Scottish Small Piper’s Barbecue

Scottish Small Piper’s Barbecue is held on the Sunday after Piping Live. This was the 2nd time it has been run and it seems to be getting stronger. The Glasgow small pipers meet every Tuesday at the Piping College and work on tunes. Once or twice a year they have a big meeting where they all come together to play tunes and to have a barbecue in the Park not too far from Central Glasgow.

It was a relaxed atmosphere, with a mixed group of small pipers from a Highland/Lowland bagpipe backgrounds to total beginners. It was a mixed group of musicians also, with guitars, flutes, whistles, saxophone, and a Cajon. I was the only Border piper there but it gave the music a ‘top edge’ to the overall sound.

The LBPS book repertoire was on show, which was a good idea; I ended up buying Mat Seattle’s new manuscript of the possible repertoire of Geordie Symes, which looks a good read and some excellent tunes.

We had been sent several tunes to learn and we all played them together on the day. It went quite well considering we were all from different musical backgrounds. There were lowland tunes as well as Highland and even Spanish tunes.

A choir came along and sang a few popular melodies, and also individuals led a session, then it was back to the small piper’s to run through the set once more.
We are pleased we went and we will go next year, and I will try to go along to the Tuesday nights session also.

I came away feeling that small pipers and Border pipers should meet more often in localized sessions, and then to have a bigger meeting throughout the year. we meet too seldom and we rely too much on the internet to communicate our music.

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Piping Live 2017

This year at Piping Live we saw good performances from such diverse countries and regions as Italy, Sardinia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Brittany, Northern Ireland and of course Scotland and northern England (Northumbria).
In the morning I went to the Clasp competitions and listened to the hypnotic melodies of the pibroch, not everyone’s cup of tea first thing in the morning, but it appears to be mine.

At noon the Street Cafe concerts start and this is where we let the different acts wash over us. I like the way the Scottish highland performances are followed by the international acts. I guess some would be happy with wall to wall highland piping but I prefer a variety.

I recorded all of the performances with the intention of archiving them for 5 or 6 years, then to put them online. My reason for this is to let time pass. To let the performers change their style, progress with their music, or even let the band’s break up, reform etc. Very often band’s do not think to record themselves to keep an audio archive, but this can be quite beneficial especially if you think of it like a CV. So by letting time pass you can see a band’s or a musicians progress. I have been coming to this festival for over 5 years now so I will be putting the recordings online soon.

I did not go to the World’s pipe band’s championships this year, due to the high ticket prices, I fall into a pricing category of concessions but i could not prove it, so i would have to pay full price. a few people i spoke to commented on the high prices and it would work out a lot of money for a family, and for me who came via Spain and spent a week in Glasgow I have reached my budget by the end of the week. It would have been better to have a cheaper price so all could go and if it is cheaper than more would go.

The week is not over yet on Sunday there is a Small pipe and Border pipe meeting in Glasgow I will be playing in that.

To see a listing of the acts and events that were at Piping Live 2017 have a look at the programme at this link
https://pipinglive.co.uk/events/

Rothbury Folk Festival 2017

I have just returned from Rothbury Folk Festival (in Northumberland), a really good festival with a lot of different music going on. The session on the Friday in the Queen’s was good, a nice mixture of Northumbrian songs and instrumentals.

Saturday was a good day for me as it started with Northumbrian Pipe music at 10am and all through the day there were opportunities for NSP playing, with the session after the competitions and later that evening with a session in the Coquetvale Hotel.
Fewer pipers there this year, but Saturday was still the main day for piping.

The weather stopped the open air concerts but the music continued in the Mart and by all accounts it was really good there with concerts and dances until the early morning.

On the Sunday I went to my first Ceilidh and observed (I did not dance, to the relief of the others) what went on. I had never been to one before, although I have started to play for a Playford group.

In the afternoon there was more sessions and in the evening also in the Queen’s.
Monday we left and are looking forward to going to more Festivals this summer.

Newcastleton Workshop 2017

It was my 3rd year running the Small pipe workshop at Newcastleton Folk Festival (always the 1st weekend in July). This year was different as a lot more people attended; in fact more people than sets of pipes. No way can I cater for everyone, I brought 5 sets of pipes and the group was good enough to double up during the workshop. I estimated 9 people came, as well as 3 others from the festival that had some role to play. 9 I thought was a nice size. I began by giving a talk about the construction, maintenance; and technique of blowing up the pipes; bag pressure; finger styles used with the small pipes, and bellows technique etc. and then a demonstration of what I hoped they would achieve from the workshop… to hold a note steady for 3 minutes.
Then I gave out the pipes for the students to try.

It is difficult to cater for the different age groups and sizes of the students. I made these pipes with my own body size in mind, but a young girl was there and she found them too big, and adults with a large waist was pulling the blowpipe out of its stock and due to the increase of girth. I am not sure how to cater for all the different sizes of people? It is a case of redesigning the pipes for workshops, something which might be difficult; and I guess, if they had more time, it would not be necessary, as they would master the correct position.

Another comment was that the bellow of a student was pinching into the student’s wrist, indicating that I should put padding around the edges of the bellows like the Irish piper’s bellows. I should have pointed out that the shape of the bellows is traditional and there was never any padding on the bellows cheek. What could be happening is that the posture of the student was not correct and this put the pressure on one side of the bellow, making the other side to rise and cut into the wrist. It is a case of the “beginner is always right and the instrument is wrong…” errrr no! If a student spent more time getting the basics right then they would see that the basic technique is important. They all seemed to be in a hurry to play…but without these techniques you cannot play.

To be fair on the student, what is required from them is nearly impossible, to master a technique that would normally take days to master. They have just over 1 hour. It is a tall order for anyone.

Another comment was that my pipes are quiet. Well small pipes are relatively quiet, I think what might be happening is that they hear pipes being played in a session, a Border pipe or a Scottish small pipe made by a highland maker (possibly the Reel pipes,) which are made for a Highland player, and these require more pressure and give out more volume, and they think all small pipes are the same, which they are not. My pipes are intended to give a quiet sound as I do not want 5 pipes playing loudly in a small room. They are meant for the student to listen too, but ideally not for the other students to hear them.

Another point I noticed was that the student wanted to play the chanter. So they ignored what I was saying in the introduction, that “if you can keep a steady pressure and play a steady note continually for 3 minutes, you have advanced a lot”. They immediately went for the chanter and seemed to think the pipes were at fault because they could not get a good sound. These things are natural of course, who would want to play 1 note for 3 minutes when more notes are there to try? But next time I might just start off with a chanter without holes, just a piece of tubing would have been more useful and if someone can get that right then give them a chanter to try. Most had difficulties in holding the chanter anyways, so it would be one less thing to worry about if the chanter was left to dangle and not to worry about covering the holes.

Over all I think the workshop went well. I improved my delivery to the students, and I learned more about how to present the small pipes as well as dealing with a bigger crowd.

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

Newcastleton Folk Festival

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

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

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

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

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

New (Old) Tunes to Learn

Coming back from Rothbury Folk Festival i set myself a task of learning new tunes. An interest of mine for many years now has been the old manuscripts of the Scottish Borders: Dixon, Peacock, and Bewick.

I have decided to learn these melodies, memorize them and perform them. They are not being played a lot at festivals, the NSP players are choosing other melodies…which are great, but there is anot a balance.
My task is to first lean the A and B parts to all the tunes, then when I have done that to revisit the manuscripts and learn the C and D parts. I know a lot of the tunes already and I know quite a few of the variations, but I have been concentrating too much on the variations and not on learning the basics of the other tunes.

The tunes I have been working on this week are from the Peacock manuscript, trying to source background information and other links connected with it, it has produced some results, mainly I found another manuscript from the borders that I did not know before.

The titles of the Peacock tunes which I am learning for the first time are:
Over the Border, Jockey Stays Long at the Fair, I Saw My Love Come Passing By Me
  .
Tunes which I knew but had forgotten, which I have been revisiting are:
Neil Gows Wife, Sr. Charles Rant, Bonny Mare and I,  and Tulloch Goram

Drone Design with Computers

I spent too much time over a drone yesterday. The boring and rough turning was done the day before, so all was left to do was shape it, but this is where the time went, designing and turning all has to be done in my head then acted upon; and since it has been months since I had made a drone I was again remembering how to do it. I had altered the design since last time too by using new measurements and new forms; using my chisels instead of the tool post and cutters. It was a success, it looked ok, until the last piece was to be turned and here (again) tiredness took over and I glued the finishing piece and left it for the night. I should have left the gluing until today, as it was not long enough. Not to worry the beauty about wood is that you can redo it.

Later I decided to revisit the design of the drone, not in my head, but on the computer by using a “vsd” format. This allows quite detailed drawings to be experimented with, and a working blueprint to be achieved ‘on paper’. So I am hoping today I will have gained some time and drones will not take so much time.

I started working on my new idea for the bellows, I submerged the wood into a barrel of water to make it more supple, then I laid heavy weights on it to iron out any lumps and bumps, and then let it to dry.

Drone Configuration and Melody Types

An interesting talk with a young piper yesterday in Carlisle prompted me to write a little about drone tuning. Our conversation centered on the types of drones one should use and for which melodies. He was interested in using the drone configuration of A, d’, a’’ (Bass A, tenor D, alto A) with his ‘A’ Scottish small pipes. This drone configuration is not unusual in the European style but it is with Scottish small pipes. When I first heard about it I was skeptical, there would be a clash of sounds, but it was not as bad as what I thought as I listened to him play.

The problem is the amount of melodies he could play, not many would fit the harmonic arrangement. The Highland tunes would be more willing to blend in with the drones especially the one which were routed in the D note, but the Northumbrian and Border melodies that used the C# (3rd note of the A scale) a lot clashed with the D drone. He thought it sounded ok, but I begged to differ.

When I started to play the Northumbrian small pipes in G I looked for melodies that played with the A drones (a’, a’’) there was not many melodies either, the root note of the melody being the A note on the chanter. With the drone playing the root note it harmonized with the rest of the scale. Not a problem.

My young friend was interested in a small pipe that “fitted all situations”, I was too, many years ago and in some respects the addition of owning chanters reflect this still. But perhaps this has been tried before, in the past, and the best that was achieved by the tradition was a drone configuration of A, a’, a’; giving a strong root note for different types of modes/scales to be explored. For me it was interesting to see a “work in progress” but I wonder if it will be followed up in a few years time… I hope so.

Drones, Bellows and Reeds

I have not turned any drones for a couple of months so yesterday morning I had to spend most of my time trying to remember how to do it, or in what order I should do it. Also, within those months I have changed my making process and now I do things differently. What is the point (besides documentation) in writing anything down, to remember the process, when it is changing all the time?

With the new drill I bought the boring and drilling went very well, I did 2 sections of wood which will become a tenor drone.

Later that day I got given some wood which will become bellow cheeks. A change of design has been growing in my mind for several weeks now, to make the design of the bellows more airtight. My present system is an adaptation of the traditional method, but I have this idea and it will not go away! What I need to do is try it out, and this wood will be ideal for that. The process is not quicker but I believe it will be a cleaner and more secure/airtight that the traditional method.

I bought screws for the bellows cheeks, not the ones I was looking for, but they will do for the traditional bellows. This is the problem of making pipes in 2 countries (Spain and the UK), there is not the same product in both countries, not the same measurements and not the same price, and availability is not the same either. These screws will do for now until I can source better ones.

Later on that afternoon, I met a piper and we went to the park in Carlisle, the meeting was an interesting one but for the point of this blog I noticed that the reed I had made was not so bad. It was louder than what I had thought and the tone was sweeter. There were some problems with it (too sharp in the chanter) but from the point of view of making I was pleased.

Removable Chanter Stocks

Yesterday I made 5 removable chanter stocks; these stocks are made for each chanter so they protect the reed if removed from the bag.

In hindsight I could have made only the bag/chanter stock, but this is not only about the workshops, it is also about learning and creating a finish product I am pleased with. The bag/chanter stock would have been quicker but the chanter would have to fit each chanter stock exactly and I would not be able to interchange the chanters in different bags if there were any deviation in size. This might have been limiting if a student wants to try Northumbrian fingering and then they want to try Scottish small pipe fingering… they would have to change bags, bellows etc. which is all time consuming. With the removable option I can simple take one chanter out of the bag and add it to another without damaging the reed (most damage done to the reed is when it is removed from the bag).

As I was completing the 4th stock it suddenly jumped out of the chuck in the lathe and crushed itself against the tool post. Tiredness and lack of concentration can be dangerous. It is the first ruined piece of work so far… well there has been many failed experiments but this was my first broken experiment. It was a valuable lesson “take a break and rest”. Bad things happen very fast indeed!

Stocks and Newcastleton Folk Festival… it’s on !

At the end of the day I had 5 stocks completed, the drilling on the wood lathe went ok but the shaping and finalizing the stocks on the metal work lathe took the time. Also I had problems with the motor, it kept on speeding up then slowing down, I had to reduce the rpms to keep it stable, and so I was cutting slower. Anyways, it is progress and still on schedule.

Today I finalized the dates of the workshop at Newcastleton Folk Festival, so it is official, I will be giving a beginners workshop on the “Bellows blown Small-pipes”. The aim of the workshop is to introduce the student to the techniques of bellows blown piping, with ideas on bellows technique, bag pressure, holding a note, keeping the drones steady, and if there is time playing a scale… basically everything except learning melodies….that is for another workshop. With these techniques one can adapt to any of the bellows blown bagpipes (Irish, Border, Northumbrian, Scottish Small pipes, Pastoral, Dudy, Cornemuse, Mussette, etc.), as the basics are the same. If you are buying a set of bellows blown pipes with these techniques you can see if the pipes are in tune, working, playable… without the basic techniques this is impossible.

Stocks, Stocks and more Stocks

I realize I am starting late in documenting my attempts at making “small pipes” it is better to start now while I am still in the process of making, than to leave it and forget what I have done. The idea is to make at least 6 sets of small pipes to use in workshops at folk festivals. I think between 6 and 10 sets are a realistic number, 6 being the minimum to start with then increase it if I have the time. I get the chance to give my first workshop at the Newcastleton Folk Festival in July 2015.

There has been a lot of experimentation over the past year, but a few months ago when I was told I could do the workshop I had to get together the experiments (that worked) and start assembling them. I should also add that most of these experiments were done in Madrid, Spain. There I had tools and wood easily to hand, on returning to the UK I had to source all the materials again and things were harder to find here, and some things were not possible to get, so I had to begin again and experiment. Time was running out but today I thought to allocate time to each stage, for example last week and this week I dedicate my time to making stocks and by the end of the week I move onto the next stage eg. Drones. By this method I should complete at least some if not all of the small pipes in time, leaving enough time for tuning! So I began today by making stocks for each bag that did not have them, and I will work my way through the missing stocks systematically until all have them.

I have made 6 bags so far (I have made more, if I need them), I have inserted some of the chanter stocks, blow pipe stocks and drone stocks, but as I go along I notice I have to do little changes to them. For example, originally I had made the internal diameter of the blowpipe sock 16mm but I later noticed that it would have been better to make it 18mm so I have to enlarge it. Not big jobs but multiply it by 6 it can take a few hours. This is what I mean by “experiments”.

Today I made 4 bag stocks: 3 chanter stocks and 1 drone stock. The drone stock took most of the day due to slowly boring the stock then shaping the outside. I had an old bag which was precut, so I had to match the diameter of the hole in the bag, I did not have a large diameter piece of wood and when I found one it took some time to prepare it for drilling.

The 3 chanter stocks were not a problem; these can be tired into the bags when I get some better twine. This will complete what is required for the 6 sets.

This morning I placed the 6 bags on the floor and placed beside them the things I have made so far. I had made about 3 sets but something was wrong with all of them, so I will have to take the stocks out of the bags and redo them at a later date. It was a useful exercise as I could write down what is still needed to do, and what things I need to prioritize. The 3 bellows I have already are nearly complete I need to make one more here (as I have the cheeks cut already) and do the rest in Spain.

Small-Pipe Workshop Update at Newcastleton Folk Festival

The progress is slow but sure, I have 6 bellows at the moment, some have been donated (one by David, the organizer of the Newcastleton Folk Club, many thanks to him) and others I have made; so there will be at least 6 sets of pipes on the day for beginners to use.

I would also like people who already have a set of small-pipes but do not play them/cant play them, but wish to do so to come along also, it is all about getting you started, sorting out the beginners problems that we have all gone through. So if you know of someone who has given up trying to play or has a set in the box at home which have been put away in frustration ! encourage them to come to the workshop.

Players who have Northumbrian sets we will be using the big drone at first (the D/C drone) this will be compatible with the sets I am making in D. Scottish Small-pipers are generally in A or D so a harmony can be achieved… all this can be sorted out, the workshop is about bellows technique, bag pressure, keeping the instrument stable, getting all parts in harmony, and obtaining a scale in tune with the drones, and if there is time left a melody

if you wish to contact me regarding the workshop or anything to do with piping can do so at tilbsuk@yahoo.com

!

Small-Pipe Workshop

I will be offering this year at Newcastleton Folk Festival a beginner’s workshop in “Learning the Small-Pipes”. The workshop will be a basic introduction into small pipe techniques. 
Too often the beginner will not take enough time to learn the basic techniques of the bag, bellows, drones and chanter, and rush towards learning melodies and then finding out later that they have to restart learning, also most damage caused to a new instruments happens in the first few days of receiving their pipes. 
The workshop will go through the basics of bag pressure, bellows technique, tuning drone and fingering styles, and reeds. The workshop is designed for people who intend to start playing the small pipes not for people who already play them.
Buying a set of small pipes can be an expensive hobby, and often there can be a long wait to get a set of pipes. It is a commitment before you can start to play, and often it can be frustrating when you get your set, and often they are put aside as there are many things to do at once before getting a good sound from them.
If you are thinking of buying a set of small pipes, or waiting for your set to be made, or just wishing to try the instrument out… this workshop is for you.
It is also for people who have already their set of small pipes, perhaps the instrument has been put aside as it was found too complicated, bring them along and the workshop can help you to get started.
I can offer a limited number of small pipes for those who attend the workshop. These will be for those interested in Northumbrian Small pipes and Scottish Small pipe players, with open and closed fingering.
There maybe is also a chance to try mouth blown examples too…
Reservations is the best way of ensuring a place on the workshop, or just turn up on the day if there are sets available, those with their own sets bring them along too.
I am trying to ensure there will be 10 sets of small pipes available on the day. I will be posting updates to confirm the number of pipes available.  

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!

Iranian Tar

The other day I got my hands on (for the first time) an Iranian Tar. I have only seen photos and video clips of this instrument so I was interested to see it close up and to play it. It is heavy due to the solid wooden body, and it has a wider neck than i thought. There are 3 double strings with gut frets across the neck.

There is a tight skin over the body of the tar and its peculiar shape of the body is by hollowing out 2 pieces of wood and joining them together to give that “8” shape. The most enlightening part of the instrument for me was the plectrum, it was solid brass and cone shaped. It was difficult to hold and the owner said that players often put wax over it so the fingers can grip it securely, but it is the brass that makes the loud sound and the resonance from the body and strings are amplified by such a hard material as brass. The owner said the tar is the leading instrument in the ensemble and the loudness can rise above the other instruments. Some pictures of the tar I held:

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!

A Forgotten Manuscript

I am planning a busking route through the Basque country and northern Spain this year and sorting through my maps and books in a pile of travel information, I came across an old black book I recognized from years back covered in dust. Inside were mostly blank music manuscript pages, but in the front of the book using my hand writing were traditional melodies from various countries: Lithuanian, Sweden, French and Slovak. The key signature of the notation told me that I had collected these melodies for playing on my Russian accordion that was in the key of A major, but other keys showed I was thinking for the Northumbrian pipes as the keys were also G and D major and were in the range of the pipe chanter (an octave and a half).

My Russian button accordion I had bought in 1992 while I was living in Vilnius, Lithuania; researching traditional music. The accordion was a popular instrument for dances not only in Lithuania but in Poland and Russia and throughout the Baltic States. I had bought it in a music shop in Vilnius, I could not play nor had I attempted to play it before, but I had time in those changing days when Lithuania was freeing itself from the Soviet influence. I was studying at the Vilnius Conservatoire so I thought I could get advice from the people there. My accordion had a range of about 3 octaves, double reeds that was slightly out of pitch with one another that gave it its particular sound, but what I loved was the harmony buttons that gave me that instant “Russian” feel. I learned a Belo-Russian melody and used these harmonies which transported me to the literature of Bakunin, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky. I also learned a few Lithuanian melodies and used the more dominant harmony buttons, the style instantly changed into something more recognisable, more European perhaps; these melodies were dance melodies from the folklore tradition. It seems this is where my interest fell away as I could not co-ordinate my melody hand and harmony hand correctly, polkas, marches anything in 2/4 or 4/4 was fine, but I could not get the waltzes and 6/8 rhythms and if I could not master it there was no point in continuing with it? Anyways, my interests slowly changed later on when I met different, less academic, folklorists in Kaunas. These people were into wood and skins of the Baltic nature/villages, not metallic instruments of the Soviet cities; and even though I did continue play it for the next 2 years I never really progressed from these few melodies that I learned in 1992.

The melodies in the book were copied from scores in the Conservatoire, my interest in Swedish music was a long standing one, I had visited Stockholm in 1990 and came home with some records of traditional music: accordion, nickelharper, anthology of Scandinavian instruments, and of course the bagpipes, there is something about the Swedish lilt, style, and presence that is soothing to me, relaxing and touches my Celtic sprit. There are only 2 Slovak melodies in the book, not surprisingly quite different in structure to the other melodies. Apart from these melodies copied for accordion I had written next to certain scores “fiddle” so apparently they had been written for violin. A couple of French melodies were penned in ink as an afterthought, possibly done at a later date.

In the back of the book there are some of my attempts at folk melody composition; flute notation without any description; a Belo-Russian melody; Kankles melodies and some compositional workings on a musical project I wrote called “A Maiden Wreath Made of Lead” which was a composition using my experiences over 4 years in the Baltic States, the composition was written during my BA in Contemporary Arts (1994-7). This is followed by other compositional workings as a follow up from “Maiden Wreath…” called “Paths” which was a musical journey into religious music of India and Pakistan, especially Qawwali, where I went on a field trip in 1995.

Festivals 2011

Busking has been a good way for making contacts, it has its limits of course when compared to the internet, but it has offered a few opportunities in the past to break away from the streets and perform in more varied surroundings. I have been offer weddings to play at, festivals, on the spot radio programmes and recordings have happened, and it has led to TV appearances and even the occasional music promoter offering to promote me! People have offered job suggestions and many have taken my card and details with promises of future work, and the opportunity to sell my CDs which is a good chance to promote my work and ideas. This year there has been interest too and if everything happens as it appears then I will be doing a radio programme this week for Radio Cumbria. In March there will be a project to preserve the Border pipes that I will be attending. In June I am invited to play at the International Folk Festival in Pilzen, Czech Republic; and in July I have been asked to play at the Cockermouth Festival, Cumbria. Let’s see what the future holds?

Border Variations

The world at 8am is a dark and dangerous place for a cyclist heading for Carlisle on the Wigton road, it is rush hour and it is the main road linking several towns along the west coast of Cumbria with lorries roaring past, cars, vans and one lone cyclist all heading for Carlisle in the dark with rain beating down and an icy wind on my back. I caught the 9.10am bus to Langholm, about 20 miles over the Scottish border, where I was to meet 2 Border pipers for a session of playing traditional melodies of those parts. One piper lives in Langholm and the other comes from Hawick, we play generally from 10am until 2.30pm with a small break where we enjoy a soup and a chat. The melodies we play are a mixture of different tune books but all are traditional Border melodies with variations. I am a new comer to the group and I add my share of melodies from Peacock and Bewick to the eclectic mix. I sight read where I can to join in, I am not so bad in sight reading but I loose my way with the speed they play and the variations that are still unfamiliar to me. The variations are very particular to the Border piping repertoire, sometimes runs and arpeggios are reproduced in other melodies and after playing a dozen or so, one can see patterns, clearly formulating a style to these types of tunes. Often a melody can be found in a different manuscript under a different title, possibly suggesting that a common melody travelled well but that the names were not passed on. The main manuscript to be used is the once forgotten “Dixon Manuscript” brought to light again by Matt Seattle who reprinted it for general use. The style of the melodies are very different to the Scottish Highland pipe tunes or to other melodies from the UK and Ireland, they have virtually no grace notes written in to the score, whether they were played in a systematic fashion is hard to tell there is no reference either way, but the general thought is that they were played in a more “Northumbrian/Border” style with little gracing. When I started playing the Border pipes I found the variations difficult to enjoy, in fact I did not play them, but now I see them as being a part of my tradition, an important part of our ‘style’ and part of my culture. Variations look a little like ‘practise pieces’ one finds in music tutors, as though a pupil learns an instrument and has a series of finger exercises before the main melody begins. On the surface it looks like they are just a series of arpeggios and runs, less melodic and more rhythmic in style, a series of repetitions and an unusual use of the 7th note (flattened or sharpened) that in theory is used as a passing note not an important part of the melodic structure, when played this 7th note should clash with the drones but it gives it ‘its’ sound, the particular sound of Border piping. It takes a while to get use to this sound, these runs and repetitive arpeggio use, but when it does get into your mind and heart it is captivating and it is a window into a lost world into the music of the Scottish borders.

Coming home the wind was in my face and it took me ages to cycle home, when I did I flopped in front of the fire and to pass the time got out the concertina and played some tunes that I had memorized trying to add harmonies to the bare melodies. I play mainly 3rds and 5ths to the main melody notes trying to add a harmony where appropriate.

After dinner I went back to the Border pipes and made some changes that I had noticed in the afternoon: making them louder by opening the reed, trying to get them closer to concert pitch “A” but realising that the top notes were too sharp and so it needed flattened by pulling the reed out but this would make the chanter flatter, it could not be helped, an ‘in-tune’ chanter is better than one that is half in tune! So I will have to make do with a chanter that is just below concert pitch and hope it will not make too much difference. I also tried playing melodies from memory, so building a repertoire. In all it was a good day full of music.

Tuning the Border Pipes

Today I got the Border pipes out of their old battered suitcase. It is a while since I played them and since I am having a session over the border in Langholm, Scotland tomorrow, I thought to get ready and dust of the fingers and try and remember some tunes. Remember I did, it all comes back after a few failed attempts, I played mainly Peacock melodies some new ones too. As usual I altered the reeds as I am trying to get the chanter in tune with the drones as close as I can to concert pitch “A” (440c), this is to blend in as much as possible with the other 3 pipers who will be turning up tomorrow also I wish to play with other musicians in time and the need to be compatible with other instruments is becoming quite important. I have played solo on the pipes for years and although it is very liberating to play what one wants, it can be quite isolating too. I put more thread around the sliding drones to make them air-tight and to stop them double tonguing. I also experimented in holding them, as they are not the most comfortable set of pipes to play. Old photos of the Border Piper have playing them with the drones set neatly across the chest. In practise this is not so easy; the drones are heavy, longer than the Northumbrian pipes, and flop around. I have had them over the shoulder, by far the better position, but a big separation between the chanter (melody) and the drones (harmony) I like the Northumbrian pipes as the chanter and the drones are relatively together blending nicely. I put the drones across the chest but it is very unstable under the bag arm, then I put them underneath the arm that they normally rest upon so they are lying downwards towards the ground with the arm over them. This is the best position as the chanter and the drones are sounding together, but the neck of the chanter was flapping around and also uncomfortable, more experimentation needs to be done. I pushed the chanter reed in as far as it would go, opening the end to make it louder and to flatten the top notes of the chanter. I have always tried to quieten the chanter as think it is too loud, but I now believe (because of playing on the streets and back ground noises) that louder is better to cut above the other street noises. It is a constant struggle between the reed and the chanter to get it right, very frustrating very tiring, all in aid to get it to concert pitch “A”, if I had left the reed the way it was it was a perfect match between pressure of the bag, drone reeds and pitch – a flat “A”, but problematic to play with others. Lets see what happens tomorrow at the session.

The "Jackie" Concertina

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

Harp and Concertina

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

The Galician Gaita

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

"You must be completely insane"

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

Sweet Hesleyside

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

Entertainment for the Public

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