Reading My Way Around the World

Thursday 28 May 2015

Remotely Bass

The recording process has changed a lot in recent times for all but the top  rock and pop acts.

In the old days we used to book a studio usually for 3 consecutive days on 4 consecutive weeks and completed an album in that time.   It was costly but exhilarating to be so immersed in the recording process.

Nowadays, because CD sales have dropped dramatically and online sales are negligible, recording budgets need to be controlled more tightly.   It's relatively easy to have a small studio in your own house if you know what you're doing and have good microphones and equipment.   We've had Ballyneddan Studio for nearly 10 years now - it's perfect for acoustic projects and for spoken word recordings.  Tom's a great engineer and our house is in a really quiet setting.  It's only one room but we sometimes use all the other rooms in the house to separate the instruments.

It's lovely being able to record at home, but there is a downside - everything else that you're doing takes precedence over your own creative process or practice.  Everyone else's needs take priority - teaching, recording, promotion, editing, family etc.

The plus side though is that the recording process is totally in your own control.  So if you complete one session with a musician and something needs to be changed on your own tracks then you can go and fix it.

I know there are some young singers and musicians who read here from time to time, so for you here's a bit of clarification.

A session is where one instrumentalist comes in and records that instrument on multiple tracks.   Sometimes, like with guitar for example, that instrument may be on almost every track on the album so the session may last as much as 3 days.

James, adding bass to our songs
But with bass, we are only using it on 4 songs on this recording.   So with the wonders of modern technology we were able to send the tracks by email to our bass player, he plays and records his parts on to those tracks and then sends them back digitally.  Wonderful:)  All of sudden the songs are taking shape and it's a delight.  

Monday 25 May 2015

Special Things this week

In the B&B on Thursday night it was a treat to have a couple of hours to check out blogs and to follow some links on Facebook.    I thought I'd share a few treasures with you here.  

I had seen this video a few years back and it was lovely to be reminded of it by Denise at Denise's Planet.   These children are remarkable and indeed so are the adults who came up with this wonderful idea to recycle rubbish.

We take so much for granted in our wealthy Western worlds - look at what can be achieved.

This one is especially for my lovely blogging friend Deborah at Temenos of the Blessing Light in Chicago - I know you'll be in love with this project :)  A Children's Book you can Plant and it will grow into a tree.

I've been at a lot of funerals this year already and the topic has been at the front of our minds, how would our own final farewell be dealt with.  For one I was asked to sing a special song for the couple - called One True Place - the lyric talked about the person not being gone, but being in the room next door.  This piece of writing is from that angle and it just summed it up for me my feelings on the next life.   I want to post it here so that I can keep it for myself.  It was a lady that I met at a writing retreat last year had shared it on her Facebook page and I hope she doesn't mind me passing it on.  It came via the blog of the writer M.J.Rose

Written by Henry Scott Holland (27 January 1847 – 17 March 1918) was Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford

What interesting things have come up in your week? I'd love to hear.

Saturday 23 May 2015


We had a splendid day in Cork yesterday and met up with some friends that we hadn't seen in nearly 20 years.  Can't wait to get back down there again.  It's only 250 miles south from here, but I swear it always feels about 10 degrees warmer.   It was Winter at the first gig but full summer by the time we got to the second one and of course the clothes weren't appropriate - the bain of my life!!

That was our first time playing in a Library and both places were lovely.   We're home with our heads full of ideas that now have to be acted on for future dates.

We drove back after the second gig.   Try as I may I've never learned how to conserve my energy on stage - it doesn't feel right if I don't give 110% but it leaves me totally wiped next day.   That on top of the 4 hour drive plus a couple of breaks for dinner and petrol got us home around 10.30 and asleep by 11.  Real rock'n'roll musicians us!!!!!

So it's going to be a very quiet day today - hairdresser, a wander around the food and craft market at the blues festival and an Indian take away for dinner.  I'll take the camera cos the sun is shining, but my awake head is not on straight yet.   Maybe we'll face the festival tomorrow and take in some music.   The blues in the Bay festival happens this Bank Holiday Weekend every year and features lots of local bands as well as international stars, including Van Morrison this year and Mud Morganfield who is Muddy Waters son.

It seems to be a holiday weekend everywhere this year - what are you up to?

Thursday 21 May 2015

Songs from the Wireless

While Tom and I usually perform contemporary folk with a smattering of traditional and some of our own songs, we still do one or two songs that were featured in our Songbirds TV series several years ago - songs of Delia Murphy and her contemporaries.   I wrote about Delia here during the A to Z challenge a few years back - you might be interested to see where our folk music started in the popular sense.

Now every year in May we put together a special show of all of those old Irish songs for the Festival of Bealtaine.

This year we're heading down to Cork this weekend for a couple of gigs in libraries to tie in with it.

Bealtaine is the Irish word for May, but it is also one of the 4 Celtic seasons of the year - the 1st May is Bealtaine, the 1st of Summer.  And in the South of Ireland the government for many years have given funds for creativity for older people during the month of May and that is the Festival of Bealtaine.   So our programme of songs fits very well.

Each year we try to make it a bit different and this year the theme is Songs from The Wireless.  We're including songs from John McCormack and his contemporaries as well as all my fabulous women's songs - I'm working at learning "The Kerry Dances" at the minute, a very intricate song which dates back to the 1500s - Here's Count John McCormack singing it.  Now try and imagine it with guitar and a light contralto voice!!!!!  Me!!!

This is our last dip back into a full programme of these songs for a while to come.   Full steam ahead now to finish the new album.  But oh I will enjoy a wee jaunt down to Cork :)

Wednesday 20 May 2015

A different voice

one word challengeHave you noticed how the fashion for different voices changes down the years?

Here in Ireland we went from classical to very localised accents in folk and traditional music.   My young singers want to all sound like Rhianna or Florence while my older singers try to shake off their pseudo classical training which was the order of the day in schools right up to the turn of this century.  

As this post is linking up with #1wordbloglinkup and the word this week is voice, I thought I'd let you hear a very different voice from here.  

Sean nós (pronounced shan'osse) is the term given to very traditional singers  - those who were lucky enough to escape formal tuition and grow up with traditional music around them - it is a much earthier style of singing.  Sean nós means literally old bones, but it's taken as meaning old style - very traditional, highly ornamented, and always unaccompanied.   

I love this guy's voice - his name is Iarla O'Lionaird.  He is speaking in Kerry Irish at the start of the video - I don't really understand much of it, but I love the sound and you might like his voice - it sounds almost oriental in style.   And if you have the patience to get to the end of it, there's another singer singing a contemporary parody song, but in that old style - the song is  called The Bodhran Song (the bodhran is the Irish hand drum) from about 2.30 in the video recorded at the Puck Fair which honours the goat as king - don't ask!!

When I'm working with young singers I try to encourage them to find their own voice.    We have always been highly influenced by American music here.  As a result all the young singers sing with a twang and try to be as big and brassy as their current idol.  It takes a lot of patience on their part to lose that twang - unless of course they intend to sing Country'n'Irish - and that's a story for another day.    

What's your favourite kind of music?  Do you have any unusual styles in your area?  I'd love to hear. 

* * * * * 

This post is part of the One Word Blog Linkup hosted weekly each Wednesday by:
 Lisa – The Golden Spoons
Marcia – Blogitudes

Saturday 16 May 2015

Teaching McFadden to Waltz

For many years I have collected gramophone records.

I have some gems in my collection including some very funny songs - at least I think they're funny.  Mostly they're old music hall songs, Irish style, songs that probably originated in America on Tin Pan Alley.

I love this one  - Teaching McFadden to Waltz.  I remember my mother singing the chorus of this when we were children

"One two three, balance like me
You're quite the fairy but you have your faults
For your left foot is lazy, your right foot is crazy,
But don't be unaisy I'll teach you to waltz" 

Being more politically correct now people usually sing
"you're quite the dancer but you have your faults", 
but this recording is from 1935 I think, sung by the Baritone Sam Carson.
According to the iMDB there was a short comedy film made of this in 1911 in the US.  

This is a very posh gramophone player in this video - mine is the one from the photo above.

Here are all the words

Teaching McFadden To Waltz
Clarence McFadden he wanted to waltz
But his feet were not put on that way
So he saw a professor and stated his case
And said he was willing to pay
The professor looked down in alarm at his feet
As he viewed their enormous expanse
So he tacked on a crown to his regular price
For teaching McFadden to dance

One two three, balance like me
You’re quite the fairy but you have your faults
Well your left foot is lazy your right foot is crazy
But don’t be uneasy I’ll teach you to waltz 

He took out McFadden before the whole class
And he showed him the step once or twice
But McFadden‘s two feet got tied into a knot
Sure he thought he was standing on ice
At last he broke loose and struck out with a will
Never looking behind or before
But his head got so dizzy he fell on his face
And rubbed the whole wax off the floor

McFadden soon got the step into his head
But it would not go into his feet
He hummed Maggie Murphy from morning to night
And he counted the steps in the street
One night he went home to his room to retire
After painting the town a bright red
Sure he dreamt he was waltzing and leaped out his legs
And kicked the footboard off the bed

When Clarence had practiced the steps for a while
Sure he thought that he had it down fine
He went to a girl and he asked her to dance
And he wheeled her out into the line
He walked on her feet and he fractured her toe
And he said that her movements were false
Sure the poor girl went round for three weeks on a crutch
Through teaching McFadden to waltz.

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Plane Crazy

I was saying in yesterday's post that I've spent the weekend reliving childhood memories at a very special event called Baking Bread for Peace.

Amidst all the memories of hay making and scone making, the early days of television in our houses was also mentioned.

For most of us our childhood was populated by Walt Disney's fantastic creations.

Did you know that this week saw the very first appearance of Mickey Mouse?

On May 15th 1928, his very first appearance on film was in the 6 minute cartoon Plane Crazy. (And there's my link to this week's #1wordbloglinkup - tenuous I know, but it's there!)

On his way back from an unsuccessful meeting in New York early in 1928, according to Hollywood folklore, Walt Disney came up with the idea of a cartoon film featuring Mortimer Mouse.   His wife Lilian hated the name and suggested he called him Mickey.

Walt pitched the idea to Louis B Meyer who after seeing a preview of Mickey refused to put Walt on contract fearing that pregnant women would be frightened seeing a rodent running around the screen (guffaws all around).   But Walt went ahead.

Later that year in Steamboat Willie, Mickey talked for the first time and went on to get more fan mail than any Holywood star of the time.  And in all the early cartoons Walt was the voice of Mickey.

This post is part of the One Word Blog Linkup hosted weekly each Wednesday by:
 Lisa – The Golden Spoons
Marcia – Blogitudes
one word challenge

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Bake Bread for Peace

On Saturday night I was at a very unusual event.

A lady from Donegal, Breezy Kelly, has been teaching school children how to bake traditional Irish soda bread and scones for years.   And while she's showing them how to bake, letting them feel the flour, and letting them take part in the process, she tells stories and sings old songs.   How the fairies have to be let out of the grain - that's why a cross is put into the bread.   And why we throw a pinch of salt over our shoulders - that's for the fairies too.  

Well a few years ago she had the brain wave that we break bread for peace so why not bake bread for peace too.   Last year she initiated International Bake Bread for Peace Day - I wrote about on this blog here.  

And now she is taking to the road to bring her message out to more people.   And on Saturday about 30 people gathered in my friends' Catherine and Tom's house  and we listened to Breezy spinning yarns ....

coaxing the men to come up and describe the feeling of the flour....

singing both coarse and sweet old songs that everyone joined in with.

(these photos aren't very focussed - no-one would stand still long enough )

And while she baked and we chatted with her from the 'audience' seated at tables set with tea-
sets and butter and jam, memories arose of our own childhoods in kitchens where our mothers baked and told similar stories and sang those well loved and well known songs.

And the smell of home baking that started to pervade the kitchen took us all back.  80 year old Madge joined in with stories about the goat that was kept at home - how did it get up on the porch every time she went to town - many years later she discovered that two of her sons carried it up there as a prank!    Tommy told stories of trying to milk the goat - it took 5 of them!!!  I remembered walking in the bog barefoot and several told of bringing the tea to the hay field.   One city guy in the audience was a bit overwhelmed by the country simplicity of it all - I think he fell in love.

Then a break to sample the produce - tea and scones and more chat and reminiscing.  

Breezy is extraordinary - she makes everyone feel at home and puts even the most cantankerous audient beautifully in place without offence.  

So if you see a woman with a dog walking the roads with a bag of flour on her back, stop her and invite her in - you'll be glad you did.  

One of our friends that couldn't make it, was there in spirit when Breezy sang his wonderful song "Fresh Bread"   Colum Sands is a gifted songwriter.  ( I wrote about his last album here).   He remembered seeing women in Belfast behind barricades that were on fire and women from the neighbouring street, from the opposite persuasion, throwing loaves of bread to them.  It's such an emotive image that for me.

Here's Colum singing his song modified for this special dance by a group called Spoken Dance.   The boy in the wheelchair comes from Afghanistan and he was wounded by a bullet in the spine - he came to Ireland for treatment and now lives and works in Limerick where the girl and this dance company are from.   It's not a great video but I find it incredibly moving.

Join Breezy's Facebook Page for Bake Bread for Peace at this link.

Wednesday 6 May 2015

Two for Joy

Photo by Adrian Pingstone
You know the old rhyme about magpies

"One for sorrow, two for joy
Three for a girl and four for a boy
Five for silver, six for gold
And seven for a secret never to be told."

I'm not very superstitious and yet I always look for the second magpie.   At this time of the year they're usually alone because one of them is on the nest, but if you hang around for a minute or two another will appear.   My mother tells a story of one day when she was cycling to work as a young woman - they had to go about 4 or 5 miles.   The guy who was cycling with her spotted one magpie and being really superstitious went off the road in search of the second one.   As a result they were both an hour late for work!   I always thought that was hilarious - I'm sure it wasn't at the time but she laughs at it now.

Well I'm wondering would she laugh if she knew we have a pair of magpies nesting in our garden.     Most people I know hate magpies.  

But I love the idea that we'll always have joy.

There has been too much sorrow around in recent days and weeks and I need as much joy as I can find.

While the world reeled from the loss of life in Nepal and from all the horrors of life in the wars and riots around the world, we were mourning the loss of another member of our little choir. A relatively young man recovering from a minor operation on his knee - he died very suddenly four days later.  Everyone's assuming it was a clot.   I sang yesterday at his funeral and it was such a sad day.   He was a fireman and had two young children and a beautiful wife.   He was 51.   You will be very much missed  Larry.

As the choir gathered on Wednesday night I struggled to find songs to lift everyone's spirits.  We were all on the brink of tears and everyone was singing flat.  When one person left the room in tears I thought tea was needed, and gradually after lots of chat we managed a smile and even got a few laughs in the last few songs of the evening.

Singing gives great joy.  It releases hormones not dissimilar to chocolate :)  It's not always easy to sing when we're feeling fragile and broken and beaten by life or just by the stresses of the day.  But if you can manage even to sing along to the radio or yell out a bit of AC/DC at the top of your voice in the shower, or hum a lullaby to a child, or sing along with Dolly, your mood will lift and it will lift very very quickly.

The world is in serious need of joy at the moment.  Let's keep on singing.

I'm joining in today with Lisa for the 1 Word Blog Linkup.

Sunday 3 May 2015

May Rain

There's been rain on and off all day today - the sort of very comforting Spring rain that is soft and washes everything.  Yesterday was a different story - colder than the coldest day of winter, but at least the garden got well watered and we got a rest in front of the fire and the tele.  

A low cloud lay down on the Cooleys

 And water droplets are lying on all the flowers.   The bluebells are out in profusion now.

This is my father's time of year.   The time I wrote about in I Still Think of You Sometime.

The heron didn't spot me for a while - standing so still.

 I must have turned around for second and away he went.

This has been a tough week on the heels of a tough month and I've been feeling very poorly as a result of it.   Too much energy spent that needs to be recouped.  Nature has helped by bringing such a deluge.   Starting to feel a bit better now and ready to get back into things tomorrow - I've a wee trip to Australia planned for the morning - we're booking a tour for there for next March and there are lots of things to organise.  I wander off in my mind to the country we're going to with the help of a map and start to imagine where each person is who needs to be emailed.   It's like a mini adventure :)

I've been falling behind at visiting all your lovely blogs and answering the comments you've left here.   Please bear with me.   Normal service may take a while to resume but we'll get there :)
I hope you have a lovely week whatever you're doing.