Reading My Way Around the World

Friday 31 August 2012


We had a lovely couple of days up in Fanad in the north of Co. Donegal in mid August  - solace for the soul and mind .. and I got practicing with the camera:)
Doe Castle

One side of the bridge ...

The other side of the same bridge ....

And looking back at the same bridge ...

....and further up the river .... 

Then round to Ards ... 

I just wanted to jump in ....

Helped the hangover mightily ... lol 

And later in the week a walk down near my home in  Belleek ....

Great sky that night .....

Some curious onlookers ...

Who are you? :)))

 Great getting a couple of days off

Thursday 30 August 2012

Singing Workshops Back for the Autumn

Carlingford Lough Singing Circle & Community Choir

Singing for fun!

Every Monday night, 7.30pm
Warrenpoint Town Hall

Starts back Monday 3rd September

For all levels of singers
Aged 16+

Easy Repertoire suitable for all singers…
Folk songs from around the world, old pop songs, standards, rounds and simple harmonies.

New voices always welcome
                Pop in for one night or stay for the season               
No audition necessary
By donation – suggested donation £5 per week.

Workshop leader: Fil Campbell
Tel: 028 417 38052/07803 226279

Monday 18 June 2012

Who said you couldn't sing?

I've just come back in from a walk in the mountains - our visitors haven't left yet after the Festival and it sort of feels like I'm on holiday still and it's very hard to sit down and do some constructive work!!  A blog feels a bit half and half - work and holiday:) 

People ask me regularly can they learn to sing cos somebody told them they couldn't sing .... and I thought that would be a good subject for today's blogalong...

Everyone can sing ... if you can talk you can sing!  
And you already know how to do it ... but sometimes we all need a bit of coaxing to trust what we can do...

Who said you couldn't sing?!

Was it a teacher?  or a relation? or a friend? who said that you should keep quiet and stand at the back and just mouth the words? .... what abuse!

I recently had a student who was told when she was very small that she couldn't sing  - she's now retired.  So she kept joining in, wanting to sing, but always felt that people were laughing at her and saying she wasn't brilliant...or so she felt.     After her initial nervousness and doubt about coming to class, we discovered a lovely sweet voice in there... totally in tune and with  a perfect sense of time - not a big voice, but lovely all the same.  What a waste! ... all those years of believing she couldn't do something she loved so much.  

Let me repeat this ....

"Everyone can sing ... if you can talk you can sing!"  
I feel like I need to shout that!

Now the big problem is, if we can't sing like Pavarotti or Streisand or Ella or whomever our ideal voice is, then we think we can't sing at all .... 

Total rubbish!!  

The thing is ... you can never sound like one of them because our voices are totally unique - there can only be one Pavarotti or Streisand or Ella, just like there can only be one you.   But you can still sing!

I believe that we have a physical need to sing - just see how much your spirits lift after singing to yourself in the shower or the car.  

So, if you've always wanted to have a go, just get on with it and practice - sing more in the shower or in the car and perhaps find a community choir or a teacher near you - someone who will encourage you and guide you.  And your voice will get stronger every day.   

Blogalong with Effy Day 2

Wednesday 13 June 2012

The BIGsing @Fiddler’s Green – Sat 28 July 2012

The BIGsing @Fiddler’s Green – Sat 28 July 2012 

Calling all singers - or would be singers - or any of you who'd like to exercise your vocal muscles for a day:)

The BIGsing in aid of Amnesty International has been left to my care for the 2012 event at Fiddlers Green Festival on Saturday 28th July.   Laura has handed me the reins and I'm really looking forward to having a splendid day.

This is the 3rd annual event and we'll be tackling simple harmony songs, fun world rounds, some old pop songs, folk music and whatever else takes my fancy between now and then:)  And after a day working at the pieces we'll put on a scratch performance at 6pm that evening in front of an audience:)
Are you up for the challenge?

Here are all the details:

Ticket price: £10 in advance; £13 on the day.  
Registration: 10.30am
Workshop: 11-1 and 2-4
Performance: 6-7pm

To book your advance early bird place please send a cheque before 21st July, payable to AI Mid Down Group, to AI Mid Down Group, 2 Cluinard Heights, Annsborough, Co. Down BT31 9JB

Last year’s event was a great success with lots of positive feedback from the participants and a really good festival atmosphere. We are hoping this year will be even better! 
Why not bring a friend and treat yourself to a day singing with the opportunity to perform at the festival? 

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Singing - Grace Jones - what stamina

Grace Jones at the Diamond Jubilee concert - hula hooping the whole way through her song ... now that's stamina:)

Grace Jones

Friday 18 May 2012

SINGING - for Alzheimers

How singing unlocks the brain
By Jane Elliott
BBC News Health reporter 

As Bill Bundock's Alzheimer's progressed he became more and more locked into his own world.

He withdrew into himself and stopped communicating with his wife, Jean.
Jean said Bill lost his motivation, and his desire and ability to hold conversations, but all this changed when the couple started attending a local sing-song group, aimed especially for people with dementia.
Jean said Singing for the Brain had unlocked Bill's communication block.

Personality change

"The first time we went to Singing for the Brain he did not join in. On the second session he was starting to join in and by the third he was thoroughly taking part.

"It was wonderful for us. The singing had started to change something. It really did make a tremendous difference. He started to come out of himself.
“ I would take the song sheets home after the sessions and we would sing them at home 
Jean Bundock
"His personality started to change and he became much as he was before, and he was able to hold a conversation.

"He is 82 and likes all the old-time songs, but he also started singing some Beatles songs and songs from the Broadway shows and even some modern stuff as well.

"He seemed to be able to slowly learn things again. I would take the song sheets home after the sessions and we would sing them at home. It enlivened him and he really enjoyed doing it."

Bill, from west Berkshire, has been in hospital recently after having a stroke, but Jean kept up the singing and said it has given them both a focus, even helping his slurred speech recover following the stroke.

"I don't know what it is that changes in the brain when people with Alzheimer's sing, but obviously something does change and there is something very beneficial about it. It seems to kick-start something in the brain and has made such a difference to Bill."

Emotional resonance

Chreanne Montgomery-Smith, who founded Singing for the Brain, three years ago, said the weekly sessions had proved so popular they were hoping to expand the project and get more weekly groups.

"We do have quite an avid following in the group that we have. Families believe it has enhanced their lives and in some ways it has kept people well longer.

"People who have constant memory problems are so undermined by this, but somehow the memory for singing is preserved for ever in the brain and it gives people a lift when they can remember things".
“ We choose things to sing for people that have an emotional resonance 
Chreanne Montgomery-Smith
Chreanne started singing with groups when she was working in a residential home and was so amazed by the positive effect on people with dementia that she decided to include this when she went to work for the Alzheimer's Society West Berkshire branch.

"We choose things to sing for people that have an emotional resonance, things that allow them to express their emotions such as feeling cross or sad as well as happy.

Singing tutor Liz McNaughton, a freelance voice coach with Singing for the Brain, explained the concept had been so popular and successful that she had been asked to run workshops for people with Parkinson's Disease, those who had strokes and head injuries and for people with special needs.

"It would seem, and there is a lot of research about this, that the music has the ability to access words. It is so powerful that people who have lost their ability to speak can access songs and words from the melody."

She said the singing sessions appeared to have positive effects on participants' cognitive powers, their physical ability and their emotions.

Rhythm 'beneficial'

Clive Evers, of the Alzheimer's Society said Singing for the Brain was proving so popular and beneficial that he hoped more groups would soon be established.

"What Chreanne Montgomery-Smith is tapping into is very important. It is not the stream of consciousness, but a level of consciousness, a level of awareness people have with the real world.

"The music allows them to engage. Her project is very important and shows what can be done."

Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society and Professor of Age Related Diseases at King's College, London, said singing as an activity did seem to help people with dementia.

"People seem to enjoy doing something jointly with other people and there is a lot of evidence that being socially engaged is good for people with dementia."

He said the part of the brain that worked with speech was different to the part that processed music, allowing those who had lost their speech to still enjoy their music.

Mr Ballard said rhythm had also been shown to be beneficial, particularly for those with diseases like Parkinson's where movement was a problem. He said listening to rhythms, even just a metronome, could help.


My mind is like a butterfly these days - there's just so many distractions.   And even though most of them are connected with my creative work they still leave me feeling fragmented - should I be booking dates for the next tour in Germany or America or Ireland?  or should I be doing something with my website: or should I be figuring out what the packaging and design will look like for the new CD?  I got so frustrated with trying to keep in touch with people that I've made a total mess of my Facebook - so that's now another distraction - should I just dump it altogether or start another private profile that I can actually manage.  It's lovely to read about what other people are doing, but there's only so much input that I can take at any one time - so I reckon my limit is about 20 people for Facebook.  
Somewhere in the middle of all that I want time to work on my songs - a little bit of practice is a life saver - that's what i do after all, I'm a musician.   And then of course a wee bit of exercise would also be brilliant.   But I'd love to take the time to go out and trawl through the shops for some ideas for stage clothes and for photos .... oooh and there's an auction next weekend!!   And I bought some lovely bits of material in Holland and Germany - must get down to them at sometime as well...   Phew!  Too much to think about - I think I'll just lie down and go to sleep.   Tomorrow's another day :)   Anyone got any suggestions for sorting out the muddle that's my brain at the moment?
Breathe in, breathe out ... Relax .... an early morning view of the Cooley Mountains to calm my scattered mind...

Saturday 12 May 2012

Nose pipes!!!!

Yes!  The new instrument of the tour .... Frank and Alison's introduction to the intricacies of the Nasepfeiffe - what a laugh:)))  and Tom learned enough in the couple of days we spent in Munich to join them for an impromptu interval performance during our Irish Folk Club gig at Ars Musica in Stemmerhof.
Duet... Frank and Tom on nose flutes .... the one instrument no-one will ask to borrow hahaha

Alison and Frank on stage

Tom myself and Alison :)))))

The coolest garden gate in the Bavarian colours:)

All in all a great visit to two of our oldest friends.  Thank you to you both and I can't wait til we see you again:)   Here's a link to Frank's website -   Frank and Alison brought us on our very first trip to Germany nearly 2o years ago for the wonderfully named Paddy Goes Bayern tour.

Thursday 10 May 2012

Singing - lift your spirits

"I don't sing because I'm happy; I'm happy because I sing".  ~William James

I love this quote.  Nothing lifts my spirit quite like singing .... When I was a teenager I felt it was my prayer - my connection to spirit - a direct link to the power of the Universe.   Through the years I've suffered because I paid attention to other people's opinions about what was or is fashionable about singing - how exactly they felt the voice should sound.   But thankfully as I've grown older, and after years of coaching other singers, I've now got to a place where i don't really think about my voice at all; I only focus on the song - and if the song is fun to sing, or emotionally moving, then the pictures roll in front of my inner eye as I pass on the story and I come off stage feeling like I've had a couple of hours of meditation and relaxation.  

So, if you're feeling blue,  go and sing loudly - put on your favourite song and sing along at the top of your voice - or be like Sally Bowles in "Cabaret", - scream at the top of your lungs!   She went and stood under a railway bridge as the train was going by - much more romantic for the movie screen:))   but it's just as good to get into the car and roll down the windows(when no-one's listening) and just throw back your head and go for it.   I guarantee you'll feel better:))

Tuesday 1 May 2012

My favourite church gig

I've loved the town of Annahuette since our very first visit there back in 2001.  The Henrietten Kirche is beautiful - such a wonderful venue to sing in - and the surprise of a Kneipe in the cellar is a hoot.   Lovely people.

With Herr Noack and Siegelinde after the concert.
The first time we visited I could speak little or no German and Tom spoke none at all  - these three wonderful gentlemen solved the problems of the world and communicated via the universal language of whiskey lol  I made the mistake of joining them!!!!   

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Germany and Holland April 2012 Easter trees and Hallig Hooge

We're just back from our trip to Germany and Holland ... The tour was great - really enjoyable concerts everywhere we played .... It was the first time Tom and I had been back to Germany as a duo for many years and we both had a blast...  finally got him singing more than harmonies and we are home now with plans to get him singing on the new CD!!!!    It's only taken me 25 years coaxing lol.

Here are some of the images from the trip....

Easter Trees .... 
this was the first thing to hit us in Germany ... loads of the houses had trees festooned with Easter eggs but inside and out ... it was really cheerful.

 This thatched house was on the road from Kiel to the ferry out to Hallig Hoegge... very quaint....

Hallig Hooge is amazing .... a salt plain or salt meadow would be the correct description .... these islands are below sea level and have a small dyke protecting them from the North Sea.
As you approach by boat you can just see a few little bumps ....
.... and as you get closer you see that there are houses built on each bump which is called a Waft .... there are 9 Wafts on Hallig Hoegge and a total of 110 residents .... The Canada geese were there at the same time as us - what a wonderful noise.

This was where our pension was for the night.

Tom getting set up for the gig .... look at the wonderful tiles on the wall - very dutch and very old .... It was the best acoustics for a venue that we've ever played in I think...  

Check out more about the Hallig at 

Wednesday 29 February 2012

Studio days Part Two.

Brendan's back for a second session to complete the basics of all the songs for the new CD.
A wee chat with Tom to start ...
 I'm doing guide vocals in the sitting room - Brendan's in the studio with Tom ...

The album keeps changing direction - it hasn't decided where it's going yet ...  I don't know how he keeps the idea in his head of where the track is going to .... a bare guitar that will leave room to be eventually coloured around by other instruments - a bit of bass or fiddle or accordion and definitely percussion ... and last but not least my voice.   Oh how exciting this process is this time.  

It was 20 years ago when we released the first album, The Light Beyond the Woods - I was in awe of all the musicians and hadn't a clue really as to what was going on.   I have never been happy with my voice on that CD but it lead me onto a journey of discovery that started me teaching other people to help them get over stage fright and deal with the beliefs that they couldn't sing.

It's been glorious today - the first sign of Spring in the air -  we could go out without a coat for a short while.

Saturday 18 February 2012

If I Were A Blackbird - the start of a journey

I was standing in the middle of the floor at a singaround  during the  Holmfirth Folk Festival  back in the mid 90s - Tom and I had just met a bunch of lovely Yorkshire singers and I was blown away by the concept of the singaround which was something that I'd never encountered before.  I sang "If I Were A Blackbird" and afterwards Maggie Boyle told me that it was a Delia Murphy song.  I'd only vaguely heard of Delia before that, but I'm fascinated by the story of songs so I started researching her and storing away the bits of useless information that I found.

Fast forward a few years to the Tron Folk Club in Edinburgh and I met Alex Burns - sadly Alex is no longer with us - but that chance encounter changed my life in ways that I couldn't see at the time.  I sang "The Connemara Shore" and asked the audience if any of them had ever come across it before.  Alex thought he had it in his collection of gramophone records and several months later a cassette recording of a selection of his gramophone collection landed on my doormat.  And there, was my proper introduction to Delia and her songs.   

All of a sudden my lonely "If I Were A Blackbird" - or is it If I Was A Blackbird"? had a home and I could remember all the dozens of songs that my mother sang that inevitably were way too uncool for a teenager so I'd filed them in the "not worth considering if you want to be Linda Ronstadt" category...!!

The song became the first one I recorded when I decided to do an album of songs from my childhood in 2004 - it was also the first one that Delia recorded in her very first recording session in 1936.  She was the wife of the Irish minister in London and in diplomatic circles she was mixing with the arts and cultural leaders as well as politicians and diplomats.  John McCormack was a friend of hers as was Margaret Burke Sheridan and when the denizens of the recording industry starting looking outwards from London to find suitable projects to record someone suggested Delia - she was the life and soul of the embassy parties, playing piano and leading singsongs with her vast repertoire of Mayo songs.  So she went in for her very first session in 1936 and recorded 6 songs and became the first Irish person, male or female, to be recorded singing in her own accent, a fact that makes her recordings the beginnings of Irish folk music as we know it from these islands and an early native addition to the work being recorded in America by the McNulty Family and Flanagan Brothers among others.  

In our house we sang If I Was A Blackbird - probably our colloquialisation of the correct grammar - nowadays I find it difficult to be proper and sing "were" .. but here are the words as I sing them.  I also sing the chorus after each verse.   I've read somewhere that the song dates back to the 1700s and there are various theories as to who the Blackbird is or was - some say it was Bonny Prince Charlie as he was sometimes referred to in this way.  However most often it is considered a Dublin street song and started appearing in books from the 1920s onward.  There are interesting discussions about it at Mudcat

If I Were A Blackbird (traditional)
recorded by me on the Songbirds CD  (Glenshee Music GSR001) - available from CD Baby or my shop at

If I was a blackbird, I’d whistle and sing
And I’d follow the ship that my true love sailed in
And on the top rigging I’d there build my nest
And I’d pillow my head on his lily white breast

I am a young maiden and my story is sad
For once I was courted by a brave sailor lad
He courted me truly by night and by day
But now he has left me and gone far away

He promised to take me to Donnybrook Fair
To buy me red ribbon to tie up my hair
And when he returns I will greet him with joy
And I’ll take to my bosom my dear sailor boy

His parents they chide and will not agree
That I and my sailor boy married should be
But when he returns from the ocean so wide
He’ll take me and make me his own loving bride

If I was a blackbird, I’d whistle and sing
And I’d follow the ship that my true love sailed in
And on the top rigging I’d there build my nest
And I’d pillow my head on his lily white breast

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Fire Proofing Cert...

I've been spending today sorting through old files looking for one bit of paper that should have already been on the computer.

It's wonderful starting to find new gigs ... there's lots of them there to find ... and I am so grateful that there is interest in my work ... thank you angels.  But the downside of each new booking is that each one generates a list of paperwork to be provided ... fire proofing for the back drops; insurance for the theatre; set list for the copyright agency; stage plan for the techies; press release for the media; flyers and posters for front of house ... and hours later I still haven't gotten to my list of things to do today!!   Anyway, I've at least found the fire proofing certificate.   Now it's on to creating a slide show to screen behind me singing and lastly create a script for the flow of the new show.

And in the process today I've made a good start on clearing out my filing cabinet.   OK, next ... insurance ...ho hum...

I also found this that a friend sent me many years ago - made me smile:))

I'm Tired
Yes.  I'm tired.   For several years I've been blaming it on middle age, poor blood, lack of vitamins, air pollution, saccharin, obesity, dieting, lack of exercise, and another dozen maladies that make you wonder if life is really worth living.
But I found out it ain't that.
I'm tired because I'm overworked.
The population of this country is 51 million.21 million are retired.That leaves 30 million to do the work.There are 19 million at school.That leaves 11 million to do the work.2 million are unemployed and 4 million are employed by the government.That leaves 5 million to do the work.One million are in the armed forces which leaves 4 million to do the work.3 million are employed by County and Borough councils leaving 1 million to do the work.  There are 620,000 people in hospital and 379,998 in prisons.  
Which leaves 2 people to do the work.
You and me.
And you're sitting on your backside reading this.
No wonder I'm bloody tired.