A few months back I was asked if I could put together a recording of our national anthem to be used in a theater production. Cool, I can do that. But then came the challenge. They wanted it to be loose…and dark. Hmmm, how do you make the Star Spangled Banner, which is really a tune called To Anacreon in Heaven, dark? And, if it is to be loose, maybe I should imbibe a few frosty ones before laying tracks? After all, To Anacreon in Heaven is often referred to as a drinking song. Anywho, I let this go until the last minute, and was forced to improvise during the recording. But, in the end, it is loose (that part wasn’t hard) and I guess it is a little dark. You be the judge.
Star Spangled Banner by baconworks
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
Here is a great sounding tune from Deidre on the pipe’s called Garrett Barry’s. She had some technical difficulty with the instrument about half way through and had to stop for a strain or two. It doesn’t really surprise me that someone would have technical difficulties with that instrument. The musician has to do about nine things at once and only two of them are related to pitch and tempo. Everything else has to do with harnesses, seat belts, air bags, bellows, barometric pressure, wind speed and what the current phase of the moon is. The fact that anything musical comes out of the instrument is a miracle. In my one attempt to play the beast it sounded like I was squeezing a pair of cats.
Anyhow, before I digress any further…Garret Barry’s.
p.s. I didn’t have any pictures of her playing the pipes, so I settled for this cool one of the flutes.
A few weeks back I convinced Unstachio (formerly Mustachio) to swing by and record a few tunes. We had been talking about doing just that for some time but the stars had never quite aligned. We had no real plan other than to just play through some things that we play on Tuesday evenings over at Stone’s.
We did all our recording together, he on bouzouki and myself on guitar. The next day, as I began to play with the tracks, I found that they were super-easy to overdub. It is amazing how playing music with someone else results in a track that is much more musical than anything you can do alone. It is that relationship between musicians that is the real magic dust and it is what transforms notes to music. I feel like we captured some of that here and, at the very least, it was a whole lot of fun.
This track is a combination of two traditional tunes. The first tune is called South Wind and is one we just started playing. The second is a popular jig called Out on the Ocean. I love how the bouzouki (left speaker) just seems to lick around the guitar melody (right speaker). Incidentally, I’ve added this track to the working album title called Two Old Stones (George, did I tell you we’re making an album?)
South Wind Out OnThe Ocean by baconworks
My long time cohort Roger Hunnewell, A.K.A the Beave, was visiting this weekend. Roger and I started the band that we eventually would call Amadán, many years ago. I have not had much of an opportunity to hang out with Rogi lately. Needless to say, we reminisced over a few cigars and couple of frosty brews. At about three in the morning, after being sufficiently over-served, we decided to flip on the recording equipment. After trying out a few tunes and discovering that we should have started recording long before all the ales and cigars, we opted for a tune with an easier pace.
I don’t think this recording will win any awards, but it was fun. It is a tune called The Home Ruler written by Frank McCollum from Ballycastle, county Antrim. Roger played bodhran while I played the flute. I then did a quick overdub of some guitar parts. All complete before the sun came up, well, close anyhow.
Today I received an email from someone I have not heard from in ~20 years … apparently Facebook really does have a way of connecting you to your past. Anyhow, this old friend ultimately stumbled upon baconworks and asked me about more music that her children might be able to step dance along with. So, I began poking around my site, realizing how difficult it actually is to find all the mp3’s I’ve posted (I’ll have to fix that), and discovered that I have yet to post a few of the tracks from my old Amadán album. I guess I’m just getting lazy.
This set of tunes was the first that we recorded as a group. As I recall, we were real excited to get into the studio and lay down some tracks. We were well prepared, had it all planned out…except for the part where Kevin, our guitar player, broke a string while tunning up. In his guitar case he found no spares. I offered my guitar, not the prized Lowden, but instead the infamous Rhapsoby . No, that is not a misspelling. Rhapsoby, not Rhapsody. The guitar is so obscure that even a Google search turns up almost nothing. And when I say ‘obscure’ I don’t mean the good kind, like a 1909-S VDB penny.
Needless to say, Kevin wanted no part of the Rhapsoby. So, there we were, wasting precious time and money in the studio, with no guitar. We had no other choice but for Kevin to leave the studio to try and track down some strings. Scrap all the practices and all the preparing, we had to come up with a new plan, which, of course, we did only after Kevin left on his hunt for new strings. In his absence Roger the percussionist, Damon the fiddler and I on the Rhapsoby, pulled this old set out of the bottom of our repertoire. We recorded it once or twice together and had the track nearly finished, to Kevin’s dismay, by the time he returned an hour later with his new strings.
The set starts with a little Rhapsoby intro, followed with some tempo challenged foot stomping. Incidentally, the foot stomping seems as bad of an idea today as it did then, but neither I nor the engineer could convince Damon to can his cacophonous idea. In addition, my good friend Roger plays some real nice Bodhrán and Bones throughout the set. And, just so Kevin didn’t feel entirely left out, we let him overdub some tenor banjo.
Incidentally, I enjoyed Devany’s Goat so much that years later I did my own recording of the tune, this time setting aside the Rhapsoby and opting for the Lowden.
So, I don’t know if this is step-dancable but, here is Moving Cloud, Devany’s Goat and Julia Delaney.
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 was listening to Eleanor Rigby off the Revolver album on my iPod. After the intro chorus, Paul’s voice is panned entirely to the right speaker. Gutsy move and interesting choice. Take one of the most instantly recognizable voices in pop music and isolate him to one speaker while the double string quartet takes center stage. That is, until Paul’s voice suddenly fattens up and pops into the middle for ‘All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?’. It then immediately returns to the right speaker.
I love listening to the Beatles on headphones because I am always intrigued by how they decided to mix things. It is on that Revolver album that they first used a technique called Automatic Double Tracking (ADT). This technique allowed them to record two identical tracks with one take. The second track would be played back a few milliseconds behind the first to fatten up the track such as the one heard in Eleanor Rigby when Paul’s voice suddenly jumps to the middle.
That is cool stuff that I gotta try. So, I did. In this recording, of a traditional old set dance called Blackbird, I decided to try a number of different recording techniques just for fun. To start, I placed my guitar inches from the microphone. I then recorded as I played flute into the mic while the strings were sympathetically resonating. Second, I did the equivalent of ADT digitally and doubled the flute track, setting the second a few milliseconds behind the first as seen below.
Once that was in place I decided I wanted to put a drone under it. I have an old fiddle lying around and, in spite of my complete lack of fiddling ability, decided to try and record one single note. It sucked. So, I doubled it up, which you might think would make it twice as sucky. But it did not. Instead it improved the sound as I had hoped.
I then wanted a deeper tone so I pulled down my guitar and recorded one deep note. I took that one note, cut off the pluck by fading in and then put it into an overlapping loop to produce the effect of one really long bass note. I did the same with a whistle. Below is an image of two tracks working together to create the one long bass note. Notice how the wave is the same in each section of the image. That is the the note I recorded on guitar and then copied.
Lastly I added a double delay to the whole track, which gives the flute the sound of being played somewhere down deep in a reverberant valley. It is no Eleanor Rigby, but it was fun.
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.
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.