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”

Advertisements

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.

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.

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 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?

Animusic Conference (Aveiro University), Portugal.

The Conference went well. I gave my paper on the Open-ended flute in Iberia. I got some positive feed back from other participants, and made some constructive contacts. A few leads which might lead me to other areas of music inside of Spain and Portugal which can only be positive, but in the question of the open-ended flute inside of Iberia is still in question and probably always will until some concrete evidence emerges of this flute type in Iberian history.
Other ney papers were given at the Conference, Turkish ney was, for me, interesting. But I found their information only related to Turkey. But the Turkish ney is surely more than that, as it was the Ottoman ney, which had its influence as far as Iberia. Also when one hears the styles of pre-1926 neyzens they style of playing is not like the ´mystic´style of one hears today in Turkey. It is more of a Arab style, melismatic; and with influences of Western music with uses of arpeggios etc. Neyzen Tefik can be said to use these influences.
We can not just look at one instrument and give all the credit to one country, no country works in such isolation, especially with a large Empirical Empire like the Ottoman.

The Iberian Ney – Portugal Abstract.

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.”

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.

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!

"You must be completely insane"

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

Sweet Hesleyside

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

Entertainment for the Public

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

Frozen Money

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

Busking

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

A Return to Busking

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

Heat of Competition


The cold weather has kept me indoors for a few months so I have not been busking, but last Saturday I put on my thermal underwear and headed out to the streets. It was a depressing time, the weather did not help much the sun not creeping over the 1970s monstrosity that is the Civic Centre building. People were not in the mood either; they hurried past not caring not listening and not thinking music. It could not be said for the kids though, they were in good voices as they chanted insults and clattered their skateboards down the small subway drowning out the pipes and peoples voices.
I gave up after a few hours in low spirits and took refuge in our noisy library, I sat myself down in front of the internet for an hour to see what the outside work had to say.

Later on in the centre of town I saw other musicians playing: a man sitting next to his amplifier playing highly rhythmical blues music on his acoustic guitar and harmonica, very catchy and up-beat music it even attracted a small group of skateboard kids – how hip can you get? I liked his playing but I dislike amplifiers, the world has become too noisy, you need amplification to be heard, but by doing so you just pump up the volume so people have to be noisy to be heard over you, it is a cycle of noise. When I started playing the Northumbrian Pipes the world was a quieter place, I used to play in the centre of town just like Mr Blues, but now I cannot as I am too quiet and I cannot hear what I play! “Get an amplifier” people say, no I will not. So I look for alternative areas where to play that push me on to the peripheries. Busking is a periphery type of activity at the best of times, but it seems I am on the periphery of the peripheries (if there is such a periphery!).

A few meters from Mr Blues there was a young chap playing an accordion, luckily he was not amplified nor was he blending in with the Mississippi Blues rhythms either! I stood in the middle of the these two frequencies trying to get a stereo balance and thinking how great it is to introduce to the general public of Carlisle Contemporary music! I try not to make generalizations but last year Carlisle had a swarm of accordion players descend on the town centre, these players played cheap Russian accordions and played them in a Eastern European style, but the problem was they did not play a melody, they improvised notes. They had their stools and their packed lunches they all spoke to one another in their lunch breaks. It seemed like they were learning the instrument trying to play a fragment of melody with one hand and the bass notes with the other but getting bored half way through and then deciding to play something else in a different key and rhythmic structure. To be honest I did not notice these musicians from their musicality I noticed them as they were in all the places where I usually stand and more besides. It was like a family of accordion players had sprouted and were filling the air with discordant fragrances. I luckily found an ‘un-accordionated’ spot somewhere on the periphery but after a few weeks people started telling me of the noise that was emanating from the centre of town and how these accordionists were not making any music or money!
After a few months they disappeared, gone with out trace, one day they were not there any longer and no one ever saw them again until that Saturday when I saw one next to Mr Blues. Later on I saw the young accordionist in a different spot away from the centre still trying to play the ‘1st lesson in the Accordionist’s handbook’! The only other guy I saw that day was a guitarist, a singer songwriter playing to himself at the other end of town. The day did not pick up for me I got hassle off the homeless people and came away wishing I was a banker or from another disreputable profession.

Busking Through life


I have been busy the past few days editing past photos and videos and putting them on to utube, editing my Myspace pages and now creating this blog. What for? some people I know do not understand this activity. I guess it is to meet others, like minded people. Recently I applied for a job and realized I have very little to put on my CV in the way of work! But, I am busy all the time, I realized what i do it can not be documented in the normal conventional ways, yet it should be documented to show what I do to others, as we are not Islands, are we?
By doing these http://www.sites I am dissecting myself, sorting out myself, compartmentalizing who I am and having to think about who I am and what I am. One of the worst questions to ask me is “What do you do?” I never know what to say! What do I do? I am busy, very busy. This question was asked the Dalai Lama once and he replied “I am taking care of myself”.
When I left school at 16 I knew what I wanted to be, but in the late 1970s life was not so open as it is now. I wanted to play music, but in 1979, UK jobs – professional music jobs, were not recognized, it was a small business then. So I started to join bands and make my own music. I started to busk and I found I could make a little money.
Later on I started playing the Northumbrian Small Pipes, a bellows blown bagpipe from the NE of England, I joined more bands and I got good at my craft. In the 90s I did it full time and I started to do concerts and to sell my CDs. But in my mind it was never a ´job´ as in my ´1970s culture´ it was nver a proper job!
Then, busking was “begging”, to a lot of people, and often I was called a beggar back then. Now the times and attitudes have changed.
now I consider what I do a job! I sell my Cds and I live by it, occasionally I do concerts and Festivals, it is not great money, and each week it is different but it is a job and it is enjoyable.
If you want to see my playing the Northumbrian Small Pipes check out the utube web site at http://www.youtube.com/user/kevnsp