over your instrument (or over your pint, whatever works for you), it’s worth remembering to take a quick peek up and around the night-darkened pub during a set of tunes.

A quick glance up during ‘The Highest Hill in Sligo’. There, near the edge of the circle, playing his fiddle softly, the tune weaving its intricate way up and down and across the fingerboards, that hidden note here and there, setting off the tune …a mild-looking man, a rather hawkish nose, with an occasional steely flash of the eyes through the rounded glasses…

Ah… here’s ‘The Wise Maid’, that great old tune. And there, across the table, a man leaning back from his accordion but his shoulder held forward, eyes clenched shut in concentration, hair slightly fuzzed up behind the receding hairline — what amazing style.

Oops… now they’ve launched into the ‘Tarbolton’ set — and a quick glance is rewarded with the sight of a rather slight man, bow quick as a dart, a long, triangular sort of face with a firm chin and pale eyes…

Now we’re into ‘Willie Clancy’s’ and — that piper — when did he come in? I must have missed him, but I’m not sure how. Tall, almost cherub-faced with a dimple in his chin, acknowledging the whoops with a slight jerk of his chin, no expression as he plays, but always that twinkle in his eye…the man himself.

For here, and perhaps only here, or perhaps not just here, when we share the tunes with each other, we share them across languages, cultures…and years, space, time.

Ed Reavey, Joe Cooley, Michael Coleman, Willie Clancy, yes, and Martin Wynne and Bobby Casey and Michael Gorman and Seamus Ennis and a host of others, some who we could expect to see in any pub we might happen to walk into with our instruments, and others who cross over the borders of not just cities or countries, of actual space, but over what some consider that most final border of all.

Oh, and here’s ‘The Baltimore Salute’ — and a quick look, there are three flute players in the corner, heads tucked into their shoulders in that baby bird way that Irish flute players have. Jason, who taught me the tune, hulking over his flute. Past him, I can see Emily’s blonde head, who learned the tune with me. And I can just barely see the shape of June McCormack behind both of them, who taught Jason the tune…

I’m sure that Josie McDermott, who made the thing, is here in the circle somewhere, if I only knew what he looked like…

Ah, the wee dark girl is singing ‘The Factory Girl’ now, and there, smiling toothily, banjo slung across her back, an equally dark-haired woman, broad-faced and shawled, is nodding, lifting an encouraging hand, but her eyes are focused on some other time, some other place. You can tell our girl has been listening to Margaret Barry’s setting of the thing, and so can Margaret Barry.

Always, the music connects us to those who came before, those who are with us, and those who will come after. But here, here at the Green Man pub, The Pub At The Edge, wherever The Neverending Session finds itself, we can sometimes dimly see these connections a little more clearly…

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