How it’s New York: It features an interview with Kevin Crawford, leading light of the Irish Trad scene in New York, where he talks about his rambunctious musical beginnings in Birmingham, England.
How it’s Irish: It is the latest in a series on the Anne and Pat Molloy Summer School in Digbeth, Birmingham
Pat Molloy understood kids. He knew how to get them engaged but also ,when they were under too much pressure, to just let them be kids. Some knew the tunes they wanted straight off the bat; others needed a little prompting so he used “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” as an introduction. Of course the idea grew into a jig version, a reel version and a hornpipe version (I’m sure he had barn dance and mazurka versions up his sleeve as well). For those who needed a bit of theatre he also had a party piece of a 4-part manoeuvre before putting the fiddle to the neck (think of a fun version of the military “present arms”). At the other end of the scale he used to also relish the senior student – if I recall correctly his oldest first-time student was 80 years old and full of self-doubt, but still walked out of Hendon Road with a tune.
This spirit is at the core of the Anne and Pat Molloy Summer School, about to run for its 5th year on the weekend of 23rd and 24th, 2016, a welcoming place for all interested in traditional Irish music, whatever your current level or age.
We have noticed at previous summer schools that those attending or teaching could be split up into different categories: the Little Kids, the Big Kids and the Adults.
Surprisingly enough, I was able to come up with an extract from an academic paper about this very subject. I refer to Distinguished Wandering Professor Emeritus Dan Washington of the DETRITUS (DEritend TRaditional Irish Thinktank for Unverifiable Slander) Institute. Dr. Washington introduces the issue:
I have categorized the broad groups in Irish Music as follows:
- LIMKS (“Little Irish Music Kids”)
- BIMKS (“Big Irish Music Kids”, sometimes perhaps understandably mis-transliterated as “Birmingham Irish Music Kids”)
The BIMKS have traditionally formed the largest group, but in recent years are in danger of being overrun by the LIMKS (this is generally viewed as a good thing).
Cute LIMKs in action at past year at the school (photo courtesy of Ronan Molloy)
The good doctor Washington then goes on to discuss some of the understandable concern the public at large has with BIMKS, and suggest ways to “parent” them.
The issues with BIMKS aren’t fundamentally different to those with LIMKS. These examples should be familiar to all who have raised LIMKS:
- playing dress up
- Putting things into their mouths (for example bus tickets of other BIMKS to stop them leaving the play area / session)
- Pouring drinks over themselves
- Running around naked way past the socially acceptable age
- “tummy problems” (generally associated with a bottle held to the mouth with a tight grip for hours on end)
- Visits to the A&E
- Inserting items into the belly-button and running around showing off to everyone like a big silly boy (be aware that coins are a gateway navel choice; nip this in the bud or it will be flutes and all sorts)
According to trusted sources there was an instance of all of the above occurring one night at the Big Bull’s Head, Digbeth on April 1st 1990.
Sometimes symptoms are harder to categorize. A good example of this was as recently in 1995 when a well-known BIMK managed to end up in A&E after making a trip from the back door of an after-hours club to her vehicle parked nearby in the car park. What made this example interesting is that the vehicle in question was a motor home, the classic travelling choice of a more senior category of Irish musician than even the ADULTS, euphemistically referred to as “Venerable Keepers of the Tradition” or VKOTs.
Some academics have also pointed out the TRABFAB syndrome where a barely-in-control BIMK can raise a very sensible LIMK, causing many hilarious comic moments in the household.
There are times of course when BIMK behaviour does get out of hand. We have all heard about the ill-advised impersonation of a police officer or playing on a pub roof in the middle of the night until the arrival of the constabulary, but a lesser known example was when a BIMK attempted to play a humourous prank on a Handsworth drug dealer, without the ensuing hilarity you might expect. In such cases I blame the parents – someone should have taken that BIMK aside and explained that you can’t rely on criminals having the same sense of humour as the typical Brummie.
It is worth remembering though that, for all the lunatic behavior the night before, the next day all the BIMKS would gather together and play the most gorgeous music, with the innocent, beatific expressions of the most angelic LIMK.
I recently met with Kevin Crawford in a swanky coffee house and “gelateria” in the Lower East Side on Manhattan (a far cry from some of the hangouts I knew him from back in the day!). He talked about his musical journey. It started when the famous Clare fiddler Junior Crehan noticed this little fat boy over on family holidays, always hanging around indoors listening to music when he should have been running around in the fresh air. Taking pity on the lad he gave his Mum a banged up old fiddle. Kevin and Mum got it stringed up at Thomas Smith Violins on Broad Street in Birmingham city centre, “did a little bit of homework” and were soon off on a nightmare Monday night bus marathon from Cape Hill well north of the city to Sparkhill on the south side. The destination was English Martyrs School where Pat was teaching fiddle under the auspices of the South Birmingham Comhaltas (chatting about this, we both remembered The Silver Spear” as one of the first tunes Pat gave us). While he ended up giving up the fiddle for the whistle after a few months, this moment was still an epiphany. The encouragement from Anne and Pat Molloy was the spur he needed (Kevin was most insistent that he “wouldn’t be playing now if it wasn’t got for the Molloys. I kind of got taken in by them”).
It was also where he got to meet and befriend kids closer to his age (Joe and Enda Molloy, Mick Green and the rest of the Comhaltas crew). This camaraderie grew as Irish south Birmingham (centering around the Molloy residence at 7 Hendon Road) became his adopted home. Kevin’s style endeared him to all the lads. His reputation was cemented when at 12 or 13 he had a gig with a junior ceili band gig at the Town Hall, turned up late with the wrong coloured uniform and a late excuse that he was having a couple of pints.
As Kevin put it, “they were well impressed with this little f***er.”
It wasn’t only barmen that were taken in by Kevin’s worldly manner – he swanned into the position of secretary of the South Birmingham branch Comhaltas at 15. At the time no one (myself included) believed his age. As Kevin put it,“I was hanging where I shouldn’t have been hanging. It speaks volumes about Paddy and Anne (that) they never questioned it. They should have called Child Services or something”.
Later Kevin, Ivan Miletitch and others set up camp in Handsworth (above a Jamaican blues party venue) where they could carry on all day and night. While the craic was always there, “it was always about music, no matter what. There were so many sessions at that time. I used to love those sessions. None of us had mobile phones, or the internet or anything but you could organize a session within an hour. It could be the Spotted Dog or the Angel or all those pubs around Dibgeth … obviously the Bull or the Little Bull. And then when Paddy started doing that one at the Antelope, that was a nice one.”
Back at the flat at 6 in the morning after a full night of sessions they would still listen to records and tapes. This included all the releases coming out of Ireland such as the Bothy Band (as well as of local music such as the Steve Gibbons Band and the calypso jazz of Andy Hamilton at the Accafess club) but the style of their own music was always distinctively Birmingham – “a lovely flow to the music, a slow and lyrical style”- with a fiercely independent streak.
Kevin summarized the scene – “it was some university to go to. It was great”.
For a taster of the university course, come to the Anne and Pat Molloy Summer School this year. See some highlights above, and check out the website and Facebook page for details, and reach out with any questions – there is always someone glad to help. In case you were wondering why the long name, Kevin was able to answer that question as well – “I can’t think of Pat without Anne, and Anne with Pat”.
So take heart – you might be a LIMK now but you too can become a VKOT. And tell your parents that it’s OK to hang out with a few questionable characters along the way (though perhaps don’t mention the underage drinking bit).