Feb 18 2010

Back on the road with Maggie Reilly..

Hello folks

It’s been rather manic here so apologies for the distinct lack of bloggery. I’ve been involved with a number of projects over the last few weeks which I thought I’d take a moment to let you all know about.
The main development over the last fortnight, as those of you who follow me on Twitter will know, has been the little Danish adventure with Maggie Reilly. I drove up to Glasgow in the new bass-mobile a couple of weeks ago for three days of rehearsals. The lineup this time was slightly different and consisted of the usual core band of Maggie, Stuart MacKillop on keyboards, Gordon Dougall on rhythm guitar and keyboards and me on bass with the new additions of Ali Murray on drums and Jim Condy on lead guitar. We added a few new songs to the set this time including Replay, Echoes and Talking To Myself (which has become a favourite of mine live). I had no idea how cold it got in Glasgow compared to here in London. My Winter wardrobe leaves a lot to be desired and I found myself battling with the elements on more than one occasion. But that was nohing compared to how cold it was in Denmark…
We arrived in Denmark on the 10th to be greeted with huge mounds of snow, the like of which I have never really experienced. Apparently the Danes have not had snow like this for at least seven years and this kind of cold weather was particularly unusual, but it transpires that they are far more adept at dealing with the snow than us Brits. In fact we had no trouble at all with the roads or flights. Deep joy.
Our first show was at Rampelys. This was one of the first venues I’d payed in Denmark when I first started coming over with Maggie and it was great to revisit the place. It’s a great little folky club in Silkeborg with a fantastic Mexican restaurant underneath it. Needless to say we visited said restaurant straight after the soundcheck. It’s one of those clubs that seem to be quite common in Denmark where it is run by a society that pool their resources and bring in the acts they want to see. We were sold out with about 250 in the audience and ha a great time.
We played the Stubhuset in Stovring the following day, a slightly larger arts centre type venue with a much larger stage. The stage at Rampelys is a tad small for our six-piece lineup (it was tricky when we played there as a five-piece several years ago!), so it was great to have a bit more space. We had another appreciative if somewhat quieter audience. Maggie and Jim added in a bluesy version of Jesus on the Mainline which went down well.
We moved on to the Kielgasten in Holstebro on the Saturday. This was another venue we’d played before and one of my favourites (in fact, it was the place we played after my journey from Hell from Paris with TDC if you remember that particular blog post..). It’s a great little rock club, probably around the same size as the others (250/300 capacity) and has just the right atmosphere for a proper gig. It is a mixture of seated areas and standing so you feel far more connected to the audience. My favourite venue in Denmark is still the Train in Aarhus, which is entirely standing. The Kielgasten was definitely the best show of the run; I’m looking forward to going back there soon.
By this point the weather had warmed up a little bit, although the snow was showing no sign of melting. Our final show was at the Huset in Nakskov. We were playing at four in the afternoon on Valentines day as part of some kind of Maggie Reilly Valentines spectacular! I must admit that I was slightly concerned about such an early show but it proved to be a lot of fun and the audience were really marvelous. We had to get up incredibly early to drive down from Holstebro and catch the ferry but it was worth it. The staff at the Huset were lovely and really looked after us. There’s a chance we’ll be returning there in May for a little warm-up show before the Danish festival we’re playing.
I really look forward to the little ferry crossings in Denmark. Sad but true. This is mainly due to the marvelous hotdogs they invariably sell on board. Anyone who nows me well will know that I am virtually always unable to resist a good hotdog/chillidog and these are definitely right up there with the best. I managed to convince all the non-veggie in the band to get in on the sausage action too. Actually, Gordon didn’t take much convincing…
We had a lot of fun on this little Danish run. It was great to be out on the road with the guys again. We should be back in May so keep you’re eyes peeled for upcoming dates on my MySpace page.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been involved with a few other projects of late. A couple of days ago I recording some bass for my friends Sorana Santos and Chris Lane, aka Lyrebird for their forthcoming EP. Chris posted a little video of me recording on The Art of Staying Alive this morning. Thought you might like to have a look…

You can check out their music on Reverbnation and keep up with the progress of their EP on Twitter. They are well worth go to see if you get a chance…
Yesterday I found myself in the studio of a certain Mr Paul Pilot recording some saw for Duke upcoming tour dates and also for the fantastic band My First Tooth, who are incidentally also avid Twitterers. I recorded two tracks for their forthcoming album. Their music sounds great and Paul is doing a fine job of producing. I’ll let you know when it’s out so you can all go forth and purchase… Paul couldn’t resist having a go on the saw before I left and let’s face it, who could blame him?!
The big news this week is that I will be playing at The Bull’s Head in Barnes with the lovely Kate Eden in a quartet featuring pianist Alex Hutton and Josh Morrison on drums. Be there or be square people! We’ll also be playing The Spice of Life next Wednesday and the Ignite cafe at the Albert Hall on Friday 26th so there is no excuse for not making it down to at least one of the shows…
Anyway, must dash I’m afraid. I have sitar lesson number four this very afternoon and am in serious danger of being late if I continue writing. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post; feel free to share it all over the internet and leave lovely comments. I do as always appreciate your feedback.
Until next time x

Dec 18 2009

As One Adventure Ends.. So Another Begins…


Hello folks,

Well the last few months have indeed been an exciting time. As you’ll know from my last post, the National’s production of Mother Courage & Her Children has officially finished now. I must say it was a rather sad day when we played the last two performances. They were definitely the best shows of the run and the audiences were fantastic. There is all manner of talk regarding the possibility of touring the production next year and I shall of course let you know when anything becomes definite. I’m pretty sure that it won’t be the last we hear from Mother Courage.
Incidentally, there is a marvelous article on Fiona Shaw in todays Independent. Well worth a look if you have a spare five minutes. And don’t forget to order your copy of the Mother Courage album form the Duke Special Store. We’ve had some great feedback about the album. And an exciting development is afoot on the Duke’s website. Fans can now become more involved with the release of the new three-disc boxed set via Duke Special Pledges. This is a brand new way to get hold of the Duke’s music and gain access to exclusive demos, rough mixes and live tracks to videos, tour diaries and photographs from the road. And a percentage of the Pledge will be donated to DePaul Ireland. You can find more information on the Pledge Music website.
As one adventure ends… so another begins…
I have been interested in Indian classical music since I was a teenager and have always listened to classical artists such as Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan and Vilayat Khan, as well as the more jazz-influenced artists such as Trilok Gurtu and John McLaughlin’s band Shakti. As Mother Courage came to a close, I was looking for a new project to occupy my (now considerable!) free time. So I decided to learn sitar!
A couple of weeks ago I ventured forth into Southall to the fantastic Jas Musicals where I met the lovely and very knowledgeable owner Harjit. I discovered that they hold classes (both individual and group lessons) in a space under the shop and then went about the tricky business of buying an instrument that I have no idea how to play!

Luckily Harjit was incredibly helpful and put me on the right track. I went for the slightly more expensive ‘Super Deluxe’ model (essentially a prettier version of the one below it seems) and booked my first lesson. I returned to the shop last week to meet my teacher Gush without a clue as to even sit with the instrument properly. It is amazing how much misinformation there is online regarding playing the sitar. I have found numerous websites giving me completely different accounts as to the tuning, sitting position and playing technique. I was also determined to learn properly from a teacher from the outset rather than form a host of bad habits from YouTube!
In my first lesson Gush showed me the proper half-lotus sitting position and how to tune the sitar properly with the aid of an electronic tanpura. Having demonstrated various playing techniques, we then moved on to the Indian solfege (the Sargam) and a series of exercises to get me used to playing up and down the neck. Just so you know (and partly to remind myself), the Swaras are as follows;
Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa.
These are the Shudha notes (ie; natural). And seeing as the Sitar is generally tuned to a C#, they translate to Western notation as follows;
C# D# E# F# G# A# B# C#
In Indian music notation, the Swaras are represented by the letter names rather than notes on a stave as in Western music. Flattened notes are known as Komal (only Re Ga Dha and Ni can be Komal) and Ma can be sharpened to Ma Thevar. Singing is integral to learning the music so learning the Swaras will be my main objective this week through the exercises I have been given.
I have already booked my next session with Gush for next week and have been practicing all week. In fact, I haven’t enjoyed practicing like this for such a long time it has already proved incredibly therapeutic. Gush also recommended listening to lots of different musicians which has given me a great excuse to walk around with my iPod for hours on end. Joy!
I’m intending to post fairly regularly here about my experiences as I learn to play the sitar. Both as a kind of online practice diary for myself but also for anyone who might be learning. I have discovered some useful websites (having sifted through all the dross) which may prove useful to anyone with an interest in either the sitar or Indian music in general;
Sharda has possibly the best beginners lessons and some useful Alankars for those interested in learning the sitar.
SitarsEtc has some good information as to some of the tuning alternatives (Ravi Shankar or Vilayat Khan style)
The University of California at Berkeley has a great Hindustani music resource page which I have used to download free tanpura loops to practice with (until I get an electronic tanpura). And let me tell you, practicing with a proper tanpura drone is a joy. I really recommend it if you are starting out.

And here are a few of the exercises I am currently working on…
SRG, RGM, GMP, MPD, PDN, DNS.
S.ND, NDP, DPM, PMG, MGR, GRS (The dot after/above Sa denotes the higher octave)
SRGM, RGMP, GMPD, MPDN, PDNS.
S.NDP, NDPM, DPMG, PMGR, MGRS
SRSRG, RGRGM, GMGMP, MPMPD, PDPDN, DNDNS.
S.NS.ND, NDNDP, DPDPM, PMPMG, MGMGR, GRGRS
SRSGRS, RGRMGR, GMGPMG, MPMDPM, PDPNDP, DNDS.ND, NS.NR.S.N, S.R.S.G.R.S.
NS.NR.S.N, DNDS.ND, PDPNDP, MPMDPM, GMGPMG, RGRMGR, SRSGRS
Should keep me busy until next Tuesday. I’ll let you know how I get on. Until then…