Don’t ever think it’s too late do something new or be too shy to ask someone you admire to work with you. … I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the last couple of days. I met my old school music teacher yesterday and she finished her History of Art Degree recently at the age of 79. What an inspiration. I’m glad I changed life paths a few years ago. I’m just listening to a recording of me singing and the music I’ve written recently. All things I’ve come to fairly late in life. I’m so glad I’ve got on and done it. This week and next week I have some very lovely and talented people working with me. Heroes all. A bit overwhelmed by it at times but grateful . I dare you to take the leap or ask. It might turn out o.k.
In the last few months I’ve had to deal with the highs and lows of what life can throw at you; a shoulder operation and my father passing away. My wonderful friends and family provided great support and we got through the necessities of saying good bye to a loved one. Now it’s time to slow down and play some lovely music. I’ve put my PhD studies on hold for a few months. The solitary process of writing is not what I need at the moment. I’m looking forward to catching up with friends and letting the creative juices flow.
I’m back rehearsing with my lovely neighbour and brilliant Cellist, Liz Hanks. We recorded a rehearsal and put it out into the world to see what feed back we’d get. We were delighted to be chosen as Tune of the Day by the lovely folks at Folk Radio UK. We’re planning to get back into the studio in Autumn. Fingers crossed.
Over the past couple of years I’ve been involved in the #Tunesday#Toesday#Troubaday at Whitby Folk Week. It has grown from a small idea to post tunes on the Whitby Folk Week Facebook site to a fully fledged concert. This year’s concert will feature contributors Festival Patron Richard Arrowsmith (Melrose Quartet, Hekety), Alex Cumming (Teacups) & Nicola Beazley (Rosie Hood Band), Mandolinista Michael Burns, Clog Dancing from Melanie Barber and some cheek banter from Sally Smith and I. ( Coliseum Centre, Whitby. 22nd August @ 17.30. Tickets from www.whitbyfolk.co.uk).
As well as showing off a bit at the concert I’ll be running two flute workshops and a couple of sessions playing Irish, Asturian and any other music that tickles my fancy. Check www.whitbyfolk.co.uk for details or down load the Folk Week App.
Here is some of the music and musicians that have recorded for me and kept going over the last few months. Thank you all and to my non musician friends and family. You are wondrous and generous.
Liz Hanks (super neighbour) and I rehearsing.
The wonderful Conaill Durcan & Paul Daly. Captured in the wee hours at Cambridge Festival for Whitby Folk Week #Tunesday August 2017
Richard Arrowsmith: Whitby Folk Week #Tunesday July 2017
In June my lovely wife, the brilliant Dr. Sarah Dalrymple, came down from the mountains and played this lovely tune for June #Tunesday for Whitby Folk Week. I wished she played more!
In May the Wonderful Frank Lee stepped into provide some Mayday English dance music. Check the Whitby Folk Week Facebook page for that recording.
In May I was honoured to be part the University of Sheffield Hispanic Department Concert at the Octagon. Despite the banter about my Spanish accent I really enjoyed playing:
Back at Whitby Folk Week, the lovely Michael Burns posted fine music throughout the year, this was one of my favourites…
In April I managed to grab Alex Cumming, over from America promoting his new album with Nicola Beazley:
Mr March #Tunesday 2017 was Dr. Simon Keegan-Phipps, my PhD Supervisor at The University of Sheffield:
While Simon was squeezing away in his office, fellow Doctoral Student Helen Gubbins and my bodhrán crush, Ciarán Boyle, played our debut gig as a trio at the Gosforth Arts Centre, Newcastle on St Patrick’s Day.
In February, with the help of Gaorsach Rapper, I pinned down Matt Crum (Demon Barbers, Steamchicken) for a quick tune in Newcastle.
In May 2016 I was preparing for a PhD fieldwork visit to Asturias. 2016 had been a hectic year. Taking part in the Ó Riada Gold Medal in Cork, starting my flute album, getting my Spanish up to speed and keeping two children healthy and happy. I was rushing up and down the stairs one morning and I slipped and jarred my shoulder. With family in tow, I rushed off to Avilés, then on to Lorient Interceltic Festival, Whitby Folk Week and back to Sheffield for the start of the school year.
October arrived and the excruciating pain I’d felt all summer began to dim. By this point I had very little movement in my left shoulder, to the extent that couldn’t put my hand in my pocket (no jokes about me being tight with money please). My doctor sent to me a physio and he immediately diagnosed it as frozen shoulder. My choices were either let it heal by itself, which could take a couple of years, or operate. I chose to have an operation. Playing music and looking after my children had become impossible. I had also underestimated the mental strain of the condition.
I was lucky to get a quick referral to a surgeon and an operation within weeks. In November I had my operation.
If you’re squeamish scroll to the music at the end, if not…..
The surgeon carries out Arthroscopic Capsule Release. It’s a lot like a very small kebab shaver you might see when you’re getting your post-beer nutrition. Using a keyhole procedure, Mr Shehani shaved away the layer of scar tissue that was was locking my shoulder joint. I found out later that he’d removed some bone too. Thankfully this was done under a general anaesthetic. I woke an hour or so later in a codeine induced haze with my father-in-law looking at me with an admiring gaze (See photo below). Thank you Bob Dalrymple. The poor man said he saw more of me than he ever would have liked to and needed a stiff drink to recover.
After some ferocious surgical sock waving I grabbed Bob’s attention and we headed home. Pre-op, I was told that depending on what they found during the operation I would have a sling on for a day or six weeks. Thankfully there wasn’t too much long term damage and I had the sling off after one day. The scarring was minimal. I have a large floral tattoo on my left shoulder I had done when I left my ‘proper’ job eight years ago to always remind me to do work that inspires me. The little surgical nicks look like little thorns. Six weeks of physio followed and I was given the all clear to get on with the slow process of getting back to normal.
It’s the end of January 2017 now and my daily physio is paying dividends. I’ve got much of my movement back and I’m just starting to play for longer periods of time.
There are a number of possible causes for Frozen Shoulder. It can be genetic, that applies to me. It can be related to bad posture, my posture in general is good. A big factor can be stress. The last advice my surgeon gave me was to slow down and relax. He noted that I was always rushing to get somewhere.
So the challenge this year is to slow down. Maybe I was trying too hard in 2016. The time away from playing music and research has given me chance to put things into perspective. I’m going to go slowly with my projects and put some off till 2018. I’m really rethinking how I play, concentrating on relaxation. I’m really looking forward to teaching on the BMus degree for a couple hours per week and starting to think more than do for my PhD. The time out has also reminded me of how precious my time with my son and daughter is. My son will be at school in a year or so. So for now more time with the children and maybe a little less time on the music.
I managed to play a tune for the Whitby Folk Week #Tunesday last month. Not my greatest performance and I was still in a considerable amount of discomfort. I’m putting it here and keeping it on Youtube as marker of my progress.
I am delighted to be shortlisted for the Seán Ó Riada Gold Medal Competition in Cork on Friday 5th February 2016. I’ll be competing with 14 other flute and tinwhistle players performing two pieces of Traditional Irish Music each on the night. The emphasis is on the spirit and feel of the music rather than technical excellence alone.
Photo: Diane Cusack.
The medal has been designed by Cashel goldsmith Pádraig Ó Mathúna and features an engraving of Sean Ó Riada on one side, and a representation of the poem Dán Aimhirgín (Song of Amergin) on the other. The medal consists of 2 silver plates back to back, and following the competition on Friday Pádraig will engrave the winners name and the year into the medal, and it will then be coated in gold
Peadar Ó Riada explains:
‘In their search for the gold medalist, the adjudicators will be looking for a musician who has technical proficiency on the instrument, has a musicality in their playing, and a variety in their choice of 5 pieces that illustrate the broad range of rhythms and melody in traditional Gaelic music. They will also be looking for the character found in music from musicians whose life experience and witness grows with age and which invests their music. As Irish music is an art form and requires creative input from the musician, this character is of great importance and should be real rather then faked or imitated from other great musicians. In other words, the adjudicators would rather purchase a recording of, say, Micho Russel, Packie Duignan, Willy Clancey, Denis Murphy, Lad O Beirne, Jamsie Byrne, Seamus Ennis, Joe Cooley, Johnny Leary, Mrs Elizabeth Crotty or Turlough O Caralon or any modern day super harp player say rather then listen to hundreds of imitations. The adjudicators wish the to hear the musician’s own character in their playing – without exaggeration.. This would suggest that whilst technique is important, age and experience is equally so’.
I heartily agree with this sentiment and look forward to celebrating Irish Traditional Music with the other participants in a weekend of music.
You can listen on line from 7pm at:
or watch at:
I’ll let you know how I get on.
As part of the weekend there is a Musicians’ Convention on Saturday 6 February in the Rochestown Park Hotel. The convention is ‘intended to help and advise traditional musicians on a host of subjects. It will run from 2 pm to 5 pm, with speakers from the music industry giving talks on funding opportunities, publicity, insurance, copyright, marketing and publishing, amongst other topics. Speakers will include representatives from IMRO, the Arts Council and Gael Linn, and entry is €5. Musicians interested should register by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org’.
Walking down from dropping my daughter at Nursery is a rare occasion for me to day dream. Red and brown autumnal leaves crunch under foot and a first trace of winter breath sneaks out in front of me in the foggy Sheffield air. My son has fallen asleep on my back and my mind wanders back to my solo visit to the All Ireland Fleadh in Sligo this summer. This was the last time I had a stretch of time without the family, time to indulge in watching and listening and playing as little or as much as I like.
Sligo 2014 was much more hectic, with family in tow and two competitions to deal with. The journey there and back with the children was great fun but I didn’t enjoy the Fleadh itself. No sessions, off to bed straight after the Senior Band competition and the early Monday morning train back to Sheffield.
2015 was different. A walk in the rain to the the train Station. My bag packed with a great Ethnomusicology book to read again (May It Fill Your Soul: Experiencing Bulgarian Music by Timothy Rice, University of Chicago Press, 1994), some craft ales from Sean at Beer Central, bread from the Forge Bakehouse Sheffield, smoked bacon from Konrad Kempka, my flute and some glitter of course.
Train and boat are my favourite way of travelling. Head down if you are feeling anti-social or chin up if you want to discover. My first discovery was on the train was a man in a gimp suit. I’ll save you the pain of a picture. His suit was plastic and had to avoid radiators and open flames.
14 hours after leaving Sheffield I jumped off the train at Carrick-on- Shannon, County Leitrim, to stay for the first couple of nights with my cousin and catch up with relatives. It’s a quick train ride from there to Sligo Town and I wanted to get some decent rest before the Band Final on the Sunday night and the ensuing madness.
The Senior Céilí Band Competition is the final competition of the Fleadh. It’s a hot ticket with people queuing from 5 a.m. of the morning of the competition to get their tickets. The couple of days leading up to competition revolve round grabbing practices when ever you can, where ever you. 250,000 people pack into a small town for 4 days. There’s not much room.
Leeds Céilí Band practices were held in the glamorous surrounds of an open air archway which was an entrance to a pub car park.
Our band comprises of Drums, Piano, 2 flutes, 3 fiddles, a banjo and a button accordion. Most members come from Leeds with a couple of blow-ins from Sheffield via Manchester and Liverpool. Qualification for the Fleadh requires success in Regional and Provincial (All Britain) competitions.
There are few rules for the competition apart from maximum number of members and type of repertoire. Four sets of tunes are allowed. We chose to play a March, Hornpipe, 2 Jigs and 2 Reels.
Tunes are learned in a mixture of ways. Some learn by ear, some learn by written music. We practiced in sub groups (e.g. flutes & fiddles separate) and then as a complete band. Band members come from a mixture of backgrounds including learning through Comhaltas as children, coming through the Folk scene and Rock/Country music. Our music is directed by Michael Tennyson, a great Piano Accordion and Piano player from Leeds.
After a slight uniform malfunction last year, this year I was ready and in full attire a good few hours before the competition. I had a little bit of blue glitter on just to bring a bit of sparkle to the event and played plenty during the day to get my flute warmed up. My flute is made by George Ormiston, a world class craftsman. But anything made of wood can subject to a change in environment and so it’s important to warm up.
The Band Competition was held at the Sligo IT Arena. 1500 seats, cameras, lights and 15 bands from Ireland, USA, Scotland and England competing for honours. The talk around the town was that the Sligo band the Knocknashee were favourites, but in reality the adjudicators do their own thing and I’m not sure they get swayed by hype.
A big issue for me is nerves. I’ve really worked had to develop techniques to manage them. I’ve learned a great deal from ‘The Inner Game of Music’ by Barry Green. As well as practice, much of performance is about conquering how your mind works.
We arrive at the Arena and are guided into the first band room. This is a military precision exercise with so many musicians and equipment in one place. I look out and see this….. no I’m horizontal, I just can’t work out how to flip this picture 90″.
Next move is into the changing rooms… no pictures there. You don’t want to see Leeds Céilí Band half dressed. That would certainly be niche. Warmed up and in a semblance of tuneage we’re led into the back stage area. I’m congratulated by the crew for having proper trousers on this year. Two sets of ten chairs are lined up opposite each other for the two bands waiting. One band comes off to the left of the stage another band goes onto the right. Very smooth. It’s our time now. We head on to the stage. It’s hot and the crowd are chattering about the previous band, the great and the good are lined up on the front row and the adjudicators lie somewhere beyond in the dark of the audience. I take a breath, smile and relax. I don’t think I can do this next year so I decide to really savour the moment.
Our drummer Tim checks if everyone is ready. we’ve checked our tuning, a tap of the block and the march introduction swirls us into readiness, the pulse becomes part of us and we become one great Céilí music machine. The Thatch Hornpipe next, three vamps on the piano to set us off. Remember the variations, keep the tuning in the high notes, relax. Two taps for the jigs. Bunch of Roses in G minor for a start. This has pushed me musically. So that’s what those shiny keys are for.
One tap, are you ready? Two taps and we’re off with the reels. It feels great…
It’s all done now. We head to the Green Room and watch some of the other bands. We know we won’t get placed but revel in the best Leeds Céilí Band performance in years.
Two days of tunes ensue. We are looked after royally by the landlords of the pubs in which we play and by our hosts. A great fleadh. Thank you Sligo. The slow train home to Sheffield suits my weary but happy head.
Months pass quickly by and my time is filled with raising my children, starting my PhD in Ethnomusicology in Sheffield, teaching music, trecking to Leeds for ceili band practice and learning Spanish. I’ve made no time for blogging, it was that or sleep… and I love my sleep.
Suddenly it’s summer, there’s light in the sky and light at the end of the tunnel. It’s time to return to Asturias for my first ‘Fieldwork’ visit. We pack lightly and take the train to Aberdeen for the wedding of our friends, Sakthi and Gareth. In the 4 years or so I’ve known my wife we’ve never played music together. Our debut as the Walshrymples begins in the grand surrounding of Drum Castle. We play a newly composed Norwegian tune I found on Facebook. We play well together, nerve wrecking but maybe the start of something more.
After some Macaroni Pies, ceili dancing and a quick catch with Gaorsach Rapper and Step at Stonehaven Folk Festival we take the train to London. We’d planned to do the overnight ‘sleepy’ train but forget the small detail of booking until it was too late. Some more rapper pals, Mim and Tom, come to the rescue and we stay overnight in Elephant and Castle. The children love the train, lots of space to play around and new people to meet.
The next leg of our journey is Eurostar to Paris. We negotiated the London tube in the morning (London Underground, your staff are really rude!). We were a bit squashed on our trip under the sea , 4 people in 2 seats but some treats and a Trunky full of toys kept spirits high. Oh the Trunky… I can praise it enough. Suitcase, mobile seat to pull my little girl along, beach bag and shopping bag. Paris was intense as expected. Within a minute of getting on the Metro a thief grabbed my daughter and when I pulled her back he tried to dip my pocket and steal my phone. I roared at him and he simply stepped back out of the carriage and smiled as the doors closed. The locals shrugged their shoulders as if to say this was a daily occurrence.
After a trendy Croque Monsieur (on a slate) and 5 euro beer at the Moo Bar on top of the design centre we climbed on the sleeper train from Austerlitz, locked our door and snoozed our way through France. As the dawn broke we looked out onto the border towns of the Pyrenees. We’d missed the mountains. A quick bus ride from Irun to San Sebastian airport and we had our hire car for our adventures in the mountains of Asturias. If we had more time we would have taken the narrow gauge railway that slowly makes its way across the Green Coast of Northern Spain, from the Basque Country to Santiago de Compestela. The drive to Asturias took a few hours along a fast and smooth motorway.
We arrived in Gijón and settled into our apartment in La Cazalda, a working class district of the city. A quick play in the park, a stock up on Spanish essentials at the local Almerka (Asturian supermarket chain, can we have one in Sheffield please?), Chorizo and wine, and we had our peaceful in my favourite part of the world. The next few day would require a lot of thinking, juggling and chasing up as I tried to get my ethics clearance in the middle of holiday season and make sure my family were having a good time.
At the beginning of November I gave my wedding speech in the upper gallery at Kelham Island Museum in Sheffield. Our wedding day fell on the feast of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. At the end of my speech I looked out on to the candlelit guests spread across the large yellow brick Victorian hall. I told the story of Diwali, the lights being lit to guide Rama and Sita home from exile and I asked all those there to be lights guiding my family on our way through life.
Over the last few weeks I felt I needed some of that light and guidance. My world had become so busy. Applying for PhD’s, job hunting and maybe not succeeding, preparing for baby number 2, learning new band tunes and generally trying to be a good husband and father. I started to feel that I was making no progress and my dream of making music a central part of my life was slipping away. My head felt foggy with no clear path to follow.
Feeling wiped of all energy I mindlessly noodled around the internet and came across a TED talk by Eric Whitacre. Eric is one of the most successful living choral composers and many will have come across his virtual choir works. He has sold millions of albums and won several Grammy’s. His compositions are aurally and visually breathtaking, but what caught my imagination was his journey into music. He had little music education and was unable to read music when he joined the choir at the University of Nevada. He talks about singing a Mozart piece for the first time and it being like switching from black and white to technicolour.
His light bulb moment encouraged me to consider mine, hearing the Asturian group Tejedor for the first time and the subsequent adventures my love for Asturian music has taken me on. This morning I put a Tejedor CD on and sounds and smells and sights of Asturias came back to me. It reminded me of meeting great musicians there and my friends playing a Tejedor muiñeira at our wedding. It made me smile and lifted my shoulders up straight. The room felt full of light and the fog began to clear. If Eric can start his musical journey without any formal education and get to where he wanted then why can’t I? Thanks for inspiring me Eric Whitacre, I think I will go and play some flute.
Tell me about your ‘light-bulb’ moments and music that you love.
If you need some inspiration and light take a look at the Eric Whitacre TED talk, listen to some Tejedor or even book a flute lesson with me:
Gazing up at the sky over Santiago de Compostela I felt everything was possible now. After a 1000km of walking across Spain on the Camino de Santiago my body was lean and my mind refreshed. Pilgrim stories bounced around my head interweaving with the ever present soundtrack of ‘Celtic’ Galicia. I would never return to the humdrum life.
Back in England, despite my best intentions, I took an easier route. Jumped back on the work express took the pay cheque. But all the time something told me that other worlds were possible. I fell in love; a daughter came into my life. Her whole being constantly threw at me questions about my integrity, about walking the walk as I had challenged so many people to do since my Camino experience.
So I jumped off the express where I thought the landing would be soft enough and decided to follow my heart, inspire my daughter and keep the flame lit that my partner recognised in me when we first met.
This blog is a record of my thoughts, actions and results as I work towards my dream of another world filled with the sounds, smells and tastes of the Iberian Atlantic Coast, a happy growing family, a PhD and lots and lots of flute playing.
Watching the tragic events unfolding in Santiago de Compostela over the last two weeks in July 2013 my heart was deeply saddened but I was reminded of that night sky in the city of stars and the gift of life that I had. So this is me getting on with it, the Camino has only just begun.