Rehearsals in Retiro Park

Sun, nature, music and good company…for me, you can not beat that. Alba and I decided to rehearse for the first time together with the fiddle and the Galician chanter. We met in Retiro Park, inside of Madrid, on a saturday morning and with our little red book containing our set list – a collection of Northern Spanish and Northumbrian tunes – we began rehearsing the melodies to who ever passed by.Fiddle and Gaita

The bagpipe is a “hybrid” a combination of using a Galician chanter (in the key of D) and drones, which I made, based on the Border pipes, using a Northumbrian tuning (D and A). Alba simply tuned her fiddle into my chanter… and away we went.

Some people decided to sit on the benches and listen, take videos… old, young and a group of Hip-hop teenagers! The weather was great.

here are some of the videos from the rehearsal.

The Millar’s Daughter, is a Northumbrian Smallpipe tune found in Peacock Manuscript.

Frisky, is a Northumbrian Smallpipe tune found in the Peacock Manuscript.

Danse La Pirineo is a Aragon, Spain.

Muiñeiras De Rengos, a Asturian tune, here is just an extract.

Kelso Lasses, is a tune from the Scottish/English Borders, a 9/8 tune.

L’Arrastrat’ is a tune from Catalonia, and the following tune is from Mallorca, Bollero de Santa Maria

Ribeirana de Redondela is a melody from Galicia.

I’m Over Young to Marry Yet, and the Highland Laddie, are Northumbrian tunes, both from the Peacock Manuscript.

A melody from Zamora, Spain.

Another version of the Northumbrian melody “Frisky”

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Xeremies’s “Ancient” Scale

We went to visit Juan Morley, in the town of San Joan. He is a researcher, musician and maker of the Mallorcan bagpipe “The Xeremies”.

He told us about the old scale used by the Xeremier players in the 60s. He said they used a different scale than today. A scale that is not based on harmony, or harmonizing with the drone, or perfect 5ths.

he explained: “you tune your drone (C) to your root note on the chanter (C) making sure the top octave (C’) is also in tune with the drone. Top and bottom of the chanter is in tune with the drone.

The 4th note (F) and 5th note (G) are also in tune with the drone using the harmonic series. So far it is normal to other modern bagpipes.

Here is where the differences occur. The tuning of the rest of the scale is different. It does not use semitones (or half tones) but quarter tones (1/4)…approximately!

Normally the 2nd would be a D (440cents), but with this old Xeremeis scale it is flat of of D, of about a 1/4 tone. Normally the 2nd note clashes with the drone anyways but this would make it more so.

the 3rd note should be an E at 440cents, and therefore harmonizing as a 3rd in the harmonic series… it would be a nice harmony, either using a major 3rd (an E) or a minor 3rd (Eb), but this old scale uses neither, it plays a 1/4 note flat of E.

the 6th note is a A (440cents) but again this is not concert pitch, it is a 1/4 note flat of A, again not harmonizing with other instruments, not with the drone.

the 7th note is flat also roughly a 1/4 tone, not a semitone.

Here, Juan Morley plays the “ancient” scale on the Xeremier.

I have only seen one other example of this tuning in Spain and this was with the Sanabresa Gaita, which also uses 1/4 notes in its scale.

Xeremiers in Sant Llorenç

We met the Xeremiers des Puig de Sa Font the next day in Sant Llorenç (Mallorca) for the Christmas parade in the town. They played at different venues as the main square was full of children’s activities. We had spent the previous day hearing them rehearse in the theatre.

They play a mixture of traditional Xeremies melodies from Mallorca, medieval melodies and new compositions by the director of the group, Antoni Genovart.

The Xeremies is a traditional bagpipe from Mallorca, with an unbroken line of musicians. I have been a fan of them for many years but I finally got a chance to hear them and to try them out during our time there. They have 3 drones out in front of the bag, 1 chanter with 9 holes, and are mouth blown. The other instruments are :

La Tarota – an oboe type instrument
Flabiol – (5 hole flute) and Tamborí (small drum)
Trombone
Tamborine

The Millers (Galician) Daughter!

Here is a recording of a Northumbrian Small Pipe melody called “The Millers Daughter” from the Peacock manuscript from 1800. It is a melody I have played a lot on Small Pipes and Border Pipes over the years.

I am experimenting a lot these days, by playing various Small Pipe melodies on the Galician chanter. The reason why I am playing these tunes on a Spanish bagpipe is not for this blog right now, but there are certain Northumbrian tunes that go well with the Gaita (bagpipe) and certain tunes that do not feel ‘right’.

I bought this chanter, which is in the key of D. A high pitch sounding instrument, that is not that common in Spanish music. Normally you would hear a chanter in C or Bb. I chose D as I wanted it compatible with a lot of Northumbrian/Irish session instruments.

The pitch is a little high, so I made a bass drone in D and a tenor drone in A, but this did not sound right either, it did not suit the melodies too well, so I made another bass drone in D. 2 bass drones in D, give a deeper harmonic in relationship to the high-pitched D chanter (although this recording does not show it too well, this was only a demo).

 

Bandcamp: CDs

I have been re-looking at my Bandcamp site. It takes a lot of time to edit it.

I have re-mastered (as they say) the Border pipes CD “O’er the Dyke” and in doing so, it was like finding a lost manuscript, hidden in my archives. I had to re-understand what I was doing all those years ago while recording that CD, using the equipment I had back then. No such thing as DAWs as today, I used to record using a normal computer and its own sound programme. 2 computers to create 1 CD.

Technology moves so fast and now it is easier to record, edit and publish a CD using 1 computer and 1 programme. It takes a lot of time of course, days, weeks and months… but the actual recording can be done a lot quicker.

I have been working on 2 new CDs.

The 1st CD is of the Northumbrian Smallpipes: looking more closely at the Dixon manuscript, with their complex variations. And also I have been looking at various non-British melodies from Sweden, Spain, Belgium and France.

The reason for the mix of styles is a reflection of the countries that have influenced my music of the past 20 years. A CD has to be representative of what I am playing now, and what I am playing are melodies that are directly part of my life. Since I spend a lot of my time in Spain researching the bagpipe, I play a lot of Spanish bagpipe melodies, and since I visit Sweden I have collected 1 or 2 tunes from there… and so it goes on.

The 2nd CD is a concertina CD, with a doubling up of a mandolin on various tracks. The mandolin I started to play again after 30 years break. These tracks are a reflection of my busking activities in the UK and various duets I have been involved with in Spain. The style also covers a range of UK and Spanish melodies that work on the concertina (not all of them do work!). I had to learn a new repertoire on the concertina recently as one of the notes stopped working, so instead of transferring the existing melodies onto a new pitch, I learned a new repertoire in a different key.

These CDs I hope to have finished in December and January.

Melody: Si Vas A La Romeria

This is a recording of a melody I did in 2015, in the UK. I was practicing an Asturian melody on the Galician chanter. The melody is called “Si Vas A La Romeria”; I learned it at Casa de Asturias, in Alcala de Henares, Spain. It is my own interpretation of the tune, and I guess I am putting a British “accent” on it… but I hope it is recognizable to the original!

Jinn & Tonik / The Flying Cats

I have been playing with Alba, a fiddle player from Madrid over the past few years. I put to gether a few mp3s connected with our rehearsals. We are called “Jinn & Tonik” and we are trying to mix Spanish and UK music with musical “accents”, how each of us look at each other’s music.
Jinn & Tonik

Another musical project was with a Alba and a singer called Isabel, we concentrated mainly on Scottish Songs, but with the phrasing and “accents” of Spain. We called ourselves “The Flying Cats” (the name was taken from Isabel’s cats who decided to jump from one side of the room to the other and land on our heads while we were reheasing).

The Flying Cats

Guadalajara – Irish Session

Does it seem odd to have an Irish Session in Guadalajara/Spain? Not really, as they are often called Celtic Sessions due to the mixture of music that is played from the different “Celtic nations” (Brittany, Wales, Ireland, Galicia, Scotland) but what is interesting about this sessions is that it is a session just forming.

I am not one of the original members, but I have been going off an on and I see it changing. The session also meets in a villages outside of Guadalajara on a Friday evening, but I can not get to that one.

The musicians are from different musical backgrounds and from different nationalities (Spanish, USA, Irish, Iranian, UK, Italian). We sit in a corner of a pub, we wait for the TV and loud rock music to be switched off the CD player in our corner of the bar (we request it) and we come together, often chatting for half an hour before anyone plays anything. Since I have to go early to catch the train back to Alcala de Henares I try and play something to get it started.

The seating arrangements of the musicians is interesting at at one end of the group there are the instrumentalists: flutes, whistles, violins, Irish pipes, concertina, gaita. next to these are the bodhran players (often 2-3 players) a Cajon player, someone playing sticks, someone playing bones, next to the rhythm section of this folk orchestra is the stringed instruments (3-4 guitars). I have been playing my English concertina since I have been attending, but recently I have been playing Spanish music on the Galician chanter which has been nice.

The type of music is a mixture of Irish traditional music (which dominates the session), a few Spanish melodies, a few melodies from George Formby, an Israeli melody, and a few hornpipes which are common to all sessions perhaps. There is no singing yet although one woman has a great voice for trad. music.

They communicate with each other via “Whats-Up” passing videos and notation, suggestions for melodies to play, as well as jokes and comments. It is an active site. Recently there is a discussion about splitting the Whats-Up into two forms, one for serious tune discussion and the other for chatting, notation often gets lost in the amount of chat there is.

It is a community, it is growing and evolving, changing and as an ethnomusicologist it it interesting to see the development.

New Design for Drone

I have been playing my C gaita recently and I decided to make a small drone to go with it. I did not want to make the large C drone that normal go with a C gaita, but something I can carry around and make drone while I practice. I drilled though a piece of Bubinga wood and made 2 half from the one piece, 50cm each length. internal bore was 6mm. then I began designing the top sliding part. the internal diameter was 12mm. and I played around with the design.

The bottom standing part has an outside diameter of 12mm. the overall outside diameter of both pieces was 15mm.
The design for the bottom standing part was an idea I have been had for sometime and I wanted to try it out. if it did not work it could always be used for a chair leg!!

When I make the reed I will cover it in a removable stock and this will be inserted into a drone stock in the bag. It plays in C and I will make different sections for the top/movable part so I can play in D and Bb. I was gonna drill holes further up the drone but I decided to make new sections. This will add to the tembre of the sound.

I also intend to make a middle section to this C drone until I have a bass C playing alongside this tenor C. with 2 drones going it will be nicer for the gaita chanter which can be quite shrill. I have been thinning down the reed and now it plays a lot quieter than normal, this is for use indoors (pub setting).

Busking and Begging

When I finally emerged into the tunnel it was late morning. I had not intended to go playing at all, but I positioned myself underneath the arches, where there is a good echo, and played Northumbrian small pipes. I play to practice, to play melodies; I gave up doing it for money long ago when the money dried up. I keep my brain active by playing all the tunes I know. This is an ever changing format, new tunes come and go and I revise them all the time.

These days I am memorizing Peacocks tunes, I hammer them into my memory by playing them over and over again, busking helps to play them well, as it is a performance, and I have to get it right. It is good to play new tunes, it refreshes the set, and it puts new life into an old rehearsed format. I rework the notes, rhythms, and style. I play them fast, slow and everything between, a reel becomes a hornpipe, a slip jig a jig then becomes a waltz… a hornpipe a slow air… I am free to improvise.

As the morning wore on I noticed out the corner of my eye another busker with a guitar standing at the other end of the tunnel, I cannot hear him, but it is cheeky. Normally a busker would not be down here standing so close, there is not the space for 2 musicians. In fact I have never seen another busker there for many years. No one goes there, it is not a good place to make money and it is dirty and dark. But he was singing with his guitar, moving positions, and stopping a lot. Then he was gone.

After a break at 2pm I went back to play a little more. I get tired from standing, and I play until I cannot stand much longer. After a few minutes I notice a few meters away a man, it is like he is on his holidays with a carrying case and bags. It looks like he is arranging his case, but he sits on the floor and there he stays.
He is homeless, he is begging, he just sits there a few paces away.

What to think? This is not the first time a homeless person has sat in this tunnel while I am playing. On one occasion it was nasty, the person had once threatened to “stick a knife in me” if I came back, and a few days later he had knifed another homeless person in the park. Others have told me to “fuck off”, but only this one had sat. I played on. I noticed a couple of his friends hanging around; a man passed and whispered “careful of your case”. Things where turning serious. I played on. No abuse, no threatening movements only silence, only looking on … waiting. As time went on more lost people where hanging around. The park is well known for homeless people at night.

I was called a “beggar” in the early 80s while playing. Thankfully those days are gone; I think people realize playing music is not an easy thing to do on the streets. And I have only had abuse from drunks and drug addicts this then. I guess some people see me also as a “beggar” as a “homeless person” but I am neither.
In the end I moved off, I had played enough, this man was turning a dirty tunnel into something else… something where music is not welcome. I better quit while I still had pipes to play.

I packed up and passed him. I thought him a fool; he chose a place where he would make no money… I was making it. He could have gone to the other end, but he sat in the dirt and dog piss, where he would make nothing while I was there.  When I passed him he looked at me and I at him, he was the type who did not look after himself, a drunk and waist.er Let’s hope he gets lifted and put into a home… like so many others who had sat in his place. It is cruel to be kind as that is no life for anyone.

 I wandered into the center of town, a large merry-go-round was pumping out music… was this the reason why the other busker had come down to the tunnel, to escape the noise? I heard a brass band playing amongst the noise, then they stopped, a police man had stopped them and told them to move… recorded music is ok but live music is not. They were 5 people from Rumania; they looked confused and lost, wandering off down the street with nowhere to play, it was time to go home.

Bagpipe Society Blowout, 2015

It was my first time at the ‘blowout’ (Polesworth, Tamworth, England) in a beautiful surrounding of the Abbey. Each piping culture has its traditions and this was a new tradition for me. Here there was a different style and feeling about the music, pipes, people and events, perhaps a more European style or perhaps an ‘English” style. I say English as it is a reinvention of a tradition that died out. And the reintroduction of the tradition has established a very firm and loyal group of people to their type of music.

I was expecting a heavy influence of French music, but I was surprised to see a good mix of styles in the form of workshops and concerts: Northumbrian/Borders; Occitan from the French Pyrenees; Hungarian; Irish; Welsh… these music’s were played on a type of bagpipe that I have a problem in naming.

They call it a “Border pipe” but I cannot see where their border is exactly? The majority played a type of pipe similar to the French/Belgium bagpipe: mouth blown or bellows blown, conical bored chanter, 2 drones, over-blown into a 2nd octave. Not so loud, plastic reeds, no African Blackwood in sight (made a nice change too) therefore the sound was mellow, perhaps they could call it a “French-Anglo Pipe” as the makers are English and the pipe is modeled on the French/Belgium style.

The makers present (selling their pipes) were in the main hall alongside a Society stall, a flute maker, an Occitan maker. Zampogna maker. There was a 2nd hand section of music books, CDs, cassettes…

One of the workshops I attended was a ‘beginner’s workshop’ to sort out teething problems players were having. This was very informative as it gave me a chance to see how the workshop was structured (with relation to my own workshop); I was also looking for some advice about my Spanish gaita as it was sharp in the bottom notes.  It came apparent that the information was only for a select type of pipes from a select few pipe makers. A general knowledge was not there of conical bored pipes.  The Society was open to all pipes but in reality (at this blowout in particular) only certain types of pipes were represented. Sometimes it felt like if you did not have a bagpipe from a certain type of maker then you were excluded from activities and advice, there was no advice about the Gaita. Also it presumed that because I had “asked the question” that I did not know anything about pipes or conical bored pipes, and I was told to go and “ask (someone) and you will find that the pipes are fine” (meaning “it is you who is wrong” well it seems I know as much as the person who is giving the advice, as he did not know either, a little condescending I thought).

The only sessions available were in D or G, G being the more popular of the 2. G pipes are common in French music, a large bass G. Which is fine, they sounded beautiful. But there are other pipes and I would have liked to have seen a session where any type of pipe could have been played… a few people had brought their sackpipa (key on A minor), , Spanish gaita (C),  , I had with me bagpipes in A minor, C, A major, D, F, and C minor… but no G. I did attend the Irish workshop which was in D, but others I could not. This did not lesson my interest. Other pipes present were a Welsh Pibgorn (D), Leistershire Small pipe (D), Italian Zampogna and there was a Dudy from the Czech/Slovak regions.

The D session on the Saturday was titled “English Session” this apparently is a new occurrence as only English melodies are played (I did not know this at the time and I played a Catalan melody which was met with a silence). After I realized my “mistake” I tried to play along with the English melodies, which there was a lot of. This was the biggest surprise of the weekend, a firm selection of English tunes were being played by all. The Northumbrian tunes came at the end of the night when they had played out all the English tunes. This is great as it establishes a firm melody base of for an English tradition, and leaves the Northumbrian tradition a little apart (which I feel is more accurate as it is more akin to the Scottish/English Border tradition).

Another surprise for me was the Occitan music and bagpipes. 2 makers from the French side of the Pyrenees were offering their instruments for sale, CDs, workshops and concerts. It was a music I only knew a little about (and only recently). They seemed to have a cross-over from the Catalan and Aragon side of the Pyrenees with the Sac de Gemecs (made from a fruit wood, a type of apple) and the Gaita de Boto (complete with snakeskin and girls dress). But also they had their own type of pipes a very large bagpipe in F with a large drone with a knitted “flecco” (decoration). A shepherd’s bagpipe without a drone, deep sound, sad sound, lovely (I had heard this on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees). And the Boha bagpipe with the drone apart of the chanter which can play 2 notes… (Therefore is it really a drone?). Also there was a variant of this having 2 melody pipes and 1 ‘drone’ built into the chanter, single reeds, polyphonic sound.

In the sessions I heard the Welsh Pibgorn, a dingle reeded instrument, 1 octave mouth blown with a distinctive sound, a beautiful decorated horn cut away at the bottom of the chanter, with cylindrical bored chanter.  Their melodies were not dissimilar to a Breton tune, in a minor mode.

The Hungarian duo (pipes and hurdy gurdy) were fantastic players, (I had seen them at the Piping Live Festival in Glasgow a few years previous) tight in their music and ‘tuning’ (an important lesson for us all). Played beautifully with traditional and composed pieces, improvisations and structured parts. The pipes were not so dissimilar to the Occitan Boha. With the Hungarian ’suggesting’ that the Boha was taken from their pipes. They look similar… but who’s came first is a question too far…

My final observation of the weekend was that there is a danger of the “small pipes” becoming obsolete in time due to their quiet nature. Those who had them were drowned out by the conical chanters. This is a reflection of what is happening in sessions too all over the country. If you are “not heard”, why play them? The highland pipe makers are increasing the volume of the “session small pipes” but not so with pipe makers (although there are exceptions). Perhaps the small-pipes need to become more assertive, and insist the venues, meetings, and festivals are predominantly ‘small-pipe sessions’ the same way the ‘English Session’ has become?

The Nayanban – The Iranian Bagpipe

The Persian bagpipe is becoming more popular, possibly thanks to the internet, this once little known instrument is gaining more interest in Europe. Generally one player popularizes an instrument…becomes a well known name and gets all the attention, concerts, fame and money!
But, it does not mean they have the final say on the instrument, music, or style… but to many it is.

Leila, visited her country and chanced upon a Nayanban musician in Isfahan, Iran. Being Iranian she could converse with the player and learn a little bit about him. This is her story really, I am just including it as i think it is a wonderful story and a chance to Ethnomusicology working both ways.

The Nayanban is a bagpipe from southern Iran, near to the Persian Gulf. The “red arrows” on the map indicate the areas where the instrument is popular: Bandar Bushehr to Abadan, along the coastal area. These are port towns and possibly this instrument was imported from across the seas or it was exported from these ports to other countries?
The area is also near to Iraq and Kuwait, big oil producing areas, and there is also a lot of oil on the Iran side of the border too. During the War between Iraq and Iran (1980-87) this area received a lot of bombing and invasion. A lot of local people (Bandari) moved north to escape the bombing and they took their culture and instruments with them. A lot of the migrants settled in an areas close to Isfahan,  especially in a town called Shahrekord (South West of Isfahan).

This nayanban player Leila met was called Behnam Rahimi, from Baghbahadoran, which is close to Shahrekord, he came to Isfahan to play on the streets to earn some money; but unlike buskers in Europe who would play on the busy streets, shopping areas, city centers, and commercial and touristic areas, Behnam plays in residential areas far from the “madding crowd”, his streets were quiet, walled enclosed, no passers-by or shop-keepers to move you on! His audience were behind their walls, inside their homes or peering from their windows.

The instrument consists of a bag, 2 chanters in a single stock, no drone. The 2 chanters have the same tuning, the player’s fingers cover both chanter at the same time and play the same notes. The music is highly rhythmic, more for dancing I imagine than for singing. Behnam, told Leila that he was later to play at a wedding where there is generally dancing; but before the wedding he was “busking”… not ‘on’ the main street of the city, but ‘behind’ the main street, in quiet roads, lanes, drive ways. People would hear his music, and like his music and come out and pay him.

you can hear him playing the Nayanban here 

Gaitas at Christmas

The cold is affecting the gaita, it takes about 15 minutes to warm the reed up and to settle the drone reed, until then it is unstable. 

When it settles down I start with a mix of Asturian and Catalan melodies, a few from Zamora and I am now slowly introducing melodies from Galician and Northumbria. 
The melodies are well received by the general public, whether it is the new sound I do not know but they seem to like the melodies, which is encouraging. 
I am playing a Galician chanter in D, this is bought in Madrid and has a high pitched sound. The reed is constantly changing due to the damp and cold, so I have to alter it until it becomes stable, but when it is stable it has a nice contrast with the bass drone. This drone is from a Highland Bagpipe, the big bass drone, it sounds a D (440c)… , in fact I bought this Highland bagpipe in India in 1995 while I was there researching music. There is a metal tongued drone reed but it does not seem stable in the beginning, probably due to the large bore size of the Highland drone…  I need to make the bore smaller. 

I added “fleco” to the drone… a typical decoration that the Spanish bagpipes have. The drone sits across my arm (not over my shoulder) like the Border pipes; I did this because the drone was being scraped against the wall so it was not practical for playing.

A New Musical Project

I have been playing more these days, learning new tunes… sometimes I do not practice for weeks, but these days I am learning a new repertoire for concertina, Scottish small pipes, Northumbrian Small pipes and Spanish gaita. This increase in playing could be because of a new project I have started with a Spanish fiddler called Alba. She lives in Madrid and we have decided to play together and start performing in public. We have known each other now for a few years and have a repertoire already, so it is a case of finalizing it and practicing. 
We are playing familiar and unfamiliar tunes from Northern Spain and the Scottish and English Borders… some from Ireland too. But we hope we are “highlighting” our musical “accents” not copying a style but interpreting the music in our own way…  using our musical culture and nationality/s to change the melody… to add and take away something.

I am playing Spanish melodies in a Border/Northumbria style… (we are limiting ourselves to areas such as Galicia, Zamora, Asturias, Basque, Catalonia, Mallorca…) and Alba is playing Northumbrian/Scottish Border melodies in a Spanish style… so a jig is not really a jig and a jota is not really a jota… the Irish melodies are not played in an “Irish style”, but something “foreign” to both of us!
It is an interesting project, finding a name, exploring the music and trying to practicing while we are in our own countries and meeting when we can… but we hope by spring 2015 we will be ready and performing live.

We have a set list worked out and it is an interesting mix of music, this list will probably change as time progresses so it is interesting to record it for now:
Zontzico / Morfa Rhuddlan (Basque/Welsh)
Old Drops of Brandy (Borders)
O’Carolyn Set (Irish)
Alloa House / Romances (Scottish/Zamora)
Mr. Prestons Hornpipe (Borders)
Sir John Fenwicks (Northumbrian)
Newmarket Races (Northumbrian)
Jackey Layton (Northumbrian)
Ann Thou Were My Ain Thing (Borders)
Autumn Child / Rights of Man / Proudlock’s Hornpipe (Irish)

Morigana in Spain / Welcome to Vigo / The Spanish Cloak (Northumbrian/Scottish/Irish)
Redondela / Saddle the Pony (Galician/Irish)
Noble Squire Dacre / Go to Bewick Johnny (Northumbrian)
Basque melody / Roxburgh Castle / Hesleyside Reel (Basque/Northumbrian)
Bollero de St. Maria / Zamora Melody (Mallorca/Zamora)
Galician Melody / Frisky (Galicia/Northumbria)
Highland Laddie (Borders)
Loch Ryan / Bonny Millar (Scottish Highland/Borders)
This probably needs more Spanish melodies… or to take away a few UK melodies … early days yet !!
The instruments will vary also, Alba plays violin and a Baroque violin, this depends if I am playing concertina (440c) or Northumbrian Small pipes (415c)…

Galician and Border Fingering – Cross Fertalization

Often when we learn an instrument we learn ‘patterns’ for our fingers to use on the instrument, this is an aid to learning an instrument and memorizing tunes. We become accustomed to these patterns and form them into a ‘tradition’ which develops into a certain regional or national style. But, what is important is the ‘sound’ to play the melodies as they should sound and achieving the sound should be more important over technique.

Finger Chart for the Highland, Scottish Small-pipes, & Border Bagpipes

I have deviated from the normal ‘tradition’ on the Border pipes, I am adopting a different tradition of fingering the chanter. This mainly concerns the top A note which is fingered traditionally with the bottom hand oxxx and with the top hand xoo o (oxxx xoo o) this is a Highland bagpipe style, which in my opinion is a different style of music to the Lowland piping tradition. 

I have been playing Border/Northumbrian melodies using the traditional fingering for a number of years it suits it well, but there are characteristics of the Lowland music which make this fingering of the top A note cumbersome and problematic. There are many ‘jumps’ in Lowland music from a high A down to a lower register, and this can cause a lot of hand ‘waving’ on the chanter (The Highland bagpipe style uses a closed finger technique that lifts multiple fingers off and on the chanter) as the top hand opens so closes the lower hand. It can be messy, especially if the melody demands a quick run or semi-quaver ‘jumps’.

I have been learning the Galician bagpipe for 3 years and they use a different fingering for the high A note, (oxxx xxx o) all fingers closed and only the thumb hole open. It is this technique I have been adopting for the high A on the Border pipes.

At first it was to put the chanter in tune with itself as it was a bit sharp on the top A, so instead of taping or gluing the hole I changed finger technique. Another reason why I used this Galician fingering was I fitted a Galician Bb reed to my Border chanter. I scraped the reed so it was softer to play and could sound a top A in the traditional Lowland fingering, but I found it gave a good high A in the Galician style too.

There are a lot of quaver notes in the Lowland repertoire that ‘jump’ in quick succession e.g. AaAbAcAd. This could mean playing oxxx xoo o for the high A then playing ooxx xxx x for the low ‘b’. I have found it easier to play these notes by using the Galican style oxxx xxx o for the high A then ooxx xxx x for the low ‘b’. this makes life a lot easier.

If you know the fingering style of the Northumbrian Small Pipes then you will know that this style of playing uses a totally closed finger technique, one finger is lifted off then replaces before the other is lifted. So jumping from a high to a low note is not a problem. This Galician high A position is similar in style to the Northumbrian as only the thumb is removed while the rest of the fingers stay on the chanter.

Of course there is no evidence that this finger style was used in the tradition of Border piping….but there is no evidence to prove it was not used either. The music certainly allows for an easy way of playing these ‘jumps’. and the Galician high A is one solution. In practise, I tend to mix these 2 finger styles, depending on the melody, some runs require it others do not.

In the Border/Northumbrian tradition at least there has always been a healthy innovation, without it the Northumbrian Small Pipes would never have evolved. It is easy to imagine these innovations coming about by influences from outside of the Borders through the numerous ports, commerce and migrants/visitors/travellers, as well as closer to home though journeymen, after-all tunes travelled and it is said that the Northumbrian Small Pipes were influenced by the French musette. .

There are numerous bagpipes which use the ‘closed fingering’ style as the Border pipes, some more closed than others…but this style is not wholly a Scottish fingering technique. The Asturian Gaita uses a crossed/closed fingering not unlike the Border pipes. Both are conical bored chanters and a 2nd octave can be reached by the same technique of the Galician high A fingering position.

New Pipe/Concertina CD

It has been nearly 5 years since I made my last CD on the Bagpipes, but I have begun to make another one quite recently, not surprisingly it is made up from the environment I have been living in for the past 3 years…Spain and Sweden and of course the Scottish Borders. I became aware that a lot of the melodies I have been learning, listening too and practicing have not been melodies from my own region (I guess this is why I made a effort to learn new Border Pipe melodies – see “New Melodies for the Border Pipes” blog post below).

This new CD are mainly melodies from Northern Spain (Catalonia, Sanabria, Galicia) and these reflect the contacts I have had during my time there, they are not only notes or notation, but memories and people, places and times.

Another group of melodies are from Sweden, a country I like very much and have spent time kayaking and enjoying the nature, Their music fits very well into the Northumbrian Small Pipe fingering and scale range. Some of these melodies I learned from a harpist I play with in the UK, we play only ‘non-British’ melodies from France, Sweden and Spain and these will also be included on the CD mainly Scottisches and bourrées.

A few Belgium/Nederland tunes will be there too, I got these melodies when I lived in Amsterdam in the 1980s and I remember my time there through these tunes.
And of course there will be a few Northumbrian melodies with a 2nd voice/harmony to accompany the pipes. I will also include the English concertina  on some of the melodies either to accompany the leading melody or to add a 2nd harmony. Since the Northumbrian Small Pipes are ‘somewhere’ between a F and a F# I have to correct the pitch of the concertina!

The Cd is enjoyable to do but it takes many hours work, and this is only with the recordings…not to mention the mixing, production, CD design and printing…

Gaita Sanabresa in Zamora

Wandering through the medieval streets of Zamora, Spain, we came across a folkloric group dancing and playing Gaita Sanabresa.

The Fiesta was in aid of married women all over Spain, a sort of weekend long celebration. The colourful costumes of the women and loud resonating gaita made the streets come alive with tradition and feeling. Traditional music in its natural setting always makes it relevant.

Rabels in Castilla and Leon

I made my first Ravel last weekend. I did not know anything about them, only a idea that it was a “up-right” fiddle played in the Medieval Age, but I was wrong. The style of playing in Spain can be up-right or it can be rested into the shoulder and played like a violin, it is played mainly as an accompaniment to singing. It is a popular instrument in the northern region of Spain called Cantabria, but it is also popular in Castilla and Leon, where the workshop was held to make one. One finished ravel was made from a wooden clog, and nicely decorated.

Clog Ravel

The shape is like a cross between a violin and a guitar, it is bowed and the strings can be made from gut or metal. it is made from wood with the body made from a different wood to the soundboard, which is of a harder type.

My Ravel nearly finished

There are 3 stringed Revels (Rabel in Spanish) but we made the 2 string model. They are tuned a 4th a part, when I got home I found mine tuned nicely in a A (440c) and the drone string to a E (440c). Playing it is a different matter as I am not used to bowing, but I can find a scale now and the rest is practice.

 Making it was a joy, I really enjoyed it. As there were too many of us to make one from the beginning we went through the process of making the body and the bow by cutting out the form, but the main construction had already been done for us by our teacher Luis Payno, who is a maker of such instruments and more besides, concentrating on Shepherd instruments of Spain….single reed flutes, bagpipes etc. his web site is http://www.es-aqui.com/payno/pral.htm

A lot of the work was simply gluing and sandpapering, dying the wood and putting on the strings, but it took us 2 days. The workshop was held in a village called La Pedraia de Portillo, near to Valladolid in the region of Castilla and Leon. Accommodation was there in the old Missionary house, and meals were in the organizers home, excellent food! The company was great with late night party on the Saturday with music and more food, my only regret is that I could not understand much of the conversation, and neither could Leila who speaks Spanish, they were speaking a dialect of the area. There a mix of people from the area and some had done this before and some where obviously going to do it again in a more professional enterprise.

Completed Ravels, mine is on the bottom row, 2nd along

Iberian Ney

Since there is only a few days to go until I fly off to Porto in Portugal, to give my paper on the “Open-Ended Flute of Iberia”, at the Organology Congress in Aveiro University / A N I M U S I C : Associação Nacional de Instrumentos Musicais / National Association for Musical Instruments – Portugal. I thought to share my Abstract here to post the question “Where has the open-ended flute gone in the Iberian Peninsula?

Commonly known as the Nay, or Kaval (or many other names), I believe it once exisited in Iberia during the occupation by the Moors for over 8 centuries. It is a long time to be under the influence of any power, and one would have thought that such an versatile instument such as this flute type, would have left its mark on the Iberian musical landscape? But, it seems to have completely vanished, except for some Ensembles who are using it in Sephardic and Andalusian recreations, but they are using it with no historical basis, as there is little to find. I think more work needs to be done on this topic, by people who can translate old text documents and find out in what capacity this flute was played and in what music.

“The Iberian Ney: Renewal and Invention”
By Kevin Tilbury

My paper intends to describe the open-ended flute of North Africa and asks the question, “What has happened to the open-ended flute of the Iberian Peninsula?” Since instruments have crossed over from north Africa into the Iberian Peninsular at different periods in history and many of these instruments have survived, flourished, transformed and progressed, I ask why the opened flute, such as the Nai and Qasba, which are evident in north Africa have not survived in Spain and Portugal. There seems to be a lack of evidence present in today’s musical sources.
Yet, the Iberian Peninsular offers an ideal environment, geographically, climatically and musically for this instrument to flourish and adapt and feel at home amongst the music of many regions and styles of Iberia. My own research so far in will show that there is amble interest and source material to resurrect and construct these types of flutes. With interest in Andalus and Sephardic music and various instrument makers constructing and experimenting with old traditional instruments it seems a good time to open the question and hopefully examine why and how the open-ended flute disappeared from the Iberian Peninsular.
Without drawing any final conclusions I hope to open certain areas of research, questions and debate asking why and how the open-ended flute died away and if there is factual evidence to reinvent this instrument back into the Iberian musical landscape.”

Gaita de Boto and Ney – Snakes and Reeds

As it was a holiday in Madrid we thought to go and get out into the nature for the day. Our choice of area seemed to be the wrong one as it was heavily industrial with rubbish spoiling the river bank and the river stinking from the chemicals from the nearby factories. This did not stop the wild life from inhabiting the area though, birds and rabbits ran to hide as we walked along the rivers edge. We were walking near to the airport and every 3 minutes planes came over our heads on their way to land. I was getting a little disillusioned as the track came near to the motorway and then it ended with a gate saying “private”. We sat down and ate then headed back the same way.

What interested me was the size of the reed (cane) beds that lined the river bank, and also which grew away from the river and close to the motorway; they grew very big and a few were thick enough to cut , dry and to make open-ended flutes (nai and neys) as well as cane reed flutes.

As we walked along the path we saw a movement a few steps in front of us, a snake slithered down a hole, it was quite large, fat and light green. I am interested in the Gaita de Boto, the gaita from the region of Aragon that sometimes has a snake skin covering the chanter and drone. Green snake skin suddenly came to my mind and how it would fit nicely over my chanter!

I have reeds cut and drying in our flat for about 1 year, they need sized and experimented with to see if they are good enough to make reeds for bagpipes and to make open-ended flutes possibly of an Arabic style (nai) and perhaps a Turkish ney. The reeds near to the motorway were much better than the river bank examples, being away from the river meant they were a lot stronger, I would return and cut them later on and have a supply for a year.

I had collected a few pieces of cane to take home and as we walked I thought what an excellent place to come for  a day out, I can get my musical needs satisfied in one afternoon: snake skin for my chanter and drone, open-ended flutes from the motorway, and drone and chanter reeds from the river bank!
I did not even notice the air planes any more.

Gaita in Sanse (Madrid)

Last night, coming back from the city of mega-stores that are just outside the city of Madrid, we were sitting on the bus heading back to Alcobendas, when my friend suddenly pulling me off the seat and pushing me towards the door. I was a little surprised but I went with the flow. Once on the streets in an area commonly called ‘Sanse’  she led me back up the street and I thought maybe she wanted to return to the mega-store complex that we had just come, but there was method in her madness and very good reason it was too, as on the street corner there stood a busker playing Galician pipes. She had spotted the player while passing and was so excited that she could not tell me in so many words.

He played a gaita with 1 drone over his shoulder and by the look of his ‘open-fingering´technique a Galician chanter. We spoke with him and it was a Galican bagpipe. The single drone variety is an older type, very similar to the Asturian gaita, Gaita de Fole (Portuguese),and gaita Sanabresa, but what makes it different is the finger style as the Asturian gaita use a ‘closed fingering’ not so dis-similar to the Scottish bagpipes. The bottom hand has certain notes closed, whereas the Galican (and others mentioned) use open-fingering and plays like a Pennie-whistle.

He was from a village just outside of Madrid and he came to do some shopping and afterwards was busking. It seemed an odd place to busk on the corner of a noisy street with buses and cars passing but the volume of the gaita cut over all of the traffic noise. He found out that I was from Northern England and then played “Danny Boy” and Irish song/melody then “Amazing Grace” and Scottish melody/song. He played a Galician melody which he said was also internationally well know which it was but I am not sure its title. The internationalism of the music and instrument is becoming more common, people are getting to know each others music and instruments thanks to these international folk festivals, radio, travel, and people taking the time to play on the streets and share music with everyone who passes, and yes, he made some money too.

"Gaitas…Gaitas"

In a hot and steamy basement loud music was playing, flashing lights and people dancing, but this was not a disco in the modern sense but a meeting of traditional musicians playing traditional music from Zamora. The music switched from dulzainas and gaita sanabresa, after a session of gaitas a man passed and said in a loud joking frustrating voice “gaitas! gaitas!”

i took him to mean the frustration of playing together and not being in tune with one another. Not that the dancers minded they were following the rhythms of the drums and castanets but melodies help and when it sounds out of tune it can be a bit hard on the ears! Dam Bach and Mozart…and all the others who have accustomed our ears to perfect harmonies. I think traditional music is one of the remaining forms what do not require perfect harmonic intervals…but it is changing and it is changing fast.

There was something primeval, organic and alive about this performance. Yes it was all out of tune with each other but after sometime the ears and the brain got accustomed to the it and melodies were still recognized. I remember during my M.A. an article about Bulgarian female singers who sang in a few isolated valleys sang with seconds…two notes sung as harmonies but not ‘harmonically in tune’ with each other eg. G and A.

The gaita players where playing the same notes but the pipes were micro-tonally out of tune with each other thus creating discordant pitches, as well as drones which where not in tune with the chanter nor the other drones. It was an amazing sound, loud, rhythmic, free-making. People were enjoying it, dancing to it and even I had a go…

I think the best instrument to annoy ‘harmonic music lovers’ is to play the Highland Bagpipes…they are very loud and can annoy listeners quite easy (as it did with my family relations), but there is something wonderful about it too.

As far as I can tell there is no fixed tuning or pitch with the gaita Sanabresa, it is an old instrument going back to Medieval time and possibly beyond, it has that feel about it. It does not have an equal-tempered scale. It plays in a minor scale but the 3rd flattened note is not exactly a 3rd, it is a little flat and so is the 6th note it is a little flat. It would be dificult to play with other modern instruments as they would be in tuned with an equal-tempered scale so they ‘fit’ harmonically and fixed to a certain pitch. But it makes sense when you play the drone as it would fit in perfectly with the harmonics of the drone.

Gaita Sanabresa can be found in a Bb, B, or C and perhaps other keys in between too!

This also complicates things when one tries to notate the music. As it is in a minor scale key signatures are used in the notation. C/Do minor has 3 flats, but the chanter has a sharpened 7th note, so the Bb would actually sound a B, but it is written without accidentals or a natural sign in the key signature.

The notation is only there for reference it seems not an accurate attempts to represent pitch of the music. There is some notation that is written with out any key signature at all thus making it a C major…but the chanter is the same as before it does not play in a different key with sharps and flats like the Galician (not that i can tell anyways). So the notation is only there as a reference.

On the internet I have tried to find a scale of the gaita Sanabresa written down but I was not able to find one.

So since I could not find a series of notes describing the scale I am going to attempt one now just to put something out there for people to see:

Starting from the bottom note with all fingers closed b, C, D, Eb (flattened), F, G, Ab (flattened), B, C

If any players can add to this I would be most grateful.

Casa de Zamora (Madrid)

Links and more links…all are connected so they say. Who would know it but last year a folklorist and music researcher I had met on Facebook called Alberto advised me to go to ‘Casa de Zamora’ in Madrid if I wanted to learn about bagpipes from the area of Zamora (Gaita Sanabresa) in north western Spain and to meet musicians in the Madrid area. Casa de Zamora is like a cultural centre for people from the Zamora district of Spain. Each region of Spain seems to have these cultural centers in Madrid and elsewhere, often music is practiced in these centers.
 It took me a few more months to finally get round to going and this was due to meeting Alberto in Zamora and listening to his music which finally made me go; I was thrilled by the music and the musical atmosphere in Zamora. The events itself that inspired me I will write about another time, but let me say it was a new experience and it excited me so much to try and learn the Gaita Sanabresa; the Casa de Zamora’s web site (casadezamora.com) listed a gaita class on Wednesdays and last night I went along.

I noted 12 musicians (10 pipers and 2 drummers) and 1 teacher. The gaitas were not all uniform like the gaitas from Asturius or Galicia they were a mixtures of colours, textures, thicknesses and designs. There were a few new surprises such as the wood used to make a couple of chanters, they were made from a heather plant, which for me was a surprise as I know heather in Scotland and it is a small thin plant, but apparently it grows very high here and strong enough to make chanters. I also noticed there were differences in construction. This is partly due to a lack of supply, one maker was mentioned who made good pipes in Cantabria had a waiting list of about 1 year, but he made other types of pipes besides Gaita Sanabresa.

 If I wanted to learn to play I was advised to get a Galician chanter in Bb (Si bemol) and tape over a section of the 3rd hole making it a minor scale (the popular key of the class was Bb and this was good for singing). The tuning of the chanter was still unclear to me but generally the Sanabresa chanters have a flattened 3rd note and a flattened 6th note, but this was not always the case; and Aliste chanters (the region just south of Sanabresa) had the 3rd note flattened and the 6th note natural. There still needs some clarification in my mind about all of this. The Galician chanters in the class were thinner and slender than the Sanabresa, one boy had quite a thick Sanabresa chanter; their melodies were 1 octave and they used open fingering. The tone was not harsh and with 10 pipers in a small room it was OK on the ears, and time was spent tuning and making sure the pipes were playing in tune together.

 Another point of note was the bag construction, the people who had bought Galician gaitas (so they could learn quickly) had a Galician/Asturian style of bag – ‘pear shaped’ in style made from Gortex, with the bag cut so the drone stock sits naturally onto the shoulder. The Sanabresa gaita bags had the form of an animal and the drone stock was one of its legs (I do not think an animal skin was used, but the shape of the bag was constructed to look like one) and this ‘bent’ backwards so the drone went over the shoulder.  Some had tassel’s over the drones others with out.

The drones were thick and differently designed made from different types of wood: ‘black wood’ and ‘red wood’, ‘knotted wood’ and ‘heather wood’ some of the drone sections had metal rings around the ends as did some of the chanters.
Men and women were learning to play all with different standards, they used notation sometimes but the people seemed to know the melodies from growing up in the Zamora region and were able to play from memory. There were 2 drummers and the rhythms were fast sometimes in 5/8 (aksak rhythm) and other times in more regular patterns, often the rhythm changed half way through a melody from 3/4 to 6/8; often the teacher took the drum when they played as a ensemble.

I was impressed by the whole evening, their friendliness and their music, which I liked a lot.

I will give it a try,…

On Stage in Zamora (Spain)

It has been a number of years since I stood on stage alone playing solo. I remembered when I last did it back in the 90s on stage in Vilnius, Lithuania. I have played countless time since then but to stand on stage in front of about 400 people is still a nerve racking event. Playing with others is easier, you follow each other, timing is easier and just to be with another is more relaxing. I have played Border Pipes for years but hardly performed with them on stage and I choose to start the concert with them. My nerves showed for the first set of tunes, but after a while I got used to it and relaxed. When I played the Northumbrian Small Pipes I was back on familiar territory and played my set with out too much trouble.
I do not think it is the ‘standing on stage’ that is the problem with nerves it is the microphones, it can be in a room with friends or solo recording a CD, but whenever I stand in front of a microphone I grow tense, I do not play as I normal; I can not move or walk around. The microphone rivets me to a spot…curse it.

The melodies I played for the Border pipes (BP) were:
Frisky, 
Chevy Chase, 
I’m O’er Young to Marry Yet, 
Bonny Lad.

Except for Chevy Chase, which is a Border Ballad, the rest of the tunes can be found in the Peacock manuscript from the early 1800s.

The next tune I played was Bonny Pit Laddie, also from Peacock, and I played as many variations as I could remember (I think I missed one out). The style of the Northumbrian and (Scottish) Border repertoire is full of melodies with variations and to memorize them is quite a task; I fail each time but I must say I am also getting better at it too, as my playing time increases so is my memory for these variations.

Next, there was a quick change over of instruments from BP to Northumbrian Small Pipes (NSP). These are quicker to tune than the BP and less problematic to hold and to play. The melodies I played were:
Mallorca, 
Wards Brae, 
Gallowgate Lass.

The last two melodies I grouped together into one melody as they are very similar to each other.

The final group of tunes were:
Johnny Armstrong
Welcome to the Town Again,

the first being a Border Ballad melody and the last a dance tune from Peacocks.

The experience was an interesting one, enjoyable and I hope the start of many more to come in the future.
The video is of the first performance on NSP.

Sac de Gemcs and Galician Bagpipes

I am playing and practicing more Spanish melodies than I am Northumbrian melodies at the moment. Being in the UK allows me to play as much as I want with out bothering anyone. I am getting used to the Sac de Gemecs (bagpipe from Catalonia) as I had problems with its tuning. Again the original reed was not making the chanter in tune with the drones. My recent visit to Madrid produced a Galician reed in C, and when I returned to the UK I fitted it to the Sac de Gemecs and it is sounding nice and in tune with itself. I can also put more pressure on the bag to keep the drone pressure right. In short, it is a easier and nice bagpipe to play now.

I am also playing my Galician D chanter a lot in my ‘hybrid’ bagpipe. It is sounding sweet, a high pitched sound and beautifully in tune with the drones. I am practicing Catalonian and Galician melodies on this and as the fingering is nearly identical I can transfer them onto the Sac de Gemecs.

I finished a composition of a Catalonian melody played on the Sac de Gemecs called “L’arrastrat”. I used the English Concertina as a 1st and 2nd voice along side the Sac de Gemecs melody. I did the recording in the UK and later added the Concertina track in Spain. Have a listen …

My "Hybrid" Mouth Blown Bagpipes

If Organology is a study of musical instruments then musical archaeology is a piecing together of facts about a time and place of that instrument.

My newly made bagpipe would tell of many layers of musical history, and as it stands today, a history that travels continents.

If we start with the oldest first:

The Drones, then we will find out that they came from India, the Punjab. I bought a set of Highland pipes in a small town in 1995. They cost me 18 UK pounds, with it I got several drone reeds and chanter reeds, in fact I bought what there was in his shop. I suspected the chanter would not be in tune but the rest of the pipe I could use for other things. In fact teh reeds fit well in my Border pipe too.
The 3 drones were in a rubber bag, very small, easily inflated but leaked a lot.
The blow pipe had a metal mouth piece which fell off after several years.
With all its faults it did play, and I did use this set of pipes for experiments over the years.
The pipe is made from wood, the chanter is conically bored and not dissimilar to the bore of my Border pipe.
I used the Indian Bass drone in my Hybrid Bagpipe, it plays in ‘Bb’ as well as in ‘A’ and by changing the drones around (removing the middle section) I can also play in ‘D’ with the same reed.
I use the cane reeds I bought in India and they are very good and reliable after so many years.
I use all stocks from the Indian bagpipe too, as well as mouth piece. I have made a few mouth piece tips to replace the metal one I lost. The ‘crack value’ i have replaced recently to make it more air tight.

The Bag I bought in Spain in 2011 from a shop in Madrid, it is a synthetic bag which is in a ‘pear drop’ design, not my favorite to hold, I think in the future I would buy/make a bag in the Highland style.
The cover was made by myself and Leila with fabric bought in Madrid and Zamora.

The Chanter/s I play are a mixture of traditions. Originally I got it to play with my Sanabresa Chanter in Bb, I turned a stock for it and connected it to the bag.
I also made a stock for my Border pipes chanter and if I tuned the drones down to ‘A’ I could get a good sound with the same reed
I also turned a stock for my Galician chanter in D, I removed the middle section of the Drone and it played a D drone to go with it.

The beauty of mouth blown pipes over bellows blown is the less time to ‘pick up and play’; and less time in tuning the drones, also with these pipes I have been able to add a Galician reed in all of them, where as to obtain a Border reed or Sanabresa reed is quite difficult.
Another advantage with this system is that I have 3 chanters and 1 bag, which saves space when transporting them and costs a lot less to buy.

My Hybrid Bagpipes

If Organology is a study of musical instruments then musical archaeology is a piecing together of facts about a time and place of that instrument.

My newly made bagpipe would tell of many layers of musical history, and as it stands today, a history that travels continents.

If we start with the oldest first:

The Drones, then we will find out that they came from India, the Punjab. I bought a set of Highland pipes in a small town in 1995. They cost me 18 UK pounds, with it I got several drone reeds and chanter reeds, in fact I bought what there was in his shop. I suspected the chanter would not be in tune but the rest of the pipe I could use for other things. In fact teh reeds fit well in my Border pipe too.
The 3 drones were in a rubber bag, very small, easily inflated but leaked a lot.
The blow pipe had a metal mouth piece which fell off after several years.
With all its faults it did play, and I did use this set of pipes for experiments over the years.
The pipe is made from wood, the chanter is conically bored and not dissimilar to the bore of my Border pipe.
I used the Indian Bass drone in my Hybrid Bagpipe, it plays in ‘Bb’ as well as in ‘A’ and by changing the drones around (removing the middle section) I can also play in ‘D’ with the same reed.
I use the cane reeds I bought in India and they are very good and reliable after so many years.
I use all stocks from the Indian bagpipe too, as well as mouth piece. I have made a few mouth piece tips to replace the metal one I lost. The ‘crack value’ i have replaced recently to make it more air tight.

The Bag I bought in Spain in 2011 from a shop in Madrid, it is a synthetic bag which is in a ‘pear drop’ design, not my favourite to hold, I think in the future I would buy/make a bag in the Highland style.
The cover was made by myself and Leila with fabric bought in Madrid and Zamora.

The Chanter/s I play are a mixture of traditions. Originally I got it to play with my Sanabresa Chanter in Bb, I turned a stock for it and connected it to the bag.
I also made a stock for my Border pipes chanter and if I tuned the drones down to ‘A’ I could get a good sound with the same reed
I also turned a stock for my Galician chanter in D, I removed the middle section of the Drone and it played a D drone to go with it.

The beauty of mouth blown pipes over bellows blown is the less time to ‘pick up and play’; and less time in tuning the drones, also with these pipes I have been able to add a Galician reed in all of them, where as to obtain a Border reed or Sanabresa reed is quite difficult.
Another advantage with this system is that I have 3 chanters and 1 bag, which saves space when transporting them and costs a lot less to buy.

Gaita Pedrazales Chanter Reeds – Galician!

When I got my Gaita Pedrazales chanter 2 weeks ago it came with 2 reeds. The chanter is beautiful, made from Santo Palo wood with nice grain.

Plastic Reed: 
One reed was made from plastic, very small stable and blades, but I could not get it to sound a octave, the top register was very sharp.

Cane Reed
The cane reed was very good, it played well with not to much pressure, it looked nice.

Since I had a class that evening I did not alter it to fit the chanter, I thought to leave it to my teacher to get it fitted properly.
In the class the teacher found it to be too flat. The Pedrazales chanter plays in Bb, and it was below that, not by much but enough to make the group of gaitas sound like a swarm of bees! So, there was two options, either push the reed further into the chanter by opening the wooden hole more to accommodate the reed or to cut a bit off the reed tip. Out came the knife and off came the reed tip, scraping to reduce pressure resulted in a sharpened reed, but still not in Bb, out came the knife and off came the reed, scraping and a chanter that played in Bb. “All is well that ends well” so the saying goes…not so.

When I got home I took out the reed and left it over night to dry. The next day the reed had warped a little. Central heating was the problem, but worse than this when I came to adjust the reed the binding came away too, leaving the 2 cane blades in my hands. The thread had unraveled, I do not know if this was due to the central heating system, but the thread and metal are not effected by heat generally? I will never know. The 2 reeds came from the same maker, but they seemed well constructed when I got them. I wrapped thread around the blades to try and make it play again, it did but not good enough for the Pedrazales.

So, 2 days after I got the chanter and reeds I had no reeds left to play the chanter! What a beginning.

The only thing to do was to use Scottish Highland chanter reeds. These HBG reeds are from Pakistan, some would say useless, but they are not so bad if one is not into competitions. They play and are cheap enough to play around with in Border pipe chanters etc. They play in A/La, and luckily my chanter was Bb. So out came the knife and off went the reed tip, until I had a chanter in Bb in the bottom note, but the top was sharp, out came the tape and the top notes played in tune. The pressure was wrong, too much and the drone stopped and I could not get the notes, too little and the bottom notes were “double toning” when all fingers were closed. I added thin wire so I could adjust the reed and keep it in position.

I took a trip to Madrid to see if they had reeds that would fit. They had some Pedrazales reeds, made by a maker in Madrid, the bindings on these reeds were glued, so they would not unravel and they looked good. I tried 3 of them but all 3 were sharp in the top notes, nothing worked. Then I tried the Galician gaita reeds for a Bb chanter. I put it in and blew…Bb exactly. The reed worked first time and it was made so I could move the reed in and out so making it Bb sharp…or flat. The pressure was nice, and There was no “double toning” in the bass notes. I was a happy man again.

Why do Bb Galician chanter reeds work in a Pedrazales chanter? Why does a Pedrazales reeds not work in a Pedrazales chanter? what is going on?

Snakes and Reeds

As it was a holiday in Madrid we thought to go and get out into the nature for the day. Our choice of area seemed to be the wrong one as it was heavily industrial with rubbish spoiling the river bank and the river stinking from the chemicals from the nearby factories. This did not stop the wild life from inhabiting the area though, birds and rabbits ran to hide as we walked along the rivers edge. We were walking near to the airport and every 3 minutes planes came over our heads on their way to land. I was getting a little disillusioned as the track came near to the motorway and then it ended with a gate saying “private”. We sat down and ate then headed back the same way.

What interested me was the size of the reed (cane) beds that lined the river bank, and also which grew away from the river and close to the motorway; they grew very big and a few were thick enough to cut , dry and to make open-ended flutes (nai and neys) as well as cane reed flutes.

As we walked along the path we saw a movement a few steps in front of us, a snake slithered down a hole, it was quite large, fat and light green. I am interested in the Gaita de Boto, the gaita from the region of Aragon that sometimes has a snake skin covering the chanter and drone. Green snake skin suddenly came to my mind and how it would fit nicely over my chanter!

I have reeds cut and drying in our flat for about 1 year, they need sized and experimented with to see if they are good enough to make reeds for bagpipes and to make open-ended flutes possibly of an Arabic style (nai) and perhaps a Turkish ney. The reeds near to the motorway were much better than the river bank examples, being away from the river meant they were a lot stronger, I would return and cut them later on and have a supply for a year.

I had collected a few pieces of cane to take home and as we walked I thought what an excellent place to come for  a day out, I can get my musical needs satisfied in one afternoon: snake skin for my chanter and drone, open-ended flutes from the motorway, and drone and chanter reeds from the river bank!
I did not even notice the airplanes any more.

Busker in Sanse

Last night, coming back from the city of mega-stores that are just outside the city of Madrid, we were sitting on the bus heading back to Alcobendas, when my friend suddenly pulling me off the seat and pushing me towards the door. I was a little surprised but I went with the flow. Once on the streets in an area commonly called ‘Sanse’  she led me back up the street and I thought maybe she wanted to return to the mega-store complex that we had just come, but there was method in her madness and very good reason it was too, as on the street corner there stood a busker playing Galician pipes. She had spotted the player while passing and was so excited that she could not tell me in so many words.

He played a gaita with 1 drone over his shoulder and by the look of his ‘open-fingering´technique a Galician chanter. We spoke with him and it was a Galican bagpipe. The single drone variety is an older type, very similar to the Asturian gaita, Gaita de Fole (Portuguese),and gaita Sanabresa, but what makes it different is the finger style as the Asturian gaita use a ‘closed fingering’ not so dis-similar to the Scottish bagpipes. The bottom hand has certain notes closed, whereas the Galican (and others mentioned) use open-fingering and plays like a Pennie-whistle.

He was from a village just outside of Madrid and he came to do some shopping and afterwards was busking. It seemed an odd place to busk on the corner of a noisy street with buses and cars passing but the volume of the gaita cut over all of the traffic noise. He found out that I was from Northern England and then played “Danny Boy” and Irish song/melody then “Amazing Grace” and Scottish melody/song. He played a Galician melody which he said was also internationally well know which it was but I am not sure its title. The internationalism of the music and instrument is becoming more common, people are getting to know each others music and instruments thanks to these international folk festivals, radio, travel, and people taking the time to play on the streets and share music with everyone who passes, and yes, he made some money too.

"Gaitas…Gaitas"

In a hot and steamy basement loud music was playing, flashing lights and people dancing, but this was not a disco in the modern sense but a meeting of traditional musicians playing traditional music from Zamora. The music switched from dulzainas and gaita sanabresa, after a session of gaitas a man passed and said in a loud joking frustrating voice “gaitas! gaitas!”
i took him to mean the frustration of playing together and not being in tune with one another. Not that the dancers minded they were following the rhythms of the drums and castanets but melodies help and when it sounds out of tune it can be a bit hard on the ears! Dam Bach and Mozart…and all the others who have accustomed our ears to perfect harmonies. I think traditional music is one of the remaining forms what do not require perfect harmonic intervals…but it is changing and it is changing fast.

There was something primeval, organic and alive about this performance. Yes it was all out of tune with each other but after sometime the ears and the brain got accustomed to the it and melodies were still recognized. I remember during my M.A. an article about Bulgarian female singers who sang in a few isolated valleys sang with seconds…two notes sung as harmonies but not ‘harmonically in tune’ with each other eg. G and A.
The gaita players where playing the same notes but the pipes were micro-tonally out of tune with each other thus creating discordant pitches, as well as drones which where not in tune with the chanter nor the other drones. It was an amazing sound, loud, rhythmic, free-making. People were enjoying it, dancing to it and even I had a go…

I think the best instrument to annoy ‘harmonic music lovers’ is to play the Highland Bagpipes…they are very loud and can annoy listeners quite easy (as it did with my family relations), but there is something wonderful about it too.

As far as I can tell there is no fixed tuning or pitch with the gaita Sanabresa, it is an old instrument going back to Medieval time and possibly beyond, it has that feel about it. It does not have an equal-tempered scale. It plays in a minor scale but the 3rd flattened note is not exactly a 3rd, it is a little flat and so is the 6th note it is a little flat. It would be dificult to play with other modern instruments as they would be in tuned with an equal-tempered scale so they ‘fit’ harmonically and fixed to a certain pitch. But it makes sense when you play the drone as it would fit in perfectly with the harmonics of the drone.
Gaita Sanabresa can be found in a Bb, B, or C and perhaps other keys in between too!

This also complicates things when one tries to notate the music. As it is in a minor scale key signatures are used in the notation. C/Do minor has 3 flats, but the chanter has a sharpened 7th note, so the Bb would actually sound a B, but it is written without accidentals or a natural sign in the key signature.
The notation is only there for reference it seems not an accurate attempts to represent pitch of the music. There is some notation that is written with out any key signature at all thus making it a C major…but the chanter is the same as before it does not play in a different key with sharps and flats like the Galician (not that i can tell anyways). So the notation is only there as a reference.

On the internet I have tried to find a scale of the gaita Sanabresa written down but I was not able to find one.
So since I could not find a series of notes describing the scale I am going to attempt one now just to put something out there for people to see:
Starting from the bottom note with all fingers closed b, C, D, Eb (flattened), F, G, Ab (flattened), B, C

If any players can add to this I would be most grateful.

Casa de Zamora

Links and more links…all are connected so they say. Who would know it but last year a folklorist and music researcher I had met on Facebook called Alberto advised me to go to ‘Casa de Zamora’ in Madrid if I wanted to learn about bagpipes from the area of Zamora (Gaita Sanabresa) in north western Spain and to meet musicians in the Madrid area. Casa de Zamora is like a cultural centre for people from the Zamora district of Spain. Each region of Spain seems to have these cultural centers in Madrid and elsewhere, often music is practiced in these centers.

 It took me a few more months to finally get round to going and this was due to meeting Alberto in Zamora and listening to his music which finally made me go; I was thrilled by the music and the musical atmosphere in Zamora. The events itself that inspired me I will write about another time, but let me say it was a new experience and it excited me so much to try and learn the Gaita Sanabresa; the Casa de Zamora’s web site (casadezamora.com) listed a gaita class on Wednesdays and last night I went along.

I noted 12 musicians (10 pipers and 2 drummers) and 1 teacher. The gaitas were not all uniform like the gaitas from Asturius or Galicia they were a mixtures of colours, textures, thicknesses and designs. There were a few new surprises such as the wood used to make a couple of chanters, they were made from a heather plant, which for me was a surprise as I know heather in Scotland and it is a small thin plant, but apparently it grows very high here and strong enough to make chanters. I also noticed there were differences in construction. This is partly due to a lack of supply, one maker was mentioned who made good pipes in Cantabria had a waiting list of about 1 year, but he made other types of pipes besides Gaita Sanabresa. 

 If I wanted to learn to play I was advised to get a Galician chanter in Bb (Si bemol) and tape over a section of the 3rd hole making it a minor scale (the popular key of the class was Bb and this was good for singing). The tuning of the chanter was still unclear to me but generally the Sanabresa chanters have a flattened 3rd note and a flattened 6th note, but this was not always the case; and Aliste chanters (the region just south of Sanabresa) had the 3rd note flattened and the 6th note natural. There still needs some clarification in my mind about all of this. The Galician chanters in the class were thinner and slender than the Sanabresa, one boy had quite a thick Sanabresa chanter; their melodies were 1 octave and they used open fingering. The tone was not harsh and with 10 pipers in a small room it was OK on the ears, and time was spent tuning and making sure the pipes were playing in tune together.

 Another point of note was the bag construction, the people who had bought Galician gaitas (so they could learn quickly) had a Galician/Asturian style of bag – ‘pear shaped’ in style made from Gortex, with the bag cut so the drone stock sits naturally onto the shoulder. The Sanabresa gaita bags had the form of an animal and the drone stock was one of its legs (I do not think an animal skin was used, but the shape of the bag was constructed to look like one) and this ‘bent’ backwards so the drone went over the shoulder.  Some had tassel’s over the drones others with out. 

The drones were thick and differently designed made from different types of wood: ‘black wood’ and ‘red wood’, ‘knotted wood’ and ‘heather wood’ some of the drone sections had metal rings around the ends as did some of the chanters.
Men and women were learning to play all with different standards, they used notation sometimes but the people seemed to know the melodies from growing up in the Zamora region and were able to play from memory. There were 2 drummers and the rhythms were fast sometimes in 5/8 (aksak rhythm) and other times in more regular patterns, often the rhythm changed half way through a melody from 3/4 to 6/8; often the teacher took the drum when they played as a ensemble.
I was impressed by the whole evening, their friendliness and their music, which I liked a lot.
I will give it a try,…

On Stage in Zamora (Spain)

It has been a number of years since I stood on stage alone playing solo. I remembered when I last did it back in the 90s on stage in Vilnius, Lithuania. I have played countless time since then but to stand on stage in front of about 400 people is still a nerve racking event. Playing with others is easier, you follow each other, timing is easier and just to be with another is more relaxing. I have played Border Pipes for years but hardly performed with them on stage and I choose to start the concert with them. My nerves showed for the first set of tunes, but after a while I got used to it and relaxed. When I played the Northumbrian Small Pipes I was back on familiar territory and played my set with out too much trouble.

I do not think it is the ‘standing on stage’ that is the problem with nerves it is the microphones, it can be in a room with friends or solo recording a CD, but whenever I stand in front of a microphone I grow tense, I do not play as I normal; I can not move or walk around. The microphone rivets me to a spot…curse it.


The melodies I played for the Border pipes (BP) were:
Frisky, Chevy Chase, I’m O’er Young to Marry Yet, Bonny Lad.
Except for Chevy Chase, which is a Border Ballad, the rest of the tunes can be found in the Peacock manuscript from the early 1800s.
The next tune I played was Bonny Pit Laddie, also from Peacock, and I played as many variations as I could remember (I think I missed one out). The style of the Northumbrian and (Scottish) Border repertoire is full of melodies with variations and to memorize them is quite a task; I fail each time but I must say I am also getting better at it too, as my playing time increases so is my memory for these variations.

Next, there was a quick change over of instruments from BP to Northumbrian Small Pipes (NSP). These are quicker to tune than the BP and less problematic to hold and to play. The melodies I played were:
Mallorca, Wards Brae, Gallowgate Lass.
The last two melodies I grouped together into one melody as they are very similar to each other.
The final group of tunes were:
Johnny Armstrong and Welcome to the Town Again,
the first being a Border Ballad melody and the last a dance tune from Peacocks.

The experience was an interesting one, enjoyable and I hope the start of many more to come in the future.

The video is of the first performance on NSP.

Txistu Festival in the Basque Country

A recent festival in the Basque Region of Spain of Txistu players. Tey came from all over the Basque Region local groups coming together for an annual festival. The idea was to walk around the streets of Amorebeta and play in their local groups. Later they would meet up and play on mass around the streets until they came to certain bars/pubs where they had a drink, this continued for many hours!! Later there was a meal and more playing and singing, we left at 3am but it was still going on. The next day we heard that the local residence had called the police as txistu was heard at 3.30am!!

the video shows singing and playing in the streets, and at one of the many bars the playing of the txistu at night.

Galician Gaita on the Basque Streets

While walking through the countryside of the Basques (northern Spain) we came across a woman busking on the streets of Bermeo, playing Galician gaita (bagpipes). She was hot as standing in the sun and the sound echoed all around the area.


I talked with her a short while and she was grom the west side of Spain (Galicia) and touring around for the Easter holidays.

The Txistu and Danbolina : Basque Flute and Tabor

We had spent 5 days walking through the Basque Region of Spain and we ended our travels at a small town near to Bilbao called Amorebeita. Here we met a musician who played the Txistu (flute) and Danbolina (tabor).
These instruments have an unbroken tradition in the Basque country (as well as other parts of Spain too) but what makes the Basque Txistu a little different is that they have been changed to bring them more into a “classical” repertoire. My knowledge of this instrument (as in indeed all Spanish instruments) is limited, but I am finding that the tuning, scale, range of the txistu has been tempered and fixed so that it can be played more easily with other instruments.

The txistu is a 3 holed fipple flute played with one hand, and it can have a range of over 2 octaves and is fully chromatic. It is made from various black coloured hard woods or hard plastics, the fipple mouth piece is made from metal and it is generally found in the key of F (or F sharp if it is played on the streets, as it produces a louder sound). We spent a great weekend with Iban, who let us attend his performances:
On the saturday there was a txistu/danbolina and dance performance for the pensioners at an old peoples center. One man danced a traditional dance dancing the 1st and the 4th part of 4 part dance, while Iban played the txistu and danbolina together (one hand the melody and the other hand the rhythm).


Next there was a march/procession around various streets of Santurtzi, here 3 txistularia played and marched, stopping at various bars along the way!!
That was the end of the formal playing, but as there was a Basque football match on that night the txistu and danbolina was brought along to play various football and traditional Basque melodies.

The Sunday was a march/procession around the streets of Amorebeita, an unbroken tradition (except for 3-4 years in the 90s) where the txistularia play various melodies and stop off at various bars playing a mix of Basque and Spanish melodies for the people who often come out onto the streets and make an occasion of it with wine and food.

Extremadura Folklore Ensemble

While on holiday in the Basque Region of Spain I came across a folk group on the streets of Santurtzi (Bilbao). I was there meeting Basque musicians who play the Txistu so I did not have time to stop and take the performance at its full length. Here is a small clip of the group. Extremadura is a region of Spain close to Portugal, it is the Central/Eastern side of Spain. I know very little about the area but I know they have a similar pipe and tabor to the Leon/Salamanca regions and to Basques. Here they have beautiful colourful costumes and are dancing to the music of that region.

Spanish Gaita and Uilleann Pipes

The Irish music session at Taberna Elisa last night was even better than last week with tunes coming fast and furious and with a lot more energy. An addition of an fiddler and a guitarist who also played button accordion made a fuller sound. Pennie whistles were brought out to play along with the flutes. What attracted my attention was a man who played one of these whistles also took out a Galician gaita/bagpipe and played along with the Irish melodies. I had seen this man before at the Spanish Jam session on a Friday night, and I had meant to ask him about his pipes. They were in the key of D/Re which is perhaps is unusual as most of the gaita players play in the key of C/Do. The chanter was smaller than the C chanters in fact the over all bagpipe was smaller to what I had seen before and higher in pitch. With this smaller chanter he could over blow into the 2nd octave and achieve a larger range of notes that the C chanter could not get (an extra 4), reaching a top C/Do so it would fit quite well with Irish melodies, also it had the European open fingering technique so it was fully chromatic within 2 octaves, quite a versatile instrument. His drone arrangement was standard: one D/Re bass drone over his shoulder and a smaller tenor drone across his chest also in D/Re. What was unusual was he would remove the top end of the drone and this would give him a drone sound in E/Mi so he could play melodies with a drone accompaniment in E minor/major. He has a excellent mastery over the instrument and played Irish melodies with the Uilleann piper. This video proves it:

Taberna Elisa: Bluegrass Jam Session

I have attended over the past weeks various events at the bar “Taberna Elisa” in down-town Madrid and i have enjoyed all of them. They must get 100s if not 1000s of people in through their doors and yet they are always welcoming and have, in my opinion, a good attitude to music and musicians. It is a unique place as i think about it. As The Clash once said “you just plug in and play” and in a way it is what happens at Elisa. In the various rooms/basements strains of various instruments: Highland bagpipes, gaitas, guitars, tambourines, flutes…filter through the Bluegrass, Spanish, Breton, Irish…CD recordings behind the bar. The concerts are always well attended and have a great relaxed atmosphere, friendly and one is able to meet people, dance, jump up and down…join in with the music. The session nights have excellent musicians and, to me it shows the ability of Spanish musicality. They have gotten behind the musical notation (if that is what they use) and adopted their chosen musical style whether it be Irish, Breton, USA….with feeling, style and good technique. For me personally, I love the gaita, and I have enjoyed listening to the pipes there, the flauta y tamboril (pipe and tabor) come a close second but there is a variety and I have learn a lot. I hope these videos from Taberna Elisa show a little of what I mean.
This video is of the Bluegrass session held on a sunday night, audience participation is welcome and in the close proximity of performer and audience it is easy to get into the evenings music.
The video is of a song I use to play in my own band, an old Bluegrass favorite called “Salty Dog Blues”.

This next video is the version of “Salty Dog Blues” we played in the group as you can see it was a little different! It was recorded in London, my group was called “The Virginia Vagabonds”. We were formed in August 1988, a meeting of two 3 piece bands busking in Amsterdam´s Leidseplein. The two bands, ´The Lonesome Pump Attendants´ from Carlisle and the ´Cottonpickers´ from south London fused to become The Virginia Vagabonds consisting of 2 banjos, 2 guitars, a double bass and a fiddle. The following five and a half months we played over 60 gigs in clubs, colleges and pubs in and around London. We disbanded in 1989. This video represents us towards the end of our career. R.I.P.

Spanish Jam Session (29.01.11)

It was my first time back in Madrid for some time. We decided to go to Taberna Elisa for a firday night out to see what the Spanish Jam session was like. i had forgotten the good atmosphere from the place, beautiful old pub with photos on the walls of the musicians who had played there. Tonight was a mixture of Spanish music and Celtic melodies, all done with a Spanish accent. In the back room there clustered around the walls were some of the musicians warming up, we asked if this is where the music would be, thinking it was a little too small and cramped to let all who wanted to see enjoy the music, but we were told that when they felt like it they would come on stage. Impromptu sessions like this always seemed to spring up often when the main act was on stage! Tonight there was guitars, Galician bagpipes/gaita, percussion with a good atmosphere. An Italian man got up to sing a few Irish songs, and another man got up on guitar to sing Irish songs and play on his guitar with the backing of the Spanish session musicians. It was all un-amplified, fine for the musicians but the vocals needed a little help.

Martina Quiere Bailar (Martina Wants to Dance)

http://www.facebook.com/v/124581564280960(5.2.11) As the band came on stage the audience came in and it filled up nicely, the band consisted of 2 violins fronting the stage and to the rear an accordionist and a guitarist. The accordionist was from Italy and he had some of his Italian supporters in the audience one of them being a tambourine player who hit hell out of his tambourine later on in the night as he joint the group on stage for a number, beating out a rhythm that made his thumb bleed. The rest of the group were Spanish and the mixture of nationalities blended nicely as did their melodies, rhythms and presence on stage. They were not static, especially the 2 female violinists who played their music intertwining their melodies and harmonies with each other, as well as their body movements. As the tune progressed all four of them seem to come together and dance and sway often forgetting that an audience existed. The audience did exist and Martina and many others did dance! This music was made for dancing and I got enjoyment in watching the audience, sometimes set dances other times excited leaping up and down always with couples and the slower tunes were met with intimate close contact dancing. Their melodies lasted a lot longer than the average 3 minutes, melodies were repeated 3-4 times to let the dancers enjoy the rhythms and to let them get into the swing. This could have been boring to the non-participants but it was not so bad as the on-stage movement made the performance enjoyable and watching the dancing made up for any musical repetitions.

Andaraje Concert

(4.2.11) A short walk from Alcobendas (Madrid/Spain) to the next area of San Sebastian Los Reyes, where the lesser known bull racing takes place each year in august on the streets. We were there to attend a concert of traditional choral music sung by the group “Andaraje” a 5 piece ensemble who sing religious and folkloric songs from the southern areas of Spain, Andalusia and Murcia. The event took place in the Ethnographic museum of El Caseron which holds musical events every friday nights at 7.30pm. We have been there a few times to see various groups and it is not only a concert but made for instruction also so there is a rapport between group and audience introducing them to style of music many are not familiar with or have forgotten.
“Andaraje” are mainly a choral group singing in close harmony, often monophonic or a call and response between men (2) and women (3). AS I do not speak Spanish I can not tell the content of the words but there is a mixture of religious folkloric content often religious themes were used a song about the “10 Commandments” or references to Mary etc other times thematic songs about the sea or humorous songs which tickled the audience.
Instruments were not used that often a guitar was played twice a finger picking style to accompany the singers. The mainly instrumental accompaniment were with wooden and metallic percussion instruments such as triangles, bells, rattles…these were shaken while singling perhaps to religious songs and occasionally hand gestures to explain the text and meaning of the song, syncopated clapping was also in a few pieces.
I recorded the show but there was about 25 minutes of song while the rest of the concert (total 1 hour) was with a dialogue with the audience.
Sometimes the performance was a little flat, they read the lyrics from a paper and this stunted their performance, i felt the songs should have been more from the heart and spirit, to sing out and with more feeling and personal interpretation as it would in a rural church and in the village life, it was not “felt” more like a classical concert. Often the singers were looking at the leader to start the song off giving the feeling that they do not rehearse so much now (?).
Here is one of their livelier songs.

Irish Jam Session

Taberna Elisa look rather empty at 10.30pm when we arrived to hear some Irish music. We chatted to the barmaid about which nights they had music and took our drinks to a table. In the basement we could hear the strains of the Highland bagpipe behind closed doors and waited for the Irish music to start. Start it did about 11.30pm when an Irish bagpipe player, 2 flautists, a harpist and a bodhran player sauntered on stage. It was a very informal and relaxed session, music well played and enjoyable to listen too. At one point the harpist did a few solo numbers that had a Breton feel to them and later one of the flute players got out the Highland pipes and did a few numbers that were well executed with good gracing and tempo.

Really enjoyed the night all the more enjoyable as it was the harpists birthday and she had made a cake which she passed around the small crowd!

Ana Alcaida at Taberna Elisa

A good concert in Taberna Elis (Madrid/Spain) by Ana Alcaide and her fellow musicians. Three people in total giving a full sound with instruments such as the Swedish Nickelharper, the Iranian Santur, the Arabic Ud, the medieval Cittern, various percussion including a water pot! a Bouzouki and Guitar. Some songs with vocals and a mixture of Sephardic and Spanish songs and some others I did not recognize. The sound was not that good I think a proper sound check with the sound system could have had a better concert with the group running through a few numbers to get the levels earlier in the evening, but it was done just before their performance and half way through, the time in messing about made us miss the last of the concert as we had to get the metro home. Some really beautiful melodies and a nice blend of instruments giving it a nice acoustic relaxing atmosphere. The audience was attentive even telling the louder ones at the back to be quiet! The small bar was full with people standing outside peering through the windows. Here is a video clip from the gig.

Radio Cumbria Interview

It took a while in getting but I finally got a copy of the interview I did at Radio Cumbria a few weeks back. I include it here. It went well I told the basics i think, about the Northumbrian Pipes, the Border piping tradition we have in the Scottish Borders and a little about the music that is played in those parts. Besides the interview there are 3 melodies and I added some pictures to the interview.

"Radio Radio…"

The recent interview at Radio Cumbria was a recording for annual Robert Burns’ night, which is taking place at the end of January. The interviewer asked me about the Northumbrian pipes the Border tradition of piping and the melody of one of Burn’s melodies “The Banks and Braes of Bonny Doon”. The event got me thinking of other radio sessions I have done. Besides this one, I have another Radio Cumbria interview that was done while busking in Carlisle. A radio presenter came across me busking and happened to have his DAT recorder with him and recorded an interview about the pipes and I played a few tunes, this recording I have put on the end of my 2 CDs.

Another radio interview about the pipes was done in Istanbul, Turkey in the late 90s. I had brought my pipes to Istanbul as I was involved with a few folk musicians and I was spending a lot of time there and needed the pipes to practise and to keep in contact with my north UK roots. I did not know what was happening but one day at the conservatoire a Turkish piper turned up and invited me to be interviewed on a radio programme. I was invited along to the Radio Istanbul studios, which was in a back street in Taksim, and there beside me was another piper. He was Turkish and he played the Tulum, a Turkish bagpipe from the north east of Turkey near Georgia, Azerbaijan and along the Black Sea. It is mouth blown and has no drone, only a bag and 2 melody pipes in one stock and a wooden ‘horn’ at the end of the chanters. The holes in the chanters are not the same so when played it has the effect of having 2 melodies played at once. The radio programme was about these 2 pipes, their comparisons; we both played a few tunes and chatted about construction etc.

Another radio interview was when I was playing in a band in Amsterdam. “The Lonesome Pump Attendants” were a 3 piece band whose members were once in the “Red Aligatorz” a rock-a-Billy group from Cumbria, UK. When the Aligatorz split, the singer and I moved to Amsterdam playing skiffle songs with guitar and t-chest bass. Later the double bass player from the Aligatorz came over and the 3 of us played in Amsterdam for about 6 months, touring all over Holland. The radio interview was recorded in a squat/pirate radio station. A New Zealand biker did the interview with his Dutch assistant. WE performed 3-4 songs and I remember the first song when the presenter asked us to play he did not know how loud we were, his recording nearly blew his speakers!

The last radio interview was with the Red Aligatorz in Carlisle, again Radio Cumbria in the early 80s, with the presenter asking about the band and the gigs etc. I remember it being a lot of fun…but not sounding so cleaver!

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.