Na-Mara had been recommended to Rosslyn Court organiser, Morag Butler, by Mike and Maureen who run the Anchor Folk Club in Byfleet, and we were delighted to accept an invitation to perform for the first time in Margate. Given that Rosslyn Court also runs a wide array of folk-related and other workshops, we were similarly delighted when Morag agreed to let us run a workshop on ‘Songs and Tunes from the Celtic World’ on the afternoon ahead of our performance.
Buoyed from our excellent gig in Northampton a few days earlier, we were raring to go on Saturday morning as we set off. The journey worked out fine and, after a quick pit stop for coffee, we arrived at Rosslyn Court just after 1.00pm, in good time to set up for our 2- 4.00pm workshop.
In what we now recognise as her characteristic high energy, Morag was standing outside Rosslyn Court when we arrived, talking to a passing group of poets on a writing tour of Margate about the evening gig. As the poets went on their way, Rob and I were shown to where the workshop and later concert would be happening; a delightful, bright, warm and very well-equipped space. Minutes later, once the gear was in, we were able to sit and have a cup of tea with Morag and her journalist friend, Jodie, and were able to tell them about the Basque children’s colonia that had existed in Margate, at Laleham School, during the 1930s.
The subsequent workshop proved to be great fun with a good range of singers and musicians attending with fiddles, penny whistle and recorder, guitar and ukulele. The atmosphere was relaxed throughout and everyone showed great humour and commitment to learning the tunes and songs. The two hours flew by and everyone was buzzing by the end of the session.
Mid-way through the workshop, our good friend from Gigfilm, Brian Hasledean, arrived. With Morag’s agreement, Brian had come along to film the concert that evening. We hadn’t seen Brian since he did some excellent filming of a Na-Mara gig in the Isle of Sheppey Folk and Blues Club some years previous and it was great to see him again.
After the workshop finished, Brian was able to move into setting up mode with his cameras and lights, while Rob and I helped Morag set the room up for the evening concert. Morag explained that before she’d bought the Rosslyn Court property, which is a corner house and is now a very well equipped and highly rated Bed & Breakfast establishment, the room on the corner had been a bar of some kind. Separated as it was from next door neighbours, she had the vision to see that it would make a fine performance venue and, over the past few years, has put together a striking programme of excellent gigs and workshops.
Luxury of luxuries, Morag and Chris, then treated Brian, Jodie, Rob and me all to a fish and chip supper which we ate in Rosslyn Court’s pretty breakfast room, overlooking the garden.
Given there was still a little time before the concert, Rob and I than took a brief walk along to the path overlooking the nearby beach at Margate. Albeit a little grey and overcast that October evening, it is always a pleasure to see the sea and it perked us up nicely for the evening concert.
With doors open at 7.30pm, audience members began to arrive for the 8.00pm start. Quite quickly, the concert room filled up and, by the time Morag kicked the evening off with a beautiful rendition of ‘The Recruiting Collier’, the room was full. Morag then followed her opener with The Herring’s Head, a classic song from her hometown of Newcastle. Two other excellent floor singers then followed, including Una who’d come along to the workshop, before we took to the stage area.
One immediately feels relaxed performing in the intimate atmosphere of Rosslyn Court. The audience proved welcoming, warm, and engaged throughout both of our sets, joining in with choruses and there was some great banter throughout the event. It was a joy to play there.
In recent times, we have taken to finishing the first set with what probably remains our best-known song, Only for Three Months - the story of the evacuation of the Basque children to the UK at the height of the Spanish Civil War. This allowed us to tell the audience about the role that Margate had played in that historical humanitarian initiative and both Rob and I talked to audience members at half-time about the broader experiences of the Basque children in the UK.
We finished the evening with one of the songs we had been teaching in the workshop earlier that afternoon, The Maid of Culmore.
The feedback we received at the end of the concert and through Facebook later that evening and the following day, confirmed what we thought, the concert had been a success. As audience members departed, all that was left was for us to pack up our gear, say our thanks and goodbyes and head off home.
We’d like to thank Morag, Chris, Jodie and all at Rosslyn Court for giving us the warmest of welcomes. Imbued throughout with Morag’s boundless energy and wit, Rosslyn Court is a wonderful venue to play. It was a delight to perform there, and we very hope to do so again at some time in the future.
Thanks also to Gigfilmer, Brian Hasledean, for all his hard work (yet again!) on our behalf. We all feel pretty confident that he has captured some good footage of Na-Mara in action at Rosslyn Court and we look forward to working with him to create materials for both our website and to send to folk club and festival organisers to help them see and understand what Na-Mara do, and how audiences respond to it.