Hi all. I’m mothballing this site. My new site with details of my new album Quarehawk can be found @ http://www.michaelwalshmusic.com
My much needed sabbatical from the PhD In Asturian Flute Playing gave a me a little time to think. Reflecting on my past visits to Asturias and time with various fluters, it was clear that there was an increasing trend to refocus the music on its link with dance. I wanted to understand the rhythms of the music connected to the dance. One criticism of the revival groups of the 1980’s and groups outside of Asturias playing Asturian tunes was that they played the music too fast, the music was smoothed out. The anacrucis (the upbeat or beats before the first down beat in the bar) at the start of a tune part was lost. The phrasing was too much like the reels and jigs of Ireland and Scotland. I’ve learnt some Asturian repertoire and recorded it for my album. I noticed that I was dropping the anacrucis. I am used to playing Irish music and the beginning of an A or B part of a tune is often the place I take a breath. Inspired by Asturian revival musicians learning to dance, after years of playing dancing music to a non-dance audience, I committed to learning to dance.
I have a funny old relationship with dance. I took to Irish dancing at the grand old age of 12. For a brief period I was a bit of a whizz at the Lally School of Irish Dance in Manchester. A tad lazy at this point in my life I decided dreaming was much easier than doing. At some point later ‘I married a morris dancer’. Now there’s a title for a book. I aspired to wear the green trousers of Sheffield City Morris. I made slow progress but dreamed of high end hanky waving, stick cracking and hazy summer days, the faint whiff of morris sweat and real ale after a good dance out. Fate and family life got in the way and I had to leave my remedial morris classes behind.
This year saw the resurgence of my dance exploits. In attempt to see each other a bit more beyond tired conversations at the end of the day, my wife and I signed up for Flamenco classes in Sheffield. Once a week we meet in town. I slip on my clicky Cuban heels and attempt some dances of southern Spain. My wife is a great dancer. One of the reasons I fell in love with her. High speed Rapper dance with swords, North West Morris with clinking bells and a whiz at Clog Dancing. She has great focus, coordination and poise and memory for dance moves. All of which I struggle with. The lessons go like this…
Our teacher Barbara calls us to the dance. “Ok everybody vamos, let’s go”. I struggle through my Fandango steps….1, 2, 3, 1,2,3. I channel my inner duende. I call out to the flamenco gods for inspiration. My left foot is willing, it’s like Michael Flatley after ten cups of coffee. In my head I’m Jaoquín Cortéz. My hair is long and drenched in flamenco sweat. I am topless, my body is lean, wearing only tight black dance pants (save us from this!) and my specially commissioned clicky sparkle boots catch glints of the single spot light shining down on me. The stadium erupts with shouts of ‘Olé!’ and ‘Vaya!’… and then I notice my right foot. My right foot. My poor old dragging behind when I’m tired right foot. It does its own thing. It dances its own dance. My left foot screams.. “Focus yes!”… clicky de click… my right foot says “Fuckit, I’m staying put”, or “No way will I make it over that ever so slight incline in the floor surface”. Its disobedience spreads to my head. I hear music I’m working on. Die ya didle die dee dom da didlle. Oh a bit of fiddle there… some more cello please. “Michael, what are you doing?”. I hear the cry of the dance teacher. I look down to my feet over my protruding belly. I’m not doing the same as the others save for a bit of effeminate hip waggling which, for men, is a no no. Hasn’t she heard of queer Tonada? If ate a few less biscuits I could be the flamenco Rodrigo Cuevas. (Rodrigo Cuevas is a sensation in Asturias fusing Queer aesthetic and dance music with Tonada, traditional song of Asturias.. more of which in a forthcoming post)
This is usually accompanied by “Well done Sarah”…. And a ripple of applause for another performance nailed by my wonderful wife. I have three choices. Get back in the zone and focus, do a comedy side click of the heels leprechaun style or run and hide in the loos. Most of the time I get back on it. It’s great exercise and it’s interesting to look at dance from the Iberian peninsula from different to that in Asturias.
There’s enough in my dancing ability to make me believe I could dance a Jota. The Asturians are coming to Yorkshire, so I prepare myself…..
If you want to know more about Flamenco in Sheffield and the saintly Barbara Thornes check: https://www.flamencoinsheffield.com/
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.
Today i’m just back from 6 weeks in Asturias, recording and interviewing musicians, concert organisers, journalists and cultural activists for my PhD in Ethnomusicology. I have a mountain of material to work with and have been overwhelmed by the generosity I was met with. When I catch my breath I’ll write about some of my experiences but here’s an interview I did with musician and blogger Alberto Ablanedo. Alberto is best known for his work with the Asturian Group Tejedor.
This is the first English language podcast for ‘2 Degrees of Separation’. The Castilian versions have included a wonderful variety of talented professional musicians from the world of Asturian music. I hope you enjoy it.
Over Easter 2016, 10 distance learning music students came from across Europe, North Africa and the USA came to The University of Sheffield Music Department to take part in a residential for the M.A.’s in World Music and Music of the British Isles. Participants come from a variety of backgrounds but with a shared interest in what FRoots Magazine so aptly describes as ‘local music from around the world’. It’s an opportunity for students to meet each other, have face to face contact with lecturers and get hands on experience in playing music or an instrument that maybe somewhat different from their own specialism.
I was asked to provide a workshop on Traditional Irish Music on the Tin Whistle. Apart from one Irish musician, the musicians had little or no experience of playing Irish music and all were more or less starting learning from scratch. It was a great advantage that they were talented musicians in their own field. A big focus was learning by ear, that is learning without the use of written notation. For most Traditional Irish musicians this is a skill developed early on in the learning process but for others used to staff notation in particularly classically trained musicians, this is quite a challenge. The students took the task with gusto, covering the basic scales of D and G, cultural and geographical contexts, ornamentation (Cuts, taps, rolls and crans) and the importance of posture and relaxation when playing. We covered several lessons’ worth of information in 2 hours, learned the first part of the Mountains of Pomeroy March played on very challenging Clarke’s Whistle’s and by request, I played a couple of tunes on my flute form Asturias and Ireland. The students were a great group of people to work with and a good bit of laughter was had as well as a couple of beers in the bar afterwards. I want to thank them for tackling the task with such great spirit and at the end of the session they made a lovely sound.
I was inspired to teach a march by two things recently. Firstly discussing the flute band tradition in Dingle, Ireland with Dr Aoife Granville and the recent use of marshal music as part of the Centenary Celebrations of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland. The Mountain’s of Pomeroy was part of the first March set I learned from Marian Flannery (Egan) at St Wilfrid’s Comhaltas Branch in Hulme, Manchester during the 1970’s. I still love playing a March when I’m playing with The Leeds Céilí Band.
Here’s the March we were learning and below is a list of references I mentioned during the presentation. There’s also further information on Sligo style music in some of my previous blogs.
Dr Aoife Granville’s work on Marching Traditions in Kerry.
Relaxing whilst playing: ‘The Inner Game of Music’ by Barry Green. London: Pan 1987.
I was delighted to be asked to deliver a workshop on Traditional Irish Music with the University of Sheffield Folk Group. They were specifically interested in me sharing some of my knowledge and perspective on Sligo style flute playing, the style that I was I taught by Marian Flannery (Egan) in 1970’s Manchester. I had an hour to work with a group of very talented musicians, but musicians not too familiar with the technicalities of Traditional Irish Music. To explain Sligo style (if there is an exact defined style?) is a big task and our session could only ever be a drop in a large ocean.
The Folk Group meet at the Bath Hotel in Sheffield every week and play a variety of styles of folk music on a number of different instruments. They are mixture of undergraduate, postgraduate and staff. All were welcoming and keen for some hands on learning rather than a lecture. I gave a little outline of my learning and influences including my flute hero Roger Sherlock:
I talked about some different perspectives on style ranging from Séamus Tansey and his highly ornate music through to players such as Sherlock, who had a little more space in their playing. We talked about rhythm and the concept of a pulse in the music (there’s a PhD in there for someone). The video below demonstrates, in a humorous and perhaps extreme way, the differing schools of thought on what is ‘authentic’.
I handed out a Clarke’s Tin Whistle to each of the participants. They’re easy to get the hang of, six finger holes and blow in the end. We did a quick run through of the scale of D and focused the rest of the session on basic techniques (cuts, taps, rolls, breath control) and learning a tune by ear. I won’t go into detail here about technique. There are some great on-line resources on technique. I would also recommend Hammy Hamilton’s ‘The Irish Flute Players Handbook’. If you are a University of Sheffield library member, I’ve ordered the book and it should be available in the next couple of weeks. You can also order a copy direct from Hammy. It has a wealth of historical context, an accompanying CD and tunes for you to learn.
Within the hour the group managed to learn the first part of the Jig, ‘The Whistling Banshee’ by ‘ear’ (listening without notation) and add a couple of ornaments to the tune. Here are slow and correct tempo versions of the tune:
As I explained to the group, it’s hard to pin down an exact version of the tune and as you will see even more difficult to agreement on the name of the tune. If you do need to refer to notation, www.thesession.org is a great resource for different versions of the tune in ABC and staff notation (the dots). Here’s a link to The Whistling Banshee/ Lilting Banshee/ Paddy Macs on The Session:
The University of Sheffield Folk Group have an ambitious programme of worshops ahead with the likes of Nancy Kerr, Fay Hield (founder of the group) and Jon Boden (Bellowhead) amongst others. Keep an eye out for them gigging near you some time soon. Thank you to them all for asking me to work with them.
My next workshop is later this month with the students on the MA in Music of the British Isles at the University of Sheffield.
If you would like me to deliver a workshop for you, in English or Spanish, get in contact with me: firstname.lastname@example.org and check out my ‘traddad for hire’ section on here.
Going away with family, partners, children or even friends can be challenging. Balancing needs, wants, energy levels and concentration spans mixed in with the first few days of unwinding coils bouncing around a rented flat could have been difficult. We had the added flavour of me wondering whether I would be allowed to get on with my field work and my wife having an international conservation ecology conference she had been heavily involved with organizing, at the other end of our time away. Suffice to say we didn’t kill each other. The children don’t make allowances for what I’ve set out to do. One example would be while trying to write and layout this post Osgur decided to roll around our lovely white sheeted bed and cover it in poo. Please excuse the layout.
Back to Gijón….The Spanish lessons seemed to be working, (although the Asturian accent is a challenge that I’ve still yet to get my head round) and with time on my hands and sleeping children I headed into Gijón to meet up with an old Camino de Santiago friend.
I walked along the Camino route into town following the blue and gold conch shell Camino signs. As I passed the Gijón Dock yard I was drawn in by the noise coming from behind the 20 foot high walls covered in graffiti. I knew this was called Semana Negra but thought it was just a fairground. It was much more than this, it was a real sensory overload. I discovered something different every few metres.
Central to this Fiesta is a literary festival and book fair. I didn’t spend too much time in the literary events as I found it difficult to keep up with what was being said and many of the events were packed to the exits. Everything from left wing and Asturian nationalist politics through to thriller and fantasy fiction was covered. I bought a copy of an Asturian-Castillian Dictionary and got myself a beer and started to take in the countless food stalls. Meat was big here.
An essential part of Semana Negra is political protest. Protest is a hot topic in Spain at the moment as in 2015 the PP Government introduced punitive anti-protest laws. There was a protest about protesting in the middle of the fair.
Following the protest around the site I came across a side stage surrounded by Cider bars and roasting ribs. Cider, or ‘Sidre’ is the ‘national’ drink of Asturias. Un-carbonated, it’s poured from a height to give it a bit of life. The last two centimeters, the sediment at the bottom of the glass, are thrown away.
Familiar Asturian tunes were blasting out from the P.A. system. I chatted to the soundman and the group that night were Degañan’s featuring the great piper and flute player Dani Alvarez. I was familiar with Dani’s playing (see Corquieu) and it was a great start to my Asturian flute odyssey. The male singer was particularly powerfimpressive. More music to follow up.
We returned the following night with families. More food, bouncing on trampolines for Celeste, more Sidre, meeting up with fellow PhD Asturian Folk Student Llorián García and watching in awe as the legendary Ambás and friends kept a crowd dancing for three hours with songs accompanied by panderu (Asturian hand drum) and percussion using olive oil tins.
By a circuitous route I finally had my ethics permission through and I was almost ready start work. My PhD supervisior, Simon Keegan-Phipps has written a blog post which more or less sums up the problems I had to deal with when applying for ethical clearance, differing professional backgrounds, value sets and perspectives on what maybe ethical… I’ll leave you with Simon’s thoughts…. I will have to return to this subject and the ‘informants’ I spoke to after I have had time to reflect on how my first field visit went.
Ambás with Tuenda Trio…
All written content and photographs are copyright of Michael Walsh 2015.
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.
I put it out there to friends and contacts that I wanted to work on something inspiring and linked into my love of Asturian traditional and folk music. An offer came back from my friend, and project director extraordinaire, Lorna Fulton to work with her on a project with the University of Newcastle to raise the profile of the University’s copy of the Alan Lomax Archive.
Alan Lomax was one of the great music collectors of the 20th Century, bringing to prominence the likes of Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie. He also spent several months during 1952 collecting music in Asturias, northern Spain.
I said yes to the offer and with some funding from the Arts Council and logistical help from family and friends, I flew to Asturias to find out what was happening now in the trad/folk scene, make some links and if possible do some field recording.
My first challenge was that my key music contact in Asturias had gone to ground. Lesson one, never rely on one contact. I had a good idea of who a number of musicians were from a previous trip and I had contacts to chase up from Facebook and numbers given to me by friends. My Camino pals, Zach and Paula, provided me with bases in Fuentes and Gijón / Xixón, lovely food and great interpretation skills. My Spanish is improving, but I still have a long way to go.
Responses to my requests to meet were few in the first couple of days. I was feeling a little dejected. I skulked around Arriondas and Ribedesella feeling like the world was against me and I was really missing my family at home. I was wondering, what Alan Lomax would do in this situation, when I was approached by an odd looking character. His trouser legs were too short for him, his head was shaved, his belly hung out and his body language was wide open if not a little awkward. ‘Hey Don Quixote’ he shouted several times, pointing wildly at my moustache. I told him I had no Spanish and thought that would put him off but he asked me if I spoke English. I was very guarded, thought he wanted something from me. He asked me my name; I told him it was John. He told me his name (Juan), shook my hand and welcomed me to Asturias. I walked on quickly and sat in a cafe.
After some reflection it dawned on me that I had been completely closed to Juan, had judged him without giving him a chance and I hadn’t seen the opportunities, professionally and personally, staring me in the face. Walk with an open heart, I had learned on the Camino de Santiago. Alan Lomax would probably have seen an opening to ask some questions. What’s going on in this town? Where is the music? Where are the musicians? Can you introduce me to them? This was simple, obvious stuff that I had lost in the midst of my self-pity and defensiveness. Lesson two, open yourself up to people.
Angry with myself and remembering that I was being paid to be the ‘Professional Stranger’ I did what any self respecting Ethnomusicologist would do, I ordered a cake. Fortified by the Casadielles (fried pastry filled with walnut and anise and covered in sugar) I made a ‘to-do’ list and got on with it.