Category Archives: friend music

Skip Healy Concert Review

Skip Healy
 
Over a few pints in the local establishment Skip, Mark and I watched as the Red Sox failed to deliver the go ahead run in a critical playoff game. As frustrating as that was, the evening of Celtic music that preceded it gave me plenty of positive energy to make the late night drive back from Connecticut where the three of us played together for a very appreciative crowd.

This was our second time playing together and it felt like a reasonable improvement over the last time. Instead of amplifying our show we opted to rely on the natural acoustics of the hall for the Company of Fifers and Drummers, which is in Ivoryton. Skip Healy, a true entertainer, played not only a beautiful variety of traditional and original jigs, reels, marches, aires and hornpipes, but also mixed in his own unique form of humorous storytelling, sprinkled with insightful commentary on the music he plays.

As we were reflecting on our performance over that aforementioned pint, Skip shared with me his thoughts on performing by reminding me of a quote by John Ringling: “The public would rather be entertained than enlightened.” Well I certainly felt, as I was playing next to Skip, that he gives you a bunch of both.

Here is one set from our show. This is a brand new set of tunes that Skip authored. The first tune is called the Gotha Swale and the second is The Taxes are Late and the King is Still Dead. You’ll just have to go to his next show to hear the story behind those names. It will be worth your while.

Screaming Wretch – Drumming

Screaming Wretch - Drumming -sm
 
Here is a drum part that was written for the Screaming Wretch by my good friend Scott Mitchell. The two of us performed this together on fife and drum at the Carmel Muster in New York many years ago. To my knowledge, it is the only time the tune has ever been performed.

Incidentally, Screaming Wretch, for whatever reason, is the tune that gets the most traffic on my site. Maybe it should be performed more often.

We Are the Mariners – Let the Good Times Ring

Music is many things to many people. For some it is relaxing, others energizing. For some it is therapy and some healing.

I know of one man where music was his lifeline. It was the strand that connected him to the living. Though it may sound like hyperbole, it is not. Music was the needle that wove together a tapestry of friendship and love that buoyed him and actually kept him alive. This man, this Mariner, was diagnosed with ALS and given only a short period to live.
 
Howard
 
ALS is a horrible disease where if you don’t die quickly, you gradually lose the ability to move. You notice that your arms are shaky when you pour a glass of milk. You get tired walking to the mailbox. Putting on your own cloths becomes difficult . Tasks like brushing your own teeth become impossible. Eventually you find yourself entirely paralyzed, unable to talk and locked inside your own body. The sick irony is that you are entirely aware of your demise. ALS does not affect your brain, it affects your neuromuscular system, leaving you to contemplate all the things you would like to do but can’t.

My friend, Howard, upon being diagnosed with ALS and well aware of his fate, realized he had a decision to make. Before he would lose his ability to take matters in his own hands he had to decide if he wanted to live through the torture. So, one evening, when no one was home, he went out to the barn. Locked all the doors. He got into the car. He put the key into the ignition. He sat there. Thinking. What will I have to live for? How will I find any happiness? How much of a burden will I be to the people I love?

As he sat there contemplating his options his mind wandered back to an old friend. He heard this friend say to him, ‘You have two choices. You can choose to live, or you can choose to die. If I had half your ability and determination, I’d choose to live. This could be the greatest adventure of your life!’ Howard then took the keys and removed them from the ignition. He got out of the car. Unlocked the doors, went back into his home and lived happily ever after.

There were no medical miracles. His body ultimately failed him and he lived entirely paralyzed for years, physically paralyzed that is. But, the part about living happily I believe to be true. He found happiness in his friends. He found happiness in his children, and he found happiness in his music.

Howard was a fifer, a chanteyman and was learning to play the concertina. When he could no longer play the fife, he sang. When he could no longer sing he wrote. He wrote harmony parts for the Ancient Mariner Chanteymen. He wrote songs. He wrote poetry. He wrote a book. He did not write using his hands, they had long since failed him. He wrote by using a computer that read his eye movements, the only muscle control he had.

In doing so, all of us who new him, learned so much about living life with all you’ve got, and making the choice to be happy.

You may ask, ‘what does any of this have to do with Switzerland?’ It has to do with the lessons we learned from Howard, who was, years ago, freed from his shackles. It has to do with how we share those lessons with new Mariners everywhere. It has to do with the music he left for us in hopes that we would always sing it together. When we play and sing, we are sharing our love for music, brotherhood and the celebration of life with all those who care to listen or dare to join us. In Switzerland, they came to listen and that reaffirms, for us, all the lessons we’ve been taught by men like Howard. We all have to make choices. Our choice, as Mariners, is to do our best to celebrate while we can.

Take a listen to the words and music that Howard left for us, recorded back in 2007 in Switzerland.

So before our time is nigh
Teach our children how to sing
So they may raise their glasses high
And let the good times ring
~Dr. Howard Hornstein

We Are the Mariners – Wettsteinmarsch

Swiss Drum
 
People often wonder why we travel all the way to Switzerland to play music. Incredibly, Switzerland, and I am speaking most specifically about Basel, has an amazingly rich tradition of piccolo and snare drum, which can be seen annually in their colorful festival called Fasnacht.
 
Fasnacht
 
To an outsider the music may seem similar to American fife and drum. The literature, style and instruments, however, are all different. They are different sort of like how jazz is different from the rock’n roll. Throw a rock guitarist into a jazz band and without the proper experience he will likely flounder. Yet, there are enough similarities that will make the jazz-rock crossover intriguing. The same is true for American fife and drum and Basel piccolo and drum.

In addition, just about everyone I’ve met in Basel plays either the drum or piccolo. It is serious business. Consequently, many people from Basel are interested in hearing American fife and drum music. As a result, American fife and drum corps have been sprouting up in Switzerland over the last couple of decades. Likewise, we love to hear their style of music.

Fortunately for me, there was a piccolo and drum band, or clique, performing on the evening of our arrival. Incidentally, one of their piccolo players is also a member of the Swiss Mariners. So, the first bit of music I heard in Switzerland was actually Basel style music. It was a nice way to start the trip. The final piece the clique played is called the Wettsteinmarsch, which is a very well known tune in Basel, named after one of the main city bridges that crosses the Rhine. If you listen closely you will notice that they do not have bass drums, as they are not part of their tradition. Instead, you will notice, their snare style shifts abruptly between very soft and very loud much more so than our style of drumming. Also, I love hearing the high piccolo harmony that plays above the melody. Our American fifing very rarely has harmonizes in such a way.

So, the recording that I captured here is of the clique named 1884, which is an offshoot of another famous clique named VKB.

Let me warn you; I took some liberties with this recording. Hours after we heard the Swiss perform, the Mariners were in the Baggenstos cleaning their mugs with beer. My buddy Joe thought it would be a good idea to play the Wettsteinmarsch. Problem is, he does not know how to play it. So, as an intro to the Swiss playing on their native instruments, I’ve merged in the results of Joe’s attempt at playing this Swiss classic for our Swiss friends. I love how relentless the Swiss drummers are here. Joe played all of eight notes and the drummers jumped on his lead and continued on without him and, ultimately, the entire Baggenstos continued without him. What fun.

Wettsteinmarsch by baconworks

Sally McKnight: Call and Answer

Clam DiggerAs a child I spent many a summer day on the coast of Maine. More than a few of those youthful days were spent on the clam flats. While my father, who was perpetually hunched over pealing back the salty mud with a hoe, methodically filled a pair of hods with his finds, I scurried around the flats trying to find trouble. To an outsider the flats don’t look like much; Miles of nondescript mud, an occasional outcropping of seaweed covered rock and horse flies large enough to serve up with a badminton racquet. But, to a boy, it is a wonderland. Hand me one of them little red plastic buckets and a yellow shovel and I was off to the races.

If I was clever, I might catch some tiny fish schooling in the warm tidal pools. If I was lucky, I might find a horseshoe crab waiting for the sea to return. If I was creative I might collect the most beautiful shells you’d ever see come out of Sagadahoc Bay. And, if I was brave, I would make my way over to the seaweed covered rocks and confront some real danger.

crab It is well known that underneath the slippery green growth there are critters that are both feared and fetching to little boys. Dare to stick your fleshy little fingers into the thick tentacle like marine algae, lift it back and prepare to react, for you may reveal the pièce de résistance. Behold the Liocarcinus Vernalis, otherwise know as a vernal crab. Fierce little monsters equipped with their own amour and built-in weapons. I might as well have found gold.

I’ve learned through the years that the crab hunting gene is passed from generation to generation. My father hunted them as a boy and my five year old is already bolstering his courage in preparation for this summers journey to the flats.

Why am I telling this story? Well, one, because it holds fond memories for me. But that is not actually reason I wanted to share it. It struck me that finding good music is sometimes like traipsing through the mud, over to a promising pile of seaweed covered rocks and pealing back the layers to see what you can find. Most of the time you find more rocks and mud. But occasionally you find something that strikes you as magical like a crab or maybe something really special like a starfish.

starfishThis brings me to my actual point. A while back I wrote about a Hammered Dulcimer player that sang a beautiful song called The Call and the Answer. Her name is Sally McKnight. The moment I heard her sing I thought, ‘wow, people need to hear this’. Fortunately for all of us she agreed to do some recording and the other evening, as I was leaving the recording session at her home, it occurred to me that I’ve just peeled back some covering and found something really special.

No, Sally is not a crab in a pile of seaweed. Maybe it is not the best analogy. I am certain, however, that after listening to the way she harmonizes the dulcimer with her singing, hearing the crispness of her playing, and basking in the warmth in her voice you will agree that she is a star, and, I for one, am thrilled to show you what I’ve uncovered.

 

Skip and Friends

I had a great time playing tunes with Skip Healy this weekend at a benefit concert for the Juniors Fife and Drum Camp. I was hoping to get a good recording hot off the soundboard, but for a variety of reasons was not able to set it up. Instead I had to settle with recording with a single room mic. This is far from a perfect recording but I think it captures the energy. I had to fade the track out because there was some serious feedback in the later part of the track.

The whole gig was lots of fun and well received. I had never performed with Skip before and, therefore, had no idea where any of it was going, which of course, adds to the excitement. In addition, Skip’s style is to play the tune reasonably straight the first time through, but then begin to use the tune as a skeletal structure and move around it. Sometimes it can get way out there, which is really cool. This track stays relatively close to home but you will here some of the improvisational nature toward the end of the track.

In addition to Skip on flute, Mark Bachand on bodhran and myself on guitar, we invited Roger Hunnewell up to play some additional bodhran. Roger starts the track with a bodhran solo, unsure of where Skip will come in. You will hear rattling behind some of the first beats that Roger plays. The rattling is from the twenty, or so, rope tension snare drums sitting behind us on the stage. They were sympathetically playing along. Also, every so often you’ll here Skip pause for a note and call out a key change. Nothing like having a plan.

Concert with Skip Healy

Skip
 
I’m excited to announce that I will be performing this Friday evening with a phenomenal flute player named Skip Healy. Skip is a world class musician who has performed with a variety of legendary musicians such as Paddy Keenan, John Doyle, Kevin Burke and Johnny Cunningham, to name just a few. Skip is also an instrument maker who is turning out some beautiful fifes and flutes at his Healy Flute & Fife Company.

The performance is a benefit concert for The Juniors Fife & Drum Camp at the Company of Fifers and Drummers Hall, 62 North Main St., Ivoryton, CT. There is $10 admissions charge. The concert is on Friday, June 8th and starts at 7:00 PM.

Einstein Lives and He Plays the Bouzouki

Einstein George
 
I know, your thinking, ‘Ghezzz, I had no idea Einstein played the bouzouki’. Well, neither did I. But surer than shaving cream he sits in on our session every Tuesday evening at John Stone’s. He, of course, goes by the alias George and will not show me the time warping vehicle he used to propel himself into the present, but I can assure you, here he is. You can see for yourself on his MySpace page where he is seen playing the guitar and includes a few great tunes he wrote.

Einstein … err…George, or as I like to call him, Mustachio, wrote this beautifully mellow tune called Anna’s Dream, which he has graciously allowed me to include on my site.

You can hear more of Mustachio’s playing on a real nice album called The Artery Project. He is the one standing in the middle but since the picture is so small you’ll have to trust me on this one.
 
Artery Project

Someday, if we are lucky, we may hear Einstein in a Plùc recording (we convinced him to join the band). Until then, come on down to Stone’s for a pint and a glimpse of the genius himself.

Mash-up, Morph, Mung

Mighty Bee of Ynturest
 
Mash-ups are all the rage when it comes to web sites. But the idea is not new. People have been taking disparate ideas and mashing, morphing and munging them since the dawn of gray matter.

Well, last night I was morphed, munged and maybe a little mashed. I’m pretty excited about it. My friend Luke found the Screaming Wretch, which Plùc now refers to as Touretts Jig, and molded it into an electronic wonderland. Luke’s instrument, you see, is the computer and with tools like Reason from Propellerhead Software he can make just about any sound he would like.
 
reason
 

Within a few hours Luke worked my wretched melody into something entirely new and exciting. He is, of course, very self deprecating about his talents and quips that I was only ‘mildly amused’ when he told me that he was playing around with the tune. This, of course, is a bold faced lie that, in time, I might forgive. Apparently he did not want the fact of my elation get in the way of his good story.

In any case, check it out. Screaming Wretch Redux (Tribal Bacon Mix!) by Luke Stark. It rocks!