Edinburgh folk pubs – great music reminds me of a certain someone

A rainy day in Edinburgh – nothing for it but to head for an afternoon folk session in one of my favourite pubs

“It’s a Saturday afternoon”, my friend says to me, as a smile spreads across her face.

I smile back, nodding in recognition. It is a Saturday afternoon and while we could easily be lying at home wasting a day, or bogged down in never-ending chores, we’re not, we’re here in the snug Captain’s Bar in Edinburgh, supping on pints as we await the next song. The gathered musicians are sat on benches and stools mere feet away, and we’ve rarely been happier.

Music sessions take place here every night and some afternoons and while the onus is on Scottish and Irish folk music, it’s not always the case as we’ve just discovered. We sat in stunned silence minutes ago as a dainty and impeccably dressed lady sang an a capella version of Katie Melua’s Closest Thing to Crazy with such vulnerability that she turned a middle-of-the-road pop song into something quite beautiful, and the whole pub (well all 20 or so of us, it is small) are still recovering from singing a raucous rendition of Windmill in Old Amsterdam. It’s certainly not your average Saturday afternoon.

Normal service soon resumes. The bar man nips out from behind the bar, picks up his fiddle and joins in a jig, while another lady floors us with a beautifully delivered Gaelic lament.

Sad songs are good for you

Perhaps caught up in the moment, my friend tells me that when she dies she wants us to throw her wake here.  I promise her I’ll do my best (if I’m still alive).

The sombre tone of the song makes me reflect too. It’s a year since my brother died and while the popular analogy pertaining to grief talks of the empty chair at the table, for reasons I won’t go into, that doesn’t fit with him at all.

It’s at moments like these that I feel his absence most. He was a musician and from the age of five or six when he was given his first guitar, he would play alongside my eldest brother at family events or social gatherings when our Irish mother would take to the floor, or convince me or one of our many aunts, uncles and cousins to sing. He liked it more than he would admit, though his eyes would roll if any of us dared dropped out of time.

I wonder then what he would have thought about me getting up to sing the previous night at another of my favourite folk music pubs, Sandy Bell’s? I’m sure whatever he thought, he would have been none too surprised. I just hope my timing was OK.