March 2008

28th March 2008

I am heading off to the Edinburgh International Harp Festival now, which is happening in Merchiston Castle School, in Colinton, Edinburgh. Please if you are in the area, come along and see some of the concerts, or visit a workshop! It’s great craic, and well worth the time. The EIHF raises money and awareness about the Clarsach Society charity, and is always a good meeting place for musicians and harp makers alike. See you soon. Or come and say hello if you see me passing you by in the courtyard, lugging harps and music and big cups of coffee. x


13th March 2008

I am recording a new harp album next week. Still don’t know what I am going to put on it. Should it be purely harp? Should it have some songs on it too? Should I get into layering the vocals, layering the harp, looping sounds? If you have some ideas, please let me know. I think I might just stick to acoustic harp for this one…

12th March 2008

I have just come back from recording a radio show with Anna Massie and Lauren MacColl.  It was for Bruce MacGregor’s Strings and Things show on Radio Scotland, which will be on air tonight (Thursday 13th) 8pm – 10pm.  The link to hear the show is here:   stringsandthings   The link is only up for a week so be quick.
Bruce has had some cracking people on the series – Andy M Stewart, Sandy Brechin, Angus Grant Snr., Rick Taylor.  Rick’s show was excellent.  I was able to score a few off my list, as he had picked them.  The show is about music that inspired us when we were young.  Anna, Lauren and I all went to Fortrose Academy in the Black Isle.  I was there a DECADE before they were though.  Jings.  Well, I have to say having 3 of us in the studio as well as Bruce throwing in a few tracks, plus us doing a couple of live things meant that we didn’t really have much time to really delve deep into anything.  It was really interesting!!  I came away from it feeling like I had said all the wrong things and none of the things I had actually planned to say.
For instance, I wanted to mention the Clarsach Society, without whom, I wouldn’t have been able to continue playing the harp, as we were able to hire a harp from them for a number of years. And they are the charity behind the Edinburgh International Harp Festival, which is in a couple of weeks!!  I am doing two classes in Intermediate Scottish music, and stage-managing the concerts. And a Harmony Singing Workshop!!  Woohoo – I love them.  You should come along.   
Go and have a look at EIHF website
Alisdair Martin (husband of Christine Martin, who first introduced me to the harp and gave me the basics of playing) got a hard time only because the harp he BUILT which I used for a while exploded.  And I suppose I am glad they continued on their path of music publishing rather than harp building.  Taigh na Teud music publishers on the Isle of Skye. Taigh na Teud link
And our music teacher, Miss Fraser, got a bit of a hard time too.  Oh dear.  Mainly because it was a nightmare learning music when I was there.  The department was crap, with one room and a cupboard.  And a portacabin that sat out in the quadrangle, with a window, but no heater.  All it had was a chair and a shelf you could use as a table.  That was the worst time.  And Miss Fraser was a lovely woman, whom I did really like, and felt quite close to, specially in my last year.  But lessons were crap.  The teachers were all striking at various times during my fourth/fifth years, and when we were sitting exams it got to be a bit difficult.  Especially since my dad was also an English teacher in a secondary school a bit further north.  And they were also trying to change the system of ‘O’ grades into ‘Standard’ grades.  Which meant neither the pupils nor the teachers had much of a scoobie as to what was going on!!  So my memories of school are not so good.  Learning music was an escape rather than a pleasure.  My happiest memories are of doing the musicals every Christmas.  I wanted to act more than anything.  Thought I would be an excellent stage actor.  I loved being somebody else, as you could be happy in your new persona, and pretend life wasn’t like it actually was.  And indeed that is what being on stage is still like.  Nothing much changes.  I realised that all the music I listened to when I was young is still what I am drawn to, in the harmony, the approach, the instrumentation, stylistically.  I am very lucky that my parents had brilliant music sense!  And spent money on records.  I will always be thankful to them for that.  Music can fill emotional voids in your life.  It can cushion the worst of times, and highlight the best of times.  Although cake works for a bit.
And I had great difficulty putting together a list of 6 tracks (and in the end I think three were played).  I mean HOW can you put a list together like that??  I had to cut it down from around 150 tracks.  Got it down to 10 only by going for the tracks that directed influenced me when I was just learning to play.  I have only learnt to sing harmonies through singing along to all these songs, trying to find more harmony lines that they haven’t used.  Another favourite pastime was singing a semitone or a tone out, all the way through, just to see if I could do it, and indeed if I could stand it.  And this has served me well in my professional career I must say.
So the influencing tracks in my youth were:

Rickie Lee Jones – Chuck E’s in Love (my first single along with XTC – Blame the Weather)
The Roches – Keep on doing – The largest Elizabeth in the world
Tower of Power – Live and in Living Colour – Knock yourself Out
The Easy Club – The Train Journey North
Oscar Peterson Trio – We Get Requests
 (1964) – My One and Only Love
Elvis Costello & the Attractions – Shipbuilding (although I actually preferred Robert Wyatt’s version on the Old Grey Whistle Test, I think it was.  I’d wished Chet Baker had joined Wyatt’s version…)
Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G which was the most inspiring piece of music I’d ever heard.  That was the first piece of music I could see the relationship between music and art and my emotional response to it.

Harpers who were inspiring were Savourna Stevenson (I learnt Tweed Journey off the cd and relished in its complexity), Alain Stivell (learnt his album by heart too), Deborah Henson-Conant (doing something wacky!), Sileas (I’d never come across a duo of harps before) and Uschi Laar (very inspiring link with music and healing).  Later I found Laoise Kelly, Catriona McKay, Park Stickney, Cormac DeBarra, Andreas Vollenweider.
Later I would be utterly inspired when I heard:

Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story – brilliant writing!

Martin Hayes – The Golden Castle from album Martin Hayes (Bachue supported them way back in 1995 or 1996 at the Highland traditional Music Festival in Dingwall.  Blew me away.  They also completely silenced the Celtic Connections Festival Club one year, which had NEVER been done before.  For a whole 45 minutes, Martin and Denis Cahill played seamlessly moving from one tune to another, and the club was transfixed and silent.  That was a beautiful 45 minutes I’ll never forget.)
La Bottine Souriante – Le reel des soucoupes volantes from album La Mistrine (this was the moment I knew we could create our own big band, which would not rival Bottines’ as such, but would put Scotland on the big band map musically!)
The Two Duos Quartet – Half as Happy as We – The Shouter (Chris Wood is stunning.  I love the duos of Karen Tweed/Ian Carr and Chris Wood/Andy Cutting and this album was a dream.  This song makes me sing along in a heavy English accent, which is unusual)
. Anything by Chris Wood actually.
And Aidan O’ Rourke and Lau.

And the rest inbetween:
Anything by Rickie Lee Jones, and anything by Joni Mitchell (whole Blue album, whole Mingus album definitely), Carly Simon, Suzanne Vega (first album esp. Small blue thing, Luka, Marlene on the Wall), U2, Radio Luxemburg was an amazing link into music – I heard a lot on that which I would later learn to be things like Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Duke Ellington Orchestra, Count Basie and his orchestra.  And Mike Westbrook Orchestra with Kate Westbrook, Keith Jarrett (my favourite is Personal Mountains), Pink Floyd, Neil Young, Loudon Wainwright III, Richard Thompson, Frank Zappa, The Cure (!!?), Howard Jones! Kate Bush!, Sandy Denny, Incredible String Band’s ‘First Girl I Loved’ and ‘Hedgehog Song’, Nick Drake, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Miles Davis, Sting’s Dream of the Blue Turtles, Laurie Anderson, Gil Scott-Heron’s Pieces of a Man, Silly Sisters, The Bothy Band, Tom Waits, Gil Evans Orchestra, Eberhard Weber, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Donald Fagen, Steely Dan, Paul Simon’s Me and Julio down by the schoolyard (in fact this whole album was great), Doris Day, David Bowie, Queen, Nirvana, Steve Vai, Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells blew me away at a very early age, John Coltrane, Maria Schneider’s Orchestra, Prince!, Phil Collins, Gerry O’ Connor, Elton John (come on, some of his songs are brilliant!), Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Moving Hearts (toooooo much reverb though…), the Beatles, Marc Almond, The Smiths, Blondie, Bjork, (the Sugercubes then her own solo career), John Martyn, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Bert Jansch, Bonnie Raitt, Led Zepplin, The Silly Sisters (June Tabor and Maddy Prior), The Police.

And then:
 David Milligan, Martyn Bennett, Swap, Sweet Honey in the Rock, John Cage, Charles Ives, Tori Amos, Regina Spektor, Imogen Heap, Diana Krall, Lunasa, the Cinematic Orchestra, JPP, Varttina, Vasen, The Wrigley Sisters, Liane Carroll, Cassandra Wilson, Johnny Cunningham, Madeline Eastman, Fionna Duncan, Esbjörn Svensson Trio, Bad Plus Trio, Ray Brown, Gene Harris, Bill Evans, Jan Johanssen, Bella Fleck, Eric Bibb, Misha Alperin and the Moscow Art Trio, Huun Huur Tu, Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, Take 6, the Brecker Brothers, Jaco Pastorius, Weather Report, Yellowjackets, Roadside Picnic, Trilok Gurtu, Oregon, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, Aretha Franklin, Brad Mehldau, Liz Carroll, The Brazz Brothers.
Currently listening to my cat, purring on my knee.

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