Eastern European Folk Tunes by Merima Kljuco

May 14, 2010

This blog gets more hits from people searching for accordion news than you might think, thus confirming that the worlds of SF and accordions are closer than you might think.  When oh when will the other SF writers wake up and realise this?

Anyway, here’s something about accordion music.

I bought the above book in Chappells from a gentleman who couldn’t quite keep the scorn from his voice as he announced to the store in general “Oh, one of those books with a CD in them.”

What is it about people who work in music shops that makes them so patronising?  Why did he feel it necessary to imply it was cheating to hear the music before I tried to read it? Did he think that was going to make me want to return to his shop?

Actually, I’m glad the CD was included as Merima Kljuco plays more than is written, and you get a feel for a very different style of playing.  Many of the tunes are in 7/8 or 11/8.  As someone who grew up listening to prog rock, unusual time signatures hold no fear for me, but Merima is at hand with advice for those experiencing difficulty suggesting a solution, as follows:

-simply by using the the name of the famous Russian composer, Peter Tchaikovsky.  I am sure he will not mind if we borrow his name to help us out.  How do we do this?  Simple: ‘2’ is always ‘Peter’ and ‘3’ is ‘Tchaikovsky’.

For example, on a 7/8 bar with a 2+2+3 division, think Pe-ter Pe-ter Tchai-ko-vsky

I don’t know about you, but I rather like the style of that explanation.

What about the tunes themselves?  I’ve been working through them over the past couple of months. Some of them sound rather odd at first to the Western ear, almost like a Hollywood parody of what Eastern European music should sound like, but as many of those early Hollywood writers were of Eastern European origin, I suppose they were simply reflecting what they knew.  But I find the tunes have grown on me.  They’re not as difficult to play as I imagined.  If anything, it’s the left hand that causes the most trouble as the extra beat has a habit of falling in (what is for me) the wrong place.

If you want a change from musettes and strathspeys, then this could be the book for you.   If you’re wondering what happened to the SF, well, maybe next time…

Hymns Ancient and Modern

October 20, 2009

Watching Belshazzar’s Feast last Saturday evening in Bradford (they were the support band at the Bellowhead concert) I was struck by what an easily overlooked resource the hymn book is.

The pair played an old Welsh Hymn by the name of Ebenezer ( or Ton-Y-Botel), quoting the hymn number.  I checked  when I got home in the very tatty old book that I own and had a go myself.  It sounded great- even more so, I thought, when played in 3/4.

Now my preferred definition for Folk Music is something like this one I just found on the web :

the traditional and typically anonymous music that is an expression of the life of people in a community

and of course, hymns were an example of just that in the past for large parts of the community .

Of course, tunes travel both ways.  A quick scan through the hymn book showed many folk tunes appropriated by the church: Londonderry Air, Scarlet Ribbons even Scarborough Fair.  A quick scan through my records and CDs threw up such gems as John Renbourn’s excellent version of Monk’s Gate (which I remember singing as a child to the words “He who would valiant be”) and Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s Travellin’ on For Jesus, and an awful lot of Christmas Carols (I found at least five versions of While Shepherds Watched, including the local one which is sung to the tune of Jackson).

Anyway, I’ve been playing through the hymns, some of them sound very nice (at least, the ones written before 1950 do).  Definitely something to look at in order to increase your repertoire.  (Have you learnt the Valeta yet?)

By the way, I enjoyed Belshazzar’s Feast.  Accordion and Fiddle:  a classic combination.  I’m not so sure about the slide whistle though…

Truth is Stranger than Science Fiction 1

May 18, 2009

Imagine an SF story set on a world where countries had long been at war.

After years of fighting, culminating in two devastating wars, an understanding is reached and the countries agree to a peace of sorts.  The occasional skirmish may still take place, there are some very nasty incidents of ethnic cleansing, but generally the populations get along. 

Now, instead of fighting, the countries have an annual contest to see who can write and perform the best song, choosing their best writers and performers to represent them.  The few countries who treat the whole thing as a joke are treated with suspicion at best.

You couldn’t write a story like this (or if you did, you would have trouble selling it, I’m sure) but this is what happens every year at the Eurovision Song Contest.  It took place this weekend, and for once, I watched it. Furthermore,  I enjoyed it, I thought the songs weren’t bad, I admired Andrew Lloyd Webber for sticking his head above the parapet, I thought the swimmers in the plastic pools suspended above the audience were truly amazing (and if you haven’t seen them, you should.)

And, not for the first time, I found myself wondering about how SF writers are supposed to think up new ideas when the real world is so much stranger.  It’s only the lack of robots in the competition that give me hope I’ll still be in a job next year.

My favourite entry?  Portugal, of course.  They had an accordionist in their act.

Spiers and Boden

April 6, 2009

This blog has been noticeably lacking in accordions lately, so now is probably a good time to mention seeing Spiers and Boden (http://www.spiersandboden.com)   at the Bury Met this weekend.  This has something to do with writing, so keep reading even if you don’t like folk music…

Now, as I may have mentioned before, this blog does not do reviews,  (Rather, it does robots and accordions), but I was struck by something as I watched the show.  Nowadays, through the use of computer sampling, a musician has a world of sounds at their fingertips as they sit down to play.  You would think that so much choice would lead to greater variety, however, all too often it can restrict people and lead to a sameness of production and arrangement.

But when you are restricted to a fiddle and a selection of melodeons then you have to work harder to vary the sound, and this is what Spiers and Boden did very successfully, keeping the audience interested for a two hour show. (Here’s a great site about melodeons, btw, especially if you’re not sure what one is http://info.melodeon.net/)

So, what does this have to do with writing?  Well, when sitting down to write SF, you have the whole universe at your fingertips.  So much choice can lead to writers block, or at least, a sameness of what is produced.  This enormous variety can actually be to the detriment of the author.  That’s why when I get stuck I concentrate on the smaller picture.

Sometimes it does you good to restrict yourself.

Folk Music

March 3, 2009

I went to a folk music concert this weekend. This may put you in mind of bearded men playing fiddles and guitars, or women in long skirts singing old ballads, but this concert was neither of these things.

The concert took place in a village hall in Stainton, Teesside. It had been put together by the locals, and it began with one or two of them standing up and giving short recitals. One man sang a song, a second performed two tunes on the trumpet. After that it was time for the main act: Pearl Fawcett on the Accordion. Half time involved some of the locals bringing around trays of tea and biscuits. The second half took the form of the first, with some short recitals followed by more displays of Accordion virtuosity. I’m sure that to some readers, this may sound like musical hell…

Why mention this? Well, I’m a folk music fan. Recently I’ve seen Kate Rusby, Spiers and Boden, Bellowhead and Show of Hands, to name but a few. All authentic British folk musicians delivering authentic British folk music. But if folk music is supposed to be the music of the people, then surely the Stainton Accordion concert is about authentic as it gets?

I’d like to have finished by quoting Joni Mitchell, and saying how Pearl played real good for free, but she charged £5 for a ticket.   Sometimes Real Life has to transcend Art.