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.

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Folk Sessions: Monkhill, Tebay, Newcastleton

I have been attending a few sessions before Christmas. They happened on the Sunday the 20th, Monday the 21st and Tuesday the 22nd of December, last week.

Monkhill Session
The first was a session at Monkhill, just outside of Carlisle. Besides the normal session it was well attended with holiday makers and also because there was a charity event to get some cash together for the flood victims in Carlisle. We had a list of tunes (I never knew we had so many!!) and people could ask for a tune to be played and they would donate some money towards the flood victims. There was a good atmosphere and we played an assortment of melodies and songs. The instruments were: a guitar/vocals, fiddle/vocal, 2 English concertinas, bodhran, guitar/vocals, and ukulele.
Afterwards I cycled to the boat at 12 midnight to check on her and bail any water out. I got home about 2.30am. There had been a lot of rain and some of the back roads were underwater I had to get off my bike and walk around it. It is difficult to see in the dark without a moon, the light of the bike lamp makes seeing worse, it is best to knock off the lights.

Tebay Session
The next session was just outside of Tebay near to Kendal. It was a birthday party in a village hall. Lots of musicians were there playing violins, cellos, accordions, etc. they were part of the Lakeland Fiddlers, a group of musicians who meet in the Brewery, in Staton. There was a nice mix of folk songs, carols, instrumentals, and nice food.

Newcastleton Session
The final session was at Newcastleton in the Scottish Borders. It had been a while since I was there and they have moved upstairs in The Grapes Hotel for the session. Attended by singers, an accordion, 2 guitarists and singers, bodhran, English concertina and Spanish gaita. This session happens on the 3rd Tuesday of the month.

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!