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August 29, 2007

July and August Music

July and August are of course festival season. And with festivals come loads of CD purchases, all inadequately processed by my brain until the long nights of winter. Especially so given that Steven gets incredibly antsy when I suggest that what we need for a long car journey is four hours of source recordings of melodeon players. I have no idea why.

Since July 1 we have been to Crawley Folk Festival (very wet), Ely Folk Festival (quite nice), Cambridge Folk Festival (sunny intervals and heavy showers), Cropredy (really nice but perhaps a bit hot), and Towersey (glorious, glorious, glorious, this is what the late summer bank holiday should be like and so rarely is).

My purchases have been overwhelmingly dominated by decades-worth of English dance music. From Amazon marketplace, very cheap, I bought a Topic compilation called Stepping Up - A History of the New Wave of English Country Dance Music. This is a bit of a mixed bag, but very useful as a pointer to further bands I should check out. I also got Ashley Hutchings' The Compleat Dancing Master featuring lots of famous people. I find the tunes great and the readings tiresome.

It was so wet at The Big Session that the CD stall had a swampy CD sale, and I bought "We're Still Here" by Si Kahn, who I've been meaning to listen to more by. And it was so wet at Crawley I spent ages hanging out by the Talking Elephant stall, and, as usual, they gave me a brilliant discount for buying loads of their own-label stuff. Highlight was surely the Albion Dancing Band double album Dancing Days Are Here Again. One disc is a set of studio recordings (an album and some bonus tracks). But the prize is a live recording from the Royal Festival Hall from 1976. The Talking Elephant chaps were browsing the car boot sale at Cropredy and picked it up from a bootleg stall. They explained that when they heard how good it was, they rang up Ashley Hutchings and sorted out a deal. They make a few bob, Ashley Hutchings makes a few bob, the people with the publising make a few bob... the bootlegger doesn't make anything but he's probably not about to sue, now, is he? Anyway, it's triff. I also got several other likely albums from them -- Simon Care's The Box Set ('I wish he hadn't called it that, confuses all the punters'), Lick the Tins' Blind Man on a Flying Horse, and Ridge Riders In Concert.

My eMusic haul was focused at least in part on people playing at Ely, with Shooglenifty's Troots, Megson's Smoke of Home, and Ezio's Ten Thousand Bars. But I also got a couple of Topic's new releases; Maggie Holland's Bones and Martin Simpson's Prodigal Son. I'd been wanting to buy some Maggie Holland ever since she sang 'A Place Called England' in one of the Folk Britannia concerts; I heard Martin Simpson at the Cambridge Folk Festival and realised that I'd been missing something. And Park Records, Steeleye Span's current label, turned up, allowing me to fill in a few gaps in my Steeleye collection.

Tune books are a funny thing; they sometimes turn up two at once, like buses. Hardcore English is an EFDSS publication of 300 tunes, designed to provide an overview of English dance tunes and elaborated with tons of background information about the tunes, their sources, places you might seek out this stuff on the web, and so on. It comes with a compilation CD of all sorts of acoustic and electric dance bands. Equally comprehensive but much more specific in focus is William Winter's Quantocks Tune Book, a transcription of a large but fairly obscure manuscript from the Halsway Manor library. It comes with a selection of tunes played by Rob Harbron, Miranda Rutter, Nancy Kerr and Tim van Eyken.

The accompanying CD for Hardcore English (careful how you search on that...) sent me off on an interesting diversion. One of the tracks is a selection from a CD of Admiral Parry's Barrel Organ -- that went with said Admiral to the frozen North of Canada in the early nineteenth century in lieu of a fiddler, and has now been fully restored. This is as close as we can get to a recording of how dance tunes were actually played 200 years ago and I instantly went off and bought the whole album.

On eBay, a long-standing search hit a result and I finally got hold of an album by Cliar, often described as a proto-acid-croft band. It's interesting, but I am not sure I'll seek out their others.

Finally, as if that wasn't enough, I have just bought the first six of Free Reed's reissues. I started thinking about just getting some of them -- do I need concertina music? didn't I buy Tale of Ale once already? -- but eventually concluded that the package deal was the thing to get.

Posted by Alison Scott at 09:21 PM | Comments (0)

Testimonial: eFrame.co.uk

picture of a framed Hugo nominee certificateOne of the nice things about having a blog is being able to do the odd product review. Now, I have a house full of odd bits of artwork and other things that need framing. Some of them are 8x10, or A4, or can somehow be coaxed into a mat and a standard frame size. But lots can't, and I find myself down at the local frame shop Giving Them All My Money.

The standard advice on this is to make your own frames, but honestly, life is too short. I don't get that many frames. What we need is a website that makes frames to order and sends them to you for a reasonable amount of money.

Enter eFrame. You put in the exact length and width of the thing you want framing, and they sell you one of a wide range of frames. You have great control over frame mouldings, mounts, and so on. I tested it out, tentatively, with the rather nice and quite oddly-sized Hugo Nominee certificate that came in the post the other week. The frame, without mount, arrived after a little over a week, and fits perfectly. Total cost, including a hefty p&p that would be much reduced by buying several frames at once, was about twice what you might spend for an A4 certificate frame. That's about a third of the amount I spent when I last had a Hugo certificate framed. The frame's nicely made and came with picture hanging string and loops for me to fit once I'd added the picture.

Posted by Alison Scott at 08:10 PM | Comments (1)

August 28, 2007

Too Old For Shooting Roots

We're now squeezing the last drops of summer out of the tube, and have just spent a very long bank holiday weekend in splendid weather at Towersey. An exceptionally long weekend because one of the special secret features of Towersey is that although the official opening isn't until Friday evening, you'd better be there Thursday afternoon if you want to find space for a family tent on the campsite.

The festival was a box of delights all round. Marianne disappeared into Shooting Roots on the first morning and really only came back for money. Jonathan was delighted by a variety of children's entertainers, and learnt rhythm in a series of percussive events, each time returning with a larger percussion instrument made entirely out of junk. All of this meant that we spent much of Monday afternoon in a succession of gala performances by our children. I know, I know, these are precious moments that we won't get back... but wouldn't the French dance workshop have been one of those too?

detail of a tune fakebookThe highlight of the festival for me was Simon Care's massed English tune sessions. These were slightly more advanced than David Oliver's beginners' sessions last year, but great for improvers. Simon stuck strictly to popular English dance tunes in G and D, played at a steady tempo and repeated 4 or 5 times rather than the more common 3, making it so much easier to pick up tunes. He encouraged everyone to join in, and advised people to play a G or a D if they were feeling lost. The Saturday session felt easier than the Sunday session, with a slightly stronger focus on extremely well-known tunes , and both were attended by well over 100 players, with people playing a huge range of instruments. I didn't spot any bagpipes this time, but there was a woman playing what appeared to be a stick and bucket.

Anyway, I grabbed Simon's setlists at the end of the second session; they're more an aide memoire and aren't complete or in the right order. But if you're looking for a primer in English tunes, this should be a good list to start with. All should be easily available in abc format online (I'd expect the vast majority to be in the Lewes favourites), or readily available in commercial tunebooks. If abc seems a bit hard, then you can see a .pdf version of the dots for 25 of these tunes by clicking first on this link to the Sheffield Ceilidh Society and then on the 'Downloads Selected as PDF Tunebook' link on that page. Though of course the dots are of only limited use without having versions to hear.

Saturday: Oats and Beans and Barley Grow, Hullichan Jig, Winster Gallop/ Rakes of Mallow, Cock of the North, Soldier's Joy, Tip Top Polka, Uncle Bernard's Polka, La Russe, Davy Davy Knick Knack, Galopede, Jimmy Allen, Blaydon Races, The Quaker, 3 Jolly Sheepskins/Speed the Plough, When Daylight Shines, Salmon Tails, Nutting Girl, Jenny Lind, Off to California, Fiery Clockface, Lemmy Brazil's. (Simon also lists two I don't remember: Om si the Gom (Not for Joe) and Shepherd's Hey, and one I don't know and can't identify: John & Pollys)

Sunday: Rogue's March, Off to California, Orange in Bloom, Varsovianna, the Curly Headed Ploughboy, Dark Girl Dressed in Blue (Duchess), Harpers Frolick, Highland Mary (Bampton), Horses Brawl (with the usual bunfight over the B's in the third part), Salmon Tails, Young Collins, Drops of Brandy, 3 Jolly Sheepskins, Buttered Peas, Brighton Camp, Irish Washerwoman, Old Mole/Picking up Sticks, Oyster Girl, Donkey Riding, Sir Roger de Coverley. We also played 'the Dorsetshire version of the Steamboat', which none of us knew -- Simon explained that he suspected Phil Beer of writing 'Dorsetshire versions' of famous tunes, and that this might be one such. (Also on the list, but unticked because we didn't do them, are Davy Davy Knick Knack, Gallopede, Foxhunters, Banks of the Dee, Lads a Bunchum, Napolean, William and Nancy, Over the Hills, Portsmouth, Jockey to the Floor, Getting Upstairs. And I'm pretty sure we did Dingle Regatta on at least one day, but it's not on either list).

'Too Old for Shooting Roots' was Simon's highly appropriate name for the session. We thought that could profitably be expanded into an entire stream at a festival, called, say, 'Gone to Seed', in which adult learners try out all manner of folk arts in a supportive environment with tutors of our own age. A key feature would be the showcase at the end of the weekend, where we would perform and our kids would be forced to come along and watch proudly.

Posted by Alison Scott at 11:18 PM | Comments (0)

August 13, 2007

Things I've Learnt Today

I was pretty amazed to learn from Boing Boing that Colossal Cave was based on a real cave. Presumably if you visit the cave you see various places where adventurers have scrawled XYZZY on the walls.

I was rather less amazed to learn that the Hatfield Galleria didn't have any shops whatsoever worth visiting. Many of the stores are boarded up; of those that remain, many are not outlets at all, or are just branches of discount chains such as The Works or TK Maxx. There are a few true outlets, but none of the high-end manufacturers' outlets I'm used to from other outlet villages. The M&S outlet store is particularly weak, with a few end-of-runs at small discounts (I would not be surprised to discover that the prices here are exactly the same as in other M&S shops; certainly one offer I particularly noticed was the same) and a 'clearance' area that appears to be a random jumble of unsalable customer returns.

Posted by Alison Scott at 11:51 PM | Comments (0)

August 03, 2007

Learning things: Dolls and Teeth

I am indebted to Dubious Quality for teaching me that Thomas Edison invented the world's first talking doll.

I have also learnt that you shouldn't ignore toothache and tooth decay in the last 24 hours. I mean, I already knew that, but the twinges in my other top wisdom tooth (the one I didn't have extracted last year) have been becoming irritating for a couple of weeks, and last night they turned into very exciting pain. Ow ow ow. I'm just waiting for the dentist's to open.

I've also learnt a lot about backing up computers in the last 48 hours, having finally bought a pair of backup hard drives. But I'm fairly sure that's all a bit boring.

Posted by Alison Scott at 07:20 AM | Comments (0)