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[personal profile] stevieannie
We made magic this weekend. Pure magic.

When we pulled up the drive to the Manor, and saw that incredible tudor frontage, stone mullions, leaded glass, towers and grounds spread out before us, I suspected that we were onto something special. The croquet lawns, the maypole, the woods.... Oh, it was *gorgeous*. Inside was just as good. A few hardy souls (ourselves included) had arrived a little early, and had a foretaste of the staff's attitude when we were welcomed in, sat down and given tea and biscuits to settle with. When we asked whether this was the previous group's tea, and that we didn't want to leave anyone short, the staff member on duty said, "There's always more tea...." with an incredulous look on her face. How apt that phrase was to prove over the following weekend.

If you've looked at the pictures on the website and thought, "it can't *really* be like that", then you're right. It's actually far, far better. Original oak panelling, the second-best folk library in Europe next to the bar (did I think of Sutton? Oh yes, dear reader, I did...) and a set of program rooms that had the finest acoustics that I think I've ever had the pleasure to sing in. When Keris arrived, having kindly brought his tech setup, I tentatively suggested that we might see how things went *without* tech. I'd scheduled Tim and I to do a half-hour song spot first to test this out, so that if it all went a bit wrong then we wouldn't impose that on any other performers.

It didn't. The acoustics were *perfect* for unamplified performance. We sang a set that we'd tried to pace to be "different", in the spirit of ManorCon. We did acapella stuff, new stuff (why yes, I am developing an anarchopolitical bent, why do you ask), stuff by other filkers (thankyou Talis - that remains one of the finest gifts I've ever had), stuff with me as an accompanist to Tim and so forth. We ended with Peter Bellamy's "Roll Down" from his epic folk opera, "The Transports" to warm people up for the community sing shanty session later. It was during this song that I realised the best seat in the audience was on the stage. Magic was happening. We were stood on a stage, but we weren't singing to people - we were singing *with* them. I didn't sing the last two choruses. I was too busy listening to what everyone else was doing with the harmonies. I don't think I've ever heard anything so beautiful.

Minstrel took the stage after us, and by the look on his face I realised that he was getting the same exact feeling that we did. He wasn't singing solo, he was leading the way for everyone else to sing a half-hour of excellent songs along with him. It was beautiful. Perfect. From this point on, every performer who took to the stage experienced this extraordinary feeling of being carried along with the audience. Talis rose to the "something different" challenge and let other people choose her songs for her, leading to a wonderful mix of old and new (I'm so pleased my choice of "Scarlet and Green" made it in - I adore that song!), and finished with a funny little gem of a song about her playing style ("Barre chords are................ hard!"). Mike Richards presented a polished set of old and new songs, and purposefully re-ordered his set to finish with "Will Ye Come Back Home?" to experience the "Best Seat in the Audience". Ali Richards also embraced "something different" and played recorder on stage with Mike, which blended beautifully with the harp and gave a wonderful sense of reality to the Pied Piper song they performed. Sunday saw Playing Rapunzel (I want to write the "Flying Rapunzels" which sounds like a trapeze act...) give a moving and polished performance, they made excellent use of the wide variety of fine pianos which were everywhere. Our half hour sets were concluded with Kathy Sterry who definitely won the prize for "best use of stage space" as well as "unwittingly apt choice of closing song" for "A Streak of Bad Luck" which, as we all know is about a poor chap losing his trousers in unfortunate circumstances. I was relieved that she didn't rewrite it to change the protaganist's name to something rhyming with "Beers", or the situation of trouser-losing to be a rather exuberant basket-teaching session at a ceilidh. And the less said about that, the better :-) Anyway, she did *wonderfully*!

The "main concert" was an hour and was *packed* with great stuff. I can't mention everyone by name, but when Peter Wareham got up at the end and turned around to say, "What a FANTASTIC main concert!!!!", I think he summed up everyone's thoughts. Magician MC'd much better than I possibly could have, and I'm very grateful to him for hit. Thanks, Chris!

Whilst I'm thinking about volunteers, can I just say thankyou to everyone. There wasn't an official volunteer roster, but when something needed doing, people just did it. Thankyou to everyone who helped out . Thankyou to Tim, Piers, Lissa, Talis, Magician and Minstrel, all of whom helped to run and lead program items. It would have been impossible without you :-)

But oh - the singarounds and circles... Oh. Music *does* have a strong magic, and what magic was woven this weekend! We all sang together all the time.

We sang old songs, new songs, funny and blue songs,
Songs that made me laugh and made me weep.
Together we all sang, and oh, those rooftops rang,
With harmonies that follow me through sleep...

Sorry. That keeps happening. I'm thinking in rhyme. I think songs are burbling just below the surface. After the songwriting tea geek, I couldn't help noticing that the words "murine" and "urine" rhyme too. Amorous singing mice, here we come! Sorry....

I so wanted a convention where *everyone* could sing. I wanted to create the kind of atmosphere where no-one would need to be cajoled to play or sing, because it would just feel right. I have had some of the best musical experiences of my life in play-along / jam sessions and I wanted at least one hour of that at this con. I couldn't have dreamed that we could make that experience last the whole weekend. Wherever I went there was music: Mich at the grand piano in the hall, playing showtunes for people to sing along to, a bar-full of people learning ceilidh tunes to dance to later, people belting out G&S in quiet practise rooms, Jared shocking people with impromptu piano and vocal performance of "Superman Sex Life Boogie". It was wonderful.

Oh, we didn't just play and sing - we danced too! We had the world's most homespun ceilidh, which was tremendous fun - I played in the band!!!! I was so excited!!! Because there was no tech needed, we had the pleasure of tempting Keris onto bass guitar, which was also tremendous fun. At the end of the ceilidh we were comparing blisters (harp vs. bass) my blisters were evenly spread across six fingers (I know - bad technique - should have been eight!) but Keris' were concentrated on his thumbs. Ouch! But what fun in pursuit of blisters :-) On the subject of dignity and ceilidhs, I shall say very little, but I understand considerable chocolate may be offered as a Bounty (ha!) on the head of anyone publishing photographs...

There's just too much to say. I haven't even begun to cover the sword-dancing workshops, the hidden dens in the woodlands, the library and the food. Oh GOD! The FOOD!!!!! The only reason that I'm not considering doing this again as a full week is that I think Halsway Manor would kill us through overeating. Here's a hint of Sunday:

8.30am - breakfast (cereal, porridge, full english and fruit to follow). Tea and coffee to follow.
11am - coffee and biscuits
1pm - onion soup or melon, bread roll, roast pork with crackling, roast potatoes, veggies, applesauce and gravy. As much rhubarb and apple crumble as you could eat. Fruit to follow. Tea and coffee to follow that.
4pm - Cream tea. Lots of cream. Clotted cream. More tea to follow.
6.30pm - Buffet dinner of quiche, potato salad, bean salad, green salad, tomatoes, carrots, and lots more stuff. Fruit to follow. Tea and coffee to follow that.
10pm - Hot chocolate and birthday cake.

I mentioned at one point that I thought the programming was happening in the brief gaps between the catering. I wasn't wrong. I think I've put on at least 2lbs over the weekend!

The staff were incredibly helpful. When I wanted to organise a cake for Tim, Ian-the-Halsway-Chef said that I didn’t have to bring one – he’d just bake and ice one on site. When Phil and Lissa asked about plain food for Alex, Ian magicked a pizza out of thin air. Nothing was too much trouble for the staff – they fetched, ran, sorted out things, helped people settle into rooms, checked mobility scooter sizes against door frames, and were just *wonderful*. We took a collection at the end of the convention and raised just over £50 as a staff tip, which I think they richly deserved. Thanks to everyone for donating to say “thankyou” to the staff.

It was, in conclusion, one of the most wonderful cons I’ve ever been to. I wish I could take all the credit, but so many other people helped: Tim, Jared, Minstrel, Talis, Magician, Piers, Lissa, The HomeSpun Ceilidh Band Members, the Halsway Manor Staff and so many more people besides. Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou.

It was, in fact, so good that I will be doing it again. I am already in talks with Halsway about “HalswayCon Days 2012” dates. Janet Maughan has heroically offered to help with a good head for figures and a non-dyslexic postman, and I have accepted.

Piers led us all in Si Kahn’s “Here is My Home” to end the main concert, and I can honestly swear I’ve never heard anything like the harmony responses from those 42 voices. I’ve killed my voice by belting out the harmonies through the tears, and I ajudge it to be a small price for being part of the experience.

We made magic this weekend, my friends. We made magic.

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