Conrep: 19th UK Filkcon

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D'Zenove Convention (19th UK Filkcon)
Feb 2-4, 2007
Basingstoke Hilton
Basingstoke, England

UK Guest of Honour: Mike Richards
US Guests of Honour: Lady Mondegreen (Merav Hoffman, Seanan McGuire, Batya Wittenberg, plus Amy McNally)

I've looked forward to the UK convention every year since I started going; this year was no exception. I'm friends with the US Guests of Honour, the music is always great, I love the country and the people. I've only missed one (for personal reasons) since I started going at Conthirteena. And, mostly, I had a great time at this one (I think I described it as, "when I get back, I'll have been really glad that I went" and I was, certainly. Most of the time I was there, it was a good convention -- I kept busy when I needed to and spent lots of time socializing.

But no matter how good it is or could be, when you're in the New York area, you have to GET to England, and that means getting across the Atlantic. Fortunately, I like flying, and there are convenient flights from New York to London. Unfortunately, lots of other people also like to fly, and I think most of them were on my plane. Rather than the mostly-empty row that I'd have had when I checked my flight in the afternoon, where I'd have had 3 or 4 empty seats next to me, the plane was packed full. It meant that rather than several hours sleep, I only dozed on and off.

When I got to Heathrow, I gave a called to Janet Maughan; she and Robert were giving me a lift to the con. After a cup of tea (ahhh....tea!) I took advantage of her kind offer of a bed and grabbed a few more deep hours of sleep, followed by a nice hot shower and some fresh bread and brownie bits. And then, off to the con!

My roomie for the con, Mark Bernstein, had already checked in. Since I didn't see him anywhere and the Basingstoke Hilton is unable to provide more than one key per room and Robert and Janet offered to let me dump my pack in their room, I went on downstairs, hugged a bumch of people and went to help Martin Gordon-Kerr, Rick Hewitt, Colin Tuckley and Marilisa Valtazanou with tech setup. Many hands make light work, and it didn't take long before the room was ready to go. During running about, I'd managed a flying (literally) hug from Seanan McGuire, hugs from Kirstin & Volker Tanger (and yay, I've paid for Filkcontinental in Germany!), Juliane "Yooh" Honisch, Sue Posteraro and Tom Jeffers. They are SUCH a cute couple, they really are.

Also on hand was the Filk Film Crew from Market Street Films (Erin, Darrin, Karen and Jim). They've been to several cons before, doing interviews, taping and taking part. They've become part of our community and it's always nice to see them. Nice enough, in fact, that when Bill and Brenda Sutton asked if I wanted to join them for dinner with the crew, I readily and happily accepted. Mark also joined us, so I was able to get my stuff into the hotel room. Dinner was, BTW, excellent. If you find yourself in Basingstoke, I can heartily recommend the Millstone's food and beer -- my dinner was a potato, leek and mushroom bake with goat cheese and a side of veg that was really, really good. I'm thoroughly convinced that the poor reputation that English food has had is from the 50s and rationing; I've had very few bad meals in the UK and this one was superb. I could have done without the smoke in the pub, but the UK is a few years behind NY there.

We got back from dinner a couple of minutes after opening ceremonies had started; most of the concom in dark glasses (most of the concom, because Zander Nyrond and the Countess were, alas, ill and unable to attend). The first official concert of the con was Steve Macdonald (I guess I should say German filker Steve Macdonald), assisted in a couple of spots by his new and lovely wife, Katy Droege-Macdonald. I also got hugs from Lissa Allcock and Sibylle Machat. It was definitely good to be home. German filkers Jela and Ratz, at their first UK con, did some very funny stuff, as did Mark. No, perhaps it's fairer to say that Mark was absolutely hysterical. He did one spoken word piece about the History of FiSci, done in spoonerisms, and it was beyond funny, really.

Hanging out in the lobby wth Rob Wynne, Katy, Gwen Knighton in the lobby was fun. A good part of the reason to come to a convention (indeed, the primary reason) is to see and be with people, talk with them in person, hug them. During the course of that, Katy and I decided that the Apple-Mango drink Gwen was having would make a good mix with vodka, so I ordered us two of them. While the exchange rate was NOT working in my favour for this, it was worth at least trying (and it was a nice mix; you couldn't really taste the alcohol at all. It was very tasty indeed! It was about that time that Mike and Anne Whitaker arrived, and Rika Koerte along with them. There was a nice circle that evening. I had one guitar that Chris "Magician" O'Shea was lending me that he'd sent ahead with Jela and Ratz, but he showed up with the Washburn that I used as part of my set at the Quinze Filk Festival, 4 years prior. I don't know if I actually played in the circle on Friday night. I recall it being relatively low-key and calm, which was good. I cut out reasonably early; I think I was in bed by 2 AM (hey, I was tired!).

Saturday, I was up and breakfasted and then down to run tech for the first two concerts of the day. The first was FanTom, doing a good solid bunch of stuff. (I *finally* got the joke in It Was A Sidhe, after hearing the song how many times?). Kathy Songbird was supposed to be next, but she wasn't there, so the concom asked Doug Hamilton, a bona fide newcomer to filkdom, to take over. He's an American, but had just moved over to the UK two weeks earlier. He did a fine set, very nice job indeed. I'm looking forward to seeing him back next year! (I had breakfast with him one day...I don't recall if it was Saturday or Sunday, but I think Sunday)

The centerpiece of the UK filkcon is the Main Concert, a good long block of one-shots (or 2x10s, perhaps) smack in the middle of the main program. It's a great way to hear different people do all kinds of things. Yes, concerts are great, but they don't have the same variety that the Main Concert does. Part of the fun this year was getting to play MC. Since Zander and Janet sadly were unable to make the con, a few of us had been tapped to act as stand-ins. During the first half of the Main Concert, that meant I got to introduce people (and I only screwed up once! Or maybe twice.)

I'd signed up without really having prepared anything pre-con, so I decided to stick with the songs I'd done in the 2x10 down at GAFilk in January. Of course, I preferred to do them better, if possible ;) I asked Amy McNally to play fiddle for me on Geist again (it sounds so lovely and spooky when she does it), and even suckered Marilisa Valtazanou into backing vocals (she does the song so much better than I do, really; I love listening to her version of it). I also did Fear the Night, backed by Brenda Sutton on bodhran and Chris Conway on low whistle. Sadly, I have no recording of it; from where I stood, it sounded good. Paul Bristow took over MC from me (Stunt Gwen) as the Stunt Zander for the rest of the Main Concert, so I was able to relax and enjoy a bit more of it.

There were so many wonderful bits during the Main Concert that it would be hard to pick just one as the best. A highlight was Phil Allcock's parody of Mich Sampson's "Just Beyond" as "Well Beyond" I swear, next year I'm just going to write down "whatever Phil Allcock sings" under Best Silly on the Sams nominating board, whether he's had a chance ot sing it yet or not. Brilliant stuff, absolutely. Other standout performances for me were Talis Kimberley's "Jam Tomorrow" -- this is a great political protest song -- and the Crooklets, singing Christo's "Alien Salad Abduction".

I was honoured to be asked to join Mike Whitaker again in his arrangement of Gytha North's Music Has a Strong Magic. He'd asked me to join him at is GoH slot at Concertino, and it was a powerful and moving experience. This arrangment was slightly different (not the least because the drummer was Lissa Allcock instead of my son Paul), but I think a bit more powerful. This is the song's "home" territory, and it's well-known and well-loved (deservedly so; UK filk would not be what it is today if it were not for Gytha North). Thank you, Mike!

After the main concert was a "surprise" of sorts. Gwen Knighton, late of Georgia and now married to Joe Raftery, was on the concom. Brenda Sutton still of Georgia and soon to be in Indiana is almost always at the UK con. And Teresa and George Powell flew out from Georgia for the con. Why is this a surprise? Because together, these three women are the original lineup of Three Weird Sisters, and they were together for the first time in over a year. It was grand to hear them again, doing their own songs and my particular favourite, the Echo's Children song "Least of My Kind".

Things got a bit hectic for me after the Main Concert and 3WS. The evening's concerts were Chimes, UK Guest of Honour Mike Richards and US Guests of Honour Lady Mondegreen. I'd signed up to run the sound desk for Chimes, and we had to get all of the evening concerts soundchecked before then. The hotel, meanwhile, had cocked up doubly -- first, by booking a disco in the hotel restaurant (in violation of contract) and second, by deciding that "dinner break from 5-7" meant "serve dinner at 7" -- they eventually set up in a room down the hall by 6 or so. Rather than going out, I decided to eat in the hotel, joining Marilisa, Deborah and Liz Crook and their children (the abovementioned Crooklets) for the hotel buffet. It was quite reasonably priced (for hotel food, at any rate) and the food was good.

The first concert of the evening was actually Mike Richards -- this was a switch in the order because of the disco in the restaurant. Mike plays harp, not an instrument that can drown out what might potentially be a very loud dance. Kudos, BTW, to GK -- as head of sound and tech, he went to the DJ of the disco and worked out some kind of compromise; if there was any bleedover of dance music to the program room, I didn't hear it. One of the pieces I really liked was Mike playing various well-known songs as a medley. It takes a bit of time to recognize them, sometimes.

Following Mike was Chimes. Chimes has a special connection with this particular hotel. They literally came together just in time to get to the UK con the last time it was in this hotel, back in Contabile Fortean. Usually 4 people, in this incarnation, they were Rika Koerte, Marilisa Valtazanou and Peter Westhead, with guest-shots from Steve Macdonald See, while Marilisa was writing out the tech list and set list, she looked up at me with a "Dave, can you play snare drum?" Well, it just so happens that I can (I can play a full set as well, although not quite as good and not much past your basic rock beat ;) ). So, I found myself sitting on stage behind a set of electronic drums, playing snare in one verse of a song I didn't really know. Fortunately, Marilisa sat down and taught me the song before dinner. Just as fortunately, Christo stayed behind the sound desk to help Hilary Croughton, who'd volunteered to be the grasshopper, learning sound. I think she did fine, personally. I am, to be honest, biased, but Chimes was wonderful. Really good stuff. It was different with 2 regular members (Dmitria and Matt) missing and 2 subs (Rika and Smac) in their places, but I think no less good. The funniest moment was probably with Phil Allock as guest for "Thief to Little Pieces" -- he'd rewritten parts of the (already very funny) song and totally corpsed Marilisa during the singing of it.

US Guest of Honour Lady Mondegreen rounded out the Saturday night concerts. Now, I've known these ladies for a while, from the very beginnings of the group, and they've just gotten better and better as time goes on. This was no exception; it was quite possibly the best set that I've heard them do. Amy McNally, normally heard on fiddle, joined them in singing. Other guests included Mike Whitaker on electric guitar and Phil Allcock on drums and it was all wonderful. It was grand seeing friend honoured, yes it was (and I really liked the filk of "Lady Marmalade")

And then it was time for more open filk! There was a good circle going on in the main room, lots of nice stuff. I hear tell that there was a smaller circle in the alternate room, but I never got there. There was some wonderful stuff. Christo sang "Three Headed Girl" with a pickup chorus of Katy, Rika and Marilisa behind him, Mike Whitaker and I did my "Go on eBay" (Mike's the driving force behind Fleetfoot Mike, a Fleetwood Mac tribute band -- and Rika picked up her guitar as well, since she's also part of the band -- which is good, because I don't play it the same way and I eventually dropped out my guitar and let Rika take over). Tom Jeffers sang a love song to Sue (they really, really, REALLY are cute together). The circle thinned out considerably, but was still going when I pumpkined at around 4.

Chris "Keris" Croughton showed up on Sunday morning. It was iffy as to whether or not he'd make it; he'd only been planning on Sunday as it was, but he was also feeling unwell. It was good to see him, though. I spent lots of time chatting on Sunday morning (with a vast amount of time at the Bad Joke Table, with Jela, Ratz and Sib). I'm afraid I wasn't in the right frame of mind to truly get the Bad Jokes; I was tired and thoughtful for a good chunk of Saturday and Sunday (more so on Monday, but that's post-con). I did listen to a good chunk of Piers Cawley's set; he's got a great repetoire of traditional songs, many of which I'd not heard before (what can I say? I came into filk with a rock background, not a folk one).

The UK filkcon is traditionally bid on, where different groups theoretically vie for the right to hold the next one. That's the theory; in practice, I don't know that there's ever been a serious bidding war between two groups to hold the next con. However, in in the case of an uncontested bid (as was this one), there's still a bid session and a vote on Sunday. The group presenting this bid announced for the same hotel that last year's convention used (I wasn't at 1812tone, mainly for personal reasons) so I don't know how it was, but voted yea on the bid. And then they announced the guests and...the name. The guests are excellent choices. The US Guests of Honour will be Jeff and Maya Bonhoff...and the UK Guest of Honour? None other than Rika. That is so well deserved, and you can bet I'm going to be there for it next year (yes, I already have my membership! I am SO there). Because Rika's originally German, and the derivation of the Bonhoff's surname is as year's pun and the 20th UK filk convention will be...2t0nic! (Yes, that's pronounced teutonic).

The n'Early Music Consort was up on Sunday as well. That was a lovely concert, and whet my appetite for FilkOntario in March (when the n'MC will be Guests of Honour, Filk Waifs, Interfilk Guests and Special Guests all at once). I did not, I admit, used to have an appreciation for choral music; that's changed over time. The set ended with Mike Richard's song, "Will Ye Come Back Home" -- it's really good hearing everyone else singing along to it. Mike had his second set of the con after that (the UK con does 2 GoH concerts for each GoH -- you get twice as much time to hear them!)

Finally came the presentation of the Sams and the Sams concert. These are awards, nominated and voted on at the convention in 4 categories. Best Serious, Best Silly, Best At-Con Performance and Filk Gold. Serious and Silly need to be 4 years less or younger, Filk Gold is older than that and needs to have not won an award previously. As is custom, Melusine presented the awards (made by Omega) and announced the votes. Best Serious song went to Marilisa for "One Small Boat." This is a very touching and lovely song, and it makes me cry every single time I hear it. Best Silly went to Phil Allcock for "Well Beyond" (and well deserved, it was). A very funny moment came when Best At-Con was went to Phil AND Marilisa for "Thief to Little Pieces"! Fix, fix! Filk Gold went to Gytha North's "Music Has a Strong Magic" -- hard to believe that it hadn't won an award before.

In a brief break before the Sams concert, Mich Sampson played us a song trying to get people to come to HarmUni in the summer. (It's a filk relaxacon, part of but distinct from, the Unicon. I'm a little hazy on the distinction between that and a filk track, but I expect someone can explain it to me).

The Sams concert was wonderful, it truly was. Each of the winning songs was played. "One Small Boat" made me cry (again). "Well Beyond" and "Thief to Little Pieces" had me laughing (and Marilisa managed not to completely corpse during it, AND she got in a rewrite zinger of her own). But "Music Has a Strong Magic" was...very special, really. Rhodri James stood up in front of the room and started singing solo. People joined in, droning, harmonizing -- Piers was doing a lovely counterpoint. I stood next to Talis and Rika and followed their harmony line, the entire room was joining in. I'm not a very mystical person, really. I don't have any strong belief in an afterlife of any sort; I consider it to be essentially unknowable.

Gytha North died of cancer early on the morning of 24th May 2006. But she was right there in that room with us.

Closing ceremonies, the passing of the baton to the next concom and the traditional singing of "Sam's Song" -- and that was the official end of the con. There remained packing up the tech and saying goodbye to people. Those two happen to go on at the same time, so I was often in and out of the tech breakdown to make sure I got to hug people who were leaving and who I really didn't want to leave (or at least not leave without a chance to hug them). One minor problem with doing tech breakdown (aside from missing a fair number of goodbyes) is that by the time it's done, most people have already gone off to dinner. I'm not, I admit, a super-big fan of the Great Mass-Exodus-For-Food Meal -- you still don't get to talk with everyone and it all takes forever. But it would be nice to go, once in a while.

Dinner was, however, very pleasant. Bill Sutton suggested eating in the hotel, where they had a nice buffet for £12, and I was quite happy of the company! So after teardown, more goodbyes to the GKs, the Whitakers and Rika, Talis and Simon, I found myself at a table with George and Teresa Powell, Bill and Brenda Sutton, Rick Hewitt, Hitch, Colin Tuckley and Mark Bernstein. It was fun. We had conversations about pantomime, aviation (George is a multi-engine IFR rated pilot!), music, travel, theatre...really, nice and relaxing.

Lots of people stick around for the Dead Dog circle at the UK con; possibly a good third of more of the membership, which meant that there was still lots of music. What was wonderfully cool was hearing my own songs sung while I was in the room. Aaron Davies sang "I Am the Very Model of a Noble Númenorean" and, later, Hitch (accompanied by Mich) sang "I Am a Nazgûl King" Other standout songs were Mark madeira'ing Amy McNally, Rob Wynne playing Horslips' "King of Morning, Queen of Day" (must nick his chording for that) and singing "The Wild Hunt" with Mich.

Alas, Monday morning came too quickly. I had my final con breakfast in the hotel and got into Rob and Janet's car for the trip back to Hounslow East and a short day in London before the flight back to New York. I really wished that I hadn't had to leave.

It was a great con, and I'm glad that I went. It was good to be home with family. As usual, it wasn't long enough. Personal highlights for me: Music Has a Strong Magic (both with Mike and at the Sams Concert), Rika being announced as Guest of Honour for 2t0nic, Mark's Brief History of Fi-Sci, Christo and Brenda playing with me on Fear the Night and getting to play with Chimes!

Useful links:

My pictures of D'Zenove Conevention on Flickr:
The Filk Film Project:
Lady Mondegreen:

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