Friday, 17 March 2017

Happy St Patrick's Day


The Winter's nearly over when St Patrick's Day comes around - there's blossom on the trees and the whin bushes are in their full glorious yellow.  Today it's not sure whether it's Winter or Spring, but warmer days are on the way for sure.

I'm only just recovering from the pneumonia that flattened me although I have been getting out a little bit each day for the past week.  Normally I'm a terrible patient and will not stay in bed, but this time I was very willing..  On the bright side, it's been a great way of getting through the winter - it feels like it's flown by!!  Hibernation has a lot going for it lol.

And now something a little different for St Patrick's Day
Meet the Gaelic singing Muslim cleric
I'd like to introduce you to Sheikh Muhammed al Hussaini who is an imam and a singer of traditional Irish songs.
He is a fellow in Islamic Studies at the Westminster Institute in London, from where he has frequently criticised the actions of Islamic extremists, and at some personal cost.
Muhammad Al-Hussaini fell in love with Irish music a few years ago and has been singing ever since. He is an Irish speaker and sings in the sean nos style and also plays fiddle and whistle.

Here is a clip of him singing on Channel 4 news last St Patrick's Day.  Once upon a long ago when I lived in Dubai, I felt there were a lot of similarities between the Arab and Irish languages - Muhammed's voice is a natural in singing in Gaelic (sean-nos literally means 'old bones' and is a very traditional, highly ornamented style of Irish singing).


Muhammed is part of an international peace think tank based in England and recently he spoke in court in defence of a fundamentalist Christian preacher, Pastor McConnell, from Belfast who preached from the pulpit on the evils of Islam.  In Muhammed's view and that of most other lay and religious people, the man should be allowed to say what he wants, even if we disagree with him and this imam was prepared to speak on behalf of the man who had demonised his own religion.  To him and to other peace activists, freedom of speech is the most important thing.

The Music of Healing - A higher form of disagreement

We're Catholics and we're Protestants
We're Muslims and we're Jews
And we're some who are none of the above.
But we've gathered here together in Rostrevor by the sea
By decree of humanity and love.
- Tommy Sands

In the past week, alongside my good friend Tommy Sands, both Muhammed and Pastor McConnell spoke at a Music of Healing event here in the village and the following day joined with thinkers, victims of the Troubles, and heads of various religious congregations in Ireland - Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, to come up with a declaration for a higher form of disagreement.  Representatives of local monasteries and the integrated school were also present as were members of the non religious section of our community.  I'm so sorry to have missed the public concert, but the village has been  buzzing with discussion about all that was said.

If you are interested in hearing more about the Music of Healing listen here to Tommy being interviewed on BBC Radio Ulster about the event.  This is an annual event - a mixture of debate and music - which Tommy has been hosting since before the Good Friday Agreement 19 years ago, giving a space to (mainly) politicians from opposing sides of our divided community a platform to speak in peace and to have a higher form of disagreement.

By the way, the song "The Music of Healing" (trying to find a recording of it to share with you but my system is not having any of it - but you can check it out on iTunes or Spotify if you have either)it was co-written and co-performed by Pete Seeger and Tommy Sands.
Pete Seeger and Tommy Sands

So Happy St Patrick's Day to you and yours and may peace and tolerance be the main focus of all our lives in the coming months and years.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Bread and Roses

Happy International Women's Day

And a big shout out to all my lovely women friends around the world.  This day of solidarity has had so much significance over the years but is only starting to grow in my awareness
in recent times.  I've been off classes for ages now, so I've made a special effort to start back tonight and have some special songs to sing for the day that is in it.

This is Bread and Roses - It originated from a speech given by Rose Schneiderman; a line in that speech ("The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.") inspired the title of the poem Bread and Roses by James Oppenheim. 

Isn't that a timely reminder in these days of plenty for many of us and of more equality for more of us, that we need to look after our spirit as well as our bodily needs.

This clip is taken from the film Pride about the Miner's Strikes - a terrible terrible time in England.  Although this song originated in a women's cause, it has become one of the most poignant protest songs anywhere in the world and has been sung in many languages.


Best wishes to you all.





Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Yarn Along: Reading and Making

Reading and knitting - two of my favourite pastimes.

I used to think I was a good knitter.   Well, I am ... a good knitter - I've always got something on the needles, usually more than one thing.   But I've recently discovered that I know very very very little about the subject.  One of the plus points of being laid up in bed for an extended length of time is that I've had loads of time to look around short reads - i.e. blogs - and I've found so many great knitting blogs and it has really recharged my interest and enthusiasm.

So I'm joining in the Yarn Along today, run by Ginny at Sweet Things for the first time.  The point of this blog hop is to share what you're knitting and what you're reading.   Some of these other knitters are quite amazing and there are some good ideas for reading as well.


So this is my first attempt at knitting socks - it's been slow going over the past few weeks,  but thanks to the brilliant instructions of Winwick Mum and her Sockalong, I've finally nearly got my first pair of hand knit socks.  Woohoo..  I love the wool too - Regia sock yarn self striping wool.  I was shamed into this by the lovely Amy at Love Made My Home who, although she is a fabulous crocheter,  started knitting by knitting socks!  You what?!  So, finally caught up.

Reading, I've finally slogged my way to the end of Edith Wharton's "Age of Innocence".   She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature with this novel in the 1920s.  I'm sure at the time it was scandalous and a great look behind the scenes of the New York elite, and the descriptions are superb and suitable claustrophobic and paranoid, but I found it hard going and frankly boring.  However against my usual rule of if it doesn't hold my attention leave it there, I ploughed through to the end and I'm glad I did, sort of - there's a different rule for classics isn't there?  Although I confess that I diverted for a day in the middle to read the first Dr Siri Mystery which was brilliant - more about him at a future date.


Monday, 20 February 2017

European Tree of the Year competition

Dear Friends,
There is still time to help us out and vote for our Holm Oak which won the NI tree of the year and is now in the competition for European Tree of the year.   You have to give 2 votes when you register and even if you give us your second vote it will help us tremendously. Voting closes on 28th February.  

The Holm Oak in Kilbroney Park in Rostrevor won NI Tree of the Year.
It is now one of the contenders for European Tree of the Year,
 the winner of which will receive money to help protect the old tree and shore it up.  
We are all very proud of our corner of the world and there's an amazing energy in the village to promote tourism.   For many years the North of Ireland was starved of tourists due to our troubled past.   Now gradually the number of visitors is increasing and here it seems that everyone is involved in one way or another in doing things to help out.  Promoted by Light 2000, this tree initiative, in an area of outstanding beauty, is yet one more way to put us on the map.   Please help out.  

I wrote about the Holm Oak, from Old Homer's own perspective here.  

You can vote HERE or at the link at the bottom of the page.  

This is a piece from the Newry and Mourne Tourist Board. 
Did you know in ancient Greece the leaves of the holm oak were used to tell the future and they were also used to make crowns to honour people...?  
If trees could talk we know he'd say, please vote for the #holmoak in Rostrevor! He can't vote himself though - he needs us all to take a moment and vote for him. We could have the best tree in Europe here in Rostrevor, Northern Ireland.  
Please share this plea for votes and ask your friends throughout the world to support our campaign. Thanks 😃 
Voting closes 28 Feb! #Europeantreeoftheyear #treeoftheyearwww.visitmournemountains.co.uk/Europeantreeoftheyear

Many thanks for your support.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Five Windows

I jinxed myself putting up my last post about colds - I'd been feeling poorly for a few days and couldn't get my head into thinking of anything to write and that was the only post I'd ready to go.   Well.  I've been in bed since ... the same thing as before Christmas - it looks like a lung infection which hasn't cleared - so back on yet another course of antibiotics and I must confess I am starting to feel marginally brighter this evening but still not enough energy to talk much.

With no real concentration for reading I'd been looking through some photos to see what we were at in February for the past few years (for 3 consecutive years I've been away and sick - really will have to look at this)  - but I found these that will give me a Five for Friday.  I'm joining in today with Amy's weekly blogshop - at Love Made My Home.


I've always loved windows.  Here are some from our travels.

1. Oradour sur Glane
I wrote about this martyr village in France a few years ago - the link will take you there if you're interested.   De Gaulle insisted it was left exactly as it was to remember the atrocities of World War 2.  The most moving place I've ever been or seen.
Rusted and left to remember

2. Castle Caldwell in Co. Fermanagh.
This old castle is near to where I grew up, on the shores of Lough Erne.  The owners were the founders of Belleek Pottery.  Today it is lovely park to walk around, full of bluebells in spring.  These windows make me think of Maid Marian and Robin Hood, although it's not nearly as old as that (late 1700s I think)

Abandoned from another era

3.  Now where would you think I was here?  :)  Two Februarys ago wandering around Scotland, I took this first picture purely because I love that shade of blue - if memory serves me correctly it's in Stranraer.  But when I was looking back on photos it made me think of how much a name can suggest a place.
Shades of blue


I couldn't choose between these two .... The tourist shop below leaves no doubt as to place.  I couldn't resist it - the colours were magic in it - even though I can't stand tourist shops.
Buy a memory

4. Autumn in rural Germany
At our friends house in Neuwartensleben.
5. The cool of the shade
In Dubai museum - a traditional Arab home

Thankfully I have a few more days before I need to be fully on again - and another 10 days before the next gig - so I'm going to lie low to see if I can crack this thing - actually there's no choice in the matter - energy is still appallingly low.   They're sending me for a CT scan because the last two X-rays have shown something up on my lungs - but that'll take a couple of months at least, so it can't be too urgent and hopefully this second antibiotic will do the trick.

Have a lovely week ...

Monday, 13 February 2017

Dealing with a cold on the road

This is the season for colds and flus - and there's a really nasty virus doing the rounds as well, giving people sore throats and awful coughs - and it just won't go away (this from personal experience).

Getting a bad cold at any time is horrible - we've all been there.

But what do you do if you need to sing (or talk) when you have a cold?

Well for me, warm ups are the thing - and rest - and fluids.

To warm up, I start early in the day just humming - and gradually expanding through my range - doing 5 minutes every hour or so - very gently so that someone 3 or 4 feet away from me could barely hear me.    I then progress to Lip Trills - the traditional singer Tommy Makem who found fame with the Clancy Brothers, always swore by these - he would do 15 minutes of lip trills before every gig .... There are lots of examples of how to do a lip trill on You Tube - This is one of the better ones I've found.  From Cari Cole who is a Nashville vocal coach - I probably should prepare one of these videos some time myself, but .I wouldn't look nearly as pretty as her lol



Coping with colds and jet lag when you're performing is not easy.   It's not always possible to get the rest and quiet time that's needed to recover.  Most singers carry a virtual pharmacopeia with them but in recent years I have stopped doing this as I've found it made me feel even worse, anticipating feeling bad.   However some sage sweets or honey and lemon to make a soothing drink can be picked up most places.  Throat sweets are usually very sickly and sticky so they can make matters worse, unless your throat is very sore and raspy in which case that sweet stickiness can be very soothing.

If the cold is a bad chesty one then you will probably need to change the key of songs to sing a bit lower but if there are other members of the band get them to shoulder a bit more of the singing.   Tom has been great on tours where I've had a problem, doing a few extra songs to let me rest.

I hope that helps.   Just keep warm and watch your voice - it's a great indicator of how your whole body is doing.

Do you have any great cold cures?  I'd love to hear about them.   Stay well this Winter.




Friday, 10 February 2017

Five bits of Music Trivia

I'm joining in today with Five on Friday run by Amy at Love Made My Home.

I love useless information :)

I came across some lists a while back in a second hand book shop somewhere and I thought I'd share some of them here ...  So for today's Five on Friday, here's 5 unusual inspirations for well known songs.

This first one made me groan a bit - cover your eyes if you're a vegan

Mother and Child Reunion, Paul Simon
Inspiration:  A chicken and egg dish on a Chinese restaurant menu!!
How ridiculous but brilliant.


Who'll Buy my Memories - Willie Nelson
Inspiration:  The loss of $16 million back taxes to the IRS
That'd make your eyes water - I don't think I'd have any inspiration for a year after that.


All Shook Up - Otis Blackwell
Inspiration:  A bottle of Pepsi
The best known version of this is by Elvis but here's the original



Mony Mony - Tommy Jones and the Shondells,
Inspiration:  The neon sign of the Mutual Of New York insurance building
Love it



Running on Empty:  Jackson Browne
Inspiration: An empty petrol tank
That just makes my heart race but Jackson is one of my all time favourite song writers.


I had to add just one more ....

To Know Him is to Love Him : Phil Spector
Inspiration:  Words on his fathers gravestone.
My favourite version of this song is by Dolly, Linda and Emmylou - heavenly harmonies - But this is the original by the Teddy Bears which was Phil Spector's band - the song went to Number 1 in 1958.



Have a lovely week - I'm taking some time now to look at what everyone else has put up for this week.  If you have time, check out some of the other people participating in Five on Friday or better still, join in.  Thank you Amy for putting this together.