The "Jackie" Concertina

The “Jackie” English is a 2 octave chromatic concertina I bought from Barleycorn Concertinas about 3 months ago. I have been playing it nearly every day since I bought it trying to establish a repertoire I can busk with this summer as well as my Northumbrian Small Pipes and Border Pipes. It is my first concertina I own, I did start off with a Hohner Anglo 20 button concertina in Bb but it was badly out of tune and the bellows leaked. I had some music notation of the Northumbrian Pipes with harmonies and I wanted to play this music on the concertina, I found the 20 button Anglo limiting on the harmony line so I decided to switch techniques and buy the English system instead. I later found out that the harmonies are equally difficult to play on the English as the fingering is not as easy as on the Anglo, but with practice it is ok; but I do believe by trying the two systems out that the Anglo is the easier of the two to get a basic harmonic accompaniment for a basic folk melody.
The Jackie has accordion reeds, but the action is good, light and strong, the springs are good and I think will last a long time. The fingering is ok except for a few notes in the bass nearest the finger straps that are hard to get at, but again with practise and by using different fingers one can reach them alright. It is bigger and heavier than the Hohner but that is to be expected and it is quite loud and I think it is a good choice for busking or playing with a group, and since I play a range of UK and European melodies I can get the different semitones that sometimes occur in the scale of foreign melodies.
I enjoy playing melodies in their right key, and not having to think too much about in which direction to pump air. I am trying to memorize new melodies and relearn my pipe melodies, so I am concentrating on UK fiddle tunes: reels, hornpipes, polkas etc. As well as some melodies from Sweden and Spain, I am getting these into my head and starting to play them from memory, and trying to play around with the melodies to make them ‘live’ and not just to play ‘dots on a page’. It is progressing nicely.

Harp and Concertina

WE visited a harpist near to our home today. She has busked over Europe and now makes her living by playing small festivals and doing a lot of weddings. She is a good player and when we meet we tend to play European melodies mainly from Sweden, Spain and France, but also some melodies from Turkey, Czech Republic, Belgium and Medieval, but strangely enough not British or Irish! I play the Northumbrian pipes and the Turkish Ney – an open-ended cane flute. We have been playing together for a few months now and are working on a CD and a repertoire to go playing this spring, do a few gigs and some busking.
Later that evening at home I played my English concertina, trying to play from memory the tunes I have been trying to memories since I bought it (about 3 months ago). With this instrument I play English fiddle music, a few Irish melodies, and Northumbrian and European melodies. The beauty with the concertina is that it has a range of 2 octaves and it is chromatic so most melodies are in range for me now. There is no transposing or worrying about the range, it is already tuned and it is ready to play, and I do frequently. I played for about an hour and a half, but I need more practise if I am to busk with it this year.
I got an e-mail from a fellow Border piper arranging a meeting next week over the border in Scotland that is good as I would like to play Border pipes now; it has been such a long time!

The Galician Gaita

Being at home and not busking I am able to practice Spanish melodies, or more to the point bagpipe melodies from Galicia, north western Spain. I began lessons on my last visit to Spain in December 2010, when I visited a cultural centre in Alcobendas, northern Madrid. There was a school of Galician and Asturian pipers and I sat and listened for 2 weeks and given a chance to learn some of the Galician melodies. But first one has to learn the fingering that is played on their Gaita (bagpipe). The Galician gaita uses an open-fingering technique as opposed to the Asturian closed fingering, but these definitions can be changed and not fixed; different and mixed finger techniques are used depending on the chanter and maker of the Gaita. I learned this open-fingering from the band leader who told me to buy a cheap recorder/block-flute and bring it to him, this I did at the next session. He made the 3rd hole from the bottom wider thus making it a sharper note, so playing an F sharp instead of an F natural this suited the scale of the Galician melodies. The one octave scale is as follows: (c#), D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D. semitones can be obtained and a 2nd octave can be reached by using a cross-fingering technique. I was presented with many examples of notation written in the key of D major (the popular root note for the gaita is C major). So with my modified block flute as a practice chanter, and a wad of photocopied bagpipe melodies I am determined to practice.

"You must be completely insane"

Another puncture yesterday (24.12.10) on the way to Carlisle, continued by bus into town; the city centre had the South Americans setting up their amplification, loud speakers and digital programming all for their pan pipes and drums. They had on American Indian costumes in sub-zero temperatures when they play they drown out everything in the centre of town, no one can perform there, the Christian Bible Basher has to pack up and go, all other buskers are blasted out. A fiddler who comes from Edinburgh retreated down a side street but I guess even the panpipes would reach him there, he has amplification too, a small amp with the bass turned full up and the treble down, it is a nice sound and he is a good player. The South Americans also have their amplification with an extra bass boost; it stops the terrible feedback that often accompanies outdoor amps, but I ask myself is all this technology needed for a few acoustic instruments that have worked very well for centuries in South America, a radio mic was attached to the singers cheek as he walked around the pavement singing to no one; his voice unheard and a deep booming voice from 1000 of pounds worth of equipment. I wonder if it pays them to do it. I slipped my way to my other haunt to find it occupied by the guitarist and his friend singing for beer money, I turned and went to the other edge of town to go into the bowls of Carlisle in the subway. It is a dirty and damp place but has a stream of shoppers coming to and from the centre. I played and was doing ok until a friend I knew stopped and we talked for 15 minutes after that I was cold then I became blue with cold. I spied a ray of sun at the other end and I sauntered over there to take advantage of the glimmer of sun. It helped for a while. A parade of school kids must have gotten out of some x-mass pantomime and for the next 10 minutes I could not hear myself play due to the screams and shouts as they took advantage of the subway’s acoustics. After that I played until I could not feel my fingers and I was jigging about so much I must have looked like a jack-in-the-box. I called it a day when a couple passing said “you must be completely insane”. I packed up and thawed out over a coffee, did some x-mass shopping then caught the bus back to my punctured bike and walked home. Merry X-mass one and all.

Sweet Hesleyside

The day started with a flat tire on the way to Carlisle, I did think to walk back home a journey of 3 miles but I decided to get the bus into town and pick the bike up when I finished playing. This effort paid off as I had a good days busking by selling 2 CDs and getting an offer of playing a festival this summer at Cockermouth, Cumbria. It was still cold and people walked by not smiling too much, but there were a lot of people compared to other days. Last minute shopping before x-mass perhaps and a few people stopped and chatted, the odd drunk, and asking what sort of pipes they were? One elderly woman asked if I could play “Sweet Hesleyside” probably the most asked for melody, I had to prise the keys open as they had stuck fast with the cold probably due to the almond oil congealing. I was playing in the centre of town again and there is a noted difference in atmosphere as later I went back to my usual haunt down a small lane near to a church where a steady stream of people walk to and fro to their cars. The interest died off and the money became less, but the sun shone in my eyes and thawed my fingers out. Then I took the bus back to my wounded bike and walked home as the sun went down at 3.45pm, it became bitterly cold after that.

Entertainment for the Public

When I turned up yesterday to play in my usual place there was a young man playing guitar. He had a good voice and played the guitar with sensitivity. He sang modern pop songs and as young boy passed he joined in with the words. I thought this is what busking is all about…entertaining the general public. I play melodies from the 18th century and for many it is a dead art. in the 18th century the tunes I play were probably well know, played at festivities and perhaps the ‘top of the tops’ of their day, now they are forgotten liked by a select few who love traditional music. No one whistles the melodies I play although some old folk can recognise them (I would like to know from where they know them) but that not is to say they do not like the music. I am often surprised who does appreciate this music and instrument it is not only the traditional music lover, the passerby can be aged from 5 to 75 or older, male and female, often they are dressed in normal popular fashion from the big stores, but often I have been acknowledged by punks, skin-heads, crusties, mods and rockers etc. businessmen and homeless, junkies and musicians. They are not all interested in traditional music so what attracts them? For nearly 30 years I have busked and only on a few occasions have I been told that it sounds bad, so why do people like something yet do not generally listen to it? The people who dislike it are just as interesting as the people who like what I do, nevertheless more people like or else I would not be making a living from it!

Frozen Money

It never got above 0c today I was in two minds whether to go busking or not it was extremely cold, a beautiful day with sun but a fog over the fields and icy roads. I played from 1pm to 3pm and was not too cold due to the sun in my face, the people walked passed with not too much interest scared to fall on the slippy pavement. Some threw money in full momentum missing the case and landing on the floor when I had finished the tune I bent down to pick it up but it had frozen to the floor! I introduced a new tune to my repertoire “Sr. Charle’s Rant” a Peacock tune, one octave. It sounds different when played with the Northumbrian pipes compared to the Border pipes probably due to the closed chanter compared to the open ended chanter on the Border pipes. For a time the sun disappeared behind a building and it became numbingly cold and I noticed the difference when it reappeared. A nice cycle home with the sun in my eyes and it coming through the mist over the fields, I got home before the black ice formed on the roads.

A Cycle to the Artic

A frosty morning to go and check the boat, I pedaled 10 miles over icy back roads and when I got to the sea there were large blankets of ice flowing down with the ebbing tide, it reminded me of the ice fields of the Arctic on a much smaller scale! I parked the bike and gingerly waded out to the boat, underneath the water I could see the white of the ice still frozen to the gravel. I walked around the boat inspecting the hull and slipped, nearly ended up in the water as some submerged ice made the ground like glass. I climbed into the snow that lay in the cockpit and undid the lock, amazingly inside was ok, no leaks, only a small patch of snow inside, how did that get there? As I lifted the floorboards to see into the bilges I could hear the small pieces of ice scrapping the hull as the ebb took it along. The antifouling paint was scraped off in many parts of the hull down to the fibreglass itself, on the starboard side where the sun had got to it; on the port side where the sun could not reach the ice was over the hull half way up the boat with ‘veins’ cracked into the ice. I am not sure if the cracks were part of the ice or that the paint had cracked due to the cold. A line of ice showed where the water level had been. I made myself a coffee and noticed how neglected she looked, the weather was taking its toll on her and she badly needed some TLC. When spring comes she will get painted and a brushed up. The surrounding area looked beautiful, ice and snow covering the shore line, Scotland looking pink in the sun light, the few birds were searching for food, it would be nice to linger but I had a 10 mile cycle ride back home and it was already past 2pm and sun went down at 3.45pm.

Busking

Busking today was a cold affair, we had snow in the morning but the main roads kept clear. I cycled into Carlisle, a journey of 8 miles, went to my usual place but it was so quiet I headed into the centre and started to play. As long as I kept playing my fingers stayed warm but when I stopped I began to get cold. I played for about 4 hours and enjoyed it very much. I have enough one octave tunes in my head to play for 3 hours before I start to repeat them. I dislike repeating tunes. I did not see any other buskers, even the Romanian woman who sits and plays odd notes on her accordion was not there. I actually enjoyed the weather, it was clear and crisp, and the sun shone and altered my drones so much that there were to their full extent on the sliders. I played mainly Bewick and Peacock melodies from Northumbrian. The pipes kept in tune I was pleased with the sound and the playing. Sold no Cds though, everyone wanted to get home, no time for stopping and chatting, it was a rush to get home before it iced over. I cycled home with no problems.

A Return to Busking

I have been busking this past week on the streets of Carlisle. It has been a long while since I last busked but I never forget the melodies and I quickly regain my speed and lost titles come back to me as though they are waiting for me. I only have two places to play as my pipes are so quiet compared with the background noise that seems to be everywhere on the pedestrian walkways. Once a British man stopped to have a chat many years ago, he lived in France and was returning to his home in Carlisle, he remarked that compared to France the background noise was far greater in the UK. I find the general hum of noise quite bad too. when I started to play the pipes were heard in the centre of town, but now I cannot hear myself play, so I retreat down back alleyways and places where there are not many people or mechanical interference, this results in less money and less contact with people, but quality is important and I do not want to be playing when I cannot hear myself. Busking has changed for me over the years. I started playing full time in 2001 and I have continued playing while I am in Carlisle. It has improved my playing greatly and I sell my Cds to people who have an interest and who likes my playing.
I did not speak to many people this week, people where running from the cold. I only saw one other busker too, a young boy who was playing guitar. The cold effects the pipes too, the metal keys are not comfortable to play so I generally play the 1 octave melodies and leave the lower keyed notes to the warmer weather.