Sunday, April 3, 2011

Journeys with the minstrels

It's hard to believe how long it is since I've blogged.  Much has happened, Christmas with family and friends, more settling into the new house, bush walks, a cycle trip in SA, and more.  There are photos and stories and I will try to write about them when I can.

I have been on a journey these last few weeks though.  One that needs to be written down, so that its not forgotten.  It started with a night out with my father to see Andreas Scholl, the counter tenor.  Before the show started I was talking with Dad about how much he likes music.  He said that there'd been a piano in his home as a child in Scotland, and that he had been going to have lessons, but the depression made that difficult.  Then he said that a famous Scottish fiddler (Scott Skinner) had written a tune called 'The left handed fiddle player' for his great uncle George Taylor, who also played the fiddle.  As a leftie who has grown up among a world of rights, my response was instinctive - you mean you had a left handed relative in the family and you never told me???

Musically I have been playing around with the ukelele, working my way through a finger picking book that wanders through hawaiian folk tunes and classics such as Dona Nobis Pacem.  A quick google turned up this:  (written for my great great uncle I might add!)  So I worked it out on the ukelele and began practising it to try to get it smooth and fast.  I continue to work on this.  It might take a while.

Then a friend asked if I wanted to go and see Tony McManus at the local folk club.  We have seen him before, a couple of times, at the National Folk Festival.  I have one of his albums that I have listened too many times, beautiful Scottish folk tunes played on the guitar.  It was a fabulous concert and lovely to hear the deeply resonant sounds of the guitar.  There were pipe tunes played with beautiful skipping melodies against a droning back sound.  Tony mentioned Scott Skinner and played one of his tunes, and I beamed with pride, wanting to stop him and tell him about my great great uncle.  I came away with another CD, and particular enthusiasm to play my guitar (which is probably vintage by now since I bought it when I was 19).  After so much ukelele playing I discovered the guitar was huge, and had a lot of notes on the fret board, but it has stayed out since that concert and I found some folk tunes on a handout from the folk festival that I am trying to work out and practice.

The act before Tony played a classic Scottish tune, covered by many a folk band - Caledonia by Dougie MacLean.  I remembered that I had been wanting to buy one of Dougie's CDs for quite some time.  So I got onto the web, (after looking up Tony's site) and bought two albums, downloaded them, and started listening.  The first few times I couldn't stop myself from crying everytime I heard the tunes. Caledonia is a song about homesickness for Scotland which somehow makes me feel for the country I lived in for two years when I was ' just a wee bairn' as they say - before and when I started school.  There is also a fabulous song about learning to use a scythe on the farm (you've got to hold it right its not something you can learn in a day) which turns out to also be a tune about learning to play the fiddle or the guitar, or the ukelele.  And did I say Tony McManus was left handed (as noted when he signed my CD) but plays his guitar right handed. Like me! I wonder about Dougie?

I have bought more song books, and stands for my two precious instruments, and have set myself to do some long term practice.  These journey's with the minstrels have put some roads in front of me, and I'm eager to walk my way down them.