Music and memories

My last post (sounds like a bugle call!) was a bit of a moan – but it brought results. Among the responses – mostly encouraging and sympathetic – was one from Dr Tom Bibey, a man whose career has combined medicine and music. His commitment to the bluegrass tradition set me reminiscing about my own modest involvement in folk-music.

When I was young – I’m talking the early Fifties here – I graduated from a plastic ukulele to my first real guitar and taught myself to play it, after a fashion. I was never a Segovia, or anything approaching; I played the instrument – acoustic, nylon-strung – purely to accompany my songs. And most of those I learnt from my hero, Burl Ives.

You must realise that, in those days, to play the guitar at all was a pretty rare thing to do – in England, anyway. So at university, and later when I lived and worked in the Far East, before the arrival of television, I was much in demand. Party hostesses would ask me to bring the guitar – and people were not shy about joining in a sing-song.

In the Sixties I returned to the UK, and everything changed. For one thing, I got married and had other preoccupations. But also rock and roll had arrived, and before long every second teenager was playing the guitar – better than I did. The young were buying ‘pop’ records, while I was still wedded to Beethoven and Mozart. Soon, my left-hand fingertips, once hard and calloused, were soft again, and fingering chords produced blisters. And nobody wanted to sing any more. My guitar-playing days were over.

Many years later, I acquired the first of a series of electronic keyboards, which cleverly play the left hand and accompaniment, leaving me to pick out the melody on my chosen instrument. And with that, I have come full circle – for my favourite rhythm category is ‘Folk and Country’.

One little postscript: back in the Sixties, a friend who produced schools programmes on radio for the BBC rang and asked if I knew any folksongs about the Port of London.

“No,” I said. “But I can write you one.” And I did.

Tom Bibey’s blog is at


3 Responses to “Music and memories”

  1. 1 drtombibey March 7, 2008 at 10:05 pm


    We sing one in bluegrass called “Handsome Molly.” It goes:

    I wish I were in London
    or some other seaport town
    I’d get myself a steamboat
    And sail the ocean round.

    Sail across the ocean
    Sail across the sea
    I think of Handsome Molly
    Wherever I may be

    The first time I heard it was Doc Watson. I am not sure where it came from. (and should know) I do know much of our music is of British and Scotch Irish tradition. (They say Paul McCartney was a big Bill Monroe fan.)

    I am going to add you to my blog roll this weekend with the by-line of “the Bluegrass Guide to Brit Lit and Culture.”

    Dr. B

  2. 2 johnchap March 8, 2008 at 7:55 am

    Haven’t met that one Tom. Mine began:

    The ships come in with the rising tide
    Come in from the seven seas..

    … but after that I can’t remember!

    My signature tune, in my singing days, was ‘Rock Candy Mountain’.

    I’ll put you on my blogroll too.


  3. 3 drtombibey March 8, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    I know ‘Rock Candy Mountain.’ As we say in bluegrass, that’s a good’un.

    Dr. B

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