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Quoi de Neuf [Feb. 7th, 2017|11:42 am]
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Late last year I decided to get over to Quoi de Neuf, the 29th annual British Filk Convention. It was my only decent chance to get to a filk con in 2017, and also fit with some not-booked days at university. Having decided this and notified the concom that I was coming, I set out to investigate how to get there.

Quoi de Neuf was held, like the last several British filk cons, at a hotel in Marks Tey, located about one hour by car, bus, or train northwest northeast of London, and with Stansted as the most convenient airport. When last we had traveled to London, Norwegian flew to Stansted from Sweden and Denmark, so I assumed that still could be done. Nope, Stansted was entirely taken over by Ryanair, and they only flew at oh-so-dark from Gothenburg, even if I would have wanted to use Ryanair. Which I didn't.

So Heathrow it was, turning the one-hour bus trip to Marks Tey into a three-hour one. Some more travel planning gave me the commuter train from Bankeryd to Jönköping at a reasonable hour Friday morning (so I could help Hulda to school), Swebus from Jönköping to Landvetter, BA from Landvetter on Friday at noon, two hours at Heathrow, and then National Express bus 250 direct from Heathrow to Marks Tey. Going back would be National Express to Heathrow, SAS to Copenhagen, commuter train to Malmö where I would overnight at Fia's place, and then train back home Monday morning.

Arriving at Landvetter, I did a quick lunch after clearing security, but the restaurant was late in getting the food to me, so I had to wolf down my food and when I cleared ID control and boarded the plane I was a bit harried, and probably didn't put away my ID card properly into my wallet. Note to self: you can always take the five seconds to do it properly.

The flight to Heathrow went well, even if it was a bit bumpy over south England. When I was approaching the immigration line I found that I didn't have the ID card in my wallet. A frantic search of all my pocketses and luggage yielded nothing, so I went to the BA customer service desk. They were very helpful and contacted both the cleaning crew and a person to check the plane, while I did a second and more thorough check of all my pocketses and luggage. After about an hour customer service got back to me, and said they hadn't managed to find anything, and I did a third even more thorough check. I likely had lost the ID card on the jet bridge at Landvetter.

I believed I had missed my bus by then (though I had bought a flexible ticket valid on a later bus as well), but UK immigration cleared me in record time—the agent noted that he had been very impressed by the response times from his counterpart in Sweden. Then I ran for the bus station, which luckily was just downstairs, past the baggage claim area and then right outside. Main problem was finding the bus stop for the National Express buses, but I did get there with ten minutes to spare.

The bus left right on time, but on hitting the M25 towards Stansted, traffic was absolutely horrendous, and we passed at least one accident (in the middle lane involving three cars in a nose to tail crash). The result was that we were over one hour late at Stansted. The drive towards Marks Tey was much smoother, and we could pick up some of the lost time, but we were still about forty minutes late to Marks Tey. Then I needed to find my way to the hotel in the pitch dark and a rather bare-bones travel description where I wasn't used to the terminology. I did get there in the end, and didn't even had to backtrack too often or for too long a distance.

Arrived at the hotel, presented myself in the con registration as "the Swede with the unpronuncable name", and promptly got my badge, programme booklet, and con readme. Got the name of my roommate and checked in to the hotel. I couldn't get the lights in the room to work, didn't see a slot for the access card to enable the lights, and futilely stumbled around in the pitch dark room while trying to find a light switch that worked. Went to the hotel reception, where the receptionist was helpful but also couldn't get the lights to work. Went in search of Mike Bernardi, my roommate, and told him about the problem, but apparently he had had better luck and had found a master light switch somewhere by the beds. I knew Brits and light switches was weird, but this was something extra.

Hamburger for dinner (I hadn't eaten a thing for about seven hours at that time), but still could make it to the opening ceremony, which was short and to the point: here are the GoHs, here are we in the committee, here are a couple of things from the readme that you should know about.

Christo's opening consert was just delightful, but then I expected nothing less. It was just him and his guitar, inviting plenty of audience participation. His new song "Alien Phone Invasion" was wonderful, and he is planning/recording a new filk-oriented album. He also declared the con to be free from discussion of a certain orange-haired alien, and we seemed to have managed, at least as far as I was concerned.

I skipped over the next two short concerts, only listening to small pieces of them. What can I say, I'm more for circles than concerts. Instead I sat in the sofa and chatted with various previously-unknown-to-me people, and tried out the real ales that the bar had acquired especially for the con: Colchester No.1 and Jack Spitty Smuggler's Ale. Both were tasty, though I liked the No.1 a bit better. I hardly knew anyone at the con, other than at the remote, so my social interactions where hampered by my natural introspection and the need to try to fix people in my head. The only ones at the con that I had really spoken to earlier in person were Chris and Susan O'Shea at GAFilk last year.

The last scheduled concert for the evening was a sign-up concert on the theme "What's New". I signed up for it, and then got followed by Christo, which prompted the MC to ask why he had signed up for a oneshot right after having had a real concert slot. Christo mentioned that there had been hardly any people on the list when he did sign up and that he wanted to do a song that he had never managed to do well outside a recording studio, never performed live, and chickened out from doing during his set, but he wanted to do a try for an appreciative and supportive audience. I'm not sure he was happy with how it went, but I certainly was.

For myself, I went for a more silly justification: an old classic filk song where I sang it using its old original melody, that was new to the audience, and I would sing it in New-wegian. The audience accepted this with groans. I then did "Mary O'Meara" in my Norwegian filk version using Erik Bye's original melody from "Anna Lovinda", and yes, this time I did hear the audience singing along in the short "Mary, Mary O'Meara" refrain, and I didn't flub the verses this time.

Open filk started after that, anchored by Ju Honisch and GoH Cecilia Eng. We weren't too many in the circle, about seven or ten, and maybe twice as many listeners who inserted a song now and then. A lot of the fen mentioned that they were tired as a reason for not joining the circle, and I presume increased age was one reason: the late circles seemed to have a lower average age than the rest of the con.

Since the con had long scheduled breaks for lunch and dinner, one possibility would be to run circles, perhaps themed ones, during the breaks. Even if the main room would be a poor fit due to the need to move stuff and prepare tech, they could be in the alternate programme room, which was mostly unused during the con from what I could tell. Or perhaps people did that, but I failed to notice.

During the circle I think I sang To Doctor O'Brien (which was very well-received), A Filk Melody (where people laughed at yet another places compared to my earlier performances of the song), Ingvar Svensson's "Fandom Song" (the first known Swedish filk song), David Nessle's "Pappersframmatningen är trasig" (with a spoken word translation to English first), and Knob on the End.

I retired relatively early, maybe at half past twelve.

Mike and I got up at eight and had a leisurely breakfast, even if I missed the real youghurt and pickled herrings of Scandinavian hotel breakfasts. I also sampled the dealer's room, which basically was two small tables with stuff for the filk fund auction and one small table with British filk songbooks and CDs from Chris Conway and some of the other members of the con, co-located with the con reception, all handled by Roger Robinson. I had brought one of my copies of my old Bellman songbook, in case someone was interested in the tunes, and realising I had another copy at home, donated it to the auction. I also bought a copy of Chris Conway's CD "Deep Space Love", though I missed to ask him to sign it.

I think I sat down to chat with Rafe Culpin after breakfast, mainly about Worldcon 75 and about Swedish filk history, but it might have happened later. It was a nice chat, whenever it had happened.

Cecilia Eng ran a workshop on "Songwriting Mistakes and How to Avoid Them". Some of the advice she gave was:
  • Comedy is generally easier to start writing than ose.
  • Try to keep the song relatively short. Especially try to avoid the syndrome of one verse for every character.
  • When writing songs related to specific works, short stories are often easier to work with and better source material than novels.
  • Try to find a universal emotional core in the story, and let the song be about that.
  • Steal from many sources, it keeps your work from becoming repetitive and all sounding the same.
  • It is generally more important to make the scansion work than the rhyming.
  • Rhymezone is a wonderful site.

Since I have a fairly large collection of filk of mine now, it was amusing and interesting to check how my songs were examples of both following the pieces of advice and doing the various mistakes. "Banned from Argo" was invoked several times as a bad example to follow, proving that you can always break some of the rules some of the time.

I skipped the filk fund business and bid session, but apparently the filk fund is doing all right and the next British filk con will be Enhar30nicon, held in the same hotel, with Guest of Honours the Crooklets (UK), Betsy Tinney (US), and special guest Ωmega. The committee will be Jackie Mitchell, Emily January, and Marilisa Valtazanou.

Then it was time for my presentation and Q&A on Worldcon 75. I spoke a bit about Finnish fandom and Finnish filk, and also mentioned that we of the con was very sorry about the way we had treated two valued staffers back in October, re-iterating the apology we had made then. I then answered questions for the rest of my allotted time. Luckily for me, the audience seemed interested and caring about the con, despite the earlier mess we had created. (My notes from the session have been sent on to Worldcon 75.)

During the early lunch period I chatted sequentially with Peters Tyers about Worldcon 75, and after he left a slew of Westheads joined me while they waited for their lunch. We chatted on Finnish law regarding knives, armour, cosplay, and other stuff. It also gave me some new ideas for the children's programming at Worldcon that I hope we can enact in some way.

However, I had decided to skip lunch, and instead take an early afternoon tea, since I had never managed to have a proper one during my stays in Britain or Ireland. It had a seafood starter and then four small sandwiches with various fillings, a small strawberry pie, a small creamy torte, and a scone with huge amounts of raisins, with clotted cream and jam. It was only marred by that I have an aversion to raisins, so eating the scone became a bit of a mess.

As a result I came a bit late to the n'Early Music Consort concert, ably led by Valerie Housden. I had heard about the choir earlier, and they proved very good, easily on par with the best nerdy choirs Finland and Sweden has to offer. I got to hear them sing "Fellowship Going South", "Into the West", "I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing)", a song why Slytherin is the best house, and several other songs. I believe Rhodri James strenously maintained that none of the songs were his fault.

Their rendition of "I.S.S.", with Mich Sampson on the piano, was just wonderful. I really wish that the filk community would take it to their hearts as the space song of this century. "Hope Eyrie" is a great song, but it is dated, being mired in the nationalism and triumphalism of the Heroic Age of Space Exploration. It has a deserved place in the filk canon and history, but it does not fit with our relation to space today. "I.S.S." does.

The Saturday filk fund auction raised at least 300 UKP, and managed to clear its assigned table. I bought "...and then 3 come along together", an omnibus volume of three early British filk songbooks, being the only bidder. The auctioneer noted that I was likely the only person in the room who didn't have a copy, but then followed up with my book with Bellman songs, noting that only a single person in the room had a copy. I didn't note who bought it, but I believe it was one of the German members, and it went for 10 UKP: about four times more than its original price, even adjusted for inflation.

Otherwise, the auction was dominated by chocolates and baked goods, with at times ferocious bidding. Note for NoFF: eatables are better than books.

After the auction came the Main Concert, which at UK filk cons isn't built around the GoHs but is a fully-teched set of one- or two-shots. This year they went for one-shots.

I didn't keep any notes on who played or what they played, but I think Playing Rapunzel did a wonderful version of Mina's Song. Or if they didn't do it then, they sang it at some other time. It was wonderfully ose, in any case. Peter Westhead had teamed up with Chris O'Shea for a throwback to 80's rock that I followed with my number, so I introduced it as based on another 80's hit, that is, the 1780's: Come Forth Thou Fandom's God, partly chosen because it's my longest English-language filk. I managed to sing without having to restart due to opening with the wrong melody (I have a tendency to get it wrong on the first line, and not discover my mistake until I hit the third line, and the song has long lines). In any case, we got lots of great performances.

Skipped most of Jackie Mitchell's concert in favour of real ale and entertaining some of the many kids of varying ages at the con with Fan Mother's Lullaby in Swedish and English, and the one-year-old called out "ba ba" repeatedly, so when the mother told me it was a demand for "Baa Baa Black Sheep" I sang "Bä bä vita lamm" (the Swedish version), followed by "Bä bä vita lamm" ttto Lambada. At least the mother seemed to find it amusing. I really liked that the con culture was very kid-friendly. There was no formal kid's programme, but everyone assumed that kids would be present and belonged at the con just as much as everyone else.

Dinner was Chicken Jalfrezi, which turned out hotter than I had expected. I know I was to expect the British Indian kitchen rather than the Swedish Indian kitchen, but this was a hotel bar, so I was a little surprised anyway. Dinner talk mainly revolved around nuclear power, reactors, fuel, and accidents, so I was lucky in having listened a lot to Mikael Jolkkonen and Janne Wallenius on their research topics within reactor physics many years ago.

Cecilia Eng's Guest of Honour concert was very nice, but again I never did any real notes on what was being played. I never got or took the chance to chat with her outside of the workshop, sadly, but she seemed very considerate and friendly.

Since my limit seems to be one concert at a time, I skipped Cosmic Trifle's concert, and instead took a turn in the bar and with chatting. I think this was when I finally got a chance to chat with Deb Crook, who otherwise was stuck behind the tech desk most of the time. We spoke about Worldcon 75, and she regaled me with disaster stories about tech at Loncon 3.

Open filk started slower than Friday night, but probably gathered as many people, and with more frequent changes of people joining and leaving the circle. A high point was when Marilisa, Emily, and two other girls sang "Wicked Girls Saving Ourselves" sometime after midnight. Peter Westhead was extremely brave and dared to follow that with "Snow White Red Road" by Lizzie Crowe and Eric Coleman, which prompted some interest in the song from some filkers who hadn't heard it earlier.

Another great moment was when, I think, Emily and Marilisa did a song about elephants, or rather that everyone has an elephant, or rather that everyone has an elephant in their room. The rest of us promptly broke the song by imitating elephants and making tooting sounds. Silliness and seriousness in equally large measures.

During the open filk I sang The Kencyrath Tune, March of the Dendarii Cavalry in the First Cetagendan War (as a follower to "Rodger Young", which I belive Rhodri sang), "Fan Mother's Lullaby" in both Swedish and English, Take Me Home, Fury Road, which I flubbed very badly since I totally failed to find the tune for the verses, Filking, F-bombs, and Surly Poems, The True Fan Girl, and Sad Puppies. The latter was met by much amusement. I stayed later this evening, finally retiring just before 2 AM.

Sunday was a short day, since my bus for Heathrow left at 1 PM. When I got the preliminary programme I found that British fandom runs their cons on different schedules than I'm used to. I'm used to the con starting relatively early on Friday afternoon, running all day Saturday, and then ending relatively early on Sunday to give the fen time to get home in the afternoon and evening. The British tradition seems to be to overnight at the hotel with Sunday as a full day, while they started late in the evening on Friday.

Sunday breakfast was spent chatting a lot on the history of filk in Sweden.

Jackie held a workshop on "Performance: Putting theatre into your songs", where she spoke about the value of putting yourself as a performer in the emotional state of the character having a voice in the song without letting the emotions control your performance, stage fright, voice control, using the consonants to to convey the mood, some tips on microphone technique to avoid the "pops", and how emotional presentation beats technical perfection in live performances. We did some quick exercises on short pieces of songs, and I sang the second verse of "Balladen om briggen Blue Bird av Hull" in Swedish. Jackie managed to pick up that the song was set on a boat in distress with the captain giving orders to the crew, so I must have done something right.

(I still very much want there to be a Star Trek filk in English of that song, but I can't write it myself.)

Since the program item afterwards was cancelled due to illness, five of us from the workshop were to demonstrate some of the techniques from the workshop as a mini concert. Peter Westhead did a wonderfully creepy performance as Steerpike from the Gormenghast books, Songbird read a poem about a dragon, and we got a song about Torquemada with an evolution from nervous wreck to leading an army. Myself I did a very hammy performance of It's A Long Way Down to the Con Suite.

Afterwards it was time to start making my goodbyes, but not before I had met Bridget Wilkinson and Caroline Mullan. Bridget's car was in need of a repair, so she had not been able to get there earlier, but received a ride with Caroline. Sadly I didn't have time to really chat with them, but it was a nice surprise.

Got to the bus stop in plenty of time. The bus was late in arriving, due to an accident causing congestion, but the way to Stansted was clear, so the bus could pick up the lost time on the way to Heathrow, since checking at Heathrow turned into a hassle (as expected due to my lost identity card). The SAS ticket desk was very helpful, but found that I couldn't use my original itinerary. I would be able to get into Denmark, but not get onto the train to Malmö due to the new mandatory ID checks at the Swedish border that were instituted due to the Syrian refugee crisis. Instead I had to get a new ticket to Stockholm.

So cancel staying at Fia's place overnight, and make emergency contact with Eva and Wahlbom to stay at their place in Sollentuna instead. The flight was full but uneventful, and I could get through the border control at Arlanda without too much trouble. I got to Eva and Wahlbom by 11 PM, and we chatted a little about the con and other matters before going to bed.

Then home with a reasonably early train.

Overall, I very much liked the con and am very happy I went, despite the hassles and extra costs.

[User Picture]From: figmo
2017-02-08 02:08 am (UTC)
Who's running filking at Worldcon 75? I want to know which hotel is the "filk hotel" and who to talk to about getting a concert.
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[User Picture]From: kjn
2017-02-08 05:53 am (UTC)
There is no filk hotel: all late night activities will be at the Messukeskus area. If you want to stay with other filkers, I recommend you coordinate with them and deciding on a hotel together.

Please drop a line to <music@worldcon.fi> with any questions on music and filk programming. I would also recommend using our programme volunteer form on http://www.worldcon.fi/programme/volunteer/, but I see you have already done that, so we have received your request.
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