Wednesday 31 August 2011

I’m in bureaucracy land this week, and reconfiguring computers so that I can eventually get on with some work. Thank you in particular to ProTools for reminding me what computing in the 1990s was like, with a non-functioning dongle: a piece of technology that serves no purpose to the user other than to waste their time. I don’t really need any more of those.

It’s quite important to form your own opinions of your work early, even if you allow them to change over time. This allows you to read reviews without feeling too vulnerable to whatever the critic has to say: they probably had an urgent deadline to meet rather than an initial desire to engage with your work. But it’s still genuinely encouraging to get good reviews from intelligent people, like this very enthusiastic report of our Revenge CD from Norman Lebrecht that appeared last month. He admits to not knowing what a nyckelharpa sounds like, but was under too much pressure of time to spend 10 seconds on wikipedia finding out. See what I mean about deadlines?

Saturday 27 August 2011

In the course of today’s clearing up I found a BBC Bach recording that we made in Perth in 2005, with Iestyn Davies, James Eastaway, and one John Butt guesting on organ. It’s rather nice.

For the first time ever in Glasgow I got something nicked off a bike this week, when on a wet day I left bike no.3 in Byres Road and someone helped themselves to the Brooks saddle cover that was stopping me from getting a damp bum. The correct Glasgow device to use is clearly a plastic bag.

Anyway, here are Simon Thoumire and Ian Carr doing something very cheery indeed. On a sofa.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

I’m just back from a morning-after-gig hill walk with Catherine Motuz, now visiting from Montreal rather than visiting from Basel. Halfway down the hill I realised that I’d forgotten to report Mairi’s response to my insistence on non-triadic harmony, which is sung to the tune of Ye Canny Shove Yer Granny Aff A Bus: ‘If you want to wind him up, play a 3rd …’

Monday 22 August 2011

Playing a 30’ set at 2.30 in the afternoon is quite strange: you’re just beginning to find your way and get a feel for the audience and the room when it’s over, and then at 3pm it’s too early to wind down and relax.  Still, I’m delighted that I didn’t have to drive here as well, as the dulcitone and harmonium in their cases fitted into Brianna’s car this morning with millimetres to spare, so that I could be a passenger and do some last-minute brain-ordering. Our six-person bleeding chunk of Revenge seemed to hold together and work well on its own terms, but for me at least (especially after producing the record) it took quite a while to get the ten-person version out of my head first so that I could concentrate on the job in hand. As we were playing as part of a music networking event I managed a bit of reluctant networking too, but wallflower networking: every conversation I had, I was leaning against a wall.

One thing I learnt today was that you can’t choose your audience. I went outside for some fresh air, and who should be walking past and stopping to check out the evening’s concert but Michael Forsyth. Now to people of my age, 20 years ago he was a hate figure representing all the worst aspects of Scottish Conservatism, as he repeatedly declared smugly from a position of power that Tory policies were what we needed and what we were getting despite the fact that very few Scots had voted for them, so a part of me was offended by his freedom to walk down the street on this Monday afternoon.  But the workings of democracy, and the Scottish parliament whose existence he fought hard against, mean that he is able to walk the streets freely and go to concerts rather than running the country, which is a huge improvement, so the urge to give him some free pedal dentistry (I was standing on some steps) could be easily resisted.  If he wants to spend his Monday hearing John and Susan and co. do their stuff – and they were great – that’s just fine. Given that we finished our set with The Freedom Come-All-Ye he wouldn’t have enjoyed us anyway, ha.

instruments and shadows rehearsal break yesterday

dulcitone on its flight case ready to roll

Friday 19 August 2011

My work rate shot up this week when I abandoned my desk and its numerous distractions, and took my aging Dell laptop out to the hammock in the garden, where the only thing that could stop me working was watching the blackbirds feasting on rowan berries.

outdoor office

It’s been interesting to read some of the many glowing mainstream press pieces about Steve Reich while he’s been in London for the Proms. My copy of the Penguin Record Guide in the 80s dismissed Drumming as music ‘that many listeners will be unable to take seriously’ and suggested it was the product of drug culture. The clearing out of the attic last week unearthed a photo taken by James Poke of me with an embarrassing student beard, playing in a rehearsal of Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ in 1985 or thereabouts. It’s a great piece: listening to it now it seems to fly past at great speed with lots of things constantly changing, rather than being simply repetitive. To play it, the notes are easy but you have to count very carefully indeed.

1980s student

As a result of listening to Smell of a Friend, I now find myself humming lines like ‘In the dark, from crude compoundings, comes a white pus - phosphorescent from all its encounters with darkness’ (Milk): there can’t be many pop songs that start like that and still sound like pop songs.

In bike news … just as I was thinking that having three bikes was a pointless extravagance and I should give one away, I’ve been out on bike no.3 today, as the 1953 Humber is being pimped up by Common Wheel, and I made the catastrophically stupid error of letting the back brake blocks wear down to the metal on the Dahon, and burst a rim (and a tyre) on Wednesday.  I think if I hadn’t been so penitent in the shop, Joe at Gear Bikes would have been less inclined to agree to try and track down a 28-hole 20-inch rim on my behalf. I won’t make that mistake again: brake blocks are cheap.

And I have lots of as yet unread books with pictures in after a family visit to the Edinburgh Book Festival on Tuesday. Even in pouring rain and mud, the book festival is very cheering, as lots of mildly geeky people (me included) have a nice time in some big tents.

Monday 15 August 2011

I’ve had the archiving bug for the last week or so, with all my spare time spent sifting through boxes of scores, cassettes, photos, programmes, reviews, all kinds of things, throwing out lots and filing away the rest. We haven’t moved house for 11 years so there’s a lot of it: this will be an ongoing project for a few months. I also found some very entertaining old Concerto Caledonia photos which made it onto the scanner and might find their way into the gallery here eventually.

gadgets on the sofa

Yesterday morning I also had a wee digitisation corner of the sofa with my old Walkman Professional hooked up to a field recorder and portable speakers, rescuing a few things from analogue oblivion. Sadly the cassette of this album that was given to me as a present in 1975 or thereabouts refuses to play properly so I’ve had to find a vinyl copy on eBay. It contains classical treasures performed with the right combination of respect and complete disregard, on Hammond organ with big band, and it was clearly an important part of my musical education.  The girl on the front of the cover has her fingers in her ears for a reason, and the cassette even has a strapline in the corner ‘The sound of good music’ in case all the available evidence pointed the potential purchaser or critic in the opposite direction. 

On the other hand, currently digitising in the corner of the room from vinyl is my copy of The Lodge LP Smell of a Friend, dug out of the LP cupboard after re-acquainting myself with its predecessor Kew.Rhone. Frustratingly, the CD-ROM reissue of Kew.Rhone. demands that you run your computer in 8-bit colour to see all the intricate extras, making it oddly obsolete after less than 15 years. Anyway, it’s great to revisit Peter Blegvad’s lyrics which acquire more layers of meaning with time.  ‘Solitary’ from Smell of a Friend is made with cut-ups of quotations about milk, and includes this: ‘What gladness to flee the world into a new world made largely with the intellect. Amid the ravishing lucidity there, things that can be & cannot be get well churned together.’ The tune’s good too, and his cover painting shows all 28 original milky quotes (no references though).

I’m coming round to the idea of spending the next year or so on a kind-of playing sabbatical, not attempting to make very much music for a bit. I wonder how it will go. The last year has been far too busy, and the business of archiving old work is a good way of sensing the backlog of undone stuff and loose ends left untied.  Sometimes you have to clear up the past before you can move into the future.  This week’s work involves planning potential projects for 2012-15, and it would be good to come at them with a fresh sense of the possible.

Thursday 11 August 2011

The ever-knowledgeable and erudite Sandy Semeonoff has just been here to record an interview on my sofa for Celtic Music Radio, where Revenge will be Album of the Week from Saturday. You can hear our conversation at 12 noon on Saturday, again at midnight, and on Monday at 6pm. Hope it’s as much fun to listen to afterwards as it was at the time.

Meanwhile reviews are accreting here.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

I’m making a rare stage appearance tonight with the ScottishPower pipe band at Piping Live, in a performance of Martyn Bennett’s Mackay’s Memoirs.  I get to sit in the middle of the orchestra beside Catriona, who puts my sense of rhythm to shame, and the entire pipe band are stretched out in a row at the back, which is a riot of sonic 3D when they all get going. It’s a chance to catch up with bits and pieces of news and gossip from various characters too. I cycled in to last night’s rehearsal, careful to leave my bike away from any shops, but the city centre was peacefully busy, with just a few extra police vans around.

For the last two days Brianna Robertson has been helping me archive and catalogue nearly 20 years’ worth of ConCal scores, correspondence, reviews and accounts, which now occupy two large crates and a box, with another crate for solo keyboard repertoire. It’s exhausting work: by yesterday afternoon I was incapable of any sort of coherent thought. One of the most revealing finds was a wee sign from a 2004 tour showing the prices of CDs we were selling at the gigs. They’re still selling at the same prices seven years on.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

There’s an evocative recollection of our appearances at Snape here – and lots of other intriguing pieces too: with a few random clicks I found a perceptive account of Robert Fripp’s MO, and read for the first time that Henry Kaiser has an underwater career away from the guitar.

Today’s unreadable review comes (via an email from Delphian) from the reviews editor of a very well-respected classical music publication, enthusing greatly about our album and mentioning in passing that of course they can’t review it, as it’s not classical repertoire. When you spend your life not quite fitting into other people’s categories, this sort of thing becomes faintly amusing.

Yesterday I came across this film: for someone like me weaned on Mike Oldfield’s early records, hearing alternative versions of chunks of Ommadawn, Incantations and other bits and pieces was fascinating, and probably more enlightening than the less-than-ideal re-issue of Incantantions that came out last week. But what made the whole thing truly bizarre for me was the involvement of my old teacher and musical hero Alan Hacker, whose daughter Oldfield was going out with at the time.

Also in the post yesterday came 16 new songs from Alasdair Roberts: not to be hurried.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Scottish cultural icon attends his first Concerto Caledonia gig.

Maw introduces Wullie to the sound of the harmonium from the Sunday Post, 1st September 1946

Revenge got a nice review in the Times a few weeks ago, but it's behind Rupert Murdoch's paywall so you can't read it.