Learning by ear – BBC iPlayer

Jim Johnstone at Foot Stompin Scottish Music

Jim Johnstone at Foot Stompin' Scottish Music

In the house we were talking the other day about techniques of learning music by ear. Both Clare and I used cassette players alot. The technique being that you would have a recording of the tune you wanted to learn, set the tape counter to zero, learnt the phrase (or note!) by continuously rewinding to zero on the counter. Of course after a while the zeros moved slightly and you had to wait longer to get to your bit. When you had ‘got’ the phrase you then reset the counter to zero on the next phrase and started again. I also had another method for the bagpipes. My dad’s record player had a pitch control on it (for some reason) and I was able to tune bagpipes from Bb to A on it. Using this method I learnt Andy Renwick’s Ferret (from Polkemmet Grorud Pipe Band) and The Clumsy Lover (The Battlefield Band – On the Rise).

Anyway Clare had been listening to the fabulous Robbie Shepherd’s Take the Floor whilst driving home. The next morning she was talking about these great Jim Johnstone tunes she heard on the programme. She went to the BBC iPlayer and found the tunes. We then (I joined in) located the start time of each phrase (sounding familiar?), used the mouse to ‘pull back’ the time bar until we got it right. We learnt 2 brilliant tunes. It goes to show that whatever the new technology you can still use the oral traditions of learning. Great fun.

These techniques can be forgotten in this technological age which is a pity. A great strength in Scottish music is the oral traditions and we need to make sure that all our musicians still are able to learn this way.

Foot Stompin’ Free Scottish Music Podcast No 30

Listen to the Foot Stompin\' Free Scottish Music Podcast No 30

Salsa Celtica - El Camino

Salsa Celtica - El Camino

In preparing this podcast I had two things in my mind – Celtic Connections and Robert Burns 250th birthday. I started of by choosing Salsa Celtica who play the Old Fruitmarket on the 24th January. I’ve always loved the bands fusion of latin and celtic. Their stage show really works and their energy filters through to the audience. They’re accompanied on the night by the Long Notes, a band featuring Glasgow’s Jamie Smith who was a finalist in the 2002 final of the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Award. The 2009 event is in the City Halls at 5pm on Sunday 1st February. If you can’t make it along it is also going out live on BBC Radio Scotland.

Next up is Rod Paterson. I’ve loved Rod’s singing since hearing him first in the Easy Club. As an aside I first heard the Easy Club on Radio Scotland’s Travelling Folk in the eighties. I remember sitting listening to the radio ‘taping’ the tracks I liked and the Easy Club came on with the title track of their first album. I was bowled over by their swing, arrangements and tunes and from that minute I was set apon the musical path I still foraging today. Amazing. Anyway I love Rod’s singing – he has such a rich smooth voice and his treatment of Burns is tops.

The next track is neither Robert Burns or Celtic Connections but a track I was set on programming in our last podcast. It features Shetland fiddler Debbie Scott and legend Peerie Willie Johnston and The Selkie’s Song is a re-release from 1985. It is amazing to hear Willie playing with his much vaunted style. It’s a swinging track and it’s great to hear both musicians in tandem with each other.

Our next Burns track is from Sheena Wellington. This is Sheena’s version of Ae Fond Kiss from her Hamely Fare album. This was the CD that was released with Sheena’s version of A Man’s A Man (For A’ That) that she sang at the opening ofthe Scottish Parliament in 1999.

The next track is from Luke Plumb and James Mackintosh’s new CD A Splendid Notion. I was listening to some of the new releases the other day and this one jumped out at me. I really like ‘raw’ albums where musicians do what they do without much else and this is one of them. The whole album is simply mandolin and percussion. I think this is a risk worth taking for musicians as it really bares the soul with no room to hide. Well done to Luke and James.

Our final track is from the Battlefield Band’s Home is Where the Van Is. This is one of the most exciting concerts for me at Celtic Connections. It is part of the festivals ‘Classic Album’ series and they bring together the original band lineup to perform. This was the first piece of music I ever bought myself. I got the cassette from the old Rae Macintosh music shop in Edinburgh. We had Silly Wizard and Jimmy Shand in the house but this was the first endeavour with my pocket money. I didn’t really like it a first. It was very different to the Silly Wizard LPs in the house. I grew to love it though and still listen to it frequently.

We need more young folks!

Foot Stompin Scottish Music

Foot Stompin' Scottish Music

When I look at the business of Scottish trad/folk music I often worry. I do this because a lot of the non-performance industry (by this I mean record company owners, publishers etc not musicians) are run by folks in their 60s and older. From a www.footstompin.com point of view many of our suppliers are in this age range. They produce a lot of very valuable music and books which are in danger of getting lost if they stop. Maybe their interest is fueled due to their age and experience but at the same time they are keeping the tradition alive and available. (I am aware that trad music is not necessarily big bucks business but important non the less.)

We need to encourage more of our young people to get involved in this side of the business. How do we do this or should we rely on them to show an interest? I would love to see more folks taking up the mantel of publishing music. Highland Music Trust, Hardie Press and Kerr’s have done wonderful jobs in publishing with their vast array of books but there are still lots of collections out there. The record industry also needs people to get involved. Also more websites promoting Scottish music trying to make viable business’s. New technologies are appearing all the time and we need to move with them and young people are the best at that.

In the end you cannot force people to do things but the time is coming when we are going to need a new generation to get involved and I suppose that is now. Let’s do it!

Celtic Connections, the wonder that is!

Celtic Connections

Celtic Connections

Later this week the wonder that is Celtic Connections starts again. It really is an amazing achievement. Is there anywhere else in the world that has 100,000+ over its doors in January (or the rest of the year for that matter). Not only a lifeline to many musicians in January it caters to folks from all over the world. I’m always amazed at the organisation of the event. It is quite a small team but organising the amount of concerts, workshops, exhibitions and chats is no small achievement. Not to mention the organisation of the accomodation. I know from the Scots Trad Music Awards the work that goes into organising (I should say coordinating) of the musicians and delegates hotels. It changes right up to the last minute.

So I just want to wish the festival good luck for another (I would imagine) successful year and to mention that if anybody is looking for somewhere to go on the 1st February why not visit the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Finals in the City Halls (5pm). It will be hard to find a better night out. Keep abreast of the goings on at Foot Stompin’.

Foot Stompin’ Free Scottish Music Podcast – Highlands and Islands Feature

Listen to the Foot Stompin Free Scottish Music Podcast

Foot Stompin Free Scottish Music Podcast

Foot Stompin' Free Scottish Music Podcast

All of the bands/singers on this podcast come from the Highlands and Islands. I’ve started of the programme with the energetic The Chair from Orkney. Their win in Folk Band of the Year category of the Scots Trad Music Awards 2008 topped and amazing year for the band. They had folks up dancing everywhere they played. They also feature one of Scotland’s top fiddlers Douglas Montgomery who plays with Saltfishforty. Definitely worth a listen. 2009 can only get better for the band.

Talking of top fiddlers the next CD is Bryan Gear and Violet Tulloch. He has great technique and clarity in his playing. Ofcourse it helps to be accompanied by piano legend Violet Tulloch. I first met Violet on the Aly Bain and the Young Champions tour of 1990. We travelled all over Scotland in a tour organised by the TMSA. We had some great parties and made some excellent new cocktails.

I love this next track by Catriona Watt. When she won the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Award in 2007 she was a unanimous choice by the judges. Her album Cadal Cuain is beautiful. Hopefully we’re hear a lot more of her singing live in 2009.

I don’t know much about Niall Matheson but I loved his playing when listening to the CD. As a double gold medallist he has established himself as one of our foremost pibroch players, as well as being a noted exponent of the lighter music of the ceòl beag tradition. The last tune in his set is called Barbara’s Jig, a tune that we have played for years in Keep it Up.

Lots has been written about the next musician Kris Drever. He just won Instrumentalist of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards. He is more noted for his singing nowadays but he is one of Scotland’s top guitarists. He really swings and folks should always look out for opportunities to have a tune with him.

We finish up the podcast with a track from the new Skipinnish Deluxe Blend of Highland Music Vol 3 CD. It’s a great title with lots of great music. I’m always drawn to the music of Deoch n Dorus. I think it is because their accordion sound reminds of Silly Wizard. They also swing like Silly Wizard! Check them out.

See you in two weeks.

New Year is here

It is good to be in 2009. We’ve had a Christmas full of colds and it is time to move on. As usual the problem is getting going. Tax is due at the end of the month along with the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Award. I’m looking forward to the exciting ‘all male’ final on Sunday 1st February in Glasgow’s City Halls. We’re also putting on sale tickets for the 2009 Scots Trad Music Awards on the 25th January as well as launching our big Hall of Fame project for the year (same date). This is a project where we plan to go into the past and induct musicians who are not living anymore but who made an important contribution to Scottish music. We just need to decide on the exact criteria for induction then we’ll be ready to go. Have a look at the 2008 Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame.

I’m in the process of setting up a Facebook Foot Stompin’ page and sorting out the Foot Stompin’ group that has been around since May. I’ll blog the links next time.

Of course the fabulous and miraculous Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow starts next week (15th January). I’m very happy to have a gig on the 30th January in the Recital Rooms at 6pm with Dave Milligan. Check out Dave’s new CD ‘Shops’ by the way it is fantastic.

Both of the Scots Trad Music Awards 2008 TV programmes were great (Na Trads). The Award programme looked fantastic and I think they really managed to capture the atmosphere of the night while making it look really glitzy. The 2nd programme broadcast on Hogmanay was also really good. I got a chance to play amongst all the winners with Mark Maguire. When deciding who to do it with (Dave Milligan was launching ‘Shops’) I decided on asking Mark as I knew he is a fabulous ceili band snare and woodblock player and it would make an interesting sound!

Anyway must go I hear my youngest Joseph is up.