Hidden Door festival

Last night I was playing at the Hidden Door festival in Edinburgh’s old town. The festival itself was amazing, a beautiful collaboration of installation arts and performing arts. I loved the spontaneous nature of everything, and the DIY volunteer ethos of the festival organisers and the people running it on the ground. You do not find anything like this in St Andrews.

Everything was set in disused vaults on Market Street – bare, spartan stone underground caverns. Some of them were music venues and some were spaces for art installations. I was particularly intrigued by an art installation in a completely blacked out vault, which consisted of a garden of lichtsuchende, robot plants, light sensitive and light emitting – torches were provided by the entrance curtain. There was also a very nice exhibition in another vault of framed collage pictures by Miriam Mallalieu on the theme of lichens. Some of the colours and structures in these images reminded me of some of Ealasaid’s work.

I played in one of the vaults, which was a “hidden” music venue in amongst the installation art vaults. Unsuspecting art-lovers stumbled in and listened to some of the Tarbh music before leaving to explore the next installation. Sometimes I felt like some kind of strange robot flower in the centre of the vault, beneath a star-like lighting installation, playing this weird meditative music to an audience unprepared to hear it but open to new artistic experiences.

Edinburgh Harp Festival

I  am at the Edinburgh Harp Festival at the moment, running the Emporium stand. We have a great position in the Robertson Building – it is spacious, light and quite peaceful.

This is a portrait of harpmaker Tim Hampson, with the replica Erard single-action pedal harp that he made – one of the best harps at the harp festival each year in my opinion.

This is a photo (taken by Karen Loomis) of me playing a very interesting harp that was at the Telynau Vining stand. It is a Welsh triple harp made by the Llandudno maker Hennesy Hughes (I think) in the late 19th century. I was very keen to play this harp as it is set up for left-orientation player (right hand bass, left hand treble), with the bass singling out to the right side.  It was really a delight to try this harp – I usually have great troubles playing triple harps as they are almost always set up for right hand treble, left hand bass playing.


More info about this harp from Camac.

Pìobaireachd – what it might mean for the clarsach / John Purser

At the Edinburgh Harp Festival on Tuesday April 9th, 11:00 am, at Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh, John Purser is giving this interesting presentation:
Pìobaireachd – what it might mean for the clarsach

I have already booked a ticket – it will be fascinating to hear what he has to say. John has been working with Bonnie Rideout for some time now on the fiddle pibroch repertoire (see Bonnie’s CDs in my Emporium) and so I hope he will have some useful insights about harp ceòl mór.

I was thinking about who has already been working on this and there are quite a few people who have recorded piobaireachd on the clarsach – Alan Stivell, Alison Kinnaird, Ann Heymann, Violaine Mayor, and more recently a number of youtube experimenters including Brendan Ring, Dominic Haerinck, Chris Caswell (who passed away very recently), and Sue Phillips. Quite apart from Grainne Yeats and Charles Guard who have recorded Burns March – in my opinion the archetypal Gaelic harp ceol mor.

Both of my previous CDs included ceol mor or pibroch – but the next one will be “wall to wall”. I have also put some experiments on youtube – here’s a very early and rough version of a classic piobaireachd that I adapted for harp:

I’ll be on site during the harp festival week with my Emporium bookstall – if you are there do come along and say hello.

The Forest

I was in The Forest twice yesterday. First time was for a nice quiet relaxed Elevenses with Ealasaid. When we saw this fantastic artwork on the wall, she commented that Rodchenko used the dinosaur on the phone in his illustration for Про Зто – actually I think the same metaphor appears in the poem too.

The second time was when I was hurrying to catch my bus in the evening, I passed by the big glass windows just as the 78s man was about to start his next record – so I stopped breathlessly for three minutes of the most beautiful and delicate swing jazz before whisking back out of the door and pegging it up to the bus stop.

Ann Heymann in Edinburgh

This past weekend I was in Edinburgh for Ann Heymann’s concert and workshop.

On Saturday night, the concert was presented by Ann Heymann playing a beautiful painted and gilded medieval clarsach, Barnaby Brown playing replica 18th century highland bagpipes and also early medieval triplepipes and singing, and Talitha Mackenzie singing. The programme was a very well balanced selection of old Scottish and Irish music. At first there was some Latin ecclesiastical music, for the theme of St Bridget, but most of the programme was the old Gaelic traditions, with songs and instrumental ceol mor. The music was presented by different combinations of performers, some solo, and some in pairs, and the occasional trio – I like this approach as to my mind this ancient Gaelic repertory works best as an unaccompanied solo art and too much collaboration can dull the edges of the music. The collaborative performances were well chosen – Ann accompanied Talitha for Deirdre’s Lament most beautifully, and all three played and sang Uamh a Oir (the Cave of Gold) very effectively.

Sunday afternoon’s workshop was led by Ann Heymann, and there was a respectable turnout of historical clarsach players there including a strong contingent of my own Edinburgh students. Ann worked through a very interesting series of technique discussions which I think were of interest and use to all attendees, both long-time expert players and complete newcomers. There was also some very nice banter between Ann and Alison Kinnaird, with them both reminiscing about their earliest meetings and work together.

At both the concert and the workshop, half-time refreshments were provided by tea expert Rebecca Mackay who provided a selection of fine single estate Ceylon teas and some amazing homemade honey cake.

Harp music in the National Museum of Scotland

I am playing two special events in the gallery beside the Queen Mary harp in the National Museum of Scotland, Chambers St. Edinburgh, as part of the 26 Treasures series. The Queen Mary harp is treasure no. 8, and Sara Sheridan is the writer who has been assigned this treasure.

On Saturday 3rd December 2011, I am playing at the launch event, in the gallery beside the Queen Mary harp, four 20 minute performances at 12.30, 1.30, 2.30 & 3.30pm.

And on Wednesday 14th December 2011, at 10.30am, I am working with Sara Sheridan to present a childrens’ storytelling event about the Queen Mary harp.