“What is that?”

If you are reading this from outside of the UK you might not get the full weight of the statement when I say “it was sunny today”! A little bit of sun can make all difference, especially when one is busking with the gaita.

In the center of Carlisle this weekend there was an European Market, stalls mostly selling different foods from various countries/regions of Europe. Sadly, the music coming out of the stalls was of the nondescript type… so I took myself away from the center and down a back street. I took out the gaita and played…

Since I play mainly Asturian melodies these days I was scratching my head when I had exhausted my repertoire, but it is amazing how melodies that have not been played for several years come back quite effortlessly. I often remember another tune when I am half way through playing a melody, which makes me to quickly continue onto the next melody. In this way I can play one tune after another, with little break between melodies, with only a quick tune-up and off I go again.

Melodies popped into my head from Catalonia, Sanabria and Galicia, and I have been learning several Northumbrian melodies from the Peacock Collection that go well with the Galician chanter. Sometimes people stopped me and asked “what instrument is that? It is better than the bagpipe!” well there is a bag, and there is a pipe/chanter so how can it not be a bagpipe? but they mean the GHB anything else is not a bagpipe in their eyes. I have had this for years, when I started playing my NSP they used to ask the same questions, but today they know what the NSP is all about (a sign of progress I guess) but the definition of what is a bagpipe still needs some work!

I started playing at 12.15 and I stopped playing at 15.45, I did not repeat many melodies with in my set, but I began to get tired and I thought it was time to go home when I saw a big black cloud coming straight for me. It had rained once or twice while I was busking, but I continued playing through it and it quickly dried up. This one looked more substantial.

A nice way to spend a Bank Holiday, I hope I can do more like it…

Newcastleton Folk Festival

We spent another good night at the Folk Club in Newcastleton in the Scottish Borders. The Folk club is on the last Tuesday of each month and is partly a singers night as well as musicians. There were interesting songs from all centuries some unaccompanied others with guitars. Mandolin and button accordion, recorder, Anglo Smallpipes, and Galician Gaita were the instruments used for the instrumentals.

We had spent the day with Liz and Dave (organizers of the folk club, as well as being on the committee of the Newcastleton Folk Festival) and we learned about the structure of the Festival for 2016 which is held this year on the 1st weekend of July, a 3 day even from Friday until Sunday (check out this blog for last years description)

My Smallpipe workshop will be on the sunday morning at 11am until 1pm. Where I will be giving basic instruction on the bellows blown bagpipes, covering technique to get you started. I will not be playing any melodies, it will be a workshop on bellows technique, bag pressure, and combining all this with chanter and drones. It may not seem a lot but it is when you consider it needs to be crammed into 2 hours!

I will be providing some sets of smallpipes for those who do not bring their own, but these will be of limited number so get your name down at the Festival Office, or contact Liz via her “Newcastleton Folk Club” web site; or contact me below this blog.

I will also be taking part in the concert on Friday night, for those of you who come for the weekend camping.

Colin Butterworth – Bodhran

Last Sunday I had a run through to Bowness-on-Solway Folk Session. Colin Butterworth came and gave me a lift. I have been playing with Colin the past week at various session in Kendal (South Cumbria) and Bowness was a local one he came to. Colin is a well-known Bodhran player in Cumbria (and beyond). In fact when I first started going to folk meetings by myself (age of 14) I noticed Colin at the session at the Newcastleton Folk Festival.

In those days there was not too many Bodhran players around, he was more noticeable by his red beard and hair. He makes Bodhrans and his style of bodhran is quite different to the normal bodhrans you see today  with an open back. Often his bodhrans are closed on both sides, or the animal skin is stretched partly over one side, making if difficult to insert ones hand in. As I have gotten to know Colin over the years I also notice his playing style is different too (difficult to describe in words). He generally goes to the Irish music sessions, but has an interest in all good folk music.

I started playing bodhran a few years ago and Colin has kindly given me encouragement along the way. I had my mother’s bodhran (bought in Ireland from a tourist shop), it was ok but it did not have a bass tone. Colin exchanged it with one of his own and the sound is much better. It was made by himself and I like its feel. I have tried to make him some beaters but I could not make them to his satisfaction, but he has given me one which is slim and works very well with my technique. At the session last week in Kendal I sat beside him and tried to play a long in his style, it was difficult, especially with the 6/8 tunes.

Colin has an old collection of cassettes, he has recorded over the years from good Irish musicians, from private gatherings to festivals and sessions. These are really interesting to listen too.

Lakeland Fiddlers

I have just returned from a session at Staverly, Lake District where there was a fiddlers Session run by Carolyn Francis. A nice evening with a lot of different sorts of tunes and rhythms: 3/2 hornpipes, jigs reels, waltzes, slow airs, and a bit of Country and Western! It is the type of session where any contribution is welcome. The session was mainly fiddles, but also a piccolo, 1 bodhran, tamborines, guitarist, mouth blown Border pipe, flutes, recorders, and a melodian. I played my Northumbrian Smallpipes, Scottish Smallpipes, Border Pipes (all bellows blown) and Gaita.

I played a slow air on my NSP and a a man said he had not heard that melody since 40 years ago! He had heard it once played by the Battlefield Band when he had moved up to Cumbria and liked it, but did not know the title of it. It was called Johnny Armstrong, a Border Ballad melody.

I also met 2 people who play the gaita in the Cumbrian Gaita Band, which are now meeting once a month in Kendal/Cumbria.

I also learned that there is an monthly meeting of Northumbrian Smallpipers near to Carnforth, I think it was the 3rd Friday of the month.