Foot Stompin’ Free Scottish Music Podcast No 32

Breabach - The Big Spree

Breabach - The Big Spree

Listen to the Foot Stompin’ Free Scottish Music Podcast No 32.

We’re starting off this programme with Breabach. I’ve loved this band ever since I heard their (very attractive) demo. In fact I think the tune we play on the podcast – Chloe’s passion was on it. Also each member of the band has entered the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Award starting with Patsy Reid in the inaugural Award in 2000 up to Ewan Robertson winning in 2008. Band members Patsy and Calum MacCrimmon both came back this year to help judge the Finals. I enjoy the way they play as an ensemble all listening to each other while still leaving room to breathe for each of their solo talents. Look out for them in Scotland and England throughout March.

Another inaugural Young Trad Awardee (and winner) was Gillian Frame and she features with Findlay Napier (another finalist) in the Findlay Napier and the Bar Room Mountaineers. Their CD Out All Night has just come out in the last months and has enjoyed critical success. I noticed the other day they are doing some touring around Scotland in April with the Peatbog Faeries. Definitely worth checking out.

Our next track is from guitar maestro Tony McManus. Tony is one of the hardest working musicians I know. He seems to go non stop! This new record of his is an unusual album because the recording of each track features a different guitar, from the collection of North Carolina’s Dream Guitars founder Paul Heumiller and each hand-picked by Tony and Paul. Amazingly on the last track he manages to play them all – I love to see that! I spent some time with Tony on the German Folk Festival tour a few years back and I invented the Wooden CD prize for the person who sold the least CDs on the tour. Unfortunately I went on to win it – typical…

I mentioned Ruairidh Macmillan in the last blog who won this years BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Award. Well he is playing and touring with the Paul McKenna Band, a young singer who people are talking about favouritely. I don’t know much about this band but their record sounds great!

I’ve known about the Gaelic Psalm singing for a while but when I was thinking what track to play next I came apon the Salm and Soul CD. I listened to the first track and when I checked out the second I was surprised to hear a gospel number! The CD was recorded at Celtic Connections and the concert arose from the theory that the call-and-response structures of African-American gospel music derived in large part from traditional Gaelic psalm singing, brought over by Scottish immigrants to the American South. Whatever you think both tracks sound great.

We finish up with Box Club, a troup of 4 accordionists. Watch out for them on tour in Scotland this March.

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.

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.

Achieving goals for musicians

I’ve had these thoughts for a while after reading the book Big Bucks by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. While this (great) book is about making lots of money it totally corresponds to young musicians and how to make a career in music. I wish I had heard something like this when I was starting out. Of course I might have not done anything with the information but it would have been nice to have heard it anyway.

Basically the book takes 3 ideas as the way to progress.

1. Don’t get into the business of music unless you love playing/teaching music more than anything else in the world.

2. You need to want to make a career (ie make money) more than anything else. This sounds like a contradiction to the first point but what the first point does is give you focus while getting on with the job getting gigs etc. You need this original love of music to keep you going through the hard times trying to get gigs etc – stay the course.

3. Decide your goals. You have to plan your career, work out where you want to be in say – 10 years and then act on it. The metaphor the book uses is like standing at the bottom of the cliff face with no toe holds but as you study the cliff you start to see edges that will give you a lift up. The further you climb the more toe holds (ie options) that come apparent.

An example for a band could be that in 10 years you would like to be performing the major concert halls in the UK. How would you achieve this? Well you might decide that the best way would be to play floor spots at UK folk clubs for 6 months, then move on to your own folk club gigs bringing out a CD. You would market this through various chanels including live gigs, youtube, myspace, facebook etc building up a following and an interest. You would use this interest to get more gigs, festivals, media interest and when you need better contacts and larger gigs you get an agent to help you take the band to the next level and other countries. After another couple of years of working hard with a new CD you think you are ready to move to mid-size concert halls like Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall. In order to do this you might have to change to a new  agent who works more in this sector. You might also decide that this is the time to release a CD on a major label with great distribution and marketing capabilities. You might also want to release a DVD at this stage. Again working hard with a large mailing list and following with major label finance this might be time get on a decent support tour with a famous band. This momentum can bring you larger audiences allowing you to finally achieve your goal of playing the major concert venues in UK and around the world.

Of course this is a simplified version of a plan but when though out properly and discussed as a band with everyone pulling their weight it can bring cohesion and together to a lineup. Again none of this is easy and the caveat I would add is that if it doesn’t work at least you’ve tried. I always think you can have no regrets if you’ve given something a go.