Back in 2005, Glasgow hosted the World Science Fiction Convention. I had a couple of days free and friends with a hotel room I could crash in, so off I went to my first (and so far, only) SF Convention and had a jolly good time. However, I fell among filkers.
Now, I suppose I'll admit that I was, how shall I put it, filk-curious, but putting sf related lyrics to someone else's tunes? That would surely get old very quickly. But, it's a circle of people singing in company, that's got to be good, whatever they're singing about, no?
And it was. Filk's not all new words to old tunes, nor is it all laboured jokes and stuff that's impenetrable if you don't know what's being referenced. People are writing new music all the time, and the best refit jobs can be marvellous. So, although I still wouldn't call myself a filker, I found myself once again (after a couple of years off due to various family party clashes) at the Grantham Ramada on the first weekend in February.
And, once again, I had a ball.
I'm a terrible concert goer - I think I've managed to miss talis_kimberley
's set at every single filkcon I've been to, for instance, and Talis is brilliant. What I did hear of the various concerts over the weekend was excellent though.
There was one concert I couldn't miss though - I was one of the_gwenzilliad
's backing singers for her second set of the weekend. Due to various annoyances and diary clashes, we'd not actually rehearsed very much at all, and never as a trio, so we spent a huge chunk of Sunday morning and early afternoon at least running through the setlist. We had a ball in the actual concert. I'm afraid one of the symptoms of our lack of rehearsal was that my 'first chorus' harmonies were decidedly ropy, but tended to tighten up by the end of the song. Gwen and the_magician
were great though. We must do it again some time.
The real heart of a filk convention is the circle though. Every evening, after the concerts and dinner, we sit in a circle and sing songs. Friday's circle was small and fun. Saturday's was large and fun. And Sunday's 'dead mouse' was large and fun.
At least, I had fun at all of them, but... well, my name's Piers and I'm a Song Hog.
There are different ways that a circle can operate. Generally, on the uk folk
, they're called singarounds and what happens is everyone sits in a circle and the singing goes around the circle in strictish order, the other common option is to have an MC with a list of singers (or a good memory) who calls people to sing as and when. You hardly ever see what Filkers call a 'chaos' circle in folk clubs or festivals. In a chaos circle, there's no order. People sing what and when they're moved to. Which is fine, when everyone is confident and assertive enough to jump in when they want to, or when the people who are confident and assertive are alive to the possibility that others might want to sing something.
Saturday night at Grantham was a chaos circle. Those of us on the front row of seats had a whale of a time. As an unaccompanied singer with a large, from memory, repertoire and a powerful voice, it's awfully easy for me to just pipe up with something very quickly if things have gone a bit quiet. It wasn't until embarrassingly late that I realised that there were rather too many people in the room that I know are singers, but who hadn't yet sung and asked for people who hadn't sung yet to join in. I'm glad I did. Once we'd opened up a little and consciously tried to bring in more singers, the circle got much mellower and less about showoffs like me vying for position with the rest of the loud and confident crowd.
On Sunday night those of us who got their early agreed to at least start the evening in bardic style. And it stayed that way all night. I made a point of explaining to each newcomer that we were bardic, which way we were going round and, if they arrived during a gap, who'd sung last. This let them decide whether they wanted to sing sooner or later by choosing where they sat. It was lovely. At the height of the circle's size we were taking a _long_ time to get round it, but there was a really nice atmosphere. There was some grumbling from a few of the chaos stalwarts, but there had been some grumbling earlier in the day by some of the folks who don't tend to get heard in chaos, so I reckon we struck a decent balance.
The thing that still mystifies me though was the claim by some chaos folks that "Bardic's all right with a small circle, but once it gets big, you're better off with chaos". They said this as if it were some kind of axiom. I could be misrepresenting them, but the reasoning for this seemed to be that in a large bardic circle you had to wait ages to get a song. I still don't understand how this is a bad thing.
So, I had a great time. Thanks to the organisers for another excellent con and to everyone who made music and listened through the weekend. There's nothing I'd rather be doing (in public, at least) than singing in company. See you next year.