The Jamaica Plain-based band Gloucester Hornpipe and Clog Society has been performing an annual benefit concert for the Friends of the Jamaica Plain Branch Library for decades. Last year, a member of the band released a documentary about the band. The Gazette recently conducted a question-and-answer session through email with co-founders David Rosen and Owen Hartford about the band, the documentary, and the annual benefit concert. For more information about the band, visit hornpipe.org. (The session has been edited. Rosen and Hartford jointly answered the questions in third person.)
Q.: How would you describe the music that the Gloucester Hornpipe and Clog Society band plays?
A.: The repertoire has evolved through various kinds and styles of music, depending, to some extent, on the changing personnel in the band. It has included Irish, English, Appalachian, maritime, French Canadian, Balkan, Middle Eastern, and original songs and tunes. Currently the core band plays primarily maritime, Celtic (including Irish) and original songs and tunes, although the range is much wider at the annual reunion concert, also including Cajun, Blues, and much more.
Q.: What’s the story behind the band’s formation?
A.: David Rosen (Jamaica Plain, since 1978) and Owen Hartford (formerly Jamaica Plain, and now for many years in Milton) were roommates in a late 1960s and early 1970s UMass Amherst graduate education program. Owen was a fiddler and David had played a home-made instrument called the pogocello (that he will be playing at the Saturday April 21 concert at the Jamaica Plain Branch Public Library.) They asked friends to play along with them until it became apparent that they could play for others. In the mid-1970s they played in Harvard Square, and they would sometimes collect enough money to then take themselves to a local restaurant. Their two early breakthroughs were a dance as part of a church supper in Gloucester, and an invitation to perform at an annual Irish music concert in Hartford, Connecticut. They then began performing throughout Massachusetts, New England, and a decade later, internationally, two times at the Letterkenny International Folk Festival in Donegal, Ireland. The second time they tied for second place!
Q.: Where does the name come from?
A.: At the church supper in Gloucester, everyone was having a great time and the minister wanted to introduce us. We didn’t yet have a name, so David looked down at the Irish folk dance sheet music and replied that they were the Hornpipe and Clog (both Irish dance tunes)…Society. The minister announced the band as The Gloucester Hornpipe and Clog Society. That was in 1970, and the name has been with the band for 48 years.
Q.: Is everyone in the band a professional musician or have members branched out into other ventures?
A.: Some have taught music, for example flute, fiddle or guitar. Some have written music. Most of the band members have performed in one musical tradition or another, and many have moved on to play in other groups or to form their own bands. It’s a rich mix of musical sensibilities that makes for a diverse and lively blending. For example, at their annual reunion concert at the JP Branch Library on April 21, core band members will be joined by former band members. Among them are accordionist and singer, Ralph Tufo, from Winthrop, who will sing original Cajun songs that he has performed with the Squeezebox Stompers and earlier with the Boogaloo Swami’s. Among the current core band members, Diane Taraz (Arlington) has a solo career as a singer/songwriter and as a member of the Renaissance music group, Vox Lucens, and Lynn Noel is a maritime and chantey singer and performer with the Old Howard Musical Troupe. Accordionist Nancy Koch (Roslindale) banjo player, Linda Abrams (Waltham) and singer and multi-instrumentalist Paul Harty also all play with other groups, including the Moody Street Band.
Q.: How did the band become involved in performing an annual benefit concert for the Friends of the Jamaica Plain Branch Library?
A.: For many years we did a benefit concert for public libraries in other states, Hartford, CT and in Teaneck, New Jersey, for example. Then, perhaps in the mid-1980s we decided to support a Friends Group of one of our local branch libraries in Jamaica Plain, of which David had long been a member, and in the past had served on the board.
Q.: How did the documentary come about?
A.: In 2006, a friend of band members, John Berger, (South Boston and Cape Cod) came up from New York to make a documentary about the band. He spent an annual reunion weekend with us, shooting a rehearsal, the concert, the after-concert party and jam session, and he interviewed band members. He then he went back to NY — and disappeared. Every few years or so, Owen would ask John about what happened to the videographer guy. Nobody knew. Finally, in 2016, the video guy mentioned to John that he still had those old tapes, had never used them, and asked if the band would be interested in having them?
Fortunately Owen, a photographer and videographer, and also award-winning composer for mandolin orchestras, had an old video camera that could still play that tape format. He found that there was some very interesting personal and historical footage there, and that someone had to do something with it. That became Owen. Many in the band had collected posters and flyers and photos and recordings of the various concerts and adventures. It became an interesting challenge to piece together 40 years worth of material with the 10-year-old video footage and interviews with past and current members.
The documentary has several themes: friendship and family, playing music for fun, not as a professional career, music selection and arranging by consensus, adaptation and inclusion of music traditions and repertoires brought by new band members, and perhaps now a Jamaica Plain tradition; this may be the longest-performing folk band in Jamaica Plain’s history.
Q.: Anything else you would like to add?
A.: There’s a free screening of the documentary at the Jamaica Plain Branch Library, at Sedgwick and South Streets at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 14.
The annual reunion concert, a benefit for the Friends of the Jamaica Plain Branch Library, will be from 7:00-9:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 21. A suggested donation is appreciated to the Friends of $10, at the door.