Thursday, 28 October 2010

Gadzooks, its a Xaphoon

Well, I've always wondered why many musicians play more than one instrument.

I thought they were just show-offs, but actually, making music is quite addictive.

The "buzz" of creating your own sounds is enhanced by using different instruments and therefore different timbres.

I've just bought this for the first mate.

Its called a Xaphoon - it comes from the US and is the size of a recorder, but sounds like a cross between a clarinet and a saxophone.

Invented about 20 years ago, it seems to be a great way of having a portable sax - it uses a tenor sax reed but plays like a whistle.

One thing we have discovered is that its very loud for its size and the blowing technique required is very different from the low D whistle.

Now, I've just got to decide what my second instrument will be ???

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

That X-Factor Moment

Well, we've passed a landmark occasion for two reasons:

Firstly, I played and sung at the same time, for an audience.

Secondly, the first mate and I played our first public duet.

Playing and singing sea shanties to yourself is one thing; playing to an audience of singers and musicians is something else.

People are so used to programmes like X-Factor these days, where everybody is encouraged to be a critic, I'm sure that 21st century Britain has an expectation of being entertained to some sort of professional standard every time somebody performs in front of them.

However, if this is the case, the group are very good at masking their thoughts.

One thing I've learnt from this journey is that if you even make one mistake when rehearsing, its going to be ten in front of a group.

Never mind, its a closed room and the natives are friendly.

There must have been something in the air last night as many of the more polished regulars were forgetting their words.

One interesting twist was the introduction of storytelling.

One (new) person told tales - it doesn't take much imagination to think of tribes sitting around the fire in a long hut on dark nights listening to tales of stormy coasts and cold, deep scottish lochs, while the wind rages outside.
Personally, it reminded me of being back at primary school (in a nice way !!).

Ah well, this is getting a bit like Scheherazade and the tales of the Arabian Nights - we aren't getting much boating done.

Somebody asked me the other day why we cruise so hesitantly and slowly.

I replied that there is more to a journey than notching up as many lock miles as possible.

When I was at sea, I visited many places for a day or two and foolishly thought that I'd seen that country.

I don't intend to make the same mistake narrowboating and we find that sometimes you have to hang around long enough to absorb the character of an area - after all, theres no hurry...going back to my original introduction to this blog, in Ely, all those light years ago, it's the quality of the journey itself that counts - not the destination or the speed that you move at.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Free advice, Freely Given

What is it with people and forums ??

Internet forums are very useful resources for tapping into knowledgeable people and getting advice on a variety of subjects. I use them for a variety of different things.

Asking for an opinion is one thing, but what is it about people who think its quite acceptable to ask experts how to do a job that they would normally be paid for.

Would you phone a car mechanic and say "hello, I have a problem with my car. Its not starting. I don't want to pay you to fix it, as I think its something I could cope with myself and I'm a bit strapped/tight (delete as appropriate) at the moment.
Could you tell me, stage by stage how to fix it, so I don't need to employ the services of a professional like yourself. It will only take you 20 minutes to talk me through it and I know that you've probably got nothing else to do".

The noise of a disconnected line would be deafening.

Actually, it could be the basis for one of those candid camera type programmes.

For example, ring up a professional and see how much you can get him or her to tell you for free before he realises you are taking the proverbial and puts the phone down on you.

Whats really worrying is that this request for advice often revolves around tinkering with mains electricity when the person is barely able to wire a plug.

Recently, one boater wanted me to explain to them how to construct a longer shoreline out of assorted plugs, extension cable and pieces of flex. They weren't prepared to buy the correct connectors and 20m of Arctic mains cable (far too expensive).

The really, really worrying thing is that when I refuse to get drawn in to it, (on safety grounds, let alone any other reason), they seem to be able to find some idiot who will tell them how to do it.

A lot of internet sages are currently advising new boaters to buy a secondhand boat rather than considering new (due to the problems with boatbuilders going bust and the fact that there is a plethora of secondhand tonnage around at the moment).
What they don't say is that in about half of those boats, they were wired by aspiring DIY carpenters, welders or plumbers and the wiring is not always top notch (that's me being polite).

The 12V side should be covered to some degree by the Boat Safety Scheme survey but the AC/Mains wiring is a free for all.

Would you buy a house that was rewired by somebody who can barely wire a plug ??

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Kaval on the Canal ?

I've been working in Turkey for the week.

Following the thread of my recently renewed interest in folk music, I set out to explore the world of Turkish music.

Trudging the streets of exotic and mystical Istanbul, I ignored the modern music shops with their electric guitars and saxophones to seek the Mr.Benn-like smaller shops (BBC "Watch with Mother" reference probably lost on anybody not between the age of 45-55).

The beauty of Istanbul is that they still have a Bazaar mentality. Streets are dedicated to products.

For example, you can find one street that only sells power tools.

Similarly, there is a music street.

Walking along this twisting and narrow street, it didn't take long to find a shop which was festooned with oddly shaped wooden instruments, hanging from the ceiling, like vegetables in a greengrocers.

Initially, I was interested in an Ocarina, a small wind instrument shaped like a sweet potato.

However, discovering that this is not a Turkish instrument, my interest was diverted to an assortment of wooden flutes and whistles and a gift for the first mate was sought.

Eventually, I narrowed my search to a selection of Kavals, which are a traditional shepherds flute.

With the assistance of my very good Turkish friend (the shop assistant spoke no English), the guy in the shop played each one and let me hear the musical range that they played.

I choose a long, low pitched one that through translation, I believe starts at A.
A price was negotiated, 30 Euros was parted with and I returned to the hotel, wearing the Kaval, across my back, like David Carradine walking the wilderness.
Wikipedia says that the Kaval is a chromatic end blown flute associated with mountain shepherds in the Balkans and Anatolia.
They are often played in pairs, with one person playing the melody whilst the other plays a drone harmony. The unusual thing is that the Kaval has odd holes along its length which seem to be designed to be left uncovered.
Another interesting instrument is the Cigirtma, which is traditionally made from the wing bone of an eagle - not surprisingly, the shop was fresh out of eagles wings...

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Black is the new - eh - Black

Well as I said last time, I have discovered something of a new world.
Being able to play on a concertina, has gained me an entrance pass into the new world of folk music and singarounds.
What started off as banging out sea shanties to let off steam and gain relaxful enlightenment, on the mooring, has mutated into driving around the countryside with a little wooden instrument box that reminds me of the priest on the exorcist.
The thought of little old me walking along a foggy, wet street with a little box, my heels clicking on the slick, shiny cobbles as I stride; knocking on strange doors, to exorcise good music from within, makes me giggle.
Singarounds are groups of like-minded people who meet regularly to practise and keep alive, the tradition of folk music.
Usually accompanied by pints of real ale, the turn goes around the room and each person gets the chance to play something, sing something or read a poem. Some shamefully talented people write their own songs so get a hat trick.
One thing I discovered is that a mediocre rendition of "New York Gals" gains you the opportunity to hear 15 other talented people play a myriad of instruments and sing brave new songs.
Beer and almost free music - can't be bad.
I just need to achieve my half century ambition of being good enough to play for free beer, now..

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Honky Tonky Tina

Well I've been absent without leave for a while.

Haven't done much boating since before Brazil, but have discovered a new love.

Tina is always there when I need her and falls readily into my willing hands, for a quick squeeze.

One day I woke up and thought to myself, wow I'm nearly fifty.

What do I do, get a sports car, buy a Harley ?? - nah..

I thought its time to set myself a new challenge - something to stir the brain cells.

For some unknown reason and I mean, unknown - its a bit like somebody else put the idea in my head, because it crept up on me from nowhere, I decided I was going to play the concertina.

You didn't think Tina was another woman now, did you ???

I have never played one, nor do I know anybody who's got one.

Anyway, long story short as one of my friends is fond of saying, I bought myself a cheap Anglo Concertina and taught myself.

Its taken me a couple of months and I need to read the dots (sheet music) because my memory is incapable of storing the myriad of tunes that I play, but I can play it.

I spent much of our hotter summer days, swinging in my hammock in the saloon on Willawaw, with every window and hatch open, playing sea shanties.

We are not inconsiderate people and we took the boat along the canal to isolated towpath locations, so the only people I tormented was the occasional walker or cyclist.

I have discovered several things as part of this little musical journey.

1. I can still read music from when I was 12
2. Its incredibly relaxing and de-stressing to just play whatever tune comes into your head
3. I have discovered a whole new raft of friends in the music world

I've always thought of people that like folk music as bearded with tank tops (and thats only the women)..
However, I heard a group playing the "Leaving of Liverpool" at Crick this year.

This obviously triggered something off in me, which has culminated in this..

Anyway, no longer content to just play to the towpath, I set off in search of bigger audiences and wow - what a brain blower that turned out to be !!!!