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William Hollander

Sometimes music takes a long time to develop. Often, in spite of all our efforts to make something creative happen on demand, it just takes years for ideas unfold. That is very much the case with this song that I refer to as William Hollander.

Somewhere close to five years ago I was playing a seisiún at The Skellig in Waltham where I heard an Irishman named Tony sing a song. An amazing song. For ten minutes he sang for the Skellig patrons, entirely acapella. His voice strained as he reached for notes describing his childhood, his loving parents, becoming bound to a butcher, a merchant sailor, a slave trader, a pirate, a condemned outlaw denouncing piracy and whiskey. It was a sprawling song that wove a tapestry of imagery, some beautiful, some appalling. I was stunned.

I had to have this song. After buying him a pint or two I asked him to repeat the melody for me while I scratched the notes onto the back of a napkin. He kindly agreed to email me the lyrics the following day, which he did.

The moment I picked up a guitar to try the melody I knew what to play. That part unfolded quickly. But the lyrics were another story. Tony’s version had thirteen verses and some renditions have up to nineteen verses. Far too many for me to a) remember and b) be able to retain anyone’s attention. I had learned this lesson from another well known song that I sing called Arthur McBride, which has, depending on how you count them, eight to sixteen verses. That is a long time to keep people interested.

The original song, often called The Flying Cloud, has a mysterious origin. The real Flying Cloud is a famous clipper merchant ship that made a miraculously speedy run in the 1850’s from New York, around the horn and to San Francisco in 81 days and 21 hours. Her speed record stood until 1989. The song, however, speaks of piracy and slave trade, which is not part of the Flying Clouds true history. It is, therefore assumed, that the song grew like any great tale. The story gets bigger and better as time passes, which may account for the vast ground the song tries to cover. So many themes in one song are rarely found in modern music, especially without a repeating chorus.

So, I was faced with a dilemma. How do I distill the song down to capture its essence and do so in a manner where I am capable of selling the performance? For years I have mulled over this question. I have tried dropping verses and rewriting verses but have never really been happy.

The version that I’ve recorded here is my first real demo of it with newly revised lyrics. Like other projects that I’ve posted on baconworks, I expect that this is going to take on a life of its own and that this version will not be the last. And, true to the form of folk music, will continue to evolve.

…I was going to post the above earlier today, but before I got a chance my fellow musical Junkie Luke broke into my office, stole the track and worked his bass magic. Take a listen to how the bass changes to reflect the story of each verse, brilliant.

Also, there are already plans in the works to add Mustchio’s killer bouzouki part, and Beave’s bodhran.
William Hollander by baconworks

Sylvia’s Mother

guitar playing
For the last two months I’ve been musically focused on a project for work. We’ve been working on a MathWorks related spoof of an old Dr. Hook song. It was great fun to work on, had thirty overdubbed tracks of audio and an associated video. Last night I returned from a trip where we had the good fortune to show the video to a couple thousand receptive audience members. It was a lot of fun, but mentally draining. After traveling all day, tired and a bit melancholy that the whole experience was over, I found myself feeling restless. Kids were in bed, wife asleep on the couch, not interested in watching T.V. and not focused or awake enough to read I decided to retreat to the basement and just play some guitar. Just play.

While I was playing I decided to try my hand at another old Dr. Hook song that I have grown to enjoy during the last few weeks. This time there were no new lyrics. No spoof. Just a straight cover. Also, no multitracking. One mic, one track, one take. Just playing.

Thanks to Sylvia’s Mother, I can now move on.
Sylvias Mother by baconworks

Si Bheag Si Mhor

Just before the holidays I decided it might be good to dust off the fife and begin working on some recordings. More dust had collected on it than I had anticipated.

For a warm up I decided to go back to basics. Something easy. Something I’d played a million times. Unfortunately dust doesn’t care about basics and, sadly, it took a while to get the lip back. This recording was from those first few days so be kind.
The tune is called Si Bheag Si Mhor, which roughly translated means “The little fairy hill and the big fairy hill”. It was penned by Turlough O’Carolan’s and is thought to be his first tune. It is said to be about a mythical battle between the fairy inhabitants of two neighboring hills in Co. Leitrim. Folklore surrounding the hills tells of ancient warriors whose mortal bodies lie entombed within the hills. From time to time these spirits revive their quarrel. Not something I’d like to happen upon during a dusky evening in Leitrim.
The arrangement is one that I put together back in the early nineties. It is in two voices. Since it is slow and sweet, my buddy Joe and I used to play it for the ladies. We referred to it as our wooing the women tune. I can’t say it ever worked. In fact, one evening, as we were trying to impress, these young ladies turned the tables by playing the arrangement for us. Embarrassing. I think that may have been the last time we ever tried to woo anyone with music.
Si Bheag Si Mhor by baconworks

Jigs at Stones

The Session
Admittedly, I’ve been a bit quiet on baconworks for the last month. I blame it on holidays, a site crash and general laziness.

To get things going again check this out. I stumbled upon a set of jigs that I recorded at a Stone’s session two years ago. I don’t know the name of any of them but it is a nice set. You can hear the casualness of the musicians as they come in and drop out throughout the set. This is very typical behavior since the sets are loosely planned at best. In this case I would say completely unplanned. Consequently, as the set progresses from tune to tune, the other musicians stop to listen and ponder their next move.

Notice the smashing glass at the end of the set. The pint leapt off the stool in front of us. Happens all the time at Stones. After all the place is haunted.
Jigs at Stones by baconworks

Jam – The Jolly Beggarman

A couple weeks back I went to a party at my buddy John’s house. My practice over the last year or so has been to record as much live music as I can. Consequently, I recorded most of John’s party.

With this post I’ve included a track that I’ve found myself listening to over and over during the last two weeks. I’m just intrigued by it. So much, in fact, that I’ve since tried, unsuccessfully of course, to reproduce the spirit of the track in the more controlled setting of my home studio. I never planned on posting the original track here. But I’m finding myself compelled.

The musicians at the party were all taking a beer break. After returning with my beer, I sat down and started strumming. I think I was trying to remember the words to Sam’s Gone Away (you can hear me humming during the first few chords). But I quickly gave up on that idea and just started experimenting, trying to find something interesting. I guess the first thing I like is that there is no plan and, initially, it feels rather lazy. Just about then my buddy Roger returns with a full beer and sits down, picks up his bodhran and leathers into it. Things start to take shape. Then my buddy Mark returns with his beer. He picks up his tenor banjo.

I immediately recognize a problem. I’ve capo’ed up my guitar and I know that he will not be able to easily play in my position. So, if you listen closely, you will hear me offer a capo. Quickly realizing how absurd of an idea that is on several levels I, instead, slide my capo down between strums to a more favorable key. I’m actually pretty excited about this part…and still perfecting it.
Quickdraw Capo
Let me stray from my story for a moment to tell you about this wicked awesome capo, which I’ve been meaning to do for some time now. Another friend of mine saw my post about a video where a guy used this sliding capo. I thought, wow, I need one. And this friend happened to find one in Baltimore, bought it for me and drove it all the way up to me. It is the coolest thing.

Anyhow, after capoing down, I tell my buddy Mark that I’m just noodling and ask if he has a song; it is always easier to talk while playing after a few pints. After a moment of thought he goes into a classic Planxty song called The Jolly Beggarman, which for me requires a bit of experimentation before settling on a comfortable way to back him.

Well, you take a listen and decide for yourself if it was worth posting.
Jam / The Jolly Beggarman by baconworks

Any Time At All

Morphing reels to jigs, and vice-versa, is a fun game that we sometimes play on Tuesday evenings at John Stone’s. Here is how it works. We take a tune, any tune, and begin playing it in a different time signature. If it is a reel (2/4), we might play it as a jig (6/8) or as a slip jig (9/8). My buddy Brian Hebert is sort of the king of the morphs. In fact, he has just released a whole CD of Beatles morphs. On his new album, Any Time At All, he took classics like She Loves You and turned it into a slip jig, Penny Lane is now a hornpipe, and Strawberry Fields has been rendered as a waltz.
Any Time At All
Here is what the Liverpool Echo – yes the very same Liverpool that gave us the Beatles – had to say about Brian’s new album:

A SURPRISINGLY gutsy album of instrumental Beatles songs done in a raw and edgy Celtic folk style. Crammed full of wild bodrans, duelling mandolins, and skirling Irish pipes, reminding of Planxty, de Danaan and The Chieftains, with a taste of Bert Jansche’s Pentangle, it’s a radical reinvention of the great Lennon and McCartney songs that brings a whole new dimension to something we thought we already knew everything there was to know about.

Tonight I, along with Unstachio and our friend Joey Sullivan, backed Brian and a couple of his Beatles morphs for a local Television station. It was a good bit of fun and was a great opportunity to see how a TV show is produced first hand. It was also the first time I have ever performed for a TV show. Not quite Ed Sullivan, but cool nonetheless.

You can find out more about Brian and his CD on his website. Also, you can order a copy of his CD from cdbaby.

To whet your appetite I’ve included a track from his CD, which you may recognized as Please Please Me as a Jig.
Please Please Me Jig by baconworks

Christmas Wish

I was looking through some old files and found this recording from a session that Unstachio and I did a few months back. It was the same session that South Wind/Out on the Ocean came from.

The tune was written by George and is called the Christmas Wish.
Christmas Wish
I recall, at the time, that we both thought we could do better and decided to move on. Again, with the rosey glasses of time, I listen to this now and feel pretty good about it. The one real problem with the recording is that there is an unfortunate hum/buzz. I’m not sure how that happened and I did my best to reduce its impact on the overall quality.

It wouldn’t surprise me if George and I come back to this one again at some point, but for now here ya go.
Christmas Wish by baconworks

Country Roads

Country Road
Most people, these days, will not admit to being big fans of John Denver. I’ll admit it. Always have been. Ever since I was a child and my parents would throw that scratchy vinyl onto our gargantuan record player … you know the kind, where the speakers, turn table and radio dials are all built into a big honkn’ piece of furniture. It was big enough to make a good television stand as well.
stero cabinet
John Denver songs remind me of the innocence and beauty of childhood. It reminds me of a peaceful time in life where family is your only focus and you can’t ever imagine that when you grow life will present you with challenges. What is not to like about that?

While many will not freely admit they like John Denver, I have proof that most people actually do. I recorded this impromptu version of Country Roads Saturday evening at a friend’s house along with thirty other friends. We played lots of tunes and sang lots of songs. Irish tunes, sea chanties, classic rock, English ballads, drinking songs, songs about ale, songs about dog fat, songs about war, songs about trombones … but John Denver’s Country Roads is always the song people sing the loudest at parties. Always.

While the recording quality is not great I hear something wonderful in it. I hear friends. I hear family. I hear joy. And it brings me right back to being a child, playing in my living room with my family, my father trying to find the notes on his Goya while the record played. And I can only assume, when I listen to this, that the other players and singers have similar unspoken memories and feelings. The music brings them back, like a country road, to a peaceful and happy place, and in that space and time, it unites us. It completely transcends pop music and becomes folk music, which is really what music was meant to be in the first place.
Country Roads by baconworks

Fox in the Bramble

The Fox and the Bramble

A fox, closely pursued by a pack of dogs, took shelter under the covert of a Bramble. He rejoiced in this asylum; and for a while, was very happy; but soon found that if he attempted to stir, he was wounded by thorns and prickles on every side. However, making a virtue of necessity, he forbore to complain, and comforted himself with reflecting, that no bliss is perfect; that good and evil are mixed, and flow from the same fountain. These Briars, indeed, said he, will tear my skin a little, yet they keep off the Dogs. For the sake of the good, then, let me bear the evil with patience: each bitter has its sweet; and these Brambles, though they wound my flesh, preserve my life from danger.

I was digging through some old recordings and found this track. I recall that as I was practicing one evening this tune just sort of fell out of the mandolin. So, I slipped into my studio, if you can call it that, and put it down for posterity. I never really did much else with it.

Before posting it today I had to give it a name: Fox in the Bramble

What does a fox, a bramble, and the above fable have to do with this tune? Nothing really. I just like the word bramble and I thought the fable was a nice reminder that problems, viewed from another angle, aren’t really problems at all. Instead, they are the things that add dimension to our lives, build character, afford us opportunities, and at the end of the day, give us a good story to tell.

Good lessons for crazy times.
Fox in the Bramble by baconworks

Growing a Tune: Crashing

Ship at Sea
The other day Luke summonsed me into his office. He had been working feverishly on a new version of The Marlin Spike with both of Josh’s new guitar parts. Once in his office he had me put the cans on to take a listen. But before doing so, he prefaced my first listen with his impressions of the tune.

The tune, as he described, made him think of an old ship, sails full of wind making headway through the vast ocean. He could hear the waves crashing against the sides of the ship. He could imagine the sound the ship would make as it pitched up and over the swells of the sea. And with that he decided to add some percussion. I listened. His descriptions came to life. As the tune ended and I was reaching to pull the phones off, I started to say that I didn’t want it to end. Then I noticed a gleam in his eye, he raised one finger and said, ‘wait’…

The thing I love about this recording is that it has taken turns that I couldn’t or wouldn’t have done on my own. Luke does not come to this recording with the shackles of how percussion or bass is supposed to sound in Celtic music. It is just not part of his musical background. This is new material for him. Consequently, he, unknowingly, breaks some traditional rules and adds a new dimension, an entirely appealing dimension, to the music…and that is exciting.
The Marlin Spike (crashing) by baconworks