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June 2001

Ken Perlman & Session, Perthshire

I didn't realise it at the time, but a wee trip to see Sam Gifford turned into a mini CoMando Summit, with Mike Nelson visiting from Southern England. Sam had arranged a wee pub concert with visiting American clawhammer banjo player Ken Perlman, so I drove the 45 miles to Sam's Pegasus workshop in the afternoon. Mike Nelson was there with two of his mandolins, a fantastic F-style and his brand new A style (Mike has made lots of instruments, but only three mandolins), of which I was in awe. It sounded excellent, and had a really lovely feel to it.

Mike and I did what any two mandolinists would do at first meeting: talked Dawg picks, doodled a coupla licks, talked mandolins ("Have you ever tried a ______ mandolin?" "Oh yeah, I had a shot of Tim O'Brien's last year..."). Needless to say I'm terribly unsophisticated when it comes to mandolin experience. I've played three great mandolins in my life: Sam's Red Diamond, Mike's Nelson #3, and a friend's Vanden.

The gig was in an ordinary Highland hotel in Aberfeldy. I've seen Ken before, so I know how good he is, loved hearing his selection of tunes and his background stories. However, it was after he stopped playing, and Sam said "Let's play some music" that it became, for me, a brilliant evening. Sam played guitar, and let me play his Red Diamond; Mike played Nelson #2, Ken on banjo, and we were joined by Pete Clark, a superb Scottish fiddler. As Sam said, "We've got a band!"

I get nervous in such situations. I have a horror of not knowing any of the tunes called, of sitting there like an idiot with a mandolin on my lap doing nothing. I shouldn't. I knew almost all the tunes, and even my fingers seemed to say "Relax, Nige, we know what to do". I managed to access forgotten parts of my memory banks and pull tunes out that I haven't played for years, and they kept coming! Bill Cheatham, Whisky Before Breakfast, Cherokee Shuffle, Scotland (Bill Monroe), etc. And the locals loved it, cheering and clapping every time we stopped.

At 1.00am I had to stop - I had to go home! I was high, though, and told everyone how much I'd enjoyed it. Sam and I talked of arranging other sessions.