Saturday, 28 November 2009

Off to New York

...on Tuesday, to do some more stuff with Sting.
This is just a quick post as I'm trying to think of what I need to pack (I'm a very frugal packer, and usually take only the absolute minimum - I have to carry the bag, plus my pipes and fiddle, so I hate taking too much!)
Those of you who were at the recent band gigs may be interested to know that MY EAR IS STILL BLOCKED. AAAAAGHHHH! (sorry to shout, but it's driving me mad...and to be honest, shouting is the only means of communicating with me these days...!) It has actually improved a little bit, but I'm still pretty much deaf in one ear. Absolutely perfect for a longish flight then having to play music....(in tune, hopefully) Doctors say that I don't need to worry until it's been blocked for 3 months....HA!
Anyway - better go and change the fiddle strings, oil the pipes etc etc...
All for now,

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Fantastic Folkestra!

Buoyed up on a cloud of euphoria and white wine I probably shouldn't be trying to type this...BUT....
I had a rehearsal today for the gig on Dec 20th for The Sage Gateshead's 5th Birthday celebrations...
It's going to be a stormer of a gig - I've only gone and got Sting as a special guest...(Hooray! Hurrah! Haroo!!!)
Anyway - Folkestra are going to perform and as it's the Sage's 5th birthday extravaganza I thought we should open it up and say that any ex-Folkestra members are very welcome to attend...SO...we had a rehearsal today (and the only rehearsal that I can be at- I'm off to the US very soon and only get back just before the Sage gig... aaaghhh!!)..AND IT WAS FANTASTIC!!!!!!!!!
Sorry to shout... but it really was.
We hadn't really publicised the gig so I wasn't expecting too many people to turn up to the rehearsal, but we ended up with a band of about 40 people....which is an awful lot larger than Folkestra has ever been...and also a band of a size that makes it very difficult to hear what is happening from one side of the stage to the other....
SO - there is a chance that each end of the band might be at a completely different tempo from the other...but let's just hope not and pray for fair weather...!?!
But what I really wanted to speak about was the camaraderie and the positive feeling that pulsed through today's rehearsal...there were people there from the first days of Folkestra (Laura Hewison, Peter Tickell, the Joneses, the Lewises, etc etc) and from then onwards - Heather, Leanne, Julia, the lovely Laura...finest saxophonist ever to grace the ranks of Folkestra...okay, the ONLY one...(but even if there had been others we would have loved you most!) and of course the boys ghetto...Dan, Greg, Dave, Kev, Rob, Stuart ..(where are you Joe...????! Okay - China - that's not a bad excuse...!)
Those who know me (perhaps you don't...and if you don't - please understand that I am an Old-School disciplinarian who believes in ruling by fear alone, without the faintest hint of praise...) may be rather taken aback to hear that I came home and cried...with pleasure (and an unworthy hint of pride...!) at what a fantastic experience today's rehearsal was.
As well as beautiful music, I witnessed a wonderful conviviality and feeling of communal pride and support for a brilliant band.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Wigmore Hall

Just a quick one - I'm at home cooking the tea and just waiting for it to be ready...
Got back yesterday from a brief trip down to London to play 'Kettletoft Inn' with the Nash Ensemble at the Wigmore Hall. I last played it up in Orkney with Psappha and I seem to remember writing something then about how strange it seems to meet up with musicians you don't know and have never met before, do a couple of short rehearsals and then go on stage with them.
Well - it still seems strange, and although I'm getting more used to the idea (and have really enjoyed working with Psappha and the Nash Ensemble - fantastic players!) I would LOVE to get the chance to play the piece with the same group on several consecutive days/concerts.
It's a great piece to play, but would really sing out even more if everyone had the opportunity to get past the notes on the page and really let go a bit!
Only actually playing in one piece meant that that I got the chance to sit and listen to the rest of the concert - wonderful music in a beautiful setting.
Only problem was that I was a bit worn out from 2 days in London, one of which started extremely early with an appointment at the US Embassy to get a visa - what a stressful experience - I was terrified I was going to do something wrong/ not have the right paperwork/forget my passport/etc etc etc...but surprisingly enough it all went without incident (I speak for myself only...Peter and Julian didn't fare quite so well...but that's a different story....)
Dinner's ready - better go!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Shona Kipling & Emily Portman

...will be doing a double-bill concert at The Sage Gateshead on October 10th. If you happen to be around then try and get to see them.
Shona is a great young accordionist and Emily is a singer who also has been doing some very interesting work writing new songs which feel like old folksong/fairy tales - they're really worth hearing.
They are both graduates of Newcastle University's Folk & Traditional Music degree course and I'm sure you'll be hearing more about them.
They will also be getting a few of their friends to come along and perform with them - it'll be a great night of music and song and well worth supporting.
Got to dash now - Sunday dinner then Folkestra rehearsal await....!

Sting stuff

Well, Peter, Julian and I just spent a rather surreal fortnight in Durham cathedral rehearsing then peforming with Sting. It was material from his forthcoming album 'if on a Winters night' and we had an amazing time.
The music was incredibly quiet and intense, with lots of space - incredible for a band of 40 players! Sting said it was the quietest music he'd ever done, with the biggest band! The players were inspirational though - all very generous musicians who were happy to underplay and to sit back and leave the spaces for the music to shine through (rather than just showing off and trying to play as many notes as possible - there was none of that)
I could go on and on about the fantastic friends we made, but I'd be here for hours and hours, so best not (I have a Folkestra rehearsal to do this afternoon and need to leave soon)
Suffice it to say that we had a fab time, we enjoyed the music, I'm more a fan of Sting than I was before we started (and I was already a fan then!) and the sessions in the hotel bar afterwards were amongst the best/most enjoyable/most surprising/most diverse/most friendly I have ever been involved in.
And I was very delighted to see that Mary Macmaster managed to get a Gaelic song into the concerts and on the album (it's one of my favourite tracks, along with The Snows they melt the Soonest) Well done her!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Bellingham Show

...was last Saturday. The weather was better than last year (when it was cancelled altogether) but was very windy. I was judging the piping competitions and we had to get extra tent pegs to anchor the tent down. One of the other tents did actually blow away and we all watched in horror as it blew off down the field towards the pony classes (luckily there were a posse of local men hot on its heels who managed to catch it and bring it down before any harm was done!)
There weren't as many entries as I would have liked in the competitions, but with a bit of gentle persuasion we managed to get a few more pipers to play. Thank you to all the competitors - there were quite a few people who had come to listen, so it was good to give them something to listen to!
And I managed to complete the judging and have a decent wander round the show field without being assasinated by angry pipers, so my judging can't have been too controversial...!?
Off down to London tomorrow for a duo gig with Peter. We're not on until 9.45pm and Peter has got his heart set on us going for a night out down in the Big City...Ronnie Scott's has been mentioned more than once (he went there when he was in London with the Peatbog Faeries and had a fantastic time - I keep telling him that I'm not quite as wild and unruly as a bunch of kilted Scotsmen, but he reckons that there's not much in it....!) but we'll see how we feel after the gig (well - we'll see how I feel...there's absolutely no doubt that Peter will be full of life and raring to go, but I'm not so sure about me - I'm getting on a bit you know!)
Then back home Saturday, then off to Durham on Monday to do some more rehearsing with Sting in Durham Cathedral - should be interesting. St Cuthbert would probably turn in his grave (or his coffin). Actually St Cuthbert is said to have been a bit of a misogynist, so Sting would probably be okay, but my presence so close to his shrine might not be particularly appreciated (although I played there in Jon Lord's Durham Concerto and didn't feel anything untoward, so I'm sure it'll be okay!)
Anyway - enough about St Cuthbert!
I've got a bit of a cold so it's time for a hot toddy.
All for now,

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Yup - we've been geting some new band photos done. Not new band, just new photos...thank heaven!
The photographer had found us a brilliant location (she said) - a ruined church over near Alnwick somewhere. But I was convinced it was going to rain today and thought that driving over to Alnwick to stand looking soggy in some ruins wasn't going to be very cool (and would take us all an extra hour to get there) So, I thought (without really thinking at all...) that there must be something kind of arty and ethnic and photographable right here at home....and we could always come inside if it rained.
Of course the weather turned out to be lovely. The photographer got completely lost trying to find our house. John (who is pointing the front of the house for us) had spent all morning using a commercial grinder to grind down the stones...covering everything (EVERYTHING) in fine fact the whole house was kind of hidden in a cloud of greyness.
I ended up ringing the farmer next door to see if we could go to his place instead. And we did. And it was so clarty that the photographer got completely stuck in the mud. We sat on hay bales (very folky, you may be thinking, but NO - we were being ironic, possibly!) and pranced around like idiots in our best clothes, while the terrier yapped, the hounds barked, the farmer laughed, and the photographers boots got muddier and muddier. A grand time was had by all.
And Peter (who has lost a lot of his puppy fat since our last band photos, and who was determined to look thin and cool) was posing SO much that the whole thing took twice as long as it should have done, because he had to be constantly told to stop assuming rock star poses and actorly posturing - for goodness sake - we're only a Northumbrian folk band in a hay shed.....!!!!