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HarmUni 2001

(Warning. Extreme stream of consciousness posting ahead...)

HarmUni pre-registration: 31
HarmUni WDream Chorus: 38


Small con. Big sound. I'll tell you about it below...

I drove up to the con with Mike and Anne Whitaker and their son, James. Let me say right here at the outset that Anne Whitaker carries a tesseract in her pocket. We fit 3 guitars, amplifier, babystuff, carriage, me, *ALL* my luggage, clothing for Mike and Anne and James, toys, soda, baby pen, air, and a BED in a small sedan. (Ok- so we got rid of the bed within a mile. But it fit).

And then we proceeded to turn a two hour drive from Peterborough to York into four and a half hour horror of traffic jammed traffic circles, restaurants, and babyminding. (Ok, so the restaurant wasn't a horror, and neither was babyminding James. Save for the occasional air raid warnings from low flying hypersonic spoons and chips... But it balanced out the sentence, dammit! (Yes, James has an Arm. Bowling looks to be in his future... (Cricket style bowling- not the US ninepin style... (Yes, I'll stop these asides, soon. I promise. (Ok, just one more...)))))

(I'll stop now and be nice...)

HarmUni was a small filk relaxicon held in parallel with Eboracon at the University of York. HarmUni was actually almost run as the filk track to Eboracon- just one small fact prevented the impression that this was the case.

"And we walked, 20 miles to the filk room/ lugging instruments upstairs both ways..."

No lie, no exaggeration. I walk a mile in 15 minutes. It was a 20 minute walk all the way across campus to get to the filk site. I figure it was about 1.1 miles from the food and bar to the music.

On the other hand, if you have to walk, this is a good place to do it. No major hills, ramps everywhere, and even a lake in the middle of campus with very scenic bridges to cross. Ok- so it came pre-stocked with ducks and geese that would chase you begging a food handout if you stood still admiring the view for longer than say....45 seconds. Which meant the obvious of watching where you put your feet. But on the whole, it was a lovely way to pass 20 minutes.

The goal of HarmUni was to have a filk relaxicon in England. It really didn't succeed- but not because it wasn't scheduled well. It was. There was an average of an hour gap between every single program item. But factor in a 20 minute walk each way; then the regular time slippage you get at a con- and you can see how the extra space went the way of the dodo. From what I understand, the room assignment was a fairly last-minute thingie; and by Saturday evening about Lissa and Rafe managed to get about half the programming moved closer to the amenities.


We got to the University of York at about 7pm. Checked in, and I found my room. Dang- I haven't lived in a dorm in over 15 years. It was a nice room; very clean and cozy. And the community bathroom for the floor was right outside my door. I win. *grin*

By this time, it was dark. And I took my first walk across the campus to find HarmUni. The signage was great- but even so I got lost twice trying to find the right place in the dark. ( I learned later that the signage was put into place by the Raftery girls- GREAT going Anna and Emily!). After a bit of running back and forth with luggage, guitar, etc; I managed to settle in at the filk room just as Mike Whitaker started his set.

Mike has had some rather severe sight problems in recent years; and as such has not done a solo concert in quite a while. He had successful surgery in March to correct much of the problem- and as such is once again able to see the lyrics of his own music. It was a treat to see him play. During the set, he brought up his wife, Anne, and Phil Allcock in various combinations to help out with the arrangements of some of his songs.

Mike's concert started at 10pm; and lasted to 11. After which, open filking started. I sat through the first half of the open circle placing captions in the WorlDream photo albums; and dragged out the guitar after I was done (about midnight).

Chris (Minstrel) Malme, Joe, Anna, and Emily Raftery, and Alasdair and Jessica Prett were in the circle, as well as one half of the Filk GoH, Katy Dröge.

Things seem to close down earlier in Britain than they do in the US- we were pretty much done by about 2:30am. I think that this is probably because breakfast is provided- HOT! :) and is free... at ohmigod 8am.

We did instabands at this con, and the sign up was at 11am on Saturday morning. I managed to drag my tail out of bed at about that time; and so walked in at about 11:30. Lissa had anticipated me- I was already signed up in a band with Andrew Barton, Joe Raftery, Mich Sampson, and Martin Gordon-Kerr. We quickly gathered, agreed that we would meet at lunch to determine when we would meet. We then trudged back across the campus (I'd been in the room all of maybe 15 minutes... we really got our excercise) to get to the lunch room. Over lunch we agreed to get together to practice after the 'Filk from Germany' hour later Saturday evening.

After lunch- back across campus to Phil Allcock's set. Phil is a nasty, nasty, evil man; with a wicked sense of humor. And just when you think you can't laugh any more; he hits you with songs so poignant that you don't know what to do with yourself. Phil- when is the album coming out? Hmmm?

After Phil's set, we were treated to an hour and a half of the Guests of Honor- Juliane Hönisch and Katy Dröge. Ju lives in Frankfort. Katy lives in Hamburg. And the way they sing together; you'd think that they were either sisters (they're not) or had been living very closely together for years (they haven't). Honestly, I would travel half the planet to hear these ladies sing. Oh, right. I am travelling half the planet this year- partly to hear these ladies sing... :) Part of the reason for the WorlDream is because I wanted to see everyone I care about in filk for the new Millennium- and Yooh and Katy are definitely two of those reasons.

We then proceeded into the Pegasus Nominees concert, hosted by Mike Whitaker. Performers included Phil Allcock, Mike and Anne Whitaker, myself, Rhodri James, Valerie Housden, Talis, and Katy. I think that it was a screaming success; especially given the STACK of completed ballots I'm carrying back with me to the States. If you want to vote on the Pegasus awards, you can do so at You can find more information on the Pegasus awards there as well.

Things broke for dinner at this point- which was about 5:30. I stayed in the room to start preparing for my concert set that was to take place at 7p that evening. It was while doing this that it occurred to me that this was my first overseas concert set. Thanks, muse. Great. NOW I get butterflies...Went to dinner after doing some basic list-management; then up to my room to dress for the concert.

The concert itself is a blur. I remember doing When I Was A Boy and Mike Whitaker's When I Were A Lad back to back. I remember trying to do material off of Songspinner and failing badly. The one thing that I do remember clearly; and will hold with me- is the sound at the end of Merry Meet. The song ends acapella, with as many people as possible singing along. The sound that came back to me after I stopped the guitar and while we were all singing pulled me in front of the microphones just to hear. It was incredible spontaneous harmony. And that was where I got the idea that I'd like to hear this con take a stab at Many Hearts, One Voicewithout instrumentation.

After my set, we were treated to an hour of German filk from Yooh and Katy, Rika Körte, and Volker and Kirsten Tanger. My apologies, guys. I was still pretty much in aftershock from my set- it's like I hit a blur the moment my set started and the next time I woke up we were WorlDream rehearsing...

Our instaband did rehearse after the German Filk program. We started practicing a Phil Allcock parody (ttto Eleanor Rigby); and quickly realized that this was not quite the right thing for this con. So, we wrote a song. It's not a good song. But in some remote reaches of farthest Burma it can be considered singable... We even decided on a band name- The Upside Down Ducks. It's because we quack up under pressure.

After rehearsal, went back to the main campus- the evening's festivities had been moved to a room within 40 feet of the bar. MUCH more civilised. :)

We rehearsed Many Hearts, One Voice; and especially worked on harmonies for the bridge. I still get shivers thinking about it...

We then moved on and did the final three songs from the Tech catagory of the Pegasus Nominees concert (we weren't able to quite finish in the time allowed earlier); and proceeded to open filk.

I admit it. I had fun. I had a LOT of fun. And I had more fun Sunday night; which, unfortunately, has somewhat eclipsed the fun I had Saturday night...

Sunday morning bright and early at 11am, we all gathered for the WorlDream recording at the room across campus.

I've been asked by many people what it's like to be at one of these sessions. I've been intentionally reticent- because everyone's experience is different. I've seen and felt joy, tears, laughter, heartsickness, distance, loss, love, and harmony. I've gotten choked up so's that I almost couldn't go on. I've almost laughed so hard that I couldn't go on. All of this and more at every single session.

And I've always come away feeling incredibly, incredibly uplifted.

This session was no exception.

We sat down and did a quick run through of the song; then stood and ... and...

sang. ah. sound.

It felt, well... you have to have been there. But it was ... well. it was... (damn. still doesn't work). And I knew that we had plenty of material for the CD recorded just in the first shot.

Then I put down the guitar- gave a starting pitch- and for the next six minutes we sang. Without strings. Without whistles. Without accompaniment of any sort. Just human voice- lifted and lifting. It was recorded- but we didn't do it for the recording. We did it for the joy of singing; of community, and of togetherness. We didn't trip over the instrumental section- we sang a chorus through it- with no preperation. We didn't need the small guitar interludes between each verse- we were all ready and together at each pause.



Steve heaves a sigh, and tries to get back to reporting and not reminiscing...

Instabands performed next- and DANG but they sounded good! It's interesting- everyone worries that they haven't had enough rehearsal; everyone just knows that they're going to sound horrible- and no one seems to realize that the synergy created by a band glosses over every person's individual weaknesses- making the whole much greater than the sum of its parts.

After the Instabands broke up, Mich Sampson and Talis both did short sets. I'm sorry to say that I missed Mich entirely- I was busy recovering just outside the room. What little I did hear was *wonderful*- she needs to get out more. Like, to the States. hmmm...

Talis did a purely all-request concert. (Yes, Seanan, she did X-Libris. And yes, she's seen the pictures from ConChord. She was delighted. :)) So many people have commented on the amount of energy encased in her tiny package that I won't add to the hordes that have said it... oh, wait. Sorry... I'll just leave it that I can listen to Talis for hours. And hours. And hours. (Yes, I had to buy a replacement copy of Archetype Cafe; because it got scratched from being placed into and out of it's case so many times to listen to it...)

At this point The Con Was Over.


Actually, everybody kind of hung out for a bit. I went off and played for the ducks by the lakeside- and about 15 of us (Katy, Talis, Simon, David, Rika, Volker, Kirsten, Mike, Anne, James, Phil, Lissa, Alex, Valerie, Colin) went out for chinese for dinner.

Why is it that there is Chinese food available in Britain that you can't get in America? Like toffee bananas and apples. And sesame prawn toast. And fried crab sticks. Hmmm? This is a great injustice- and needs to be fixed NOW! Cuz I can't afford to go to Britain every time I want to eat chinese...

We returned to the University for the Poorly Puppy filk. Much livelier than a Dead Dog...

I had brought over my doublet and hose for my concert- but it was too bloody hot and humid for them. As it was, my poet shirt was literally soaked after my concert- and it's thin cotton.

But, I had dragged this stuff all the way from the US- I was going to be damned if I didn't wear it at least once. So, in the interest of good, clean fun- I wore it to the Poorly Puppy filk.

At the filk were It was a full room; with Talis, Katy, Yooh, Martin GK, Mike, Anne, Phil, the Raftery crew, Minstrel, Rhodri, Rika, David and a host of others- pretty much the whole con stayed on.

I realized that here, everything old was new again. So I pulled out stuff I haven't done in years- Addicted to Blood; Yeah, Yeah; Minstrel; Renaissance Melody were among some of the songs I sang. I also did Snitch Ball Wizard; Grabthar's Silver Hammer; and Shai!. Mike commented to me later that he sold out of the Shai Dorsai! CD based on that one song.

We had marvelous fun.

I didn't get nearly enough sleep, I sang my lungs out, I got to hear WONDERFUL people singing their lungs out, we ate, walked, walked, walked, and walked; and spent a very, very happy weekend in the company of friends and loved ones.

And after two trips to Britain- I've still somehow managed to not make it to getting any Indian food.

Damn. I'll have to come back, I guess.


HarmUni was the weekend before Worldcon; so I took a couple of days holiday during the week. Following that, I had the Flights from Hell to get to Philcon.




Copyright © 2020 by Steve Macdonald