…finally got around to putting The Marlin Spike into Finale and, I must say, it is much cleaner than the original. You can see the whole tune online here. I have also created a PDF version for download. If anyone is interested in the Finale file, please contact me and I will send it to you. Go nuts.
Now things are getting interesting. First Unstachio sent along his idea for backing. Then, with Luke’s help, I recorded a completely different track. Now Josh has sent me a rough mix that is much more jazzy than the first two. All of them are great and it is really fun to see how the same melody can be interpreted in a variety of styles. The best part is that I don’t think we are done yet!
Luke surprised me this morning. I expected he might take my tracks, slice them up into tiny pieces and reconstruct them into something new. Instead, he went retro on me and added an upright bass line. Super cool. Check it out.
I got power!!!
Not the superhuman kind, nor the political kind. Just the kind that makes my mics work again.
Now that I’m back in business, I took a few minutes to record a practice track of my new and still unnamed tune. From here I will start testing it out with other instruments, name it and maybe even write it down so that it is legible. Also, I’m hoping Unstachio comes up with a brilliant accompanying bouzouki part.
In the next few days I will attempt lay down a flute track I like and send him the wav files. He will then overdub his mighty bouzouki part. It is good to have a plan.
Here is my latest tune.
I know it doesn’t look like much, but it is how most of my tunes start out. A fleeting idea enters my head as I’m driving to work. I reach into the console to find something, anything, to write on. I fervidly scratch the lines of the staff onto paper as I’m taking a corner (hey, at least I’m not on my cell phone). I pencil in a few dots to make up the first couple measures. Those first few dots are seeds. Sometimes nothing happens with them and they don’t grow. I have hundreds of scraps of paper lying around with seeds that never bloom into anything. My wife loves the mess. Other times the idea does grow. Sometimes into a weed and other times into something a little more enjoyable. I add more dots. Maybe even enough dots to make a tune.
At this point, I generally let that tune sit for a few days. This is part of my vetting process. If I can remember that tune a few days later without looking at the music, it might be worth playing for someone else.
Yesterday I played this tune for Unstachio, what I could remember of it anyhow. I haven’t wasted time trying to figure out a name quite yet. No sense in finding a perfectly good name for a perfectly crappy tune. Gotta save names for the good tunes. This might be one. Seems better than a weed.
So, here is the plan. Unstachio and I are going to continue watering this one and see how it grows. First I need to really learn it. Then I am going to do a rough recording of it send it to him so he can learn it. If we think it has merit, we’ll spend some more time caring for it…and we will see what grows.
I’ll post about the progress as we go.
In December of 1999 there was a tragic accident that took the lives of six Worcester fireman. It is quite possible that the number might have been seven had Eamon Marshall, a fellow fireman, not been in the hospital for some planned surgery. Instead of being on the scene with his unit, he heard the crushing news as he was recuperating at his home. As any good firefighter, he regrets not being there to help his men and, as evidence, their pictures still hang on his refrigerator as a reminder of all that was lost.
I met Eamon a couple years ago, long after the fire. Selfishly, I am glad he had a medical issue that kept him from the heat of that day. I am glad because I have had the great pleasure of playing some wonderful music with him and, consequently, my life has been enriched.
Eamon and his brother Jimmie both started playing the button accordion when they were young boys. I can only imagine that the sibling rivalry to out-tune each other is one of the things that shaped Eamon into the fine craftsman of his instrument that he is. But, instead of taking my word for it you can judge for yourself.
A few evenings ago I went to Eamon’s home, set up a couple of microphones and the two of us just played. We did not worry too much about getting the perfect take. In fact, most things we played only once. And while there my be a few missed notes and disjointed endings, the overall feeling was quite nice.
It makes me wonder how many people around the world are sitting in their living room with friends making great music. Music that will never be heard. Fortunately, this is one evening that did not slip into the ether without being captured.
Below are a couple of highlights. The first recording is of a lovely waltz that I learned from Eamon. He tells me it is called Matthew’s Waltz.
The Maltese Cross is the first tune of the second set. It is a tune that Eamon wrote. The Maltese Cross is the insignia that Eamon’s unit wore on their uniforms. We could not remember the name of the second tune in the set. If anyone knows, please leave a comment and let me know.
If you want to hear Eamon play live he is often found at the sessions at John Stone’s in Ashland, MA on Tuesday evenings.
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.
Back it 2001 I was on a kick where I would go into a studio once a month and record. The one month interval was working well since it would give me time to both save money for the session and plan out what I was going to work on. After several months, however, I got a bit lazy and found myself unprepared for a session I had the following morning. Slightly panicked, I pulled out the flute on the evening before the session and was inspired to write the first of the two tunes included here. The first tune in the set I named Blackwater Tide. The second tune, which I wrote in ’99, is called Licking the Moss. This is one of those recordings that is part of the Castaway album.
Blackwater Tide seemed to be an instant hit. The Sudbury Ancient Fife & Drum Companie started a new medley, called Blackwater Indeed, with the piece. The Company of Fifers and Drummers included the tune in their latest music book with a drum part written by Dom Cuccia, a former Hellcat. Most recently the Bluff Point Quahog Diggers Fife & Drum is working it into a new medley that I think they are preparing for this summer!
It is fun to see a tune make some rounds.
For the first time I am publishing the harmonic arrangement for this tune. When I get a chance I will record the arrangement and post it here as well.
Biscuits McGillicudy was the sound man for a band that I once belonged to called Amadán. He is shaggily bearded, pierced, stout in stature and gritty in character. His arms bear the permanent markings of India ink artwork as well as more crafted dermal displays. These are not the trendy tribal tattoos that all the smart kids from the ‘burbs are gettin’ but instead they represent the chapters of his life. Worn and faded, the older chapters are outshone by the vividness of the newer chapters. One look at him and you tell yourself that you’d prefer him to be a friend rather than foe. To reconfirm your knee-jerk judgment one only needs to hear a colorful line or two of his northeastern-biker-bar-localisms.
Once, after an Amadán show, I watched as he slogged up to a sweet, pretty young lady and opened with, ‘do you like stabbin’ people?’, to which she happily replied ‘Who doesn’t?’. To my astonishment his pick-up line afforded him a certain amount of latitude with her and they continued on with a delightful conversation. True story. Another time we were at a restaurant together after a gig. He heckled the waitress into telling him how old she was. ‘Thirty-two’ she said leerily. He boldly proclaimed, ‘thirty-two… that’s the age I date’. She then gave him her number and I believe they went on a date. How either of these pick-up lines worked is almost beyond my comprehension. I say ‘almost’ because just beneath his knives, guns and dump trucks facade is actually a very kind, giving and gentle person. He is an incredible example of how true character always shines through the thin exterior that we often work so hard to construct. I suspect both women quickly saw through his shell in spite of the shocking things he says that I’m afraid to print.
Biscuits is also a phenomenally talented rudimental snare drummer. A few years back Biscuits and I were talking about a new tune I wrote for the fife called Neptune‘s Trident.
He wanted to try his hand at putting a drum part to it. Sounded like a good idea and I agreed to get him an audio copy of the tune so he could work on it. Four years has passed, I’ve been negligent on my promise and Biscuits is starting to send me threatening emails.
So, Biscuits, before things get out of hand and you decide to give me a piledriver during out next encounter, here you go. You can call off the dogs. I’m expecting to see a drum part by the Sudbury Muster.
P.S. – Biscuits, the wife and I would love to have you over for dinner. I’ll send you a list of the words you’re not allowed to use around my kids.
Like many artists I tend to be protective of my work until it is complete. Picasso toiled for seasons and changed painting styles several times before unveiling the most grotesque masterpiece the world had seen in El Bordel, later renamed to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.
Like Picasso, I’m aware that critics are part of the creative game and I generally have no interest in attracting them until the work is complete lest a novel idea be diluted with the thoughts of others. The question, then, is this; when is a piece of work complete? Some critics argued that Picasso’s mockery of modern art was, indeed, incomplete, which implies that maybe completeness is all about personal perception. How can a critic say that Picasso’s painting was incomplete when Picasso himself had packed up the paint and cleaned the brushes? It seems fair to say that, overall, Picasso’s work was not complete but he would not continue that work on the canvas of El Bordel.
Mozart’s Requiem, on the other hand, marked the end of the line for the great composer. His death made sure that there was to be no more work. And yet the world wonders, was it complete? It is common knowledge that Mozart’s friend and pupil Franz Xaver Süssmayr ‘filled in the holes’ for his dying friend. Had Mozart lived longer would we have a different masterpiece? Completion was a result of his death and not a desire of the composer to move on to new work.
While all this talk about ‘completeness’ is interesting to ponder, the fact remains that the world is a better place with great works like Requiem and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Their level of completeness doesn’t change what they are or the enjoyment they give us.
With my own work, in which I am certainly not intending to draw any parallels to the aforementioned geniuses, there are pieces in various states of completeness. In particular and as I mentioned in a previous post, I recorded a number of tracks over the course of a few months in early 2000 at a little place called Melville Park Studio. I have kept them hidden away from any real critics because they were incomplete. I have not changed a flawed note on these roughly-mixed recordings since 2000 so it is with great trepidation that I have decided to cast them away and move on. In my mind they are unfinished because they ultimately don’t sound as I intended them. For example, this track has some tuning issues that were to be reworked and I had hoped to add percussion. But they represent a time in my own musical development that I have hopefully passed and I think it would be a disservice to my own work to go back and change anything with the ideas I have today. Therefore, they are complete. Besides, what good will they serve if nobody ever has a chance to enjoy or criticize them?
So, here is the third track, not that they are in any particular order, to Castaway. The track is made up of two traditional tunes. The first is called Devany’s Goat and the second is called The Morning Star.
In keeping with the theme of incompleteness, I whipped up some cover art for this internet album.
I don’t really think the image has much to do with Castaway except for the fact that it was a picture that was taken of me a couple years prior to these recordings. The photographer’s name was Jessica Strauss.
In addition, some have asked if it is possible to buy this recording. It is not. It has never been printed and I don’t really expect it ever will be.