Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Broken finger

June 7, 2020
The dog that broke my finger.

The Airedate Terrier

Last Tuesday, I tried to catch our Airedale Terrier (terror?) who has become unhappy about coming back at the end of her outings. Unfortunately, I caught the middle finger of my left hand in her collar, and when she ran, she broke the bone above the top joint. It’s been x-rayed, and it has a splint: the medics reckon 6 weeks to repair.

It’s not sore now, and the swelling has come down. I’m treating it with comfrey poultices from time time (nearly daily), and that does seem to help. It’s a better colour now, though still a long way from better.

This has put paid to me playing the clarinet for now altogether: you can’t play it with one hand. I can still play some piano – I have full use of the right hand, but I need to be really careful with what I do with the left. I can play single notes, or even octaves, but once I start playing, I tend to get carried away, and forget that I can’t use the middle finger at all. Still, better than nothing.

I”ve been using Jamulus in this lockdown, and have put up a server on the Google cloud in London. They allow one to rack up US$300 of usage for free, presumably hoping that by the time yo’ve done that, you’ll need the system. I may well… meanwhile, I do use it to jam with people both locally and in this part of Europe. Further away, the latency gets too long, and it becomes impossible to interact properly. Still, better than nothing.

And for the Dunblane Folk Club, we use the Facebook watch party facility on the Dunblane Folk Club Facebook page: people upload videos of them singing or storytelling or playing a tune, and then someone (often John Symon, sometimes me) puts these videos together in a sequence. At the same time, there’s a chat going on between this listening. It’s quite fun, better than nothing….

Anyway: I have to run it tonight, in an hour or so….. The finger will, I suppose, get better: not handy, I was enjoying getting on with the clarinet. I’ll just have to cope, like with the lockdown.

The Richard Michael Jazz Summer Course

July 13, 2019

Last week I went to the Richard Michael Jazz Summer Course. It was held in Kilgraston School, which is about 40 minutes from here, but I went as a residential student.

I’d registered piano as my main instrument, with clarinet as a second. But I quickly realised that it was better to have a single instrument, and I decided that I’d concentrate on the clarinet, as I only took it up a bit over two years ago, and really want to get into jazz and klezmer on it.

It was a good decision. The saxophone and clarinet tutor was Gordon McNeil, and I really learned a lot from his classes. I’d never played a jazz solo on clarinet before, and didn’t really understand how to put together a solo in a single note lead instrument. We studied minor pentatonic scales, and how to add to them, we studied chord structure (which I was quite familiar with, but still learned more), and even what a sax or clarinet player carries about for when things go a bit awry with the instrument. And perhaps more importantly, how to structure practise for jazz, something I had been having difficulty with (I understood how to practice classical music and scales, but not what to do to make soloing easier). Gordon is both a brilliant musician and teacher!

The course sets up a number of combos: six in this case. I was in combo five, run by Gordon and Hilary Michael (the surname is not coincidence: she is Richard Michael’s daughter). We played few tunes, including Take Five and Song for my Father on which I played by first clarinet solo, both in practice, and in the final concert. It seemed to go well – it was a very supportive environment.

I also went to the jazz choir run by the amazing Debra Salem. She had us learning and singing in an mixed voice choir, teaching us each part. We had the equally amazing Eliot Murray accompanying us, both in practice and in the final concert.

What can I say? It was a really excellent week, one that far exceeded my expectations. It was full-on and intensive – I played more clarinet and some piano too in the evening jam sessions. I learned a great deal (and I know there’s a great deal more to learn), and met some really good amateur musicians, ad well as the professional tutors.

I hope to come back next year!

Playing the clarinet

March 4, 2019

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3380Two years ago I finally decided to take up a new instrument, and I chose the clarinet. It was portable (unlike the piano – even the electric piano), and is played in jazz, klezmer and classical music. What more could one wish for?

So I purchased a student clarinet, found a teacher, Gillian Armstrong, and set to. I’d never played a blowing instrument before (apart from an unsuccessful attempt with a fluke quite a long time ago), so it was a bit of a revelation to discover that one had to control breath, fingering and tonguing all at once. This from a piano player who’d never had to contend with those sorts of issues at all.

However, the ability to add so much expression to a melody line, the ability to take a note and crescendo and diminuendo on it, and the way in which the tonguing could alter a phrase was entirely new to me. And practise was critical. I soon discovered that I needed to play every day, or I might as well not try to learn a new instrument at all.

So at last, yesterday evening, I plucked up my courage, and played the tune Carrickfergus at the Dunblane folk club. It went well. Just the one tune: I’ll need to practice some others now!

Fixing my electric piano

February 9, 2018

IMG_1846I have a Roland FP-4F electric piano which I really like. It gets carried around quite a lot, mostly to The Dunblane for sessions (and the occasional gig!), but also to other sessions & gigs. Last week it started to have a problem with the control that mixes the rhythm and the piano sound (actually, I never use the rhythm, but well, the control’s still there), and I thought I’d better do something about it before it failed completely.

So I emailed Roland, ask asked them if they supplied spares for it. No response. Not surprising, really, because they want repairs to be carried out by their own technicians, or approved centres, but that’s at least an hour away, and I’d not have the piano for weeks. So I took matters into my own hands.

Fortunately, I have access to a reasonably well-equipped lab, with a decent sized bench on which I could take the machine apart. It (only!) has about 40 screws on the base, which I undid, and then it comes to pieces, as can be seen above. It took a couple of hours to take the appropriate circuit board out, de-solder the control and remove it, and attempt to measure exactly what sort of potentiometer it was. I eventually concluded it was a 20 KΩ linear potentiometer, and I even found the right one as manufactured by Panasonic. But instead of sending away for one (the website seemed to want one to order rather a lot of them) I bought a old fashioned one from Maplin in Stirling, and installed it, wiring it to the printed circuit board. (There was enough space!)

Re-assembling it was actually harder than disassembly – I had to take it even further apart. But it works, and I’m ready to play in a session on Sunday.

Cost of repair: £1.80 (for two potentiometers, only one of which I used), plus a total of about 7 hours work, including bussing it into Stirling, coming home for a saw to cut the potentiometer spindle down to a reasonable size, and travelling back to the Uni to finish the job. If I costed my own time, it wouldn’t be a bargain, but well….I’m partially retired, and I’ve always like mending things.


“Fake Blues” first gig

February 3, 2018

The new band, Fake Blues, had its first gig last night, at The Dunblane, (unsurprisingly, in Dunblane), and it went well, and was fun, The bar was busy, mostly with people that one or other of the band members knew. IMG_1532

The band is three oldies, Dave Topliff (guitar & singer), Jim Fraser, (bassist)  and myself on piano. I’m the oldest, but not by much!

We played a mixture of blues numbers, and songs written by Dave, jazz numbers and some covers. I’m biassed (obviously) but I thought we went down very well. Hoping for some more gigs too – the pub says they’ll have us back!

On turning 65

October 6, 2017

Well, here I am: 65 on the 3rd October, Tag der deutschen Einheit, for those in Germany, but no public holiday here in Scotland. And now what?

I’m planned to go down to 20% of full time at the end of this month (was to be 50%, but I reckoned, I’d end up working 100% for 50% of the salary. At least at 20% I can say “no” more easily. Plan is to work on various research projects (on the silicon cochlea, on the neuro-robotics project, on the contextual learning project, to name three), and to do a little  teaching too, but not to much, and , more importantly, to drop all the admin materials (like being in charge of impact, or of research within the Department). But it may not all be so easy.

We’ve lost 2.8 staff, out of a small group: 0.8 is me, 1.0 is one staff member who has gone to London, and 1.0 is another staff member who has been appointed to a promoted post in an ancient Scottish University. All quite normal, but unusual for us, in that they all happened so close together. So I suspect there may be pressure on me to do more teaching, marking etc …

But if required, I can resist!

Meanwhile, I’m aware I’m much less busy than last year or the year before at this time. Though still officially full time, it feels like rather less than that: I’m only working 35 hours a week, rather than the 50 odd I was usually working. And I can actually write some code again. So far, the man beneficiary seems to have been editors of journals, because I’ve agreed to review rather more than I usually do, but I’ll need to keep that within limits.

I’m trying also to take up other interests, after all, after 43 years in Computing, there might be other things to do. So I’ learning the clarinet, as well as playing piano with some friends who seem quite interested in getting a few gigs together… watch this space (and SoundCloud too!)

A little light jazz

July 20, 2017

As I get towards retirement from academia, I’m trying to get more music going on. I’ve now decided to go down to 20% come the end of October 2017, and that’s getting to be soon…

So I’ve taken a little of a recording session Angus Scott (Saxophone) and I (Electronic Piano) did (here, in the garage, single take, no editing!) and put it up on Soundcloud. Have a listen to Rosetta and How High the Moon. The picture on Soundcloud is from a visit to a jazz club in the Cascadas bar in Hamburg a few years ago.

And meanwhile, I’m learning the clarinet – maybe one day I’ll try performing on it as well, but it’s hard!

Some tracks on SoundCloud

May 24, 2015

I hav started (just) to record a little of myself playing on SoundCloud. Not much there yet, but at least I know how to do it. I have a little 2-channel USB M-Audio sampler (that I bought years ago in LA!), and an AKG microphone for recording my nice new Kawai K200 Piano. And I also have my Roland Electronic piano, but i haven’t tried recording it yet (no good excuse: I’ll do it soon). What to put up there? A good mixture, I think: so far there’s a Scottish tune, and a short (and not terribly good) rendition of Monk’s Well you needn’t. But there’ll be more before long! Wonder if anyone will listen to them?

Playing at the Kinbuck Beer Festival

April 25, 2015

Just back from playing piano (electric) at the Kinbuck Beer Festival. Kinbuck is a small village just north of here, and they hold an annual beer festival, which I’ve played at before. But this time I played solo piano for about 50 minutes. A beer festival audience is not one given to subtlety, so I played a mix of old blues numbers and fast standards, with lots of bass and decoration. They seemed to like it! Maybe I’ll get another gig or two from it…though I can play with bit of subtlety as well.

St. Patrick’s night at the Dunblane Hotel

March 18, 2015


Every Tuesday night at the Dunblane Hotel there’s an Scottish/Irish/other music session, staring about 8.30 (but nearer 9 or even a wee bit later sometimes). Sometimes there’s just a couple of folk, sometimes there ten or more. Whistles, fiddles, elbow pipes, the odd flute, and guitar, and yours truly often on an electric piano accompanying. And last night was St Patrick’s Night (17 March). Now, sometimes pubs put of a bit of a show for St. Paddy’s but the DH isn’t really like that. So it was up to us to play to amuse ourselves, and the other customers. There were eight of us last night, and at maximum probably about eight other customers too. But we did have a good time!