Baroque ‘n’ Roll

So here we are at the second Blog entry.

The first one was pretty easy but now I’m heading towards the ‘January 3rd’ territory I mentioned in the last one. This is where the chickens come home to roost since I actually have to start deciding what this is all about, start providing ‘content’ in an artistic or factual sense.

I’m not all that au fait with blogging actually. I’ve only ever followed one or two, and they were either about a specific journey or a friend’s state of health/illness – essentially ‘breaking news’ blogs. Of course blog entries often come up in the Google searches I do as part of research for articles and so on. These often have an agenda – pushing a company, product or a point of view, or maybe just venting spleen.

So I guess that I’ll have tread the narrow mountain track between the precipice of self absorption and the cliff of the mundane if I’m going to make this an interesting read.

On with the motley…

I met up with fellow musician Ian Blake this week to touch base and talk about some social dance stuff that I want to do back in Australia. I met Ian back in the 80’s when he was playing with Pyewackett and I was in The Cluster of Nuts Band. Both bands were working the UK folk festival circuit and we regularly bumped into each other at festivals. The Nuts were pretty well a dedicated dance band while Pyewackett did both dance and song.

However, I still rate them as one of the best ceilidh bands of all time with my top dance experience to date being their Drill Hall gig at Sidmouth Festival in 1982. They had Mickey Barker on drums and it everything just came together musically, rhythmically and from the Playford dances selected by the caller – Michael Barrclough. I wasn’t alone in this as the dancers refused to stop dancing at the end of the gig. This has happened once or twice to dance bands I play with, and is a great feeling when it happens.

Anyway, Ian is over here for his annual pilgrimage to ‘old blighty’ and to do some recording with Andrew Cronshaw. As Ian is heading back down under this weekend we met up at a bass viol / harpsichord recital (Chrisophe Coin / Terrence Charlston) at the royal college of music in London. I’m a bit of a fan of Early Music but I’m not familiar with French Baroque at all. The playing was very good; the viol is reputed to be a particularly difficult instrument to play well but I like the timbre of most Baroque instruments as they seem to have more character than the purer tones of modern instruments.

The programme was interesting, though being unfamiliar, I didn’t really get immersed in the music. This led me to wonder about the context that the original music was meant to be played in. I’m coming more and more around to the idea that where and why music is played is just as important as the content of the music. Perhaps the idea of ‘pure music’ is just a fiction perpetuated by academic composers, and BBC Radio 3 programmers, who need a gig.

Anyway, the pieces ranged from fairly sedate, background type stuff, through some pieces that seemed to be influenced by dance music forms and one that seemed to be in the mould of Bach. The final piece was a virtuosic exercise which was presumably the baroque version of guitar ‘shredding’. It’s good to know that nothing changes in music – baroque and roll.

The pieces played were composed by Marais, Demachy, Couperin and Forqueray and included a solo piece for harpsichord. The keyboard parts were mainly chordal, though there was a t least one piece of contrapuntal accompaniment. Listening to the harpsichord in this context made me realise why the piano was adopted by composers and players. Compared to the rich tones of the Bass Viole, the harpsichord sounded very feeble, and the overburden of the percussive attack tended to obscure the harmony content of the sound.

The Basse de viole that Coin played was made in Paris in 1715 and is apparent tuned in 4ths (like a guitar) except for a third somewhere in the middle of the strings. Ian said that the tuning was the same as a lute, making it fairly easy to change from one to the other as the fingerings are the same. The shape, and the way it was played, reminded me somewhat of a nyckelharpa, a somewhat trendy Swedish instrument at the moment that a number of fiddle players I know have taken up – for instance Vicki Swan and Saskia Tomkins. I guess that the nyckelharper is derived from the viol family – along with the hurdy gurdy.

Anyway, getting back to the viol, it’s interesting to hear music from earlier periods played using authentic instruments and techniques. I feel that the music has more of a raw feel, with rougher edges that have been subsequently filed off by the romantics. Mind you, you have no idea just how ‘authentic’ it really is. It bought to mind an ‘xkcd’ web cartoon that I saw a while ago (you can see it here) titled ‘Period Speech’.

After this we repaired to a local pub and sampled some of their premium continental lagers – well Staropramen actually and caught up. I was hoping to get over to get over to Brisbane for the Woodford Folk Festival at the end of the year. For various reasons this doesn’t look like it’s going to happen so I’m revising my plans to probably get to the National Festival in Easter. Ian very kindly offered me a place to stay about 15 minutes away from the festival site. We might also be able to put on some kind of Bush Ceilidh event in Canberra while I’m over there.

There’s also still a chance that I might get booked for Fairbridge Festival again, which would work well with the National this year as they are pretty close date-wise. I might also take the opportunity to do some recording at Hugh MacDonalds’ studio while I’m in Melbourne.

Well, the gas man has gone so I can now get on with running through the songs for tonight’s gig in Dunstable at the Four Kings.

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About Brian Heywood

Brian Heywood is a free range musician who specialises in edgy roots fusion music. Previous work has received comments such as "... aggressive, top notch fiddling set off by periodic guitar explosions." - Tom Nelligan, Dirty Linen Magazine (USA), "Just when it seemed as if newer electric British roots bands were getting thinner on the ground - Very welcome and very good." - fROOTS Magazine (UK) and Steve Barnes Fairbridge Festival Artistic Director (Australia) - "... a rocking band - I was delighted with the audience response." Brian's orginal material draws on many sources from progressive, latin and blues rock of the 70's to celtic and traditional material.
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