Have you ever been to this weekly Cork session that's 25 years old?

Ronan Leonard catches up with musicians Hank Wedel and Ray Barron, who’s weekly session is still going strong after 25 years...
Have you ever been to this weekly Cork session that's 25 years old?
Hank and Ray. Picture: 

“When we started, I don’t think we thought in terms of ‘how long will this last’, we never talked about it, it was just something we were doing. It has lasted because people keep coming to it and we keep it fresh for people.”

That is how Ray Barron sums up the longevity of the session he has played with Hank Wedel every Monday in Charlie’s Bar for the last 25 years. Since then, they’ve played well over 1,000 times in that same corner, have been joined by hundreds of fellow musicians and played countless songs — sometimes once, sometimes regularly.

Songs are central to Hank’s affinity to their session: “My favourite moments are the first times I’ve played songs in there, like when I’d learned Bob Dylan’s ‘Romance In Durango’ — I have a specific memory of playing that song in that place for the first time — and the same goes for going to Ray’s house and learning South American tunes, or when I’d just finished writing my songs like ‘Listen’, ‘The Time We Share’ or ‘New Yorkers’ and playing them to the crowd. That means a lot to me.”

Hank’s own writing and that session have finally combined “and after 25 years I’ve eventually written a song about the place! We also play there every Christmas Eve, and I’ve written a song centring around that. It started ‘once upon a time’ when Ray’s family and kids would come in and mine would too, there’d be a few friends and there’d be a few stragglers popping in who’d just got off buses and trains. It’s grown into an institution, it’s packed now on Christmas Eve and the last bar open in the city! So the song is about that and the characters and atmosphere. We will be releasing that later in the year as part of our 25th-anniversary celebrations.”

In many ways, Hank considers their session as a sort of clubhouse for musicians, both from Cork and further afield.

“I’m a working musician, Ray is too. If I’m gigging Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday — well, that’s a good week and meeting up on Monday is when us musicians take stock of things. Many come into our session after their weekend of playing, whether they play on the night is another story. We’ve had so many people play with us like Mick Flannery, John Spillane, Clare Sands, but another thing is there’s as many people that have played with us once and I never met them again!”

Hank and Ray. Picture: 
Hank and Ray. Picture: 

On the subject of guests, the session has invited several musicians who have influenced them in one way or another. As Hank puts it: “These are musicians with a great legacy in Irish music and also appreciate what Ray and I have been doing there”.

Ray expounded on what threads them all together: “They wouldn’t be ‘contemporaries’ as such, as they are all a little bit older than us, they are all... For instance, we had Johnny Moynihan join us two weeks ago, he is a true legend. If it wasn’t for him, contemporary Irish music wouldn’t be what it is. He and our other guests brought Irish session and trad music out of the wilderness, it’s hard to explain just how unrespected Irish traditional music and sessions were in the late 60s.”

Ray gave a rundown on the guests they have invited over the next few months: “To my mind, the most important person in the formation of Cork’s early folk scene would be Mick Murphy, he would be best known for Lee Valley String Band and Stokers Lodge, he comes to our session regularly but rarely plays. Then we have Niall Toner, many would know from his RTÉ Radio Roots Freeway show, but he is was also a trailblazer in playing old time American and bluegrass music. We also have Ron Kavana, he’s hard to define really, he left Ireland in the 60s and moved to London and became a real stalwart of that scene and played with Juice On The Loose, The Balham Alligators, and also played on some Pogues records.

“He was playing Americana before people even used that term. People mightn’t know his name, but they’ve heard his music.

“Finally, we have Declan Sinnott — groundbreaking stuff; Horslips, Moving Hearts, Mary Black and, of course, he just played last Saturday with Christy Moore in the Marquee.”

Hank & Ray’s session is held in Charlies every Monday from 9.30pm-ish. Their guests’ scheduled dates are Mick Murphy, Monday, July 15; Niall Toner, July 29; Ron Kavanagh, August 26; and Declan Sinnott, September 30. Details of future sessions can be found at www.facebook.com/hankandrayatcharlies

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