writing, writing, writing

I'm just checking in here before I head down to Dorset with the Cascade project I'm involved in. It will be interesting to see how it goes – our last two gigs seemed to click but it has been a couple of months…

We made a decision on the Scottish Traditional Music: Hall of Fame the other day. I'll post the details when I've spoken to the inductees but it's a good list with a combined amazing amount of experience.

As said before I've finally got back to writing my Garvie Bagpipe Concerto. I heard last Friday that the Scottish Arts Council are going to back Garvie Bagpipes' application and give money to the project. This is great news although it has added a certain stress level to the project as it is due to be performed on the 6th August (doh!).

It's interesting when I listen back to what I've written. It has not gone the same way as my fiddle solos as I've not started with an established traditional tune. I'm hoping that when I add the bagpipe notation it changes the feel a bit. It is sounding more like a Borders tune rather than the west coast melodies I've been using before hand. This is ok though (I think) as it is for the Border pipes. The opening movement is in C major and C minor which should transfer to the chromatic chanter alright but I need to hear it played.

Before I get back to writing – Maeve Mackinnon's album launch was a big success last night. There were loads of people there and the band played 5 numbers to an exhuberent crowd. I really think this is a great record and hopefully promotors etc will pick up on it and book the band.

Finally finally I can heartily recommend Chris Stout's new album 'Devil's Advocate'. It good mixture of traditional and contemporary material with a dose of experimentalism thrown in. You can buy it at footstompin.com

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What’s the point of Highland Dancing?

We had a wee holiday at the start of this week just outside Pitlochry in a caravan overlooking Loch Tummel. There is no more beautiful place in my mind ( I've been going to the same place for 35 years so I might be biased). When we were there we saw posters for the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band Highland Evening which was on the Monday night. 'The Vale' are one of Scotland's best and most innovative pipe bands and this looked like an opportunity not to be missed.

Unfortunately when we got there – slightly late, the pipe band had already played their first number and it was the turn of a 'Scottish' singer, a highland dance troup, Royal Scottish Country Dance group, another Scottish singer then the Youth Pipe Band. Apart from the pipe band it was all pretty dreadful, dated and we left at half time. All the acts looked slugish and from another era.

There were visitors from all over the world at the concert and this was the picture of Scotland we were giving. Surely we can do better than this. It can't be hard to round up a few energetic great local musicians and feature a more modern sound and look. Vale of Atholl are famous for their experimental arrangements and this should show through in these concerts. One problem is that (I think) the audiences would enjoy whatever 'Scottish' show is put on as they don't know any better as long as it has tartan in it. A more progressive concert takes more organisation but surely worth if we are to showcase today's Scotland.

I have to aks the question – what is the point of Highland Dancing? When you compare it to the Irish hard shoe (Riverdance) style it's a wet blanket. I'll take stepdance any day. We Scots seem to keep pushing it but what's the point?

Moving on we have Maeve MacKinnon's CD launch on Monday night (25th June) at the Universal, Glasgow – 8pm. I sent out some press releases and was very happy to hear back from the Evening Times, the perfect paper to advertise the launch. The band are playing for 20 minutes and anyone is welcome to come along.

I've finally got back on track with my Garvie Bagpipe Concerto. I took the computer to the caravan and put some time in. I also heard today that the Scottish Arts Council have given me money to write it which is great but adds to the pressure. I'm going to need to do at least 2 hours aday to finish it…

I attended Scottish Opera's Lucia Di Lammermoor by Donizetti tonight. It's based on Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor which is based on a true incident that took place in the Scottish Lowlands in 1669, concerning a feud between two families, the Ashtons and the Ravenswoods. The opera is often acclaimed as Donizetti’s finest work and is widely considered to be one of the most exhilarating operas of the 19th century. (sorry, I lifted this from SO's website!). I wanted to go and see it as I heard a great interview on Radio Scotland with the director John Doyle – quite an amazing guy. I still don't really get it though. Lots of very good performances although I can't make out what the basses are singing – tunes or lyrics and at times the orchestra drowned out the leads.

Scottish Opera are a strange concept for me. They are one of Scotland's 'national' companies but tonight they were singing in Italian and their other shows have no Scottish links whatsoever. Why do we need a national opera company? There's nothing Scottish about Opera. I'm not saying they should be dumped but it's not a national thing and should be funded accordingly.

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Want to have a record label?

I've been thinking this week on the validity of record labels (our label is Foot Stompin' Records) and whether I would recommend anyone to start one up. It's a tricky question at a time when most minority music (jazz, folk, roots) CDs are sold at gigs, HMV, Virgin and Borders are reducing their floor space for traditional and other minority musics and filling it with DVDs. It is also very hard to get music into the media which provides the promotion needed to new audiences. The high street shop was traditionally the role of the record label (RL) – it was they that had the distribution. A few years back it would have been very hard for a band or artist to release their own CD as the distributors to the shops would not be interested in dealing with one offs.

Nowadays an artist can make an album on their computer, send it away to get pressed and have them ready to sell in 1 month. With high street shop sales declining they're not going to miss that income that much especially when online stores like www.footstompin.com (my company) have large mailing lists and will introduce the CD to many more people that can walk of the high street. And of course there is the download market which truelly global and can keep recordings in circulation for years.

For a RL to make money they need to have artists that have a busy tour schedule, are popular, and pay for the records they buy (this sounds obvious but it doesn't always happen). The trend nowadays is for the popular artists to make their own CDs as they know they can be sold as they're gigging regularly. There is no fees to pay RLs and once the CD is paid off it is all profit. The other way it can be done is to license the product to different markets say Greentrax in the UK and Compass in the USA. These companies pay out an advance in leu of royalties which a lot of the time will cover the artists recording costs. The artist will receive a percentage of sales after the advance sum has been recouped by the RL.

So why start a RL? Well unless you're planning on entering the pop market I think you have to have a passion for the music. You have to believe that bringing a selection of recordings together will either promote and strengthen the genre or make recordings available that have disappeared of the market. You can't look to make lots of money (or any) and there must be a friendly bank manager hanging around somewhere. You also have to be prepared to follow it through.

At Foot Stompin' we try to promote the musicians who are the start of their career and are free to tour. Our premise is that these musicians do not have any real family ties (partners, children etc) which frees them up for constant touring. This is a catch 33 situation though and often teeters on the edge when the artist can't get enough gigs and therefore don't sell enough CDs.

I think a big positive of a RL is that they can be around for a long time and can have CDs in their catalogue that will shape future generations listening (many individual artists CDs disappear pretty quickly and become unobtainable). They can be a point of contact for international agencies trying to find out more about your countries music and are more likely to get that music into international shops.

I'm probably not convincing anyone here to start a RL as the more I write the less I am convinced myself! I'll reiterate my earlier point. You must love the music and want to promote it. You must believe in what you are doing and think you can make a difference.

I'll probably come back to this topic off and on but I'll leave it here just now.

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How time flies…

A few days have passed since my last blog. It's amazing how time flies… It's been a good few days of hot sunshine which was good for Lamington Day! We enjoyed traipsing through other peoples gardens in the village, buying yet more plants for our garden and eating lots of cakes in the local hall. We're very lucky in our beautiful village to have many friendly people as neighbours and it was nice to have little chats throughout the day.

Today (Tuesday) our son Charlie had his first visit to Lamington Primary – a wee two classroom school that serves the local needs. He and his other 6 classmates were all meeting their teacher and themselves for the first time today. It was a strange feeling for me as I can't believe it has been nearly 5 years since he was born and that he starting the next phase of his life. Of course he is very ready for it and it is me that is sentimental. He loved it today and is looking forward to tomorrow and then August… I'll get used to the idea probably by the end of August when he has settled.

At Foot Stompin' our new release from Maeve MacKinnon – Don't Sing Love Songs – has arrived. It has taken quite a while to arrive – at times frustrating – but it is a great CD. I'm obviously biased but there will not be many records released this year better than this. I hope we can get enough people interested in it to make it a hit! The production values on it are excellent and Patsy Reid's one woman string quartet works well on all the tracks. Maeve's choice of material works very well and it includes the Mick West version of 'The Irish Rover' which is probably the reason I wanted to do the CD in the first place.

I've been struggling for concentration this week on many things. I've still not finished my budgets, concertos or podcasts. The budgets need to be finished like yesterday and I have a new report to write on Thursday. I plan to finalise the Hall of Fame names this week with the steering group and let the photographer, journalist get on the case. I also got a Fiona MacKenzie Ayepod course to complete and get up though that might be next week!

Finally I've been very pleased with the reviews and interest in Dave and I's Third Flight Home CD. We've have 4 star reviews in all the national papers + an interview in the Scotsman. You can read them at www.simonthoumire.com. I said to Dave that if we can't get loads of gigs with these we should give up!

A quick blog directory link!

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Lamington Village Day

I've been busy this week – in the garden! Lamington Village Day is on Sunday and everybody is trying to make their gardens presentable. We've planted new flowers and had the back garden turfed. It's all go…

On the trad music front I've written to Linda Fabiani, Minister for Europe, External Affairs & Culture for a meeting to talk about traditional music and St Andrew's Day. I also want to talk about getting Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame inductees automatically considered for the UK Honours system. These guys have done so much amazing work over the years and they all should be recognised nationally. We'll see what happens… We also invited the Minister to open the finals of the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Awards in January 2008 (Celtic Connections). We're also waiting to hear from the First Minister to see if he will open the Scots Trad Music Awards on 1st December 2007.

I'm looking forward to Tinto Summer School in the first week of July. The tutors are:

  • Anna Massie (fiddle)
  • Gillian Frame (fiddle, song)
  • Findlay Napier (guitar, songwriting)
  • Hamish Napier (piano, ensemble)
  • Aly Hutton (whistle/flute) (all from Back of the Moon and a great success in 2006)
  • David Nisbet (accordion).

It's looking like a busy year, lots of entrants. Many thanks to Paul Murray who has coordinated the event for Hands Up for Trad. If you want to come to this fun event visit www.handsupfortrad.co.uk. It is always lots of laughs and fun, with great staff and tutors and a brilliant final night party.

I need to get back to writing my bagpipe concerto. I've really struggled for concentration of late. I suppose I thought when our wee boy arrived and Clare was off school to look after him, I would have all the time in the world. As any parents will know this was very niave (!) and my brain is as scrambled as ever. I've ended up staying up later and later to work and feel totally knackered in the mornings. Being tired is not conjusive to being creative but I need to bite the bullet and get back to it. This is all complicated by the need for Hands Up for Trad budgets and applications which are due now.

Time to get back in the garden – lots of plants to water.

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He doesn’t phone, he doesn’t write…

We went to the 'first' First Ministers Questions of the new parliamentary session on Thursday 1st June. I always enjoy visiting the parliament and this was no exception. The highlight of the proceedings for me was the leader of the Conservatives asking had the FM heard from Prime Minister Blair to congratulate the SNP on their new position and Alex Salmond replied 'he doesn't phone, he doesn't write'. It made light of the fact the the Westminister Goverment hadn't bothered to recognise the new regime which was a complete snub in my opinion. It doesn't matter what party get in, they are democratically elected and London should be able to deal with this. Anyway this gained lots of publicity and Gordon Brown phoned the next morning!

In the recent elections I was also unhappy with the way that Westminster Labour treated Scottish Labour and Jack McConnell particularly. To hear MPs getting our First Minister's name wrong on TV and laughing about it was inexcusable. The MPs should have be disciplined as it totally undermined JM in front of his own countrymen and made the parliament look stupid. With two or more Scots (Brown and Blair) at the helm in Westminister this should have been slapped down immediately.

On Thursday afternoon I recorded the new Foot Stompin' radio programme and featured my favourite band of all time – Silly Wizard and others. You can hear it at http://www.footstompin.com/radio. I also uploaded a new Ayepod discussion podcast with Sheena Wellington and it's very interesting. You can hear that here http://www.ayepod.net/podcasts/11questions.htm or subscribe to it on itunes. This all culminated as part of the Foot Stompin' newsletter which is now being sent to over 12,000 subscribers twice a month.

On Thursday evening I appeared on BBC Radio Scotland's Travelling Folk to talk about the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Award. The deadline for submissions is up on July 6th and I wanted to flag it up. I also talked about the new Third Flight Home CD and we played a couple of tracks from it. It was good to see and chat to Archie Fisher again. I also discussed the Cork European Broadcast Union (EBU) festival that the current winner of the Young Trad Award is attending at the of August. I played at one of these festivals in 1994 (I think) in Lugano, Switzerland with Catriona MacDonald, Luke Daniels and Sean Lakeman. It was all outdoor and it poured of rain which put paid to most of the audience! Good wine though…

Friday included an interview with Lori Watson and Dave Francis talking about new music for Lori's PHD on traditional music. You can read some more about the PHD on Lori's blog.

A final plug for Dawyck Botanic Gardens. We visited there today and were amazed at their collections of Rhododendrons and Azealas – beautiful colours. They also have great collections of Douglas Firs and rare Scottish  plants. It's also a beautiful drive to get there.

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